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.
Plaza San Martín is a green haven in a stylish neighborhood that contains some of the most expensive real estate in the city as well as boutiques and high-end furniture stores. Many office workers come here at lunchtime to get some fresh air and have a sandwich (purchased, perhaps, at El Buen Libro, a popular sandwich shop where you can put together your own sandwich). This is also the site of the moving Monumento a los Caídos en Malvinas: twenty-five marble slabs with the names of the 649 soldiers that died in the war that ensued in 1982. Just across Avenida Alem, right in front of the Torre de los Ingleses, is the Retiro train station; thousands of Buenos Aires residents come through the station every day on their way to and from work.
Plaza San Martín is also where Florida Street—a pedestrian street ideal for wandering around, window shopping, and exploring small shopping centers— begins. The further you walk down Florida Street away from the plaza, the more people, especially people wearing suit and tie, you'll see. If you want to get a sense of the city's pulse, just take a look around.
As soon as you set foot on Avenida Alvear, one of the most iconic streets in the area, and take a look at facades of buildings clearly influenced by Parisian architecture, you can tell that this was once the most chic section of the city. Art is central to Recoleta. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is the home of the country's finest permanent collection, with works by Argentine artists like Berni and Fader and international artist like Picasso, Manet, and Van Gogh. The Palais de Glace often holds interesting temporary exhibitions. The more modern Malba (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), a major force on the local cultural scene, houses a collection of contemporary art. Another must visit in the neighborhood is the iconic Recoleta cemetery, where the remains of Eva Perón and many other important figures in Argentine history rest. Some of the tombs and gravestones in this cemetery are true works of art. The nerve center of the neighborhood is the Plaza Intendente Torcuato Alvear, where a colorful market featuring "pass-the-hat" performances takes place on weekends. This is a great place to take in the urban fauna.
While it is not, strictly speaking, in Retiro, Avenida Corrientes (known as "the street that never sleeps") is the place to go if you are interested in theater, whether mainstream or alternative. If it no longer has the glamour of its golden years (from 1930 to 1980), Corrientes still contains a great deal of the Buenos Aires theater scene, which is one of the largest in South America. The Complejo Paseo La Plaza, the Teatro San Martín, the Ópera, and the Gran Rex are among its most emblematic theaters. Tickets are available online or at the theaters themselves, but you can save as much as 50% if you purchase tickets at a small shop known as the Cartelera in the back of Galería Apolo (1382 Corrientes, Local 24).
Getting pizza before or after the show is a local tradition and there are a number of pizzerias—some of them over eighty years old—where you can get a hefty slice of a cheese pie. While Güerrin, Banchero, and El Cuartito are among the most acclaimed, Las Cuartetas, Los Inmortales, La Rey, and El Imperio de la Pizza are no less worthy. Pizza with a glass of beer or moscato wine is a Buenos Aires institution.
Just a few blocks away is the Teatro Colón, one of the largest opera houses in the world where you can go for a guided tour or to see a concert.
Corrientes is also famous for its bargain bookstores; there are a score on the blocks between 9 de Julio and Callao that offer a large selection at discount prices. If you take your time and go through the tables, you are sure to find something of interest.
If you cross Avenida Alem towards the river, you will find the most modern section of Buenos Aires. In the nineties, Puerto Madero—an oasis in the middle of the city—was constructed on docks where, years ago, there were silos from which ship would load their goods. Puerto Madero now holds office buildings, a wide range of restaurants, and large open areas in which to take a stroll or play sports. Due to the silence and safety, you may feel like you are no longer in Buenos Aires. To prove that you really are, go to dock 3 (Pierina Deleassi and Gorriti streets) and walk over Puente del Mujer, a modern bridge in the shape of a couple dancing tango that opened in 2001. Stand on the middle of the bridge, take in the silence, and look down at the water under your feet and then up at the city’s skyline… This, too, is Buenos Aires.
