WHAT TO DO
Buenos Aires is the capital and primate city of Argentina. This sprawling metropolis is located on the western shore of the River Plate, on South America's southeastern coast. Its name can be translated as 'fair winds' or 'good airs', but the former was the meaning intended by the founders in the 16th century. It was first established on February 2, 1536 by a Spanish expedition led by Pedro de Mendoza. A second (and permanent) settlement was set up in 1580 by Juan de Garay. Argentine independence from Spain was declared in 1816. Today, the most European of all South American cities, Buenos Aires (BA) is elegant and always bustling. It combines the architecture of Paris with a vivacious Latin American spirit. You will experience festive nightlife, decadent dining, plus world class art and culture. BA is a collection of distinct neighborhoods (barrios) - the most notable include Palermo, Recoleta, Centro, San Telmo and La Boca. With so much to see and do, football fanatical and tango tastic Buenos Aires is a traveler's dream.
Begin your adventure in the heart of the city center, the Plaza de Mayo. BA's Belle Epoque is evident in the impressive old colonial buildings found in this grand plaza. Established in the 16th century, this delightful square has been the stage for many important events in the city's history - from the uprising against Spain in 1810 to the continuing vigils held by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), whose children 'disappeared' during the military junta's reign from 1976 to 1983. Top landmarks in and around the plaza include Casa Rosada, the Cabildo and the Metropolitan Cathedral. The most famous of Plaza de Mayo's many fine buildings, Casa Rosada was built in the mid 1800s and stands on a site known to have been occupied by an old customs house and fort dating back to the 16th century. Literally translated as the 'Pink House' and officially known as Casa de Gobierno, or the government house - it is the official residence of the President of Argentina. Built in Italianate style, this pale pink mansion dominates the eastern end of the historic square and was the place from which Eva Peron would address the enormous crowds eager to see her. In addition to housing the President and state offices, this immense building is also home to the Casa Rosada Museum. Established in the 1950s, the museum's impressive collections include exhibits and artifacts dating back as far as colonial times when Spain ruled much of the continent.
The beautiful Cabildo served as the seat of the colonial government and was at the epicenter of the May 1810 revolution against Spanish rule. It dates back to 1610 and was later expanded throughout the 18th century. These days this splendid building houses the National Museum of the Cabildo with its numerous exhibits relating to the city during the 18th century, including a replica of the city's first printing press, an exhibit of Jesuit and colonial art, and numerous old maps and photos of the city. While construction of its Neoclassical facade wasn't initiated until 1822, Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) overlooks Plaza de Mayo and can trace its roots back to the early 16th century when the Spanish established one of the country's first churches here. Despite its rather plain exterior, this catholic church boasts a lovely Neo Renaissance and Neo Baroque interior along with numerous important artworks, including 18th century altarpieces and statues. There's also a Walcker organ dating from 1871 that includes an impressive 3500 pipes and is regarded as one of the finest of its kind. Also of interest here is the tomb of one of Argentina's most revered revolutionary heroes, General Jose de San Martin.
From there, make your way to the magnificent Colon Theater (Teatro Colon). This world class opera, ballet and classical music hall opened in 1908 and has hosted the likes of Callas, Toscanini, Stravinsky, Caruso and Pavarotti. Guided tours (in Spanish and English) of the theater, considered to boast some of the world's best acoustics, provide a fascinating glimpse into the building's inner workings - from set building to costume making. It's an experience that can only be topped by enjoying a performance in its 2500 capacity lavish auditorium. Note: the theater is dark in January and February, that's summer in Argentina. Nearby in the Plaza de la Republica is the Obelisk of Buenos Aires (Obelisco de Buenos Aires). This national historic monument and icon of BA was erected in 1936 on the 400th anniversary of the first Spanish settlement on the Rio de la Plata. It has a height of 235 feet and was designed by architect Alberto Prebisch (one of the main architects of Argentine modernism who also designed the spectacular Teatro Gran Rex in town). It is where massive crowds gathered to celebrate Argentina's epic World Cup victory in December 2022.
