Things to Do in The Pampas
While it may seem odd that one of Buenos Aires’ principal tourist attractions is a cemetery, the Recoleta Cemetery is no ordinary graveyard. Encircled by a towering perimeter wall and entered via a striking columned portico, Recoleta Cemetery is one of the world’s most exquisite necropolises; a glorious ‘City of the Dead’ that houses some of the country’s most prominent political, military and artistic icons.
Over 6,400 tombs are found in the Cemetery, laid out in formal tree-lined avenues and punctuated with beautifully sculpted monuments, poignant marble statutes and grand, bronze-cast mausoleums. Notable burial plots include the vivid white stone tomb of newspaper founder José C. Paz, flanked by a pair of dazzling Rubenesque angels; the ostentatious tomb of former Argentine president Carlos Pellegrini, featuring an elaborate statue of the controversial leader atop the coffin; and the evocative statues of crying widows kneeling beside the tomb of Colonel Falcon.
Buenos Aires’ most iconic landmark, the Obelisk, or El Obelisco, towers over the intersection of the city’s two main thoroughfares, Corrientes Avenue and the ‘widest avenue in the world’ -9 de Julio. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the nation’s 400th anniversary, the pencil-like column marks the spot where the nation’s flag was first flown – a striking 220-foot tall monument that has become a memorable feature on the city skyline. Fashioned from 1,360 square meters of Cordoba white stone, the Obelisk was designed by Tucaman architect Alberto Prebisch and features poignant inscriptions on each of its 4 faces, referencing key moments in the city’s history. Not only an important navigational landmark, the Obelisk also finds itself at the center of city celebrations and rallies, a common backdrop for sporting celebrations, political demonstrations, candlelit vigils and religious congregations.
The beloved Boca Juniors soccer team plays its games at Alberto J Armando stadium, affectionately known as La Bombonera (Spanish for “the Chocolate Box”). It has a capacity of 49,000 and is known for vibrating when fans start getting too antsy – either from happiness or disgust – and start jumping in rhythm.
A behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium is a fascinating look at the sport that that most Argentines live and die by and the Buenos Aires soccer team that was founded in 1905 by five boys living in La Boca neighborhood. Visit the interactive Museo de la Pasión Boquense, the first soccer museum in the Americas, and walk out on to the famous soccer field pitch, where you can close your eyes and imagine the roar of the passionate crowd.
Most people come to Palermo to enjoy the urban sights that Buenos Aires has to offer. There are several different sections, from mainstream to bohemian and from fashion and design to residential. And then there is Parque Tres de Febrero. This nearly 1,000-acre park is also referred to as the “Bosques del Palermo” (Palermo Woods).
The park has been in existence in a variety of forms since 1875, and over the years it has undergone additions including a zoo, a botanical garden and a rose garden, as well as the world’s largest Japanese garden outside of Japan. The park is popularly used by pedestrians and cyclists and is busiest on the weekends, when you can even take a boat ride in one of the artificial lakes. Visitors can spend a couple of hours walking among the trees and over the bridges that cross some of the lakes, or sitting in one of the gazebos to enjoy the tranquil park.
Few activities whip Argentines into a frenzy like a nail-biting futbol (soccer) match and watching local team River Plate – one of the country’s top teams - playing at their home stadium. El Monumental is a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike. Built in 1937 in the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires, El Monumental Stadium boasts an illustrious history and many of the nation’s most prominent matches, including the 1978 World Cup finals and the athletics events of the First Pan American Games in 1951, have been played out on the famous pitch. Those looking to watch Argentina’s national team play at home will likely find themselves at El Monumental, where the River Plate home games and even a number of National rugby matches are also held.
As well as hosting some of the world’s best soccer players, the 75,000-capacity stadium (the largest in Argentina) is also used as a music concert venue for international bands and artists.
Buenos Aires’ Chinatown, or Barrio Chino, is a lively pocket of oriental culture tucked in the heart of the Belgrano residential area. A small four-block area crammed with family-run restaurants, curiosity stores and specialist Asian supermarkets, as well as the Tzong Kuan Buddhist temple, Chinatown has been a popular gathering place for the city’s Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants since the late 1980s. For the majority of portenos (city dwellers), this is the go-to place for authentic Chinese food, with traditional restaurants serving specialties like egg fried rice and steamed dumplings, and a selection of Japanese, Thai and Korean eateries providing a wide range of ethnic cuisine.
The barrio also draws a large crowd during the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, when the central Arribeños street comes alive with a vibrant street market and revelers can enjoy live music and costumed entertainers.