In terms of restaurants, Lupita serves margaritas and Mexican fare. Chila provides a gourmet experience as costly as it is extraordinary. For meat, the high-end option for tourists is Cabaña Las Lilas, but the steaks at other grill joints like Estilo Campo and Cabaña Villegas are almost as good at half the price. If it’s pasta you want, Bice is famous for its raviolis and Marcelo for its risotto. These are just a few of the many options.
Take a deep breath and sit down under the trees in Plaza San Martín, heart of the Retiro section of the city. You are at the border that separates the Buenos Aires financial district from the residential and shopping neighborhoods in the northern part of the city. Look around and you'll notice a mix of modern buildings and constructions and others in an early 20th are glass skyscrapers full of offices. Closer is the extraordinary Kavanagh building which, when it was built in 1936, was the tallest building in South America; it is now considered one of the most attractive and original constructions in the city. These are among the contrasts in this multifaceted neighborhood. -century style. Just a few blocks away
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.
There are a good many bars and pubs on Reconquista Street, which was recently turned into a walking street. Most of these establishments fill up after 6 p.m. when office workers stop by for a drink before heading home. Kilkenny, with its own house brew, is one of the most popular, though the somewhat quieter Druid Inn also draws a crowd. Also nearby are the French bar La Cigale and the newer The Sensi, known for its creative cocktails. Lesser known and more rustic is Chabres whose owner Oscar Chabres —one of the most experienced bartenders in the city— waits on customers.
Restaurant options are equally varied. If you are looking for quality Peruvian food, head to Mullu and Sipan. Sabot and El Dorá offer classic Spanish cuisine. Filo is a modern classic with an Italian air. Broccolino is a reliable choice for lunch or dinner. Dadá is a bistro in Pop style. And there are, as always, a few hidden gems: the sandwiches at Café Paulín (a favorite among office workers for lunch), meat empanadas at La Cocina (a small shop in the back of Galería Boston), and the gourmet hotdogs at Dogg, a new fast-food joint that is all the rage.
In the last two years, the northern section of this neighborhood (that is, a few blocks north of Plaza San Martín) has undergone something of a revival thanks mostly to the opening of Florería Atlántico, a basement bar with some of the best drinks in the city in an atmosphere reminiscent of old immigrant bars. The first floor houses a florist. On the corner is Farinelli, which offers fresh food for lunch and great baked goods all day long. Gran Café is another great option for a light lunch. Right next store is Basa, an immaculate restaurant with a great cocktail bar. Nearby is the tried-and-true Gran Bar Danzón, a wine and cocktail bar that was instrumental in starting the Buenos Aires cocktail scene in the late nineties.
One final tip: if you want a different —perhaps extreme— experience, book a table at El Gato Viejo, housed in the home of eccentric sculptor Carlos Regazzoni, the owner and cook who waits on customers personally amidst railway containers. The food may not be great, but the experience is unforgettable.
Buenos Aires offers visitors a number of other attractions, among them:
Plaza de Mayo: The oldest plaza in the city, this is the site of many of the most important political events in Argentine history. Attractions located on the plaza include the Casa Rosada (seat of the national government), the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Cabildo.
Caminito: In the heart of the traditional La Boca neighborhood, this is an alley lined with tenements whose tin facades are painted in bright colors. A picturesque crafts fair with artists and tango dancers takes place here.
Barrio Chino: Just four blocks from the Belgrano neighborhood there is a cluster of businesses run by members of the local Chinese community. Chinese grocers and houseware stores, as well as scores of Asian food restaurants, can be found here. This fun outing is well worth it.
Reserva Ecológica: The largest green space in Buenos Aires is located in the southern section of the city. It is a perfect spot for those that like to go for walks and take bike rides. If you want to grab a bite along the way, stop at one of the stands that sells bondiola, or pork, sandwiches and the famous choripan, or grilled sausage sandwich.
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.