Next, head to one of the most popular areas in the city - La Boca. Undoubtedly BA's most colorful neighborhood, it is a favorite haunt for artistic and creative types, many of whom take their art outside and onto the streets, decorating balconies and patios with amusing sculptures of tango dancers and other characters. Much of the enjoyment here is exploring the Caminito Street Museum (Calle Museo Caminito), a colorful pedestrian friendly zone that has functioned as an open air museum and art market since 1955. Painted a patchwork of colors, this string of bright and extremely photogenic buildings offer quality crafts, souvenirs, sculptures, and for the footloose, free open air tango demonstrations. Note: El Caminito or 'Little Path' was named after a 1926 tango song by Juan de Dios Filiberto. In Buenos Aires, football or futbol (soccer) is not just a game - it's a way of life. The nation's favorite pastime inspires near religious passion. Among football fans, La Boca is best known for being the home of the world renowned team, Club Atletico Boca Juniors. The club plays its home matches in Estadio Alberto Jose Armando, popularly known as La Bombonera. Attending a match here is one of the world's top spectator sports experiences, especially if you manage to catch the Superclasico match versus cross town rival Club Atletico River Plate.
San Telmo is well known as one of BA's more interesting districts. Its narrow cobblestone streets and old colonial style buildings are home to numerous art studios and interesting galleries. The area is also popular for its cafes, tango parlors and boutique shops, and is a delight to explore, particularly during the San Telmo Sunday Fair (Feria de San Telmo), an antiques fair that draws crowds of eager shoppers and sightseers alike. Some of my favorite attractions here are the National Historical Museum (Museo Historico Nacional), the BA Museum of Modern Art (Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires), El Zanjon and the Mercado San Telmo (more on this must visit market later). The National Historical Museum houses more than 50000 artifacts relating to the history of Argentina - the most important being its collection of paintings by Candido Lopez, a forerunner of contemporary primitive painting. The BA Museum of Modern Art (MAMBA) is located in a former tobacco warehouse. It's home to a collection of exhibits by local painters and sculptors along with permanent exhibits of local and international artists including Kandinsky, Dali and Picasso. El Zanjon is a fascinating experience - this amazing urban architectural site is a must for travelers interested in the city's history. A series of old tunnels, sewers and cisterns (built from 1730 onwards) were constructed above a river tributary and provided the base for one of BA's oldest settlements, which later became a family mansion and later tenement housing. Note: guided tours lead you on an underground adventure through a maze of tunnels, all the while providing compelling tales of mystery and history.
Palermo, the major recreational spot for Portenos (as residents of Buenos Aires are known), is where many of the city's largest and most popular parks lie. Once part of the estate of dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, these days the area is home to a plethora of outstanding restaurants and avant garde fashion boutiques. Also here, you will find Jardin Botanico, the city's delightful botanical gardens with its numerous lakes, bridges and sculptures spread across 20 acres of paradise. Established in 1898, the gardens boast some 5000 flower species from around the world, including many from Argentina. Fashionable Recoleta takes its name from the Franciscan convent that was built here around 1716, but is perhaps best known for its astonishing burial ground. Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) has long been popular among locals and tourists alike, drawn there for the many elaborate mausoleums that serve as final resting places for a bona fide who's who of famous Argentines, including such illustrious souls as Eva Peron, now embalmed in the Duarte family tomb. Afterwards, be sure to explore the rest of Recoleta with its many public gardens, cafes and craft shops, as well as other attractions - including the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) and the National Museum of Decorative Art (Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo).
The National Museum of Fine Arts displays works by European masters such as Degas, Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gogh, along with many important Argentine artists like Martin, Sivori, Solar and Berni. The Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires is housed in a modern building resembling a number of interlocking cubes. MALBA has numerous works by modern artists from across Latin America and serves as a cultural center showcasing the country's film and visual arts. Note: the museum currently has a Frida Kahlo exhibit showing until September 2023. Opened in 1911 in the stunning Palacio Errazuriz, a landmark Classical French style building in Recoleta, the National Museum of Decorative Art is a must for art enthusiasts, as well as those who enjoy impressive architecture. Highlights of the museum's collection include paintings by Spanish Mannerists and French Impressionists plus Renaissance and Baroque furniture, tapestries, porcelain and silver. Other galleries of note include the Fortabat Art Collection, a fine art gallery opened in 2008. Be sure to also find time to visit the city's most interesting outdoor sculpture, Floralis Generica - a massive steel and aluminum flower in the midst of Plaza de las Naciones Unidas that even closes at night and radiates a pleasing red glow.
