Buenos Aires takes on Paris as home to the world’s greatest thoroughfare
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Avenida 9 de Julio runs north–south through the center of the Argentinian capital, Buenos Aires
VISITORS PER YEAR 2,342,000
WEATHER Summer (Dec–Feb) can be very hot and humid. Fall and spring are warm and sunny
DIMENSIONS 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long and 460 ft (140 m) wide
Step out onto the Avenida 9 de Julio and you can’t fail to appreciate that you are on one of the world’s greatest, most thrilling thoroughfares. Twenty lanes of roaring traffic stand between you and the other side of an asphalt canyon claimed by Argentinians as the widest avenue in the world. Gouged through the center of Buenos Aires in the 1930s to link the city’s northern and southern limits, this extraordinary feat of urban planning renders even the Champs- Elysées a mere side street in comparison. Not only does it extend for over half-a-kilometer further than Europe’s most celebrated boulevard, but it is also, incredibly, twice as wide.
It is not simply the dimensions of the 9 de Julio that amaze. Visitors walking its length soon realize they are on one of the world’s greatest patriotic thoroughfares, named in honor of Argentina’s Independence Day (9 July 1816) and studded with monumental architecture. Most iconic of all is the soaring Obelisco, a 213-ft (65-m) needle that reaches skywards at the Avenida’s midpoint. It was built in 1936, to mark the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding. From its base, broad sidewalks of fancy statuary and ornate fountains strike out for the southern and northern extremities of the Avenida; to the British-built Estación Constitución (railway station), the vast, vaulted interior of whichechoes the grandeur of the great Roman baths; and to the Palacio Ortiz Basualdo, whose exquisite Beaux-Arts architecture recalls the palaces of Paris and which houses the French Embassy.
No visit to the Avenida should overlook its single greatest highlight, the magnificent Teatro Colón opera house. Built in 1908, this world-class venue’s beautiful main entrance, fashioned in the French Renaissance style, conceals a still more ornate interior. Fascinating tours reveal marbled halls, a majestically domed auditorium, and labyrinthine subterranean workshops. Underground, amid the relics of performances past, not a whisper is heard of the urban highway that roars just meters away.
Whether you stroll down the Avenida or zip along it at breakneck speed in a taxi, the influence of Europe is ever-present on an avenue built in the image of Paris’ great boulevards. But linger awhile, sip a leisurely cup of coffee at a pavement café, and still more vibrant images emerge – children splashing in ornate fountains; huge neon billboards glowing atop crumbling belle époque façades – all accompanied by the sound of tango music drifting from open doors and windows. It is this heady mix of South American vitality and European grandeur that makes the 9 de Julio, like Buenos Aires itself, a uniquely intoxicating place to be.
FORGET THE CHAMPS-ELYSÉES?
THE BUILD-UP The Champs-Elysées, Paris’ most prestigious avenue, is celebrated for its tree-lined beauty and elegant fountains and statues. Called “la plus belle avenue du monde” by Parisians, it is marked at its eastern extreme by the stately Place de la Concorde and at its western limit by the glorious Arc de Triomphe.
THE LETDOWN Once synonymous with high style and grand living, the Champs-Elysées has sacrificed its reputation in recent times. In a trend decried as “banalization”by the Paris authorities, global chain stores and themed restaurants now throng an avenue increasingly seen as a commercialized tourist trap.
GOING ANYWAY? Focus your visit on the less money-driven section of the avenue, east of Rond-Point, where the majestic Grand Palais and Palais de l’Elysée overlook lovely gardens.
To eat well and cheaply in true French style, try the side streets for little bistros and crêperies.
Getting There and Around International flights to Buenos Aires land at Ezeiza Airport, 35 miles (22 km) from the city center (45 mins by shuttle bus or taxi). All subway lines stop at the 9 de Julio and numerous buses run its length. The best way to get around is on foot, but take a taxi ride down the avenue at night to see the neon billboards and an illuminated Obelisco.
Where to Eat Buenos Aires is world-famous for its steakhouses. Try a sizzling lomo (tenderloin) with a bottle of Malbec, Argentina’s best red wine. El Mirasol de la Recova, just off the Avenida, serves king-sized cuts.
Where to Stay There are numerous top-quality hotels on the Avenida 9 de Julio.
Easily the most luxurious is the Four Seasons Hotel, an elegant main tower and an adjacent Belle-Epoque mansion, set in classical gardens with a Roman pool.
When to Go Springtime (Sep–Nov) is beautiful in Buenos Aires.
The weather is warm at 64°F (17°C) and the trees lining the 9 de Julio gorgeously green.
Budget per Day for Two US$230 including four-star accommodations and food.