Brightly painted houses make up Calle Caminito in La Boca

Buenos Aires is no place for the fainthearted. A whirl of animated diners, midnight dancers, hooting cars and vigorous protesting, this vast, sun-drenched city is the intense nucleus of one of South America’s most overtly passionate nations. From the animated crowds that fill the city’s plazas well into the night, to the political clamour and shopping frenzy of the centre, Buenos Aires is a round-the-clock riot waiting to be joined.


When the sun shines, the streets of central Buenos Aires see artisans, buskers, café-goers and shoppers all vying for legroom. And when there’s a political issue in the air, fervent demonstrations fill the yawning stretch of Avenida de Mayo. Beat the main crowds and head there first thing to wander the assortment of grand political buildings and historic monuments.

Palacio del Congreso, Buenos AiresThe Palacio del Congreso is open for guided tours
Photodisc / Thinkstock
Begin at the western end of Avenida de Mayo by government building Palacio del Congreso (Avenida Entre Ríos 50) – a green-domed beauty modelled on Washington DC’s Capitol Building.

A few buildings in, appreciate the soaring smooth curves of the magnificent Palacio Barolo (Avenida de Mayo 1370) office building, designed to represent Dante’s Divine Comedy; the basement and the ground floor are hell, 1-14 purgatory, and 15-22 heaven.

After crossing the ample tarmac of Avenida 9 de Julio, continue on toward the pink political heart of the city: the iconic Casa Rosada (Plaza de Mayo). The lower balcony of this rosy presidential office has seen Argentina’s most prominent figures – from infamous first lady Eva Perón to footballing deity Diego Maradona – address the cheering crowds. The building and its on-site museum sit on the eastern end of leafy Plaza de Mayo, whose burgeoning population of pigeons is frequently ousted by rowdy demonstrating.

Kavanagh building, Bueno AiresDon't miss the art deco Kavanagh building, which stands 120m tall
Creative Commons / longhorndave
A short stroll from here is pedestrianised shopping strip Florida, where cheap and cheerful clothing reigns supreme. Rummage through tiny shops stuffed with leather products, chat with artisan jewellers selling their wares, and at the northern end take five in the pleasant Plaza San Martín. The plaza is overlooked by several formidable buildings – the most striking being the art deco Kavanagh Building (Florida 1065) – and dotted with monuments, including one commemorating those killed in the Falklands War.

In nearby Plaza Fuerza Aérea see the Torre Monumental: a clock tower gift from the local British community in commemoration of Argentina’s 1810 May Revolution.


Porteños (Buenos Aires’ residents) may be famed for their gargantuan late-night asados (barbecues), but the first meal of the day is far more modest. The gamut of a typical Argentinean café breakfast menu is strong coffee served in various ways, accompanied by tostadas (toast) or medialunas (small croissant-style pastries). Medialunas come either de grasa (thin, dense and made with lard) or de manteca (sweeter, fatter and made with butter).

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos AiresStop off for breakfast at Café Tortoni, Buenos Aires' oldest café
Creative Commons / caccamo
Break up Avenida de Mayo’s 1.5km (1 mile) walk with café con leche and medialunas amid the art nouveau décor of Café Tortoni (Avenida de Mayo 825). Famous past clientele of this, Buenos Aires’ oldest café, include tango luminary Carlos Gardel and celebrated literary figure Jorge Luís Borges.

If you’re hankering for a traditional English fry-up at the weekend, take a quick cab to the Gibraltar pub (Perú 895) in San Telmo, or head further afield to Oui Oui (Nicaragua 6068) in Palermo for eggs and French pastries.


Hop on a bus to Recoleta, Buenos Aires’ most affluent barrio (neighbourhood), for uncharacteristically pristine streets lined with Parisian-style architecture and high-end boutiques.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos AiresRecoleta cemetery's sculptures are popular with tourists
Creative Commons / Christian Haugen
Recoleta’s chief attraction is its magnificent cemetery (Junín 1760). This marble village of towering tombs is the final resting place for many of Argentina’s most revered – the most famous being Eva Perón. Entry is free, although a map priced at a few pesos is a useful purchase, and guided tours can usually be arranged at the entrance.

Rest under the ancient trees surrounding the cemetery, and, if food is on the agenda, nearby café La Biela (Avenida Quintana 600) does a hearty steak sandwich.

Alternatively, head to the cool confines of the wine cellar at Recoleta’s illustrious Alvear Palace Hotel (Avenida Alvear 1891) for a lunchtime wine tasting. Beneath the hotel’s many floors of high-ceilinged opulence, sommelier Alejandro Barrientos takes those sat around the cellar’s long banqueting table through a fine selection of Argentinean blends – from a light Patagonian Pinot Noir to the honey tones of a Torrontés from Salta, each accompanied by a complimenting small-but-sumptuous morsel of food.

If you fancy taking it even easier, kick back with an icy drink and luxurious lunch at Milion (Paraná 1048) on Paraná. This wonderfully ostentatious bar and restaurant is located in a converted mansion and serves Argentinean fare with a splash of Mediterranean (lunch is served 12-4pm). Cool down on the terrace with one of their speciality frozen basil daiquiris.

San Telmo, Buenos AiresGo for a stroll around San Telmo, Buenos Aires' oldest barrio
Creative Commons / Pablodda

Head to the city's oldest neighbourhood, San Telmo for a spot of eclectic shopping. Once home to the city’s elite (before a yellow fever epidemic in 1871 saw its moneyed residents flee), San Telmo is today a hub of bohemian creativity set against a romantic backdrop of dilapidated 19th-century decadence.

Alongside its old churches, cobbled streets and inviting cafés, daytime San Telmo’s main draws are Defensa Street – principally its wonderful antique stores – and a huge inside market stacked with everything from vintage clothing and posters to fresh meat and groceries.

Towards the southern end of Defensa, enjoy the dappled shade of Plaza Dorrego. Sundays see this become the colourful focal point of the vast weekly street market.


Come 9pm, Buenos Aires’ parrillas (grill restaurants) fill with hungry porteños eyeing up an array of sizzling meat cuts. El Desnivel (Defensa 855) is an established San Telmo haunt that continues to delight with its kingsized grills sizzling up thick slabs of prime Argentine beef. For the more adventurous, the plump morcilla (blood sausage) and crispy chinchulines (intestines) are first rate, and well-accompanied by a smooth house red.

For something more minimal, try the tiny unnamed parilla on Carlos Calvo where locals perched on a small collection of bar stools take their time over freshly sizzled hunks of meat. A choripán (chorizo sausage in a bread roll) from here is a cheap, tasty and thoroughly authentic Buenos Aires feed.

Tango, Buenos AiresWhen night falls, tango the night away in Buenos Aires' sultry streets
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New bars pop up apace across San Telmo, but historic favourites such as El Federal (corner of Perú and Carlos Calvo) and Bar Plaza Dorrego (corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo) certainly hold their own against the latest batch of trendies. Around midnight, head to the low light of the milongas (dancehalls), where the melancholy sigh of the tango keeps all ages tightly embraced until dawn. Torquato Tasso, at the southern end of Defensa on Parque Lezama, gives daily tango lessons.

For a more contemporary revel, catch a cab to Costanera Norte and dance for hours at one of the riverside superclubs, while across town find über-cool cocktail bars aplenty in Palermo. Or, simply pull up a seat in a quiet streetside café and chat over cortados (espresso with milk) till sunrise.

To find out more about Buenos Aires, visit our Buenos Aires travel guide.

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