From the city's leafy northern suburbs to the abandoned warehouses of its gritty, southernmost border, Buenos Aires is a massive canvas for talented street artists. Some areas of the city are home to a huge concentration of murals, keep your eyes peeled as you wander around La Boca, Palermo and San Telmo. Note: there are many totally rad murals dedicated to Argentine soccer gods Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Nothing captures the spirit of Buenos Aires like the sensual and melancholy tango, and no visit to the city is complete without at least watching the tango. To experience the dance in its most authentic form, head to a Milonga - tango club. Top spots include Almagro's La Catedral, Belgrano's Milonga La Glorieta and Palermo's Salon Canning (Milonga Parakultural). Conclude your BA adventure by visiting my 2 favorite shops in town. The first is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, located at Avenida Santa Fe 1860. This historic, palatial theater is now one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. The Grand Splendid theater opened in 1919 and was converted into a bookstore in 2000. Most of the seating was replaced with bookshelves, but the original features have been preserved, including the frescoed ceilings, ornate boxes, elegant balconies and plush red stage curtains. The second shop is Vasalissa Chocolatier, located at Avenida Callao 1940 in Recoleta. This superb boutique offers delectable dark, milk and white chocolate, plus mouthwatering macarons. Note: the shop is closed on Sunday.
WHERE TO EAT
Buenos Aires has many great places to eat and have a drink or two. In addition to the city's grand boulevards and art nouveau architecture, BA has a lively cafe culture with several spots to sip a cortado (espresso with a dash of warm milk). Start your day at Cafe Tortoni, located at Avenida de Mayo 825. This French style cafe near Plaza de Mayo is an iconic hangout. Opened in 1858, it features live tango music, churros (fried pastries) with hot chocolate, and has welcomed notable guests such as Albert Einstein and Michael Lichtstein. Como en Casa can be found at Riobamba 1239 in Recoleta. This classy cafe has an elegant atmosphere with a lovely patio, complete with a large fountain and surrounded by grand buildings. The cakes are perfection. Also in Recoleta is La Biela, found close to the cemetery at Avenida Quintana 600. A local institution, this classic cafe has been serving Portenos since the 1950s. Another solid spot is Cafe Bar Roma at Olavarria 409 in La Boca. This wonderful cafe has been a neighborhood favorite since 1905 and the tango singer Carlos Gardel once performed here. Order a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and medialunas (croissants). There are 2 more cafes not to be missed, both located in Palermo. The first is Cuervo Cafe, located at El Salvador 4580 and the second is Blanca Deco & Cafe, located at Sinclair 3136.
My favorite market in BA is the San Telmo Market (Mercado de San Telmo), found at Bolivar 970 in the San Telmo neighborhood. Occupying an entire city block, this striking marketplace was built in 1897 by Juan Antonio Buschiazzo, the Italian born Argentine architect who designed the Recoleta Cemetery. The wrought iron interior (note the beautiful original ceiling) makes it one of the city's most cherished markets. The building was declared a national historic monument in the year 2000. Locals shop for meat and produce here - come for a coffee, and to browse antiques and old tango records. Several modern cafes, bars and shops have recently opened inside, ideal for a quick bite and a beer. La Choripaneria is a must visit. This place is always busy and does an awesome choripan sandwich (grilled chorizo sausage on a fresh baguette with lettuce, tomato, onion and chimichurri). Wash it down with a cold pint of Imperial beer. Before leaving the market, hit the Coffee Town stall - it is known for having some of the best coffee in the city. Note: the market is open daily from 11a. For excellent empanadas (hand sized savory pies filled with deliciousness), head to El Sanjuanino at Posadas 1515 in Recoleta. This long running joint does some mean oven baked, beef and cheese empanadas - muy rico. If you fancy ice cream, make your way to Heladeria Gruta at Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre 2356 in the Belgrano neighborhood. Helado (Italian style gelato) is a big deal in BA, especially at this family owned shop that has been making the artisanal sweet treat for over 45 years. If it’s too hard to choose from the 50 flavors, go with their most popular trifecta: dulce de leche, sambayon and chocolate.
