Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, or neighborhood, is called Palermo, and visitors to the city will almost certainly be spending plenty of time here. Palermo has several sections, each with its own distinct flavor: Palermo Chico, the city’s most exclusive address, Palermo Alto, known for its upscale shopping, Palermo Las Canitas, a shady, relaxed neighborhood with good restaurants and schools, Palermo Botanico, close to Buenos Aires’ amazing botanical garden and many more.
Palermo Viejo, or “Old Palermo,” refers to about half of Palermo, distinctive for its small, cheerfully painted Italian- and Spanish-style houses (quite different from the high-rise apartment buildings elsewhere in the city), bohemian vibe, trendy restaurants, bars, shops and galleries. Some consider it the gastronomic capital of Argentina, featuring fashionable restaurants for every budget. It is also the city’s most desirable place to stay, particularly for independent travelers eager to soak up the culture, thanks to its wonderful boutique hotels.
Palermo Viejo divided into two sections: Palermo Soho, a hipster haven packed with cool clubs and restaurants, much like its New York namesake and Palermo Hollywood, home to many of Argentina’s top movie studios, television stations and design outfits. No matter where you stay, you won’t be far from some of the city’s most interesting areas.
The neighborhood is bordered by Avenida Cordoba, lined with skyscrapers, including the Alas Building, as well as the corporations from Microsoft to Fiat. These are Avenida Santa Fe, called the “Avenue of Fashion,” lined with beautiful beaux art buildings, pricy shops and cafe; Avenida Coronel Diaz, another glittering shopping street and busy Avenida Dorrego, which runs next to Bosque de Palermo, a gorgeous green-space that serves as “the lungs of the city.”
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The neighborhood has had its share of notable residents, including poet Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote his first lines on this storied street, and revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who grew up in what’s now a hardware store at Calle Araoz 2180. Carlos Gardel, the godfather of tango, played in Palermo Viejo’s hippest bars, and Grahame Green stayed at the Lancaster Hotel while writing one of his masterpieces, “The Honorary Consul.”
Today, it offers easy access to Buenos Aires’ best parks and shopping districts, as well as its top attractions: The Buenos Aires Zoo, the Japanese Gardens (the largest outside Japan), the storied Palermo Race Track, Plaza Italia, the Mercado de Pulgas (Flea Market where you can pick up slightly worn tango shoes and much, much more), Planetarium Galileo Galilei and several museums, including the National Museum of Decorative Arts and the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires.
But the real pleasure in visiting Palermo Viejo is wandering the narrow, often still cobbled, streets. Coffee shops, art galleries and outdoor murals are just the backdrop to Buenos Aires’ fashionable youth crowd strolling by. People watchers will never want to leave.