Central Buenos Aires is made up of Barrio San Nicolás, a rectangular area bordered by Avenida Córdoba to the north and Avenida de Mayo to the south. It’s rarely called Barrio San Nicolás and has taken on the name El Centro. This entry focuses on Microcentro, a smaller section of El Centro to the east of Avenida 9 de Julio. My entry on El Centro describes the area west of Avenida 9 de Julio.
On Avenida Córdoba, there are a couple buildings of note. Edificio Bencich, a residential building built in 1927 by French architect Eduardo Le Monnier, is at the corner of Esmeralda. Centro Naval, a sports club founded in 1882, occupies a building at the corner of Calle Florida that was built in 1888. The building is used for social activities and the sports club is known for its rugby and field hockey teams.
A large mall, Galerías Pacífico, sits at the corner of Avenida Córdoba and Calle Florida. The building was completed in 1889 and in 1896 was the first home of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, now in Recoleta. In 1908 it became the offices of Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway. From 1976 to 1983, it was used as a torture center by the military dictatorship and was then abandoned. In 1992, it was renovated and reopened as the shopping mall.
Calle Florida is the main pedestrian street in Buenos Aires full of shops and restaurants. It’s been pedestrianized since 1971. I actually hated Calle Florida, not because it was overly touristy, but because of all the annoying people yelling “cambio!”. They are money changers. You can also find people selling day trips and tango shows all up and down the street.
Because it’s illegal for Argentinians to buy US dollars or take money out of foreign ATMs, the money changers give a much better rate than the banks. For example, if the official rate was ARG$8 per dollar, the money changers would give up to ARG$12. I never used them because I didn’t carry any US dollars on me, but they really got on my nerves so I tried to avoid this street like the plague.
Another pedestrian street is Calle Lavalle, which runs from east to west through all of Microcentro. This street had slightly less cambio and significantly more food options than Calle Florida.
In the southeast corner of Microcentro is the financial area of Buenos Aires. Down Reconquista between Sarmiento and Plaza de Mayo are several beautiful bank buildings in a small area known as La City. The most interesting was the Torre Galicia Central, which is a modern tower that kept an original façade from 1905, and the Banco Hipotecario – Sucursal Buenos Aires, an ugly structure built in 1960.
Also in La City a very historic church built between 1721 and 1779, Basílica Nuestra Señora de La Merced. It was elevated to a basilica in 1917.
At the end of Sarmiento at the corner with Avenida Leandro N. Alem is one of the most impressive buildings in Buenos Aires, the former Correo Central (Post Office). Construction started in 1888 and was not completed until nearly 40 years later. It’s now the Centro Cultural Néstor Kirchner and is the home of the Argentine National Symphony Orchestra.
In a small park to the south of the post office was a monument to Almirante Guillermo Brown, the Irish-born admiral and founder of Argentina’s navy. He’s one of the country’s national heroes.