Buenos Aires: Places to Explore

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Recoleta and Almagro

For Buenos Aires' most illustrious families, Recoleta's boundaries are the boundaries of the civilized world. The local equivalents of the Vanderbilts are baptized and married in the Basílica del Pilar, throw parties in the Alvear Palace Hotel, live in spacious 19th-century apartments, and wouldn't dream of shopping elsewhere. Ornate mausoleums in the Cementerio de la Recoleta promise an equally stylish after-life.

Recoleta wasn't always synonymous with elegance. Colonists, including city founder Juan de Garay, farmed here. So did the Franciscan Recoleto friars, whose 1700s settlement here inspired the district's name. Their church, the Basílica del Pilar, was almost on the riverbank then: tanneries grew up around it, and Recoleta became famous for its pulperías (taverns) and brothels. Everything changed with the 1871 outbreak of yellow fever in the south of the city.

The elite swarmed to Recoleta, building the palacios and stately Parisian-style apartment buildings that are now the neighborhood's trademark. They also laid the foundations for Recoleta's concentration of intellectual and cultural activity: the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), a plethora of top-notch galleries, and three publicly run art museums are all based here. Combine Recoleta's art and architecture with its beautiful parks and squares—many filled with posh pooches and their walkers—and sightseeing here becomes a visual feast. And despite the luxury around you, many sights are free (and so is window-shopping). An unofficial subdistrict, Barrio Norte, is one step south of Recoleta proper and one small step down the social ladder. Shopping is the draw: local chains, sportswear flagships, and mini-malls of vintage clothing and club wear line Avenida Santa Fe between 9 de Julio and Puerreydón.

Almagro lies southwest of Recoleta but is a world apart. Traditionally a gritty, working-class neighborhood, it spawned many tango greats, including the legendary Carlos Gardel. The Abasto subdistrict has long been the heart of the barrio: it centers on the massive art deco building (at Corrientes and Agüero) that was once the city's central market. The abandoned structure was completely overhauled and reopened in 1998 as a major mall, spearheading the redevelopment of the area, which now has several top hotels and an increasing number of restaurants and tango venues. More urban renewal is taking place a few blocks away at Sarmiento and Jean Jaurés, where the Konex Foundation has transformed an abandoned factory into a cutting-edge cultural venue.

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