Some days, it’s nice to just wander, to have a basic plan of some things to see in a given neighborhood, and to see where the roads and paths between them take me. Today is one of those days, as I meander slowly from north to south in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta neighborhood. It is a part of the city known for its vast green spaces, beautiful architecture, shopping, dining, and perhaps the most beautiful cemetery in the world. On a fall day with bright blue skies overhead, what else could I need?

My exploration begins along Avenida del Libertador. This wide street runs parallel to the Rio de la Plata, which sits just a short distance to the north. I walk east from my apartment in Palermo, passing palatial mansions that are now embassies, but were once home to the elite of Buenos Aires as the city expanded to the west from Retiro and San Telmo along the banks of the river. Parks sit to either side of the road, some fronting interesting buildings like Argentina’s National Library, others simply as green spaces in and among the residential towers.

The Argentine National Library

The parks here run one into the next, separated only by a street or a building. Like other parts of Buenos Aires, many are named for a country, and I walk through Plaza Republica del Uruguay to cut north to one of the city’s most interesting public art displays, Floralis Generica, a solid steel flower that opens and closes with the sunlight. The park surrounding it has wooden benches shaped like pool recliners, all facing the sculpture. All are full of people enjoying the greenery, the sunlight, their dogs, and each other. It seems I’m not the only one valuing the beautiful parks of Recoleta on a day like today.

Floralis Generica

I cross a cool pedestrian bridge, pass through another park past Buenos Aires’ National Museum of Fine Arts, and stumble into the weekend (and Monday) artisan’s market. Like the markets of San Telmo (click here to read about the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires) this market has stalls selling all sorts of goods, from clothing to jewelry to souvenirs, with the Recoleta Cultural Center and its colorful buildings behind.

Artisans’ fair in front of the Recoleta Cultural Center

Immediately past that is my primary destination here in Recoleta, and one of the top rated sights in all of Buenos Aires: the Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery, built in 1822 as the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, is stunning, easily worth the roughly $6 admission fee. (Admission is new, only starting in late 2022.) The cemetery is relatively small, only about twelve acres, but what it lacks in size (and frankly, in greenery) it more than makes up for with its elaborately decorated crypts and mausoleums.

Recoleta Cemetery

Each crypt here is for a family; there does not seem to be a single “individual” grave as we would think of in most cemeteries. Some are made of older brick and are in a state of disrepair; apparently only the family itself can repair a crypt until 100 years after a family’s line ends, when the public trust can take over that upkeep. Others are newer, with stone facades that gleam in darker gray or almost black. Some are simple square mausoleums, while others feature elaborate domes, sculptures, stained glass, plaques, and other artistic elements. According to the small brochure and map included with my entrance fee, more than 90 of the pantheons in Recoleta Cemetery have been declared national historical monuments.

Some of the mausoleums are insane!

I spend more than an hour wandering the passageways, content to slowly make my way counter-clockwise through the cemetery, but mainly off the main paths. Many of Argentina’s elite and most famous citizens are buried here, but a) it is hard to actually find any particular crypt in the maze of Recoleta Cemetery and b) I haven’t heard of many of them to begin with. I do make an effort to find the tombs of two particular citizens: General Bartolome Mitre, the first President of reunified Argentina (after Buenos Aires’ secession and a series of conflicts) in 1862; and Evita Duarte de Peron, wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron and the subject of the musical and film Evita. (Click here to read more about Evita Peron.)

The crypt of the Mitre family

Leaving Recoleta Cemetery, I head south toward Avenida Santa Fe, one of the principal shopping streets in Buenos Aires. While numerous storefronts look appealing, I’m here for El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore housed in a former theatre. Buenos Aires has more bookstores than any city in the world, and this is easily the most beautiful here, and perhaps anywhere.

El Ateneo Grand Spendid. Note the cafe on the stage!

As I continue south, food options abound. The southern part of Recoleta has much of the campus of the University of Buenos Aires, and with students (there are about 500,000 at UBA in total, though obviously not all here) comes affordable and varied dining. Empanadas, arepas, pizza, burgers, grilled meats… you can find it all here, with enough hip cafes to offer every coffee drinker an oasis.

Finally, I reach my last Recoleta destination, the Palacio de las Aguas. Built in 1887, this incredible building, which might be my favorite in all of Buenos Aires, was once the city’s central water pumping station. The exterior facades, which stretch a full block in each direction, are covered with hundreds of thousands of terra cotta tiles. The interior is also able to be visited, but only a couple rooms that are filled with historic toilets and other plumbing items, and only at specific times of day. Don’t bother, and instead just make the loop around the outside. Or, like me, make the loop twice, so as not to miss any of the floral patterns or other ornate details.

The Palacio de las Aguas

I hit the D Line of Buenos Aires’ subway system, and it’s back to Palermo and home, after a wonderful day of wandering, and roughly six miles covered. Recoleta is a lovely neighborhood in Buenos Aires, one worth exploring beyond a visit to the cemetery. Just pick a beautiful day, put on some comfortable shoes, and see where the roads lead.

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4 thoughts on “Recoleta, Buenos Aires

  1. What a beautiful day of exploration in Recoleta! The parks, architecture, and cultural landmarks make this neighborhood a must-visit in Buenos Aires. The Recoleta Cemetery and El Ateneo Grand Splendid are particularly impressive. Thanks for sharing your experience and inspiring others to wander and discover!

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