Avenida de Mayo to Congreso
Getting There: Take the metro to Bolivar, Perú, Catedral, or Plaza de Mayo.
Start: Casa de Cultura, at Av. de Mayo 575.
Finish: Plaza Congreso.
Time: 2 hours, 5 if buildings and museums are entered.
Best Times: Monday through Saturday between 11am and 4pm (not at night when things are closed).
Avenida de Mayo opened in 1894 and was meant to be the Gran Via or Champs-Elysées of Buenos Aires, full of lively cafes, theaters, and hotels. The design of the street was just one early part of an even grander plan to rebuild Buenos Aires in preparation for the 1910 Independence Centennial and to declare to the world that Buenos Aires was a city to be reckoned with. Some of the greatest concentrations of Beaux Arts and Art Nouveau buildings in the city are along this route, which connects Plaza de Mayo in the east to Congreso in the west. This is the historical processional route both for grand parades and for when people have something to protest to the president and to Congress. While many buildings along this route are badly in need of repair, others have recently been renovated as the tourism boom brought more attention to this area. It is not hard to imagine how glorious this street must have been in its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century.
This tour is an easy walk, but long distances (about 2.4km/1 1/2 miles) are covered. Most sidewalks are wheelchair-accessible, but pavement is broken in places. Also, note that you'll be crossing the wide Avenida 9 de Julio, which can take two to three traffic light cycles for pedestrians to cross it; be extra-careful with children.
Start just in from the northeastern corner of Avenida de Mayo and San Martín, at Av. de Mayo 575, site of the:
1. Casa de Cultura/La Prensa Building
Once the home of the newspaper La Prensa, owned by the very wealthy and powerful Paz family, this building is simply sumptuous, with carved granite, bronze ornamentation, and sinuous lanterns among its most striking features. Now home to the Casa de Cultura (the Office of Culture for the City of Buenos Aires), it is open for tours on the weekend. The tour is a must-do if you have the time. If you don't, at least enter the building and take a peek at the lobby to get an idea of its splendor.
With the Casa de Cultura to your back, turn right and continue moving up Avenida de Mayo in a western direction. Cross Calle Perú and Calle Maipú and stop at Av. de Mayo 769, location of the:
2. Palacio Vera
One of the best examples of Art Nouveau along Avenida de Mayo is right here, and the details along its balconies are the most interesting part of the Palacio Vera facade. Now made up of businesses and apartments, it was designed as the home for the Diaz Velez family, who gained prominence at the beginning of the 1800s, just before independence. If the El Ventanal bookstore is open, pop in for its unique collection of antique books and historical front pages for important Argentine events.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo, cross Calle Esmeralda, and stop when you've reached Av. de Mayo 825, home of the:
3. Café Tortoni
As the city's most famous cafe, this establishment has been graced by numerous political, intellectual, and historic figures from Argentina and around the world. There are tango shows here every night, but the real treat is the ornate interior of the building itself. Above the cafe is the office of the National Tango Academy, which also offers lessons. I have found recently that with the enormous surge of tourists to Buenos Aires, the door attendant will sometimes limit or refuse entry to foreigners who just want a peek inside the building. If you have a hard time getting in, come back at a less busy time, such as early morning or in the late evening, or better yet, come in for real, sit down, and enjoy a cup of coffee here.
Take a Break -- As long as you're here, you might as well sample the atmosphere and have a bite to eat. Don't expect excellent service, as the waiters seem to ignore the customers. Still, the food is inexpensive, and a tea or coffee with croissants, known here as medialunas, makes an excellent snack for more energy along the way.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo to the world's widest boulevard:
4. Avenida 9 de Julio
It will probably take you a few traffic-light cycles to cross this massive street. Construction on this avenida began in the 1930s, with its inauguration in 1937. Expansion, however, continued decades later, up through the 1960s. Unfortunately, during the process of making this boulevard, much of the city's beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century architectural heritage was lost. Spend some time on the avenida in this area, and be sure to see the fountains and the Don Quixote monument inaugurated by Queen Sofía of Spain. During 2006, much of this avenue was renovated with new flowers, plants, sidewalks, brighter lighting and street furniture, making for a nicer experience here than just a few years before that.
