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Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Learn about the history of the Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore that has been defined as one of the most beautiful in the world and which used to house a fancy theater in Buenos Aires.


The Ateneo Grand Splendid is a bookstore that The Guardian defined as the second most beautiful bookstore in the world. Something that makes this structure peculiar is that some time ago it housed the Grand Splendid Theater, which was inaugurated in 1919. During the 1920s this theater was an important venue for opera concerts, awards ceremonies and film screenings of the first talkies in Buenos Aires. Notably, it was also an important stage for tango performances, the most characteristic music form of the destination where this building is located: Argentina.


If you like tango, you’re probably familiar with music by Carlos Gardel, one of this genre’s most outstanding interpreters, and composer of Por una cabeza, a song that you surely remember from movies like Scent of a Woman starring Al Pacino, and True Lies with Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. Well, Gardel started to record with the Nacional Odeón studio, whose head office was located in this building. Also, Radio Splendid music station had its first broadcasting in 1923, from its offices on the building’s top floor.

At the turn of the century the theater acquired a new use, so after some remodeling works it became a bookstore starting the year 2000. Soon, El Ateneo bookshop became an icon of the city of Buenos Aires and now 34 additional bookstores belonging to the same franchise have opened throughout the country, but mainly in Buenos Aires.


When you arrive at the building located in 1880 Santa Fe Avenue on the corner of Riobamba, the first thing you’ll notice will be its imposing façade that rises as a tall white tower. However, its interior is even more astonishing. It’s an ample hall illuminated with dim lights that recreate the romantic feeling of its previous use as a theater. It still preserves the original and exquisite painted dome that has an allegorical representation of peace, as well as its original galleries. On the other hand, the area that used to be the stage now houses a café that’s framed by the great theater’s velvet curtain.

DINKtravelers recommends walking around the bookshelves checking out the varied topics and authors they have and choosing your favorite. You’ll find everything you can think of, from classic novels to a broad selection of comics for manga fans. Then, look for an empty seat at one of the sofas that are distributed in the area and enjoy reading in an appeasing yet inspiring environment. Just be patient because the bookstore is usually so crowded that it’s not easy to find an empty sofa.

Give yourself time to take in your surroundings with the decorative details that remind visitors of the splendor of the old theater. You’ll find some carvings and columns with golden motifs, as well as a combination of classic decorations and modern structures like the central escalator that leads to the children’s books floor.


After your visit, go shopping in the surrounding commercial area that harbors El Ateneo or take a cab to go to the neighborhood of San Telmo, located half an hour away from the bookshop. There you’ll find El Federal café-bar and Mafalda statue, two amazing touristic attractions we told you about in another article.

Enjoy your trip to Buenos Aires with its elegant buildings that are rich in history and beauty, and find in El Ateneo a magnificent representation of the society that inhabited the city a century ago.