When I think of Argentina, two things always come to mind - steak and wine. Believe the hype. Argentine beef is some of the best in the world and you can feast on this tasty treat at hundreds of parrillas (steakhouses), where a meal begins with the slosh of wine pouring into a glass and ends with a full stomach and a satisfied grin. You’ve probably heard that Argentine wines are world class, but the proof is in the tasting. The nation's most famous vino is Malbec - a dark, robust, plum flavored wine that has stamped the region of Mendoza on every wine aficionado's map. Now it's time for lunch. Corte Comedor can be found at Avenida Olazabal 1395. This popular place serves up top quality sirloin, skirt steak, ribeye, pork loin and homemade chorizo. Don’t miss the lamb merguez starter or seasonal vegetable side dishes. El Preferido de Palermo is at Jorge Luis Borges 2108. This corner spot presents upgraded Porteno comfort food like milanesa with fries and house made charcuterie. Casa Cavia is located at Cavia 2985. This elegant mansion shares a space with a cultural center, flower shop, bar and restaurant. Sit outside in the garden for a boozy weekday lunch, afternoon merienda (teatime), or relaxed pre dinner drinks. Chef Julieta Caruso designed the restaurant menu, which tends to take inspiration from seasonal ingredients, while the bar serves some of the best cocktails in town.
For dinner, head to El Obrero at Agustin Caffarena 64 in La Boca. The same family has been running this classic establishment since 1954 and very little has changed since then. You’ll see old Boca Juniors soccer jerseys on the walls, antique furniture, old tile floors and chalkboards advertising the daily specials. Parrilla Pena is located at Rodriguez Pena 682. One of the few remaining traditional bodegones (neighborhood taverns for Porteno comfort food) in BA, this place blasts diners to the past with unpretentious food and service. Every meal starts with a complimentary fried empanada, then moves on to dishes like provoleta cheese, bife de chorizo (sirloin), provenzal fries and flan mixto with dulce de leche and whipped cream for dessert. If you're looking for a fancier experience, try Osaka at Soler 5608 in Palermo. Eclectic Japanese Peruvian specialties are served alongside sushi and ceviche at this upscale eatery. House specialties include smoked octopus tiradito, scallop and shrimp ceviche in wasabi sauce and chirashi causa (ceviche plus sashimi and prawns in an anticucho sauce).
Julia Restaurante can be found at Loyola 807. It would be impossible to know from the beautifully presented dishes hitting the table that there are only a few cooks in the kitchen at Julio Martin Baez’s 22 seat restaurant named after his daughter. The menu changes seasonally but highlights include calamari topped with avocado, watermelon tartare, ribeye with black and white garlic puree, and Jerusalem artichoke flan. Note: the restaurant is not open on the weekend. For a truly memorable dining experience, do try Aramburu at Vicente Lopez 1661. Hidden in the opulent Pasaje del Correo passageway in Recoleta, chef and owner Gonzalo Aramburu’s namesake restaurant serves one of the last remaining tasting menus in the city. Request a table overlooking the kitchen and watch as the chefs prepare an over the top 18 course menu featuring local seasonal ingredients - complete with foams, clouds of liquid nitrogen and carefully selected wine pairings. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. Anchoita is at Juan Ramirez de Velasco 1520. This spot is a genuine crowd pleaser, pulling in enthusiastic locals and visitors alike for what it does with the spoils of Argentina’s abundant natural larder. Skillfully led by chef Enrique Pineyro, the kitchen sends out aged steaks, thrown for just the right amount of time on the charcoal grill, visible behind glass, and daily fresh fish - a relative rarity in Buenos Aires. Toss in a great wine and drinks list along with enjoyable music and you are in for a splendid evening. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Roux is located at Pena 2300 in Recoleta, not far from the cemetery. This elegant corner bistro has become the neighborhood go to for those looking to eat and drink well. Ideal for a relaxed dinner, it serves fresh Mediterranean seafood dishes that are a counterpoint to the traditional meat heavy lifestyle in BA. Small groups can request the private chef’s table in the wine cellar. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and reservations are recommended. Mishiguene can be found at Lafinur 3368 in Palermo. Here, chef Tomas Kalika does modern spins on Jewish immigrant cooking in a low lit, dark wood space with special tasting menus and wine accompaniments. The house specialty bone in pastrami will leave you utterly verklempt. Note: the restaurant is open daily from 7p and bookings are essential. Finally, there is the extremely popular Don Julio at Guatemala 4691 in Palermo. BA's most famous upscale steakhouse still captures the hearts and stomachs of locals and travelers. It’s the place to experience what the parrilla is all about: top grass fed sirloin, rump and skirt steak, crispy sweetbreads and Malbec by the bottle. Classy service and a superb wine list add to the memorable experience. Note: the restaurant is open daily and reservations are almost impossible. Be sure to reserve months in advance or prepare to wait for a table. Special Note: I was fortunate to have a cousin with connections - many thanks BR.
