Trendy shops, bold restaurants, elegant embassies, acres of parks—Palermo really does have it all. Whether your idea of sightseeing is ticking off museums, flicking through clothing racks, licking your fingers after yet another long lunch, or kicking up a storm on the dance floor, Palermo can oblige. The city's largest barrio is subdivided into various unofficial districts, each with its own distinct flavor.

Some say Palermo takes its name from a 16th-century Italian immigrant who bought land here, others from the abbey honoring Saint Benedict of Palermo. Either way, the area was largely rural until the 1830s, when national governor Juan Manuel de Rosas built an estate in Palermo. After the dictatorial Rosas was overthrown, his property north of Avenida del Libertador was turned into a huge patchwork of parks and dubbed Parque Tres de Febrero—a reference to February 3, 1852, the day he was defeated in battle. More commonly known as Los Bosques de Palermo (the Palermo Woods), the green space provides a peaceful escape from the rush of downtown. The zoo and botanical gardens are at its southern end.

Plastic surgery and imported everything are the norm further east in Palermo Chico (between avenidas Santa Fe and Libertador), where ambassadors and rich local celebs live in Parisian-style mansions. Higher-brow culture is provided by the gleaming Museo de Arte de Latinoamericano (Museum of Latin American Art) on Avenida Figueroa Alcorta.

If a week away from your analyst is bringing on anxiety attacks, the quiet residential district around Plaza Güemes might offer some relief: it's nicknamed Villa Freud, for the high concentration of psychoanalysts who live and work here. But if it’s retail therapy you need, Palermo delivers in that department, too. The streets around the intersection of avenidas Santa Fe and Coronel Díaz are home to mainstream clothing stores and the mid-range Alto Palermo mall. More upscale alternatives, meanwhile, abound in Palermo Viejo. Top boutiques—along with minimalist lofts, endless bars, and the most daring restaurants in town—have made Palermo Viejo (and its unofficial subdistrict, Palermo Soho) the epicenter of Buenos Aires' design revolution.

Many of these establishments occupy beautifully restored townhouses built in the late 19th century, when Palermo became a popular residential district. Trendsetters gravitate to the cobbled streets around Plazoleta Cortázar. The action also spills over into neighboring Palermo Hollywood, where streets like Honduras are lined with hip hotels and cocktail bars. Many patrons are local starlets or media types from the TV production centers that give the area its moniker.

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