In Buenos Aires, you can hardly toss out your old yerba mate leaves without splashing someone who was too engrossed in a book to be paying attention. Whether it’s a lazy Sunday in a San Telmo Cafe or the hours-long queue for the Buenos Aires book fair, it’s plain to see that this is a city of book lovers. The capital and its suburbs have raised world-famous writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and stars of contemporary literature such as Samanta Schweblin, Claudia Piñeiro and Agustina Bazterrica.
Add that to the fact that e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay never really got a foothold here and it’s easy to see why the Argentine capital is home to more bookshops per capita than any other city, by some estimates.
From the eccentric to the expensive, it can be hard to know where to start. So, the Herald has compiled a list of our staff’s favorite bookshops.
Chacabuco 917, San Telmo
Best for: Soaking up the ambience
Hours: Monday-Friday, midday-7p.m., weekends and public holidays 2p.m.-7p.m.
Funky, vintage, queer-friendly, feminist and full of surprises, La Libre is a bookstore that seems to embody the spirit of San Telmo. Run as a co-operative, it’s home to everything from the classics to collections of independently-published Argentine sci-fi stories, and the booksellers will happily introduce you to whichever colleague most loves the niche genre you’re looking for. Don’t leave without having a thorough look around: every time you think you’ve seen it all, you find another corner to turn.
Av. Santa Fe 1860, Recoleta
Best for: Reading in splendor
This bookstore in a converted theater is a monument to literature complete with expansive, frescoed ceilings and delicate gilt details. Its enormous collection spans everything from philosophy to manga and music. The view from the balconies makes it obvious why this place often tops lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
El Ateneo has a great cafe where the stage and orchestra pit used to be. Sometimes, pianists play on the grand piano in the corner – if you close your eyes, you can imagine you’re the star of your own literary show.
Av. Alvarez Thomas 853, Colegiales
Best for: Meeting the literati
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10a.m.-8p.m.
A hip young bookstore with a focus on literature and tailor-made recommendations, Céspedes is also explicitly feminist and inclusive. Come along for the book presentations and debate evenings and you might bump into some of Argentina’s literary stars – it’s a favorite among writers like Magali Etchebarne, Alan Pauls, Andres di Tella, Felix Bruzzone, and Marina Yuczuck, among others.
Estados Unidos 617, San Telmo
Best for: English-language books
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, midday-5p.m.
Walrus Books is an eccentric English-language bookstore in San Telmo that exudes olde-worlde charm. Small but perfectly formed, the collection is carefully curated to include a mixture of novels, nonfiction, philosophy, history, and many other topics. The owners will buy second-hand books if they’re in relatively good nick – the prices aren’t amazing, but if you’re looking to switch out your holiday reading, it’s a good option.
Centro de Trasbordo Pacífico
Best for: Reading on the go
Av. Santa Fe between Thames and Uriarte, Palermo
If you’ve just Googled this entry and found a Metrobus stop, that’s because, well, it’s a Metrobus stop. While stores like El Ateneo are renowned for their beauty, some of the best places to buy books in Buenos Aires aren’t stores at all, but market stands and fairs. Along the Metrobus by Plaza Italia in Palermo, you’ll find stand after stand of booksellers hawking a wide variety of titles – perfect for if you want to read something that isn’t your phone screen when you’re on the move.
Gándara 2994, Parque Chas
Best for: Coziness
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 10a.m-7p.m.
Full to the brim with independent publishers and gems of Andean literature, this small, friendly shop in Parque Chas will make you want to stay. Workshops from the past few months include autobiographical writing and Chinese poetry.
Santiago del Estero 1112, Constitución
Best for: Politics, society and philosophy
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11a.m.-6p.m.
Even if we didn’t tell you that this bookshop is opposite the University of Buenos Aires’s social sciences faculty, you’d be able to tell from the collection. The owners keep a timely display of pertinent and thought-provoking recent social sciences works on display, as well as keeping a good stock of social sciences classics. We particularly like this one, but while you’re there, you might also be interested in Vivaldi, a cafe across the street from Páginas Libres that also boasts a majestic book collection.
These are some of the Herald staff’s favorites – but since there’s no substitute for getting in between the stacks yourself, our final recommendation is…
Night of the Bookshops
Best for: meeting like-minded literature lovers
City-wide but especially Av. Corrientes and San Telmo
Once a year, the bookshops of Buenos Aires open their doors after hours to host a smorgasbord of literary talks, workshops, sales, readings and other events to delight bookworms of all stripes. Around 45 bookshops along Avenida Corrientes and a dozen in San Telmo take part, and there are stages dotted around the streets, too – a map and timetable of what’s happening where is usually uploaded a few days in advance. In 2023, the theme will be Argentina’s return to democracy, to mark 40 years since the end of the last dictatorship. The date hasn’t been announced yet, but details will be posted on the Buenos Aires City government’s website, so keep your eyes peeled – if you can bear to look up from the page!