When two friends and I were in Buenos Aires a little over two weeks ago, we took a walking tour and loved the experience. It was the first time I had ever taken a walking tour of a city – with an excellent private guide to boot – and I quickly realized that it has to be the best way to see a new place.
Buenos Aires is a daunting city to cover on foot. The size of the Capital Federal (downtown) is 80 square miles, or about 3.3 times the size of Manhattan. The entire city of New York (all five boroughs) is 300 square miles, while the greater Buenos Aires area is about 1100-1500 square miles; in other words, it is up to 5 times the size of New York City.* It certainly dwarfs the cities I know back in North America!
Buenos Aires has also been compared to many other world cities. It is famously known as the Paris of South America, and it’s easy to see why, thanks to its adoption of French architectural styles in the early part of the 20th century. It has also been compared to New York. But, I think such comparisons are unfair. Sure, during the walking tour, depending on what streets we were on, I experienced major deja vu as the city reminded me of certain areas of Chicago, Montreal, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Florence (!) and yes, Paris. But more than anything, it is its own city. A city that has embraced influences from all over the world but has made something from them that is completely its own. Distinctively Buenos Aires.
One location that left a particular impression on me included the Palacio Barolo, built in 1923 and at the time of its completion the tallest building in South America. It was designed by an Italian architect, inspired by the cosmology of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Eva Perón is still present throughout the landscape of Buenos Aires, and nowhere is that more evident than on the widest avenue in the Americas, Avenida 9 de Julio, where on one side of an imposing historic building, her likeness smiles down upon the city and on another side she is pictured addressing the city in one of her famous radio speeches. We also visited her final resting place in the spectacular Recoleta cemetery, where hundreds continue to visit each day – nearly 60 years after her death – to pay their respects and leave flowers and notes.
I was fascinated by the beaux arts design of the historic La Prensa building, now the city’s Casa de la Cultura (Cultural Center). The building looked more like a French palace than a newspaper office!
And I could go on. The government buildings, opera houses, and miscellaneous apartments and mansions throughout the city are all spectacular and unique. And seeing them on foot allowed me to appreciate them and have time to reflect upon the history they have witnessed.
We ended our walking tour at a (yes, again, historic,) cafe in Recoleta (it used to be the last cafe in Buenos Aires where travellers heading to the pampas, or interior of the country, stopped for a refreshment before their journey). Recoleta has long been the most well-to-do neighbourhood of Buenos Aires and looks like a mirror image of the 8th arrondissement in Paris. I felt like I was on the famed Avenue Georges V; all that was missing was the Eiffel Tower in the background. Having walked many miles that day, we indulged in a few goodies: we sipped glasses of rich, fruity red malbec wine (a decidedly Argentinean wine) while discreetly people-watching. Smartly dressed groups of friends and families were sipping wine or coffee and enjoying a late afternoon snack (dinner time isn’t typically until about 10-11pm on Saturdays… we were at the cafe around 6:30pm). With the wine we ate a typical appetizer consisting of cubes of cheese, cold ham, olives, and bread.
*I found info on and comparisons of the size of Buenos Aires in this Travelocity message board post