20 great things to do in Buenos Aires
Get passionate about football, tango and tombs in sunny Buenos Aires
1. Become a Boca fan
Ole, ole ole, ole. The most thrilling and visceral experience of any visit to Buenos Aires is probably donning a fluffy blue and yellow hat and bouncing along with the tribal fanatics of Maradona’s beloved team. The intoxicating display of the leaping and singing multitude is often more exciting than the game on the pitch. There is no more intense encounter than Boca Juniors playing their rivals River Plate. But any visit to Boca Juniors’ intimateBombonera stadium will be an adventure that you’ll never forget. A word of warning, hang on to your wallet!
2. Eat intestines and even more glands
Possibly even a more essential cut than the wonderful steak is the offal. The chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) will usually be accompanied by crispy chinchulines (chitterling), briny riñon (liver) and the truly delectable molleja (sweetbread). As they arrive on your plate, you could be forgiven for a wobble at the sight of their biological appearance. But if you persist, you’ll be treated to a quintessentially Argentinian feast. Don’t forget your camera – it will be great for grossing out your friends when you get home. You can try them at La Brigada.
3. Frolic in a love hotel
Not quite as seedy as they sound, telos, as they are known in Buenos Aires slang, are rented by the hour and offer as much fun as you can have, well, with your clothes off. When you check into one of these albergue transitorios, identified by neon lights and a token shrub outside the door to offer the pretence of anonymity, you and a loved one can enjoy a couple of hours frolicking on water beds under mirrored ceilings, in all manner of themed rooms. Head to Rampa Car.
4. Tour the eye of the Tigre
Forty-five minutes from the noise and smog of downtown is an almost unspoilt subtropical delta full of densely forested islands and shining waterways. Hop on to a river bus and enjoy a boozy picnic. Seewww.tigre.gov.ar.
5. Witness the social coming of Christ
No, honestly. Every half hour on the quarter hour, a 20-metre plastic Jesus rises from the earth (also made out of plastic) at the wonderfully surrealTierra Santa, the world’s first religious theme park (www.tierrasanta-bsas.com.ar).
6. Get lost among the dead
Losing yourself in a labyrinth of tombs and mausoleums might sound like an Edgar Allen Poe short story. But Cementerio de la Recoleta, a remarkable necropolis in one of BA’s most exclusive areas, is the final resting place of the good, the bad and the beautiful people of Argentina’s past. When you find the crowd, you have found Evita’s ghostly flower-strewn monument.
7. Dine in style
Brunch at this super-chilled Scandinavian Olsen restaurant is probably the best in the city. For those really suffering there is an ample vodka menu for hair of the dog remedies. Opulent and expensive, high tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel offers a glimpse into BA’s past wealth and grandeur.
Blow the budget at El Bistro, possibly BA’s most exciting restaurant, within the remarkable Faena Hotel + Universe. Headed by Mariano Cid de la Paza, a protégé of star Spanish chef Ferrán Adriá, the menu is as singular as the Philippe Starck-designed interior. Inspired by molecular gastronomy, ‘spherifications’ of olives and ‘foams’ of lettuce appear. Think of a Spanish omelette served in a martini glass.
8. Mind your toes at a milonga
The spirit of tango oozes from every corner of Buenos Aires. Milongas (tango nights) blend the familiarity of a social club with the elegance of a 1930s ballroom dance. Etiquette is king at venues such as La Calesita: men and women are seated on either sides and procuring a partner involves an intricate code of subtle nods and eyebrow twitches. The traditional milongas attract the older crowd, but several welcome novices: visit Tango Cool, La Viruta and La Marshall.
9. Snack on coffee and medialuna
In Buenos Aires, you should drink a cup of freshly roasted coffee with a crispy medialuna (Argentinian croissant). A splendid place to bite into one is the Café Tortoni, the city’s most traditional café. Founded in 1858, it has doubled as both a bohemian and literary joint over the years. The best part is that it hasn’t lost any charm, despite the throngs of tourists that hover around.
10. Drink until the early hours
One of the kings of the bar scene is Gran Bar Danzón. Although the food is great, crawlers rarely look beyond the drinks menu. The cocktails are ingenious and the vast wine list is mostly available by the glass. If that booze isn’t enough for you, then browse through the Park Hyatt’s vinoteca (wine bar), which is home to over 3,000 bottles of Argentinean reds and whites.
