Related: Architectural Styles of Buenos Aires
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If strapped for time and in search of how best to get a taste of the architecture of Buenos Aires, the answer is clear: head to Avenida de Mayo. The entire avenue, stretching from the National Congress (Congreso) to the presidential palace (Casa Rosada) possesses a dense cluster of the city’s architectural heritage, covering nearly all of the its major influences.
This article provides an overview of the notable buildings you can encounter along Avenida de Mayo, as well as potential detours designed to further enhance your exposure to the city’s architecture.
As shown in the map below, the suggested main route of this walking tour runs from Congreso to Casa Rosada (though it can also be done in reverse). Buildings of note are specified in the map by blue icons, with data on the architect and year of construction (where possible) provided by clicking on that icon. Locations to pause for a coffee and rest your feet are also included in the map by the red coffee icons (See the article on Buenos Aires’ historic “Café Notables” for further information). Additional walking tours for different parts of the city are also provided in the main article.
The walk from Congreso to Casa Rosada covers only 2 km, making it relatively easy to complete in only a few hours. This increases to nearly 8 km, however, under the scenario where all suggested detours were taken (so make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and provide time to rest).
Main Route (⟺): Avenida de Mayo (Congreso to Casa Rosada)
▷Total Distance: 2 km
▷Highlights: Congreso, Rodin’s “The Thinker”, Edificio la Inmobilaria, Palacio Barolo, Edificio Diario Critica, Hotel Chile, Edificio la Prensa, El Cabildo, Catedral Metropolitana, Banco de la Nación Argentina, Casa Rosada
Detour 1A (⟺): Balvanera
▷Total Distance: 0.75 km
▷Highlights: Palacio de los Lirios, Teatro Empire
Detour 1B (⟺): Balvanera (deeper dive)
▷Total Distance: 1.7 km
▷Highlights: Casa Calise, Café de los Angelitos
Detour 2 (⟺): Club Español
▷Total Distance: 0.4 km
Detour 3 (⟺): Plaza de Mayo South
▷Total Distance: 1.3 km
▷Highlights: Palacio de la Legislatura, Edificio Otto Wulff, City Hotel, Farmacia de la Estrella
Detour 4 (⟺): Plaza de Mayo North
▷Total Distance: 0.6 km
▷Highlights: Banco Hipotecario
The route begins at Plaza de Congreso, where you can marvel at the impressive neoclassical features of the National Congress as well as the Art Nouveau Confitería El Molino with its distinctive glass turret on the corner of Rivadavia and Callao.
From here you have several options. For those with more time, energy, and/or desire, you may choose to head a few blocks west on Avenida Rivadavia into the neighborhood of Balvanera where you can find some of the city’s finer examples of Art Nouveau architecture. After passing Congreso you will immediately take note of the Art Nouveau Edificio de los Atlantes, which was designed by the same architect responsible for Palacio Barolo. Continuing on past the intersection with Ayacucho/Sarandí will bring you to the wonderful Art Nouveau residence Palacio de los Lirios, as well as that located at Rividavia 200 that reads “No hi ha somnis impossibles” (Catalan for “no dreams are impossible”).
Here again you are presented with two options (as noted in the map). You can head south down Sarandí, taking a left on Hipólito Yrigoyen to rejoin the main route or you can continue on toward Casa Calise. Again there is no wrong answer, but it is worth noting that this latter option would require a fair bit of additional walking and only really provide you the benefit of one additional building of particular distinction (though it’s one of my favorites).
Continuing west on Rivadavia, you will quickly arrive at Café de los Angelitos (located on the corner with Rincón). One of Buenos Aires’ historic “Café Notables“, los Angelitos is a good location to pause for a coffee and a bathroom break. Usually peaceful during the day (Tango shows for tourists operate in the evenings), the café is well-preserved, maintaining a level of elegance reminiscent of the city’s Belle Époque.
A bit of work is necessary for the next payoff as you’ll be required to walk an additional 5 blocks west to the intersection with Saavedra. Before turning left, you might consider sneaking a quick glance at Rivadavia 2625 which was similarly designed by the architect of Palacio Barolo and which offers an intriguing example of Neo-Renaissance style architecture. From here, head south on Saavedra and take your next left onto Hipólito Yrigoyen.
