The most European of all South American cities, beautiful Buenos Aries boasts colonial architecture, trendy barrios (neighbourhoods), good-looking porteños and porteñas (residents of Buenos Aires), a world-class dining scene and a top-notch nightlife.
Be prepared for big days and long nights. Here is our guide to the best of the best in Buenos Aires.
SEE AND DO
The epicentre of the city’s commercial district, the Microcentre is where you will find BA’s most important buildings including Casa Rosada (Pink House), Argentina's Government House; Plaza de Mayo, the city’s main square for protests and celebrations; the neoclassical Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Obelisk, a phallic monument which marks four historic events related to the city. For theatre lovers, check out Corrientes Avenue, the ‘Argentinian Broadway’, the Colón Theatre and the Cervantes National Theatre for both its acoustics and grand façades.
With a distinctive French feel, affluent Recoleta is home to five-star hotels, embassies and lunch spots for the housewives of Buenos Aires. For the rest of us, we can enjoy the numerous galleries, museums, parks and plazas. A popular tourist drawcard is the Recoleta Cemetery. The resting place for 21 Argentinian presidents, 23 Buenos Aires governors and the influential First Lady Eva Peron (Evita), the cemetery is like a small city in itself with grand gargoyles, statues and mosaic glasswork overlooking former Argentinian elites. Besides the cemetery, don’t miss the free National Museum of Fine Arts which holds some 11,000 pieces including works by Rembrandt, Monet and Van Gogh.
One of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, San Telmo features cobblestoned streets and exquisite, although crumbling façades of BA’s oldest colonial houses. This barrio comes alive on Sundays with the antiques flea market which spans nearly ten city blocks. There is also street tango at Plaza Dorrego on Sunday nights.
Touristy but a must-do, the blue-collar suburb of La Boca is BA’s most colourful. The Caminito is where visitors flock to for tango dancers, street artists and photographs of tin houses in vibrant shades of green, yellow, blue and red.
Palermo is where middle class porteños and porteñas live and play. In this plush barrio, there are tree-lined boulevards, residential apartments, international restaurants, cocktail bars and sidewalk cafes. Besides eating and drinking (see below), Palermo is great for spending your pesos. From leather totes to minimalist stationery, whimsical ballet flats to designer furniture, Palermo is your Pinterest dream come true.
Porteños and porteñas are night owls and dine very late. Restaurants don’t generally open until 8pm and it’s busiest after 11pm.
LA CABRERA | PALERMO
There is no denying it. Steak is king in Buenos Aires and parrilla (grill) restaurants dominate the market. For your meat fix, it’s hard to go past La Cabrera, one of Latin America’s top restaurants. It’s so popular, there are three La Cabreras on the same street. The meats are juicy, tender and big – even the half portions. Each steak is accompanied by vegies in small pots and after dinner mints come in the form of lollipops. Try the ojo de bife (rib eye) and don’t forget to order a glass (or bottle) of malbec to go with your steak.
SOCIAL LA LECHUZA | PALERMO
Looking more like an antiques store than a steakhouse, Lechuza (which means owl in Spanish) offers cheap (but excellent) steaks and pastas to hoards of hungry locals. The bife de chorizo (sirloin strip) and entraña (skirt steak) are standouts. The colourful walls are covered with framed photographs, sketches and paintings while the shelves are filled with old typewriters and owl memorabilia. The peeling roof and mismatched chairs add to the charm.
CHAN CHAN | CONGRESSO
If you’re craving something other than cow, Buenos Aires is more than happy to oblige. As an international city, there is Spanish, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Nordic, Mexican, Brazilian and Peruvian fare on offer. For the latter, Chan Chan is hugely popular with locals and travellers. The décor is a mishmash - think blue tiles with red tablecloths, landscape murals with religious relics. The menu offers duck, rabbit, lamb and five types of ceviche. Very affordable and huge servings. You’ve been warned.
BIRKIN COFFEE BAR | PALERMO
With zigzag tiled floors, a marble top bar, mirrored walls and trendy staff (fedoras and oversized specs may well be the uniform), Birkin makes one of BA’s best coffees. Sure, there are pastries, croissants and the usual brunch fare but make no mistake, this place is all about the coffee. You can’t argue with that.
HARRISON SPEAKEASY | PALERMO
Taking secret bar to a new level, Harrison Speakeasy hides behind a sushi restaurant. There is no signage, of course. The only clue is the velvet rope at the door. Approach with conviction and ask to see the cellar. They will tell you it’s members only but they will ‘check with the manager’. Minutes later, you will be escorted through the restaurant and into a cellar. Turn the vault-like door and be transported into a prohibition themed bar. The cocktail menu is a 1920s newspaper and the VIP Rose – vodka, lime, lychees and ginger – is delicious.
VICTORIA BROWN | PALERMO
Café by day and cocktail lab by night, Victoria Brown specialises in house made liquors. The menu can be rather daunting with some seriously complex brews but a ‘flavour compass’ labels drinks as herbal and dry, fruity and refreshing and strong and seductive. Try the ‘Bramble’ made with gin, blackberry and lemon.
FLORERIA ATLÁNTICO | RETIRO
Located near the sights of Microcentre and Recoleta, trendy Florería is another speakeasy with a quirky entrance (this time, it’s through a giant fridge in a flower shop). The menu lists traditional and fancier concoctions by country of origin. Belvedere vodka features on the Polish page, while Aperol and Campari are on the Italian list.
To live like a local, pick your favourite neighbourhood and rent your own apartment on Airbnb. The market is flooded with affordable and well-furnished studios and flats.
ARROYO HOTEL | RETIRO
Recently renovated, Arroyo is mucho close to Florería Atlántico. Offering studios and suites, the hotel also features a pool, restaurant, bar and a coffee shop. Well-priced for custom designed rooms.
HOME HOTEL | PALERMO
Run by a porteña and her English husband, Home offers ultra-stylish and eco-friendly suites and loft apartments. With vintage Scandinavian furniture, designer wallpaper, spa services, a personal shopper and a personal trainer, you wish your home was like this.
Image Credit: Stephen Weaver