Historical Calle Florida

Getting There: Take the metro to San Martin.

Start: Corner of calles Córdoba and Florida.

Finish: Calle Florida at Diagonal Norte.

Time: 2 hours, not including eating or shopping stops.

Best Times: Daylight hours in the midafternoon, when you can see the buildings most clearly and most are open (some interiors not visible after 8pm).

Pedestrianized Calle Florida mostly has a reputation as a shop-till-you-drop and people-watching destination. However, there is superb architecture and historical interest here as well. I highlight the most beautiful features of the street here, and I recommend that you keep your head up as you walk along (trying, of course, not to bump into anyone or step in Buenos Aires's infamous dog doo-doo.) While many of the buildings on this street have been modernized at storefront level, the facades higher up are often preserved. The last portion of this trip along Calle Florida takes you into Buenos Aires's banking center, nicknamed "La City" after London's financial district. This tour is an easy walk and is also wheelchair-accessible in most cases.

To start the tour, begin at the northeastern corner of Calle Florida, where it hits Calle Córdoba. You will be in front of Córdoba 810, which is the:

1. Centro Naval

This is one of the city's most exquisite buildings, a masterpiece of cast stone architecture. A nude sea god in a Spanish galleon, announcing triumph through a conch shell, oversees its corner doorway. Naval themes continue along the upper balustrades. The building was opened in 1914 and was designed by Swiss architect Jacques Dunant. It's not generally open to the public, but sometimes they let you into the circular lobby. If you ever get invited to an event here, make sure to go.

Cross Calle Córdoba heading south and stop just after crossing the street, at the:

2. Galerías Pacífico

The most famous shopping mall in Buenos Aires, Galerías Pacífico was opened in 1891. The building was designed to recall the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, with its long halls, glass cupola, and several tiers of shops. An economic crisis shortly after its opening, however, meant that it was converted into office space for the Pacífico Railroad Company. In 1992, everything old became new again, and the building was converted back into a shopping center. Enter the building and see the central staircase where all the halls meet. In 1945, while still an office building, paintings about the history of mankind were installed under the main dome, and the shopping center has daily information sessions explaining their history.

Take a Break -- If you're hungry, make a pit stop in the food court at the Galerías Pacífico. Try a fast-food asado (Argentine grill), and finish your meal with a Patagonian chocolate treat -- you won't be sorry!

When you're finished shopping here, head back out the door facing Calle Florida and turn left, walking south on Calle Florida until you get to Lavalle, another pedestrianized street. No need to look out for cars at this busy intersection, which is sometimes full of street performers. (Take a break here and watch if one catches your attention.) After crossing Lavalle, stop midblock and face the building at Calle Florida 460 on your right, or west, side. It's the:

3. Sociedad Rural Argentina

Surrounded by modern storefronts, this small, ornate French rococo building seems out of place among its ordinary neighbors. The people working inside almost undoubtedly feel the same way, for this is the headquarters of the Sociedad Rural Argentina, an organization created in the mid-1800s by the country's wealthiest oligarchs. This society was integral to the creation of Argentina's great agricultural wealth. The door to this important institution is almost always closed, but if you find it open, take a chance and wander in to see the Belle Epoque interior. There are, however, no official visits to the building and you'll likely be quickly sent out the door.

Continue walking south on Calle Florida until you get to Avenida Corrientes. Cross the street and stop in front of Burger King, which was once the site of the:

4. Ana Díaz Historical Homestead

Women's history buffs take note: While men usually get all the credit for founding cities, Spanish explorer Juan de Garay's 1580 expedition, which permanently founded Buenos Aires, was not without a lady's touch. Ana Díaz, whose house was located on the property where Burger King now sits, came along with him. The first time that the Spanish tried to settle the city of Buenos Aires in 1536, it was an all-male group of explorers and the settlement failed. Who knows how many times it might have taken to settle Buenos Aires if a woman hadn't been around to take care of things the second time around? Still, it's unclear historically what her exact role was in the founding. Was she a Spanish conquistadora, a woman with Indian blood who served as a guide, or a lover of one of the men? Ana Díaz's original home is long gone, but was located on this corner. A stunning turn-of-the-20th-century home was later built here and was intact until Burger King got its hands on it. Still, enter the hamburger joint and take a walk up the staircase to your left. Try not to gasp in awe as you head upstairs to the colonnaded rotunda, stained-glass ceilings, and various rooms with their ornamental plaster ceilings. Imagine what the ground floor looked like before "ground meat" took over. This is one of the most stunning hidden gems of Calle Florida in terms of both beauty and historical value. On the Corrientes side of the building, you can read plaques that explain more about Ana Díaz and her often-overlooked importance to the founding of Buenos Aires.