Approximately 50 meters on your right you will arrive at Casa Calise. This is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau in Buenos Aires though it is difficult to fully appreciate from the exterior. Built in the Stile Liberty style that emerged in Italy, this residence is a striking example of Art Nouveau. While usually closed to the public, a mildly intrusive glance through the main doors will reward you with a view of the interior’s exquisite stained glass and sculptures. On the exterior, you can observe the subtle polychrome façade with curved windows and wrought iron on the balconies that contains standard Art Nouveau curves and whiplash effects. As the Italians didn’t reject neoclassicism with the same vehemence as other practitioners of Art Nouveau, we see as well some continued usage of neoclassical and neo-Renaissance elements.
Continuing on Hipólito Yrigoyen, you will pass the Art Deco Teatro Empire on your right before again arriving at Congreso. As you re-enter Plaza del Congreso, you have the option of taking a break at the “Café Notable” Confitería Victoria located at the corner of Entre Rios and Hipólito Yrigoyen. (If possible, grab the window seat that provides views of Congreso and Confitería Molino).
For those wishing to forgo this detour into Balvanera, continue instead along Avenida de Mayo in the direction of Casa Rosada. As you make your way through the Plaza de Congreso, take in the wealth of architecture, making sure not to miss the neo-Renaissance Edificio Instituto Biológico Argentino on the left as well as the statue of Rodin’s “The Thinker”.
At the southeast corner of the Plaza (just opposite The Thinker), you’ll be treated to your first taste of the architectural splendors offered on Avenida de Mayo with the neo-Renaissance Edificio la Inmobiliaria. Neighboring this is one of the city’s most iconic buildings – the Eclectic Palacio Barolo – which should really be visited properly if time permits. During normal business hours, the lobby of this masterpiece is accessible to the public and worth seeing in and of itself. Guided tours of the building are available (at a fee), but may require prior booking (especially for tours in English). An alternative, however, would be to take the elevator to the restaurant (Salon 1923) located near the top of the building (16th floor), where you can treat yourself to a pricey drink and some invaluable views.
As you continue east on Avenida de Mayo you’ll find a small cluster of noteworthy buildings on the opposite side of the street. This includes the Art Deco Edificio Diario Critica (not accessible to the public), as well as the eclectic Hotel Majestic and Art Nouveau Hotel Chile (the latter two standing on opposite sides of the corner with Calle Santiago del Estero). Shortly after this intersection you again have the opportunity to take a break in a “café notable” – this time in Los 36 Billares.
Further east along Avenida de Mayo you will arrive at Avenida 9 de Julio – reported (with some dispute) to be the world’s widest thoroughfare. As you cross, take note of the statue of Don Quixote (Aurelio Teno, 1980) as well as the giant mural of Evita adorning the “Racionalismo”-style Ministry of Health (seen a few blocks to the south on your right and impossible to miss).
Statue of Don Quixote Ministry of Health
It might take you a few lights, but you’ll eventually arrive on the opposite side of Avenida 9 de Julio. Once you do, you have the option of continuing along Avenida de Mayo or taking a short detour south (0.4 km round-trip) to the wonderful Art Nouveau Club Español (built in the Modern Catalan style).
Continue east along Avenida de Mayo for about two blocks, until you reach Café Tortoni (left-hand/north side; shortly after passing the intersection with Calle Tacuari). This is the oldest café still in operation in Buenos Aires and – although very touristic – is well worth visiting if the line to get in (and be treated to the free tango shows) isn’t too daunting (early morning seems to best bet to beat the line, though you won’t be provided with any tango at this hour). The café is followed by the Art Nouveau Palacio Vera, located on the next block (on your right). Built in the French style, its lobby is worth a peak if you can find a way to get inside.
Toward the end of the Avenida, just before reaching Plaza de Mayo you’ll come across the Beaux-Arts Edificio La Prensa topped with its bronze statue in honor of freedom of the press (left-hand side of the street; now home to the ministry of culture – lobby publicly accessible). Just opposite this, you’ll find the eclectic Pasaje Roverano which can be entered for glimpses of its Belle Époque interior. [Note: prior to this, you will find London City – another “Café Notable” at corner with Calle Perú – famous for its association with the Argentine author Julio Cortázar].
Arriving at Plaza de Mayo, you’ll be treated to a feast of architecture spilling into adjoining streets in all directions. If entering from the east, you will first find yourself flanked on your left by the Beaux-Arts City Hall as well as the Spanish-colonial El Cabildo on your right (a site of notable historical importance which functions as a museum and can be entered with a modest fee).