11. Have a picnic and go bird watching
With over 200 species of birds, scuttling iguanas as well as joggers and cyclists, the Reserva Ecólogica Constanera Sur is a multi-purpose green space. In this nature reserve, four lakes, giant pampas grass, willows and shrubs create a lush habitat for local wildlife, as well as keen exercisers. Here, you can join around 15,000 visitors who descend here to picnic and enjoy a spot of bird watching in peace. Moonlight tours are organised once in a while, but make sure that you book ahead of time.
12. Marvel at South American modern masters
You can’t leave Buenos Aires without a trip to Malba: Colección Costantini, where works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Tarsila do Amaral share the walls with lesser-known Argentinean modern masters. There is an excellent café and terrace restaurant, plus a small cinema specialising in art house retrospectives.
13. D is for dulce de leche
The milky caramel syrup is the flavour of the city. You’ll find it in sweet delights, ranging from cakes and bonbons to ice cream and crepes. We recommend trying dulce de leche in torta rogel, a crispy cake with layers of soft meringue at the upscale bakery-café Como en Casa; taking a light bite of some alfajores (round biscuits) at Florencio; or eating a filling flan at the cantina on Chico.
14. Pay homage to Evita
It’s hard not to think of Evita when visiting the presidential palace, Casa Rosada. Check out the balcony on which the Peróns spoke to the people and the spot where Madonna belted out her famous Argentina ballad in the film Evita. Then head to the Museo Evita, housed in an aristocratic residence that Peron expropriated to convert into a women’s shelter for his wife’s welfare agency. Gaze at paintings and posters, as well as fabulous outfits (and jewellery) that she wore on tours of Europe.
15. Go relic hunting on San Telmo
You may hear that San Telmo is dirty, run-down and unsafe (mainly at night). But don’t let that stop you from looking for hidden gems on San Telmo’s main drag, the Calle Defensa. Here, you can find antiques in the shops tucked away around every corner, many at bargain prices. To step back in time, visit the lovely Pasaje de la Defensa, a refurbished 1880 house spilling over with bric-a-brac stores. Alternatively, take a trip to El Zanjón de Granados, a beautifully restored residence, which encapsulates three centuries of urban living.
16. Pick up classic souvenirs
Once you’ve tanned, tangoed and drunk yourself silly, then it’s time to go home. So don’t forget to take a few souvenirs with you. Find a cool mate set for your morning coffee at the shop Estudio MW and a polo shirt from La Martina. Fill your cellar with traditional Malbec wine from any supermarket and if you’re a collector of curios, a gaucho knife set is a must-buy from the stalls at Feria de Mataderos.
17. See a polo match in Palermo
Long regarded as a sport for the elite and possibly the world’s oldest sport, polo has made Argentina famous. The sport is played in Buenos Aires between September and November. The latter is the golden month when the Abierto Argentino de Palermo (Argentinean Open) takes place at the magnificent 16,000-capacity Campo Argentino de Polo. Beginners and experienced players can have lessons: El Rincon de Polo club is probably the best choice of school.
18. Tango, tango and yet more tango!
Carlos Gardel was to tango what Elvis was to rock ‘n’ roll. He is probably the most prominent figure in the history of ballroom dance. A new house museum, the Museo Casa Carlos Gardel, celebrates his legendary years in Buenos Aires, and you can pay your respects to him at the Cementerio la Chacarita. If you want to give tango a whirl, head to the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso, a serious venue in which respected artists perform regularly. If you prefer to dip and swirl members of the same sex, then the gay milongas are the place to be. La Marshall and Tango Entre Muchachos are excellent venues for queer tango.
19. Groove to South America’s best DJs
Blend in with the hippest people in the city at the Niceto Club, undoubtedly one of the city’s trendsetting nightspots. Traditional South American styles and rhythms mix with electronica, driving the crowd absolutely wild. Don’t miss Wednesday’s underground party Zizek, one of the best nights in town.
20. Turn fashion conscious in Palermo Viejo
While international designers are always popular, local couturiers command top peso these days. At the Palermo Viejo, you can discover funky boutiques that stock the latest fashions. Consider Cecilia Gadea’s romantic range, inspired by ocean waves, or the willowy bohemian look of Mariana Dappiano. Sift through Maria Cher’s eclectic collection of cocktail dresses and enter a world of fantasy when you gaze at Martin Churba’s experimental prints.