Frenetic but alluring, Argentina’s capital charms first-time visitors with its stunning architecture, sinuous tango and a clandestine restaurant scene. Robert Kidd covers the top spots.
Wander through La Recoleta Cemetery
This exclusive suburb of the dead is one of the most spectacular cemeteries in the world. Jaw-droppingly elaborate tombs, crypts and mausoleums in an array of architectural styles lie off the tree-lined streets of the two-hectare site. The family tomb of Argentine heroine Eva Peron receives a steady stream of visitors but this is also the final resting place for many famous (and infamous) Argentines, from presidents to military leaders, who have paid to remain elegant in eternity.
Eat at a closed-door restaurant
A restaurant revolution is helping shake the stereotype that Argentine cuisine is all meat and no imagination. Puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, are intimate operations run by some of Buenos Aires’ best chefs, often out of their own home. Sittings are small and secretive, with word-of-mouth advertising and the address of the restaurant only given at the last minute. Ambitious degustation-style menus are the norm and reservations essential. Ocho Once is a solid choice.
See stunning art in the city’s galleries
Casual browser or learned critic, there is something to suit every palate. The Latin American Art Museum, or MALBA, houses permanent and temporary exhibitions of 20th century pieces from Argentine and internationally acclaimed artists, in a modern, spacious building. While the extensive National Museum of Fine Arts covers 19th century works from artists including Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Lesser-known galleries worth a visit include FoLa, a space for showcasing Latin American photography.
Dance the tango
Tango is Argentina’s best-known cultural export and there are plenty of places to see (and practise) the seductive dance. As well as numerous tourist-focused shows, the sultry rhythm, and a more authentic vibe, can be found in neighbourhood milongas, or dance halls, like Salon Canning and Cachirulo. Many places offer lessons for those after a few tips before going cheek to cheek on the dancefloor.
Sample the best steak in the world
Argentina’s steak is legendary and it’s hard to find a bad cut. La Brigada is a traditional place decorated with photos of celebrities who have dined there. Play it safe with a bife de chorizo (sirloin) or ojo de bife (ribeye) or take a chance on smaller morsels like chinchulines (small intestines) or morcilla (blood sausage). Wash it down with a glass or two of velvety red Malbec and wonder why every meal can’t be this good. But beware: steaks can be the size of tombstones so one is often enough to share.
Stroll the streets of Palermo
Buenos Aires’ trendiest district is full of pavement cafes, exclusive bars and beautiful people. With boutique clothing stores and an air of sophistication, Palermo is the city at its chicest. Grab a spot to eat facturas (sweet pastries) and people-watch the stylish Porteños (Buenos Aires residents) walking by. Or, if you’re after a good cup of coffee (not easy to find in Buenos Aires), try Lab Café.
Explore the past in San Telmo
The city’s oldest barrio (neighbourhood) is chockfull of character with antique shops on cobblestone streets, crumbling house facades and a giant weekend flea market. Soak up the feeling of faded grandeur in Bar Plaza Dorrego, an old-school establishment with suited waiters, before discovering the neighbourhood’s history at El Zanjon, a unique “urban archaeology” project.
Take in history at Plaza de Mayo
With the Casa Rosada (presidential palace named for its pink exterior) at one end, this imposing main square has been the stage for demonstrations and celebrations in Argentina’s chequered political past, from coup d’états to the release of imprisoned leaders. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who lost their children during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s and 80s, have a protest march here every Thursday.
Understand an Argentine heroine
The former first lady Eva Peron, or Evita, as she is affectionately known, is a widely revered figure. Her rise from childhood poverty to influential political activist is explained at Museo Evita, which features photos, objects and videos (including her famous balcony speech) from the former actress’ life. Items of clothing are also displayed, showing off her famously eclectic fashion sense.
Experience a fútbol match
Fútbol, the cliché goes, is religion in Argentina. But you won’t have seen worshipping like this. With tens of thousands of fervent fans chanting, bouncing and singing, attending a football match is an unforgettable experience. The country’s most popular clubs, fierce rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate, are from Buenos Aires and several tour companies offer transport and ticket packages. Previous football knowledge isn’t required to enjoy the atmosphere but try to wear the home team colours (or at least not the opposition’s).
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