Plaza de Mayo is Buenos Aires’ political heart, first mapped out in 1580. Today, the grassy, treed plaza attracts visitors with cameras and relaxing locals, and is also the venue for rallies and gatherings.
The center of the plaza features an obelisk called the Pirámide de Mayo, erected to commemorate independence from Spain. Grand 19th century buildings line the plaza, but the colonial arches that once circled the plaza are long gone. Nearby are the city council buildings known as the Cabildo, the Casa Rosada government buildings and fine bank buildings.
Like La Boca, the central barrio of San Telmo is one of Buenos Aires’ tango haunts.
Formerly an up-market residential area, the area’s crumbling mansions and atmosphere of faded glory form the perfect backdrop for the city’s artists and musicians who now call this inner-city enclave home. Visit on Sundays to browse the enormous Plaza Dorrego antiques fair, clap along to the tango buskers and relax with a drink at one of the surrounding cafes. The streets here are picturesquely cobbled, and the fascinating little shops are well worth a browse. Visit San Telmo at night to take in a tango show in one of the area’s many clubs.
More Things to Do in The Pampas
Since 1908, the Colon Theatre (or Teatro Colón) has set the benchmark for gilded magnificence and the ultimate theater experience.
One of the world’s top five opera houses, the luxurious seven-story building seats 2,500 theater-goers on plush red velvet chairs on tiers of gilded balconies rising to giddying heights.
Guided tours highlight the gilt interior, chandeliers, illuminated dome and ceremonial staircases.
See what’s coming up on the theater’s schedule of performances, from opera and ballet to classical concerts.
Once a lackluster cargo port, the waterfront area of Puerto Madero is now one of Buenos Aires’ most fashionable districts, teeming with upmarket restaurants and glitzy nightclubs. Marooned from the mainland by the Rio de la Plata estuary, the largely pedestrianized island is celebrated for housing some of the city’s most architecturally stunning buildings. Luxury apartments, plush hotels and high-rise office towers dominate the area, encircling a stylish waterfront plaza and backed by an expanse of naturally preserved parkland.
The barrio’s pièce de résistance is the iconic Puente de la Mujer, or the Woman’s Bridge, an artistic swing-bridge that connects Puerto Madero to the mainland hub of Plaza de Mayo. The futuristic design by Spanish sculpture Santiago Calatrava, is said to symbolize an abstract tango dance and casts a striking silhouette on the city skyline.
With its brightly painted houses and funky atmosphere, Caminito is one of the most famous streets in Buenos Aires.It may not be a grand boulevard, but Caminito is a historic walkway that grabs your attention from the moment you enter. Founded by Italian immigrants from Genoa, the street is lined with haphazardly built homes constructed from corrugated metal and wood, painted in a plethora of gaudy colors. You’ll probably hear the dramatic foot-stomping strains of the tango as you stroll down this pedestrian walkway, and as you look around you’ll see works by local artists on the walls of this outdoor living gallery.
The eye-catching salmon-pink façade of Argentina’s presidential palace is one of the capital’s most iconic sights, standing proud over the city’s historic Plaza de Mayo public square. The aptly named Casa Rosada, or the ‘Pink House’, is the secondary mansion and office of the Argentine President, housing the government offices and providing the striking backdrop to Buenos Aires’ often-turbulent political history.
Erected in 1862, the Renaissance-style palace was initially to be painted white and theories abound as to hoe it got its rosy makeover, from ox blood being mixed into the paint to the then-President blending the red and white colors of opposing political rallyists. Designated a National Historic Monument of Argentina, the pink palace is perhaps most legendary for its lower balcony, from which the beloved Evita rallied the working class crowds back in 1949 – a moment that was famously recreated by Madonna in the 1996 movie Evita.
Porteños often boast about Avenida 9 De Julio as the world’s widest boulevard, and with a width of 460 feet (140 meters) with 12 lanes of traffic, they might just be right. Construction on the avenue began in 1937, modeled after the Champs Elysees but twice as wide, and built to commemorate Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. It wasn’t fully completed until 1980.
Neo-classical and Beaux Arts buildings line the monumental street, but it’s most recognizable feature is the iconic Obelisco that towers over a small park at the intersection of Avenida 9 De Julio and Avenida Corrientes.
Located in the neighborhood of San Nicolas near the center of Buenos Aires, the Catedral Metrepolitana has a history that’s nearly as long as winding as the capital city itself. The land for the cathedral was set aside beginning in 1580, although over the next two centuries the building would collapse at least a half dozen times. Constant construction and reconstruction seemed to plague the central cathedral, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 1820s that French architects were brought in to design a solid cathedral. When visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral today, you’ll find the cathedral is pieced together by segments of its various eras—a historical tour within itself that tells the city’s story. Structurally, the cathedral involves elements of Spanish design as well as Greek revival, in addition to a mosaic tile floor in classically Venetian style.