Cross Avenida 9 de Julio completely, and continue on to Av. de Mayo 1152, location of the:
5. Castelar Hotel
One of the jewels of Avenida de Mayo, this hotel opened in 1928. One of its most notable features is its extensive Turkish bath on its basement level; it's worth stopping in to get a treatment or just to view the space. The Castelar has a strong association with Spanish literary giant Federico García Lorca, who lived here for many months. His room has been converted into a minimuseum. The eccentric Italian architect Mario Palanti, who also designed the nearby Palacio Barolo, designed the Castelar.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo and cross Calle Salta to Av. de Mayo 1222, site of the:
6. Teatro Avenida
This theater, opened in 1908, is largely dedicated to Spanish productions. It presented material by Lorca when he was living in the Castelar down the street in the 1930s. Many other artists from Spain also had work presented here at the time, and the theater was an integral part of making Buenos Aires the center of Spanish-language culture while Spain was engaged in civil war. After a fire in the 1970s, it was partly rebuilt.
Cross the Avenida de Mayo and head to the corner of Santiago del Estero, to the:
7. Hotel Chile
This is a very unique Art Nouveau hotel with Middle Eastern elements. Take special note of the windows, with their round tops and faience ornamental tiling. The hotel was designed by the French architect Louis Dubois and opened in 1907. Like many other hotels on Avenida de Mayo, Hotel Chile was once luxurious and the utmost in style, but became a rather down-on-its-luck site where the facade is the only clue to its former glory.
Cross Santiago del Estero, staying on Avenida de Mayo, and stop immediately on the corner of the next block to see the:
8. Hotel Majestic
Opened in 1910 in time for the Centennial celebrations, this is one of the city's most fabled hotels, though it no longer operates as such. Most Porteños point to it with extreme pride as the place where Infanta Isabel stayed to represent Spain at the celebrations. It was also where the Russian ballet star Vaclav Nijinsky spent his wedding night after getting married in Buenos Aires in 1913. The lobby is sumptuous but extremely dark and badly in need of repair. As one of the most prominent buildings on Avenida de Mayo, it is currently undergoing an extensive renovation. Technically, it is no longer open to the public, but if you ask politely, they might let you peek at the lobby.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo and stop at the next building, no. 1333, home of the:
9. Federal Police Headquarters
Ornate Art Deco buildings are a rarity in Buenos Aires, which did not take to the style in quite the same way as New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. The Federal Police Headquarters, however, is one of the best that you'll find in the city. Take note of the way the windows are treated, with their faceted frames, and the statues adorning the facade. The building was originally opened in 1926 for the Crítica newspaper, for which Argentine literary giant Jorge Luis Borges had worked. The building is not generally open to the public, unless you have been the victim of a crime or committed one, but try wandering in and see what happens.
Stay on this block but walk across the street to Av. de Mayo 1370 to reach the:
10. Palacio Barolo
This, in my opinion, is the most unusual building in all of Buenos Aires. Designed by the eccentric Italian architect Mario Palanti, who also designed the nearby Hotel Castelar, this building is meant to recall Dante's Inferno. The lobby symbolizes Hell, with its bronze medallions representing fire and male and female dragons lining the walls. The scale of the building is massive; in fact, it was once the tallest building in South America, though Palanti later designed a similar, taller structure in Montevideo. Originally, a statue of Dante was in the lobby, but it was stolen in the 1955 revolution deposing Juan Perón and never recovered. The facade was restored in 2007, and the plan is to eventually place a replica of the missing statue in the lobby. Guided tours take you through the building to the lighthouse tower representing God and Salvation, from where you'll get an excellent view up and down Avenida de Mayo and to other parts of the city. The 16th floor holds a tango clothing store called Tango Moda. With its stunning terrace overlooking the Avenida de Mayo and Plaza de Congreso, it is worth a visit, especially when the store holds its monthly rooftop tango sunset parties.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo and cross Calle San José. Stay on this block (btw. San José and Luis Sáenz Peña) and take in:
11. La Inmobiliaria
Taking up this entire block, La Inmobiliaria was designed as the office for a real estate and apartment agency. Today, it houses apartments and offices, but the tiled Art Nouveau sign indicating its former use still remains along the top of the facade. The building's most distinctive features are the matching corner towers, which form a kind of endpoint to Avenida de Mayo before it flows into Plaza Congreso.
