Once you've arrived in Buenos Aires, it won't take you long to identify the mainstays of tourism in the city: tango, meat, and soccer. Rest assured: you'll have plenty of opportunities to eat a good steak, to enjoy a show with music by Gardel, and to visit the Bombonera, the city's most famous soccer stadium. But behind these pillars of traditional Buenos Aires lies a modern cosmopolitan city that holds scores of secrets, a city that combines a wide range of cultural events with a lively nightlife.
If it were the thirties, we would say that this is the trendiest and most chic section of the city, where people go out for walks to see and be seen. Even into the present, that classic style of Buenos Aires luxury makes itself felt in Recoleta’s architecture and a glamorous air still hovers over its sidewalks.
If you’re an art lover, you’ll be thrilled with what surrounds you at the intersection of Libertador and Pueyrredón avenues. From there, you can see the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, whose permanent collection, the best in the country, includes masterpieces by Argentine artists (Berni, Fader, and others) and international artists (Picasso, Manet, and Van Gogh). A few yards away is the Palais de Glace, site of interesting touring shows. The Centro Cultural Recoleta houses not only exhibitions, but also theater and music performances and an array of festivals. Slightly further away lies one of the newest and most attractive museums in the city: Malba (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). A major engine of culture in the city, Malba houses an important collection of contemporary art. Find out what’s playing at Malba’s film series and stop by its lovely café-restaurant with outdoor tables.
A lesser known gem is the Museo Isaac Fernández Blanco, whose collection of Spanish American art is housed in a beautiful colonial mansion. Some say that it is also home to mysterious ghosts and legends. The objects found in this treasure explain the birth of Argentina. It’s well worth the visit.
You don’t have to visit a museum to appreciate the area’s artistic heritage: Recoleta’s architecture makes it a sort of outdoor museum. Just walk down Avenida Alvear or Quintana and take in the Parisian-style chateaus, mostly in French academic style, that were built in the early 20th century.
Some of these constructions deserve a closer look: the Facultad de Ingeniería—the Engineering School of the Universidad de Buenos Aires—in neo-Gothic style has a long history of frustrated renovation projects. It took thirty years to build the modern Biblioteca Nacional, or National Library, whose “brutalist” style makes use of blocks of concrete. You don’t have to be looking for a book to get to know the building. You can explore its interior terraces and, from there, enjoy views of Plaza Francia. Take a walk through the luxurious neighborhood known as La Isla, a true oasis in the middle of the city, where stoned stairways and cobblestoned street skirt embassies and high-end apartments. One tip: visit the small Bistró Florencio for a cup of coffee and piece of cake.
Another must visit that no tourist guide fails to mention is the Cementerio de la Recoleta, where the remains of some of the most important figures in the history of Argentine politics, art, and high society—among them Eva Perón, Raúl Alfonsín, and Adolfo Bioy Casares—lie. The underground chambers and mausoleums are true sculptural pieces. A number of guided tours are available.
On weekends, a colorful market is installed where crafts, clothing, and antiques are sold, street artists show their work, and performers entertain. Though the market is known as “la feria de Plaza Francia,” it actually takes place in Plaza Intendente Torcuato Alvear.
The commercial and financial heart of the city is downtown, where a busy pace is palpable during the week. While walking streets Florida and Lavalle are the traditional arteries on which to stroll through this area, new carless streets have been added in recent years, among them Reconquista, home to a good many bars that overflow with people and pints of beer for 6 p.m. happy hours. Plaza San Martín is a green haven that provides the neighborhood with light and fresh air. If you are looking for entertainment and bookstores, check out the traditional Avenida Corrientes. After the show, go for pizza at one of the many old-fashioned pizzerias around the neighborhood. Great options include Guerrín, Banchero and El Cuartito.
If you cross Avenida Alem from downtown, you’ll reach Puerto Madero, once the site of the Buenos Aires port. This is the most modern and well maintained commercial district in the city, with a great many restaurants (mostly on Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo) and open areas to walk along the docks. The striking silence in this neighborhood makes you feel that the city is far away. This area holds the most luxurious buildings in Buenos Aires. If you keep walking, you’ll come to the Costanera Sur and the Reserva Ecológica, one of the city’s largest green spaces.