The ritzy Recoleta neighborhood draws visitors in the numbers for a wander through Buenos Aires’ up-market residential streets and public parks.
For most visitors, the main attraction is the Recoleta Cemetery, an ornate necropolis so large it’s like a mini city of states and marble sarcophagi. One of the most famous tombs is that of Eva Peron (Evita).
The enclave also attracts thousands of people for its weekend crafts market, held on Plaza Francia outside the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Museums and art galleries, lovely plazas and parklands are another feature of Recoleta.
Meaning retreat in Spanish, the Retiro neighborhood was named after a Spanish governor’s country retreat built in the area during the late 17th century. Located in northeastern Buenos Aires, Retiro is a study in contrasts. The barrio got its start as one of the capital’s wealthiest neighborhoods, evidenced by the belle epoque embassies, five star hotels and high end retailers scattered throughout the neighborhood. On the other hand, Retiro is one of Argentina’s busiest transportation hubs with throngs of people always passing through, and is also home to the overcrowded and under-serviced neighborhood known as Villa 31.
A highlight of the neighborhood (and of the entire city of Buenos Aires) is Plaza San Martin. This park located opposite the Retiro train terminal is surrounded by some of the city’s most impressive architecture. Shoppers flock to Avenida Florida, a pedestrian street that runs from Plaza San Martin in Retiro to San Nicolas.
Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, the northern district of Palermo encompasses a number of city hotspots, favored by the city’s most cosmopolitan and fashionable residents. The ever-trendy Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood make up the old quarter of Palermo Viejo where grand residential buildings jostle for space with quirky boutiques and some of the city’s finest bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Palermo is also renowned for its parks and there are plenty of idyllic green spaces to choose from. The tree-lined Bosques of Palermo is a hugely popular picnic spot centered around a glistening lake and the family-friendly Zoological Gardens are surrounded by the lush Botanical gardens, Japanese gardens, the Evita Museum and the Galileo Galilei planetarium. Close by, the Palermo Hippodrome is situated next door to the legendary Campo de Polo sports ground, and the iconic Floralis Genérica art installation stands proud over the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.
The dramatic centerpiece of the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, the Floralis Generica is a giant 18-ton aluminum flower sculpture that has become one of Buenos Aires’ most instantly recognizable landmarks. The quirky art installation was erected in 2002 in the parkland that bridges the city’s Palermo and Recoleta districts and features a striking mirrored finish that dazzles under the sun and glows red in the evening hours. Designed by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, the futuristic monument was envisioned in homage to his home city and was gifted to the public by him.
Most uniquely, the remote controlled sculpture is programmed to open and close its six petals with the sun, so that the flower is in bloom during daylight hours before closing up at sunset. Each morning (the petals open at 8am) and night crowds of locals and tourists gather in the park to watch the 20-minute spectacle, as the 66-foot-high flower changes color.
Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge, is a footbridge in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. It was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and modeled after very similar bridges spanning the rivers in Seville, Spain and Redding, California. The prominent feature that all three bridges share is the big steel needle jutting at a sharp angle into the sky. The needle functions as an anchor for the suspension cables and holds up the entire span. According to the creator, the whole structure is supposed to show a couple dancing the tango, with the needle representing the man and the curved body of the bridge embodying the woman being lowered to the ground. Additionally, many of the streets in this Buenos Aires district have women’s names, a fact that Calatrava wanted to honor when he named Puente de la Mujer.
An interesting function of the bridge is its rotating feature to let water traffic pass through.
The cultural heart of the historic San Telmo barrio, Plaza Dorrego is the second-oldest square in Buenos Aires and famous for its a vibrant weekly market. Named after the soldier and two-times Governor of Buenos Aires, Manuel Dorrego, the Plaza was once the center of the city’s 19th-century residential district, until clusters of tango venues and bars sprung up around the square in the 1930s. Today the colonial square remains a lively hub of bars and cafés, with many historic venues holding tango shows and live music. Sunday is the most popular day to visit Plaza Dorrego when the square hosts the world famous San Telmo antiques market, accompanied by live musicians and tango dancers performing sultry numbers on the sidewalk. Sprawling along the adjourning Defensa Avenue, the Feria de San Pedro Telmo (San Telmo Market) offers up a colorful array of stalls selling antiques and curios alongside handicrafts, souvenirs, leatherworks, silver, tango memorabilia and local artworks.
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