Argentina has always fascinated me, ever since I was a child. There is something a little poetic about its capital city, Buenos Aires, with its cobbled side streets and impromptu tango dancers, who appear in a pulsating explosion of energy before disappearing into thin air, swathed by bustling crowds and street smog.
Having finally visited Buenos Aires I was surprised to find that this sense of poetry, characterised by a thriving arts and literature scene, is combined with a somewhat seductive veneer that draws you in, swirling you around like a full-bodied Malbec. It’s easy to feel a little lost in this behemoth of spewing side streets and towering buildings, so take your time, relax and enjoy the ride.
During your time in Buenos Aires, I suggest you start with a tour of the city’s incredible architecture. The classic buildings are a combination of styles, particularly French and Italian, with those around Avenida de Mayo, like the National Congress Palace, the Governor’s Palace and the Galerias Pacifico, all worth admiring.
The most interesting features of Buenos Aires’ buildings are the growling gargoyles which adorn roof tops, glowering over the streets as people hurry to work, unconsciously escaping their glare. Elsewhere, huge statues and monuments decorate square and parks, projecting a real sense of power and political might.
Some of the most impressive buildings include Teatro Colon, the grand opera house, considered one of the best in the world for acoustics, and Palacio Barolo, which combines archetypical Argentine decor with one of the best views of the city available.
La Bombonera Stadium
If you like football, there is no more fervent an encounter than Boca Juniors vs River Plate at La Bombonera Stadium, combining a bellowing atmosphere with football played at a frenetic speed. Here the concrete stands vibrate and shake with every kick, as Boca fans roar, rush and retreat.
There’s neither a pie nor family stand in sight, but Maradona’s beloved Boca reflect everything about Argentina in 90 minutes of theatre – from the sublime to the preposterous and the outright villainous; it’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you want football at its most ardently raw, there’s no better place.
You can really enjoy your food in Buenos Aires, with some of Argentina’s best food markets, restaurants and a booming café culture.
There are wide European influences, including Spanish tapas, Italian pizzas and French pastries, each with a unique Argentine spin. Beef is the region’s signature dish, with ‘asado’ one of the favourites, a combination of slow-roasted cuts of meat over a fire, including sausage, ribs and intestines, combined with garlicky green chimichurri sauce, or spicy salsa criolla.
Malbec wine is revered worldwide and is a staple, together with dishes “a caballo” or “on horseback”, meaning something good served on top of something else – ‘pizza a caballo’ is a delicious Argentine pizza topped with a thin slice of garbanzo flatbread.
For artisan street food, including delicious sandwiches made from Argentine sausage, try Feria Artesanal Plaza Francia. I really enjoyed watching the world go by with my morning café con leche, which you can enjoy at Ateneo Grand Splendid, an old theatre, while reading a book from their store.
Carlos Gardel was the pioneer of tango, and if you want to understand Buenos Aires I really suggest you read ‘The Tango Singer’ by Tomás Eloy Martínez, a hypnotic novel which explores the labyrinth of Buenos Aires and the spirit of this famous dance.
To see the tango with your own eyes, Museo Casa Carlos Gardel is a beautifully small and quaint house exhibiting memorabilia of the famous tango dancer, including posters, writings and sketches – all for free.
For a classic old tango hall, try Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso, a hidden alcove decorated in pretty Argentine artwork. This is where the locals go for lessons and where the best tango musicians play – it’s great on Sundays, where you can dance the night away in fine company.
For more extravagance, try Le Esquina Carlos Gardel, where you can enjoy fine Argentine steaks, red wine and exceptional, flawless performances.
Helene Cooper of Imaginative Traveller, is a keen travel writer and regularly reflects on her time spent in South America, where she has trekked Peru’s Inca Trail and scaled the mighty Aconcagua.