Upon leaving Burger King, turn to the right and continue up Calle Florida. Don't stop until you're midblock between Corrientes and Sarmiento. Then face the east side of the street to see the:

5. Galería Mitre/Falabella

This is one of the most visually impressive and unusual buildings on Calle Florida. It was designed in a robust Spanish colonial style, imitating the Argentine missions along the Paraguayan border. The most unique feature is the ornamentation around the doorway and the frieze above it, with men in 16th-century Spanish clothing, both executed in a rustic manner. This crude but ornate ornamentation mimics art created by Indian slaves for their Spanish masters in that region of Argentina during the early colonial period in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The building had been closed for many years and is now home to Falabella, the Chilean department store, which opened in Buenos Aires in 2005.

Continue in the same direction on Calle Florida, crossing Sarmiento. Stop midblock before Perón, this time facing the west side of the street, so that you're looking at the:

6. Banco Francés -- Optician Store

At street level, you'll wonder why you've stopped here (no, I don't want you to use the check-cashing store). But look up and you'll see a beautiful 1920s-era building that was once an optician's headquarters. Notice the bronze eyeglasses adorning the windows and beautiful maidens surrounding them. Four-eyed nerds can only dream to have it so good.

Continue up Calle Florida in the same direction, stopping just as you hit Calle Perón, and look to the corner opposite, on the west side, to see:

7. Gath & Chaves

You'll notice the BANCO MERIDIEN sign under a glass-and-wrought-iron doorway simulating old Parisian subway entrances. Look above and you will still see the old name of this one-time British department store on the corner tower -- Gath & Chaves. Like Harrods, it shows the former influence of British culture on Argentina. Inside, only hints of its former beauty remain in the bank lobby.

Continue up Calle Florida to Perón, but don't cross it yet. Instead, face your left, or east, side for a glimpse of the:

8. HSBC Building

This ornate Spanish Gothic building, one of my favorites, is faced with travertine marble and the corner entrance is covered with heavy bronze doors. It, however, is very often covered with graffiti.

Cross Perón and walk half a block on Calle Florida, stopping on the east side in front of Calle Florida 165, the:

9. Galería Guemes

The Calle Florida entrance of this turn-of-the-20th-century shopping gallery is nothing special, and the most interesting thing is the sign for Piazzolla Tango, held in the basement theater. However, step through the threshold and you'll find one of the city's most exquisite buildings. It was designed by Francesco Gianotti, an Italian architect, who also designed the now-closed Confitería del Molino. At night, the gallery is open to those seeing the tango show. However, you can still wander in, as the entranceway is not locked. No matter what time you go, don't miss the ornamental elevator bays with their bronze details while inside.

Continue south on Calle Florida and cross Calle Bartolomé Mitre. Stop immediately, facing the wedge-shaped building on your left, or east, side at Calle Florida 99. This is the:

10. Bank of Boston

This is another ornate Spanish colonial building, even more impressive than the HSBC bank, full of beautiful details on its facade and within the interior. Much of the limestone and structural steel necessary to make this building came from the United States. The 4-ton bronze doors were made in England. Since the peso crisis, the building has often been a flashpoint for anti-American sentiments and, at times, is covered with "Yankee go home" graffiti. If the building is open, enter its spacious lobby, with slender columns supporting a gilded and coffered ceiling. The building is topped by an enormous and ornate cupola, part of the row of them on Diagonal Norte, marking each intersection with the connecting streets. (This pattern begins at Plaza de Mayo and continues up Diagonal Norte, where it intersects with Av. 9 de Julio, forming the vista point for the Obelisco.)

When leaving the building, face the plaza and look at the:

11. Roque Sáenz Peña Monument

Inaugurated in 1936, this Art Deco monument commemorates Roque Sáenz Peña, president of Argentina from 1910 to 1914, who died while in office. It overlooks Diagonal Norte, which is also sometimes known as Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña. The construction of Diagonal Norte was part of a plan to rebuild Buenos Aires with vista points along the lines of Haussmann's redesign of Paris. Diagonal Norte was completed in the mid-1930s.

This statue marks the end of this walking tour. During the daytime you can head across the street to the Buenos Aires City Tourism kiosk, the modern metal structure with a winged cover, if you need any kind of information or help. Behind it, if you need travel assistance, you'll find the main customer service center for Aerolíneas Argentinas. If you just want to head home after the tour, the D line Catedral subway station is here, or you can walk a little toward Plaza de Mayo for more subway line access (lines A and E).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.