This image captures the grand interior of El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a famous bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The former theater's ornate decor and frescoed ceiling are visible, with bookshelves and reading spaces where the audience seating once was. The stage, with its deep red curtain, now serves as a reading area, and the balconies have been transformed into elegant book-lined galleries. The bustling atmosphere is filled with patrons browsing the extensive collection of books.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires is the most beautiful bookstore I have ever set foot in and it is one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. In 2008 The Guardian ranked it as the second most beautiful bookstore in the world. And eleven years later National Geographic declared El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore “world’s most beautiful bookstore”.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore entranca
El Ateneo Grand Splendid entrance

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore: how it all began

One of the unique Buenos Aires attractions is a former theater Teatro Grand Splendid. The theater opened its doors to the public in 1919. The imposing building was designed by architects Peró and Torres Armengol for the Austrian proprietor Max Glücksmann. He was one of the pioneers of the film industry in Argentina and South America. The theater had seats for more than 1000 people with four rows of theatre boxes. The ceiling dome was painted by Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi. It was made by a special technique: oil painted on canvas and then glued to the dome. The fresco symbolizes peace as it was painted in 1919, the year World War One ended.

Many Argentine and foreign artists performed on the Teatro Gran Splendid stage, among them tango legends Carlos Gardel, Roberto Firpo, and Ignacio Corsini. In the late 20s, the theater was converted into a movie theater. Meanwhile, Glücksmann started his own radio station in the building. It was called Radio Splendid.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore ceiling fresco
El Ateneo Grand Splendid ceiling fresco

How did the old theatre turn into one of the biggest bookstores in the world?

In 2000 the magnificent early 20th century theater was transformed into a bookstore with a music shop. The renovation of the building cost three million dollars and took less than a year. During the transformation, the original interior architectural details were kept intact. The ornate theater boxes were preserved and even the brass railings are the original ones. As a part of the renovation, the former stage with plush red stage curtains has been converted into a coffee shop with comfortable chairs. The elegant rounded balconies provide a great view of one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world.

One of the world’s most majestic bookstores, El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore opened to the public at the end of 2000. It preserved the elegance of the Grand Splendid Theater and its glory days from the beginning of the 20th century and shortly became a tourist attraction itself.

Harry Potter fans will love the dedicated area on the main floor.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore, Harry Potter area
El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore, Harry Potter area

My accommodation in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires was meters away from El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore. I popped in every day. Sometimes I would buy a book, sometimes I would just walk among the shelves and breathe in the aroma of paper and ink. The feeling was amazing. Like in a temple. Temple of words and books.

When you buy a book, don’t forget to ask the attendant for El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore sticker. You can stick it to the book to remind you of your visit to El Ateneo bookstore and Buenos Aires. The attendants also offer to gift-wrap the books.

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Is it necessary to buy a book to have a look at El Ateneo bookstore?

No, although you will find there a great variety of books in different languages. I am sure you will be tempted to buy at least one. It is a good place to find the perfect gift for a book lover. 

When is the best time to visit El Ateneo bookstore?

MY FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE TIP FOR YOU: El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Buenos Aires so it is almost all of the time full of visitors. It closes late in the evening so go around an hour or so before closing time (22:00 Sun-Thu and midnight Fri-Sat). You will find the bookstore less crowded and thus have the chance to appreciate one of the most amazing bookstores and enjoy your visit.

Where is El Ateneo bookstore?

Address: Avenida Santa Fe 1860 Open: Monday – Thursday, 9:00 – 22:00; Fridays and Saturdays, 9.00 – midnight; Sundays, 12:00 – 22:00. 

In conclusion, El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore, or simply El Ateneo Bookstore, is one of the main tourist attractions of the Argentine capital and one of the most instagrammable places in Buenos Aires. Even if you don’t plan to buy a book, go and have a look, have a cup of coffee on the stage, take some beautiful pictures for your family album or Instagram. And I am more than sure that you will be tempted to buy a book to remember your visit to El Ateneo Bookstore and Buenos Aires.

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  1. This is GORGEOUS! Wow, I love bookstores & this is now going on my bucket list because I’d love to see this beautiful space in person. Seeing the video really shows how big the area is! 😍

  2. I loved this bookstore and was amused that the stage was used for a cafe. And all the heart of Buenos Aires.

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