Retiro was once known for being one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and is home to many of the city’s five star hotels. Today, amongst its grandeur, it is recognized as being the busiest overland transportation hub.
An introduction to Retiro
Retiro is located directly north of Buenos Aires Centro, bordered by Puerto Madero to its southeast, San Nicolas to the south and Recoleta to the west. The barrio takes its name from the Casa de Retiro, which was built by Governor Agustin de Roble at the intersection of Arenales and Maipu streets at the beginning of the 18th century. At the same location was the hermit dwelling of San Sebastian, said to date back to 1608. Shortly after its construction, Casa de Retiro was sold to the South Sea company and served as a home for the first slaves to arrive in the city.
The first known development of Retiro began in 1800 with the construction of Plaza de Toros, a bullring whose outline is still visible in Plaza San Martin. During the English invasion, this area witnessed the scene of a significant battle, after which it was given the name of Campo de Gloria (Field of Glory). This was also where General Jose de San Martin gave orders to his grenadiers and the bullring eventually became the general’s barracks and training ground.
These days, like Recoleta, Retiro is famed for its wealth which is noticeable in the wide leafy boulevards such as Avenida del Libertador and Avenida 9 de Julio. Furthermore, the architecture of this neighborhood defines an era of splendor and finesse.
Things to see, do or both
The barrio of Retiro is one of the nicest in the city for walking and offers some fantastic photo opportunities. At the barrio’s heart is Plaza San Martin, a popular hangout for local workers during their lunch breaks. The plaza houses two significant monuments; one dedicated to San Martin himself and another to commemorate the fallen heroes of the Malvinas War.
Within a short walk from Plaza San Martin are some of the finest examples of architecture present in Buenos Aires. Palacio San Martin on Arenales street is arguably the most celebrated and is today used as the offices of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Relations. Originally home to the Anchorena family, tours are available of this Beaux Arts palace. Just around the corner on Esmeralda street is the Estrugamou Building, a French Baroque residence commissioned by Alejandro Estrugamou who was a member of an elitist Argentina family. Whilst in Retiro, be sure to check out the Kavanagh Building, an impressive 120-meter-high Art Deco skyscraper that stands out amidst the array of modern architecture that has since sprung up around it.
Crossing Avenida del Libertador from Plaza San Martin you arrive at Plaza Fuerza Aerea Argentina and a clock tower named Torre Monumental. The clock tower was donated by British residents living in Argentina to commemorate the centenary of 1910, however was not actually built until 1916. Originally called Torre de Los Ingleses (English Tower), its name was changed in 1982 after the Malvinas War. You can take an elevator to the tower’s summit for sweeping views of Retiro and visit the Centro de Informes de Museos that serves a presentation of Buenos Aires’ museums.
Besides its grand architecture, Retiro is a great place for shopping. In fact, in Patio Bullrich and Galerias Pacifico it has two of the city’s most revered shopping malls within its boundaries. Retiro is also the starting point of Florida and Avenida Santa Fe, both of which are important shopping streets.
Finally, should you be looking for a night of luxury, Retiro is the place to find a large concentration of well-known five star hotels. Both the Marriott Hotel and Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center overlook Plaza San Martin, the Sofitel sits on the laidback Arroyo street and the Four Seasons marks the beginning of Avenida 9 de Julio.
Nightlife and restaurants
Within the boundaries of Retiro you can find everything from fine dining restaurants to Irish bars and quick eats.
Kaffir Thai (Tres Sargentos 427). Commendable Thai food in Buenos Aires is somewhat of a rarity, which is why Kaffir Thai has made a name for itself. Started by Fidel Balcza – a self-proclaimed fanatic of Thai cuisine – you can expect dishes with an assortment of flavors and ingredients, such as pumpkin coconut milk, mango, peanuts and lime vinaigrettes. The setting is also a treat with the décor including Buddha masks and elephants, and pillows for floor seating. If spicy is not your thing then be sure to inform the waiter when placing your order.
Filo (San Martin 975). Just off Plaza San Martin, this is a popular lunchtime haunt that fills up with workers from the nearby financial district who come to feast on pizza, pasta and salads. Opened in 1993 by six friends fed up with Argentina’s Italian cuisine, Filo has since succeeded in creating a cult following with those with a penchant for mushroom risotto, salmon carpaccio, tiramisu, and the like.
El Federal (San Martin 1015). The brainchild of Chef Paula Comparatore, El Federal pays homage to Argentine national cuisine. Learning recipes and secrets from indigenous people, chefs and housewives, she has created a menu with inspirations from Patagonia to the far northeast of the country. The warm colors and rustic décor of El Federal make it a welcoming and homely place to stop by for lunch or dinner.
Brod Almuerzos (Maipu 875). If you are on the move and want to pick up something tasty for lunch then Brod Almuerzos is a great little option. Tucked away on Maipu street, Brod offers a range of fresh salads, paninis and wraps in addition to woks and burgers, all to take away.
Kilkenny Irish Pub (Marcelo T de Alvear 399). One of the first Irish-themed pubs to arrive in Buenos Aires, with its dim lighting and wooden décor, Kilkenny does a decent job in replicating the original Irish bar. It is at its busiest from 6pm when the office workers arrive to wind down with a few beers. Happy hours and drink-food promotions run throughout the evening and live music entertains the punters most nights of the week.
Temple Bar (Marcelo T de Alvear 945). Temple Bar is another Irish pub in Retiro albeit more low key than Kilkenny. With a warm décor complete with sofas and armchairs, it is a god bar to enjoy wide range of beers accompanied by pizzas and picadas. Live music is often on the agenda and stop by on a Tuesday and you’ll be certain to meet a group of expatriates discussing their life in Buenos Aires.
Sky Bar (Maipu 907). Head to the 13th floor of Hotel Pulitzer to find this exquisite open-air cocktail bar. Escape the heat and bustle of the city, order a cosmopolitan and relax with the well-informed porteños. From Thursday’s and over the weekend, DJs entertain the crowds thus making this one of the hippest drinking spots in the city.
Why it’s hot / Why it’s not
Retiro Bus Station is the start and finish point for all long distance bus travel to/from Buenos Aires. Adjacent to the bus station is Estacion Retiro, the starting point of all northbound trains. If arriving at night, take a taxi to your hotel/hostel rather than walking. Across the train tracks at the back of the stations is Villa 31, the largest shantytown in the city home to c100,000 people.
Walking around Retiro you can get a good feel for the changing faces of Buenos Aires. Whilst the grand mansions showcase wealth and gentrification, the suited office workers buzzing around Plaza San Martin show part of a fervent business district.