At a Glance:
Two words sum up Recoleta: Old Money. It shows: this neighborhood is the prettiest part of Buenos Aires, well-maintained and clean (dog shit free). With its elegant European architecture and wide boulevards, Recoleta is one reason why Buenos Aires is known as the ‘Paris of South America.’ In Recoleta you will find gorgeous Neo-classical mansions, inspiring patriotic monuments, stylish old men in sports jackets with matching cravats and bottle-blonde old women in mink and fake tans. So basically Paris with Italian high-society.
History in Brief:
Recoleta was settled by the bourgeois of Buenos Aires in its heyday (end of the 19th Century) escaping outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever in areas near the river and harbor (the now working class neighborhoods of San Telmo and La Boca). It became the Paris of Latin America when the bourgeois families decided that all things Parisian were fashionable. They brought over architects from France to design the beautiful mansions and apartments, the wide avenues and parks, to replicate European finery and style. The neighborhood also has religious roots. The name ‘Recoleta’ came from the name of a French order of Franciscan monks known as the Récollets. The church they built almost three hundreds years ago is the symbolic center of the neighborhood, attached to its most famous landmark, the Recoleta Cemetary.
Saturday is the best day to visit Recoleta (save your Sunday for the San Telmo Street Market); it’s the weekend and the locals are out and about, exercising and sun-baking in the parks and passionately kissing on the grass, making tourists blush at our own repressed sexuality…
There’s an arts and crafts market that lines Plaza Francia and makes for a good weekend atmosphere. However, it is nothing compared to the San Telmo markets for sheer size, but the quality of the artisan goods here will surpass all other outdoor markets.
Tip: With many parks, plazas and good bike paths that extend all the way to the even larger parklands of the Bosque del Palermo (the ‘Palermo Forrests’, an area that includes the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the Observatory, the Los Arcos strip of restaurants and bars) Recoleta is an ideal area for biking. For bicycle hire, Bici Itau (for rates and reservations see here) is conveniently located and handy. The stand is located beside the entrance to the Buenos Aires Design shopping mall on Av. Pueyrredón 2501, past the cemetery, the church, and the Recoleta Cultural Centre. Just make sure you bring a passport to use as a security deposit.
Alternatively, Bici Naranja (Nicaragua 4817) is a good alternative if you’re staying in Palermo, and within easy, bikeable distance to Recoleta.
Recoleta has a diverse variety of architecture, easily explored on foot or bike. There’s the palatial grounds of the Palacio Alvear (Avenida Alvear 1891) and Palacio Duhau (Avenida Alvear 1661) if you want to see how the 1% of Argentine society use to live. There’s the classic Grecian-style Universidad of Buenos Aires Law School (Av. Presidente Figueroa Alcorta 2263), a not so subtle nod to the famous Acropolis. Right across the park from that is the spaceship-like Biblioteca Nacional (Aguero 2502), a stunning example of Soviet-era style brutalist architecture. And then there’s everyone’s favourite, the Al Ateneo Grand Spendid(Avenida Santa Fe 1860), a huge bookstore and cafe in a renovated old theatre, often listed amongst the most beautiful bookstores in the world. A can’t miss.
The historic cemetery is the final resting place for some of the country’s most important statesmen, generals, poets and writers, names which include the novelist Adolfo Bioy Casares, the heavyweight boxer Luis Angel Firpo, and the infamous Eva Peron. It is also a gorgeous open-air sculpture museum in its own right. A photographer and stroller’s dream. If it’s your first time (or second, or third…) you just have to put this on the list.
Tip: There’s a free English language guided tour every Tuesdays and Thursdays, commencing at 11 am.
Museo Nacional de Bella Artes, has an excellent collection of classical Argentine paintings, religious art works, and an impressive permanent collection of European greats such as Cezanne, Degas, Gauguin, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, Manet, Rodin and others. It regularly hosts exhibitions and retrospective of Latin American art and artists.
Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo (Avenida de Libertador 902) for the beautiful interiors (its in a large French Neoclassical mansion) and its impressive collection of classic European and antique East Asian artworks.
They love monuments here is Argentina. Everywhere you look are patriotic statues of heroes on horseback. If that’s your thing, check out Plaza Mitre and the phallic Plaza Francia (on either side of the cnr Aguero and Av. del Libertador). The monument of Plaza Mitre is particularly magnificent, depicting, one of the country’s ex-President Bartholome Mitre on horseback, towering over a bunch of Greek Gods, like a BOSS.
For something modern, shiny and (as always) friggin’ huge, check out the Floralis Genérica (Cnr of Avenida del Libertador and Dr Carlos Vaz Ferreira), a giant aluminium sculpture of a flower with mechanical petals that opens during the day and closes at night.
Fuerze Bruta is an interactive post-modern circus and acrobatic show created in Buenos Aires in 2003 and has since been toured all around the world. In a darkened theater that merges the stage with the audience and spans multi-dimensions – performers are running along the walls around the room, dancers spiral down from the ceiling above – part of a show involves a pool with a plastic bottom that is suspended overhead of the audience. It’s great fun, and would be pretty trippy to see with hallucinogens (but we wouldn’t know anything about that…).
Craft beer, ice creams, tasty lamb shanks… everything coming out of Patagonia is pretty excellent. And the chocolates, OMG. Rapa Nui (Uruguay 1284) or Mamuschka (near the entrance at the corner of Junin and Uriburu), both chocolaterias from the city of Bariloche, have stores in Recoleta. These chocolates are handmade and absolutely delicious.
Fuegia Laboratoria de Perfumes (Avenida de Alvear 1680) is also from Patagonia and has been in the perfuming business since 1833. It’s a bit of splurge, but you will smell a like a thousand pesos. Their shop is also quite unique and worth a peak.
Eat & Drink in Recoleta:
Some say, money doesn’t buy taste. You might walk into a random bar or restaurant in Recoleta and come to the same conclusion. It’s easy to walk into the wrong place and spend a lot of money on an average meal. Having said that, there are some real gems, and you can check out here.
Tip: Los Immortales (Parana 1209), a famous pizza a la pierda joint in the theater district downtown, has a branch in Recoleta. A good option if the fancy-schmancy restaurants and bars of Buenos Aires don’t appeal to you.
Volta, Freddo and Persicco are the 3 most famous ice cream chains in Argentina and all have a strong presence in Recoleta. You cannot go wrong with any of them.
Quality coffee pioneers, Coffee Town has recently opened a new location in Recoleta (Libertad 1260). It’s a little further from the main attractions, but it is one of the best (if not the best) coffee in the city. Go to nearby Moulin de Fleur (Talcuhuano 888) for tasty based treats (be sure to sample the Pain au Chocolate).
Closer to the Cemetery, Le Pain Quotidian at the Recoleta Mall is a pretty good alternative for a cafe con leche and croissants.
More Baked Goods
L’Epi (http://lepi.com.ar/) – Cramer 2439 – bread for your breakfasts and almond croissants comes highly recommended.
Cafe Notables – La Biela: One of the most famous and well-located historic cafe notables in Buenos Aires is just across the plaza from the entrance of the Recoleta Cemetary. You can’t miss it: it has an outdoor terrace shaded by a gigantic tree and an enormous Fernet Branca Eagle posted on its roof. Give the coffee a miss (you’ll find better value at the places listed above), but stay for a cocktail – Campari & Soda or a Cynar Julep.