At almost 16-square kilometers, Palermo is the largest neighborhood in the city. It is divided into small sections, two of which hold the latest in food, fashion, and design. Palermo Hollywood gets its name from the large number of film and television production companies that have moved to the neighborhood in the last fifteen years. This district is the home to a number of bars and dance clubs, specifically on Niceto Vega Street, as well as a wide range of restaurants. On the other side of the train tracks lies Palermo Soho (in reference to Soho in New York), where you can find the best boutiques and design houses. This area also contains a great many traditional and trend-setting bars, cafés, and restaurants. Stop for a cup of coffee at the sidewalk tables on Armenia or Cortázar Plaza, the epicenters of a lively neighborhood that seems to keep growing.
Just a few blocks away, in the Almagro neighborhood, scores of major clothing brands have opened outlets with tempting deals. If you're looking for name-brand clothes at bargain prices, start exploring this neighborhood at the corner of Aguirre and Gurruchaga streets.
Buenos Aires offers visitors a number of other attractions, among them:
Cook App (https://www.cookapp.com)
Do you want to have dinner at the private home of a local chef? Every day of the week hundreds of professional and amateur cooks serve food they make themselves at their own homes. You can get all the information at this website and mobile app. A great way to enjoy delicious food and meet new people.
Guía Oleo (http://www.guiaoleo.com.ar)
This website contains information about all the restaurants in the city as well as customers' comments and ratings. This is the most complete guide to eating out in Buenos Aires.
A website and easy-to-use mobile app to book tables at scores of Buenos Aires restaurants, many of which offer up to 40% off if you make a reservation using this system.
What began as a Twitter account (@Hoyquesale) on nightlife in Buenos Aires has become a website that brings together all the information you need about going out and parties in Buenos Aires every time of day every day of the week.
Small gourmet tours for between ten and fifteen people are organized once a week. Three different places are visited and at each one you eat and drink something different. This is a good way to get to know different places and to socialize.
For tango dancing
A number of different websites provide information on tango classes and milongas, or tango dance halls. www.hoy-milonga.com, www.buenosairesyeltango.com, www.puntotango.com.ar are three of the best. They feature useful and current information for those who love the 2x4 beat.
San Telmo, perhaps the most traditional neighborhood, is located in the southern section of Buenos Aires. Closely associated with tango, it has become a sort of Buenos Aires Montmartre thanks to the bohemian air that hovers over its narrow sidewalks. The antique fair that draws tourists to Plaza Dorrego each Sunday is worth a visit, but it’s just as enjoyable to get lost in the neighborhood’s cobblestoned streets, to stumble upon a bar to have a snack and a beer, and maybe even to come upon a milonga, or tango dance hall. Defensa Street and surroundings are the center of this neighborhood.
Somewhat hidden in the Buenos Aires Design complex is the famous Hard Rock Café. Located across the plaza is Café La Biela, a bastion that preserves the neighborhood’s old charm. It isn’t cheap, but it’s worth getting a coffee and taking in the habitués and passersby.
Some of the best high-end Buenos Aires restaurants are located in this neighborhood, among them Tarquino; the talent of chef Dante Liporace—whose restaurants have been praised by the New York Times—is evident in Tarquino’s cutting-edge cuisine.
There is a range of other good options in this neighborhood: pasta at SottoVoce, grilled meat and fish at Fervor, sushi at Dashi, and Spanish cuisine at the fairly unknown José Luis. Two other musts are Sirop (at the back of Pasaje del Correo, the most Parisian pocket of the city) and Restó, a small bistro located inside the Sociedad de Arquitectos.
Less formal options are available as well, like empanadas at El Sanjuanino, stews at Cumaná and La Cholita, and Mexican dishes at El Salto de las Ranas. Parrilla Norte has the charm of a traditional eatery.
When it comes to sweets, there are two essential stops: homemade Italian-style ice cream at Arkakao; the ice cream it serves is made daily with excellent ingredients. And Smeterling, whose cakes of all sizes attract people from the entire city. The bread sold at L’Epi is made from sourdough prepared by two French bakers.
In the evening, some bars have happy hours. The tapas, snacks, and drinks served at Million, housed in a beautiful mansion, have been attracting visitors for fifteen years. On a warm evening it is particular lovely to enjoy a caipiroska on the marble staircase, taking in the garden below. A more low-key plan is a visit to Jack the Ripper, which serves beer, whisky, and classic drinks; its happy hour is a great deal, with 2x1 on the entire menu. But beware: the food is awful! Portezuelo is another decent bar that serves a wide range of beverages and even features a selection of absinthes.