Continue walking up Avenida de Mayo, crossing into Plaza Congreso, to see the:
12. Moreno Monument
This statue, in the first part of Plaza Congreso, quite overgrown by large trees, is of Mariano Moreno, the secretary of the First Government Assembly following independence from Spain. He was also an important journalist who founded both the Argentine National Library and the Buenos Aires Gazette. Moreno is memorialized elsewhere in the city, with a street name and subway stop.
Turn around and with Moreno behind you, walk forward to the central walk in the middle of the plaza. Then turn to the left and walk to the next statue:
13. Rodin's The Thinker & Kilometro Cero
This is a copy of Rodin's famous statue The Thinker, and it's a favorite play area for children. Just next to it is a block marking Kilometro Cero, the point at which all distances from Buenos Aires are marked.
Continue walking through the plaza, but veer toward your left. Cross Calle Yrigoyen and head to Yrigoyen 1584, near the corner of Ceballos, home base of the:
14. Madres de Plaza de Mayo
The Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who march every Thursday at 3:30pm in the Plaza de Mayo in honor of their missing children, have their main headquarters here. They also run a university, library, bookstore, and a small cafe on the premises. It's worth taking the time to enter and linger here, and maybe have a coffee or a snack. You might also get a chance to talk with one of the by now very old Madres about this heart-wrenching period in Argentina's history, when nearly 30,000 young people were tortured and killed by the military government.
Cross the street and head back into Plaza Congreso, heading toward the enormous no-longer-working fountain in front of Congreso itself, to view the:
15. Monument to the Two Congresses
Quite a confection of marble and bronze, this enormous monument celebrates the two congresses that were held in the aftermath of independence from Spain to lay out the foundations for the new nation of Argentina. This multilevel structure has stairs that lead to a fantastic view of Congreso, where you can snap pictures of the building or pose with it behind you. The fountain underwent an extensive renovation in 2007.
Leave the Two Congresses monument and walk toward the Congreso building. Cross the street, being very careful at the crazy intersection, and head to the:
The most imposing building in all of Buenos Aires, this structure opened in 1906. It combines influences from some of the world's most famous structures, from the U.S. Capitol to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Made of massive blocks of granite, the walls are over 1.8m (6 ft.) thick at their base. Tours will take you through both chambers of the bicameral legislature and are available by asking at the Rivadavia entrance. At night, the porthole windows in the bronze dome are impressively lit.
Walk to your right (north). Cross Calle Rivadavia and stop on the corner to view the:
17. Confitería del Molino
This fantastic structure, in a terrible state of disrepair and closed to the public, was the creation of Francesco Gianotti, an Italian who also designed Galería Guemes and its theater housing the Piazzolla tango show. Once the informal meeting place of politicians from the nearby Congreso, the cafe closed in 1997, though there are plans to renovate and reopen it. Primarily an Art Nouveau structure, stained glass and ornate tile work were once part of the ornamentation here, but these have been covered by tarps to prevent rain damage and further deterioration of the facade. The main visible feature from the street is the windmill top (molino means "windmill" in Spanish).
Congratulations, you have finished this walking tour! I recommend you keep walking north along Avenida Callao, which was rebuilt in an almost imperial style after the opening of Congreso. Congreso has a subway stop for the A line, and the C and D lines have nearby stops along Callao.
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.