Today Buenos Aires is not all pretty, it is also poor. The gracious buildings, the vibrant music around every corner, the delicious food and superb wines, as well as the dignity of the people in their poverty, have captured by heart.
From the air Buenos Aires reminds me of Asian cities of years ago – lots of high-rise, dirty, rundown, electrical wiring everywhere … then you notice the excellent road system. There are 16 lane wide major roads divided into 4 lane stretches intersected with planted pedestrian strips. One way avenues of six lanes wide surround a grid of two lane roads called caldes, one way again – one lane for parking and one for driving. The roads are named and numbered logically – a bit like New York, except that the names are more interesting – and if 50% of the street signs were not missing it would be easy to find your way around. An incredibly sophisticated and well thought our road system.
The key to the gracious atmosphere in Buenos Aires are the mansions built by the aristocrats from 1900 to 1930 when Argentina was the world’s fourth largest economy. Largely influenced by time spent in Paris, Argentinian aristocrats built palacial homes using Parisian architects and styles – some of these like Palacio Paz are museums today, many have been converted to apartments, and a lot more are gently decaying, waiting for someone to rescue them.
To maximise an experience in Buenos Aires, you need at least six days and to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle – sleep in till noon, see the sights in the afternoon, and finish the daylight hours with afternoon tea or enjoying a drink on the balcony watching the sunset. Then get ready to party. Restaurants open at 10:00pm and then after midnight enjoy a city that awakes to bars serving up live music for suit all tastes and ages or find a milonga to try the tango. This city is about spontaneous fun.
- Eva Peron Museum – love her or hate her – you will realise what a force she was. Discover what Evita did to progress the lot of women in Argentine, her innovative ideas for looking after the poor such as sending orphans on glamorous seaside holidays, and view her glorious clothes and shoes.
- San Telmo Market, if you are there on a Sunday, has everything – street performers, artisans, ‘portable’ shops such as someone selling pastries from his bicycle, street stalls selling mandarin juice and even a walking espresso coffee shop !!! Start at Plaza Dorrego and walk to Plaza de Mayo or vice versa.
- Explore the elegant mansions. Times and tours are not regular so google the details at beginning of your stay and plan your other activities around the opening times of the buildings you want to see. I can recommend Palacio Paz in Plaza St Martin and Museo De Arte Decorativo as some of the more reliable tours.
- Recoleta Cemetery to view the excess of the mausoleums for the aristocrats and the humble memory to Eva Peron, the woman for the man in the street.
- La Boca is a fun day trip to view the colourful architecture, peruse the flea market, examine the street art and get a glimpse of the tango. It’s very very touristy but still worth a look. If you are able to get coins catch the bus. The bus wanders through all of Buenos Aires and it is one of the few opportunities you have to mix with the real people. La Boca is the last stop so you cannot go wrong if you catch the right bus.
- Catch a soccer game if you are lucky enough to be there on a night where a game is played. Book the day you arrive or better yet before you go.
Food and Drink
- Favourite Breakfast: Something fresh from the food stalls at the Daily Produce Market in San Telmo
- Favourite Coffee Shop: La Poesie, corner of Chile and El Federal Streets, San Telmo
- Favourite Afternoon Tea: Alvear Palace Hotel in the Recoleta is the hotel and has a wonderful afternoon tea. Remember the locals do it later so 4:30pm onwards is when the well dressed ladies appear. It’s the ideal stop off after exploring the Cemetery which is almost next door.
- Favourite Restaurant: In Argentina food is all about meat and here they do the most amazing steaks. Avoid the touristy places that give you huge quantities of average meat for low prices. Go to Gran Parilla, Steakhouse on the corner of Peru and Chile Streets in San Telmo. You will love the steaks, have a choice of potatoes cooked 16 different ways, wonderful fresh salad and superb wine for not very much money. This is a local neighbourhood eatery from a bygone time so be sympathetic to the lack of english spoken by the staff and enjoy eating with locals in a family run restaurant. Remember: Restaurants only open at 10:00pm.
- Favourite Argentinian Red Wine: Septima Cabernet Sauvignon and Septima Dia, San Telmo Cabernet Sauvignon, Christobel Sangiovese, Las perdices Malbec
Night Time Fun
- Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo contains a number of tapas style bars with live music. Have dinner at Gran Parilla, then come to Plaza Dorrego to select a bar with music that you like which has an available table. Choose a bottle wine and enjoy the crowd spontaneity and the vibrant music till late.
- Plaza Serrano, Palermo likewise has many attractions. The useful links below outline some ideas for where to go in Palermo.
- Check out boutiques in Palermo around Plaza Serrano for local modern designers of clothing
- Antiques, mainly of french vintage. The furniture, bric a brac, and jewellery once owned by the aristocrats who lived in those wonderful mansions in the early 1900’s had to go somewhere – and there is an enormous selection of beautiful antiques in the numerous shops around Plaza Dorrego. Note that like most shops, these are closed on Sundays – the day of the flea market. The flea market is just street stalls. I particularly liked Mercado in Bolivar Str, San Telmo for their great selection of vintage jewellery.
- Leatherware is prolific – gloves, belts, shoes and handbags. The Sunday Market in San Telmo or the La Boca Flea Market offer as good a selection and quality as any of the stores.
- Art – look out for paintings by local artists in the galleries around San Telmo or at the Flea Market in La Boca
Where to Stay:
The San Telmo neighbourhood (barrio) is a bit tattered around the edges but beautiful underneath with little boutiques, galleries and more upmarket places creeping in. It is central to most sights and has great shops, a produce market where watching the locals buy meat is a surreal experience. Restaurants and bars with live music abound especially around Plaza Dorrego so you don’t have to wander very far at night or risk taxis and public transport.
- Rental apartments, Habitat offer quality apartments in Buenos Aires in all neighbourhoods. Includes a good overview of each neighbourhood.
- 36 Hours in Buenos Aires as per NY Times, outlines some ideas of what to see and do if this is not your first visit and you only have a short time to visit