Buenos Aires has several cool places to enjoy a drink or two. Tres Monos is located at Guatemala 4899, just up the road from Don Julio in Palermo. Neon pink lights, graffiti tags and a cheeky middle finger illuminating the back bar set the tone at this hip hangout. Adult beverages are best enjoyed atop one of the ten barstools so as to soak up the banter with the bartenders, who produce some dandy cocktails - go with the mezcal led Michelita. The vibe is chill and the 1990s soundtrack music is rad. Note: the bar is open daily until 3a. Nearby at Armenia 1540 is CoChinChina. Opened in 2021, this is the debut solo project for Ines de los Santos, Argentina's talented top female mixologist, who sought inspiration from Southeast Asia for the drinks and decor - and it’s the hottest spot in town. I went with the refreshing Jazmin Shanghai (Japanese whisky, umeboshi sake and jasmine tea) at the U shaped bar created from eggshells. Note: the bar is open until 3a and is closed on Monday. Also in Palermo at Arevalo 2030 is Uptown. Descend the graffiti strewn stairwell and step aboard the passenger car of an actual New York subway train to reach this cavernous underground space. As you’d expect, cocktails are themed around the subway map, but beneath the storytelling is a classic subterranean bar with highly skilled staff. Note: the bar is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Floreria Atlantico can be found at Arroyo 872 in Recoleta. This basement speakeasy is located beneath a flower shop - open the antique fridge door. Hipsters, artists, chefs and foreigners alike all flock here for the first rate cocktails which are both classic and creative. If you’re a gin lover, note that the owner, Renato 'Tato' Giovannoni, produces and sells his own brand - called Principe de los Apostoles - aromatically infused with mint, grapefruit, eucalyptus and yerba mate. Note: the bar is open daily until 2a. Not far away at Quintana 188 is Presidente. Join Recoleta's well heeled residents for a drink beneath chandeliers in this elegant space that's fit for a president. Order from the extensive cocktail list or ask head barkeep Seba Garcia to create a beverage that is tailored to your tastes. Note: the bar is open until 3a and is closed on Monday. Finish up at the super cool Verne Club, located at Avenida Medrano 1475 in Palermo. Operated by BA cocktail legend Fede Cuco, this spot is an Argentine take on the classic speakeasy - with the added twist that it's themed around the writings of Jules Verne, especially Around the World in 80 Days. Turkish rugs and leather chesterfields are paired with great bar snacks and a cocktail list where every drink is inspired by the travels of Phileas Fogg. Take a trip to Rangoon with a blend of cherry tomato vodka, peated scotch, citrus and a house made shrub, or a tour of India with a mix of Punt e Mes, espresso reduction, beer and vanilla perfume. Note: the bar is open daily until 2a.
WHERE TO STAY
Buenos Aires offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is the Park Hyatt - Palacio Duhau, located at Avenida Alvear 1661 in Recoleta. This luxury hotel, set in a Neoclassical palace, is not far from Teatro Colon and the Obelisk in Plaza de la Republica. Featuring marble bathrooms, the elegant rooms also have flat screen TVs, minibars and free WiFi. Upgraded quarters add living rooms, crystal chandeliers and balconies with garden views. Amenities include 3 refined restaurants, some with terraced gardens and fountains, plus a plush bar. There's also a spectacular spa, an indoor pool and an art gallery.
A second option is the Alvear Palace Hotel, located just up the street at Avenida Alvear 1891. This lavish, old world hotel is close to Recoleta Cemetery and a short walk from the National Museum of Fine Arts. Featuring Imperial style and Louis XVI furniture, the sophisticated rooms offer complimentary WiFi and cable TV, plus writing desks and whirlpool baths. Upgrades add separate living rooms and Italian marble bathrooms. Other perks include 3 stylish restaurants, plus a lobby bar and a chic rooftop bar with city views. There's also a wine tasting room, champagne bar, afternoon tea, an indoor pool and a deluxe spa.
Buenos Aires is bursting with beauty, culture, art, architecture, soccer passion, excellent wine and fantastic food. It treated me well and I look forward to returning. Until then, La Mitad Mas Uno.