Moving clockwise around the Plaza, you will note the Catedral Metropolitana with its distinctive Greek Revivalist features that make it appear more like an Athenian temple than a church when viewed from the outside. This is contrasted by the wonderful example of neo-Renaissance architecture found in the ex. Nuevo Banco Italiano (now a BBVA). The northeast corner brings you to the Bank of Argentina – a further example of Beaux-Arts/neoclassicism – which is accessible to the public provided it isn’t the weekend or a holiday (the interior is worth a quick glance and usually houses a small public art exhibition displaying work from local artists). The plaza ends with the eclectic presidential palace – La Casa Rosada – which is accessible only by prior appointment.
While this would mark a fitting end to your tour, there are a number of options for those with an unsatisfied appetite for architecture. A number of streets branch outwards from Plaza de Mayo and nearly all could be followed with satisfactory results. There’s really no bad choice here, so the best advice would be to follow your heart and listen to whichever direction pulls on its strings with the most fervor.
However, if you feel as though you might benefit from some advice, I would suggest heading southwest toward Avenida Presidente Roca. Here you’ll immediately be treated to the neoclassical/Beaux-Arts Palacio de la Legislatura de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (entrance by appointment) as well as the colonial Manzana de las Luces (another site of notable historical importance, located on the corner of Roca and Peru – free entry during hours of operation).
From here, it is possible to continue south along Calle Perú where you will find a treat waiting for you at Avenida Belgrano in the form of the Edificio Otto Wulff. While there are a number of Art Nouveau structures in the city, this is one of the few in the Jugendstil style (and easily the finest in my opinion). Spend some time appreciating the exquisite detail of the building’s ornamentation as well as its heavy use of symbolism. A Starbucks is located at the building’s ground floor which retains the original early 20th century woodwork at its entrance. (Though the “Café Notable” Bar Colonial located just opposite provides a more authentic place to relax for anyone in need of a break).
Take a left on Avenida Belgrano followed by another left on Calle Bolivar to head back in the direction of Plaza de Mayo. Once on Bolivar, you’ll quickly encounter the Art Deco façade of Pasaje Belgrano on your left as well as the Beaux-Arts Palacio Raggio as you arrive at the corner of Avenida Moreno.
Continuing along Bolivar, the block between Moreno and Alsina provides views of the Beaux-Arts Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires as well as the city’s oldest churth – the Baroque Parroquia San Ignacio de Loyola (Church of St. Ignatius). Before turning right on Avenida Alsina, it is worth taking a short detour further north onto Bolivar in order to appreciate the City Hotel – one of the finer Art Deco structures in the area.
From the City Hotel, double back to Avenida Alsina and turn left, heading east for one block. At the corner with Defensa, pause to enter the Farmacia de la Estrella on your right – the oldest pharmacy still in operation in Buenos Aires – and take a trip back in time as you marvel at the fine craftsmanship of its woodwork. As you exit, you will note the neo-Bavarian Baroque-style Iglesia de San Francisco directly to your right (closed for renovations at time of writing). Continue north on Defensa towards Plaza de Mayo, passing the eclectic Edificio Unión Telefónica on your left.
As you arrive back at Plaza de Mayo, you will see the Pirámide de Mayo directly in front of you and the Casa Rosada to your right. Those still eager to explore can continue north, past the Banco de la Nación Argentina and onto Calle 25 de Mayo for one short block until reaching Bartolomé Mitre. At this intersection you will find several buildings of contrasting style, including a “racionalismo”-style structure immediately to your right at Bartolomé Mitre 300 and the Beaux-Arts Ministerio de Interior at the northeast corner.
Heading west on Bartolomé Mitre, you will encounter an Art Deco building on your right at No. 337 (today the Banco de Córdoba) before arriving at the fine Brutalist Banco Hipotecario at the corner of Reconquista. This building is in stark contrast to the others occupying the intersection and one of the world’s better examples of Brutalism still in existence. Other worthwhile buildings at this intersection include the neoclassical structure at Bartolomé Mitre 401 and the eclectic building occupying Bartolomé Mitre 402.
Take a left on Reconquista and return to Plaza to Mayo to complete the first (and most important) in this series of architectural walking tours. Congratulations! Now, go treat yourself to some ice cream.