Cristina Kroll zips around Argentina’s colourful capital and discovers bohemian hangouts, tempting tango cafés and a host of lively neighbourhoods.
1. La Boca
It’s best to take this tour of Buenos Aires in a taxi, which you can flag down on any main street in the city (look out for the characteristic black and yellow livery). Alternatively, you can call a radio taxi to pick you up from your hotel – the benefit of this service is that you can request a non-smoking driver should you wish to see the city with the pollution firmly outside the cab.
La Boca, south of the city centre, is the most picturesque area of Argentina’s capital and the perfect place to start your tour. Located next to the Riachuelo river, this was the first port of Buenos Aires. Its lively coloured houses of wood and corrugated metal, along with tango shows and clubs, attract visitors from all over the world. The most famous street in La Boca is Caminito, where local painters, artisans and photographers showcase work inspired by this neighbourhood. And if you are a football fan, don’t miss La Bombonera Stadium (bocajuniors.com.ar), home of Boca Juniors, one of the most successful football teams in the world, where the great Diego Maradona began his career.
2. San Telmo
North of La Boca is San Telmo, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires (a taxi ride from La Boca should cost no more than US$16.50). San Telmo was originally settled by the richest residents of Argentina and, today, elegant examples of colonial architecture still share the spotlight with modern shops and pubs. More than 20 restaurants and hotels have opened in the last year, while designer clothing stores are springing up on every corner.
San Telmo’s many attractions include the church of San Pedro González Telmo (open Monday to Saturday 8am-12pm and 4-8pm, entrance US$3) and the National Museum of History (open Wednesday to Sunday 11am-6pm, admission free, tel +5411 4307 4457). Every Sunday, the San Telmo fair (feriadesantelmo.com.ar) is held here from 10am to 5pm in Plaza Dorrego, which is surrounded by antique stores and art galleries. In the evening, the square becomes the centre of the bohemian community, as people gather to drink in the lively coffee shops and bars.
From San Telmo you can walk to Downtown along Defensa Street, which borders Plaza Dorrego. One of the most important sights in the city centre is Plaza de Mayo, the heart of the old town, which since 1810 has been the scene of every major political event in the country. Here you will find architectural examples of Argentina’s historic heritage: the Cabildo, the Pyramid of May, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Presidential Palace, known to locals as the “Pink House” (casarosada.gov.ar). Avenida de Mayo begins at the western corner of the square and is full of traditional cafés inspired by tango music, including Café Tortoni (cafetortoni.com.ar), one of the oldest in Buenos Aires and regularly visited by intellectuals and politicians. Just a few blocks away from Plaza de Mayo is Florida, the main pedestrian street, offering restaurants, clothing and leather stores, and street performers.
Take a taxi to Recoleta (around US$18). This part of the city has large green areas with live artistic performances taking place in the open air. A good place to stop for a drink is at La Biela café (labiela.com), a traditional meeting point for artists and writers. From here you must see the Floralis Generica, a 23-metre high titanium flower in United Nations Square. Created by local architect Eduardo Catalano, this structure opens its petals during the day and closes them at night. You may also want to stop by the National Museum of Decorative Arts (mnad.org.ar), the National Museum of Fine Arts (mnba.org.ar) and the Palais de Glace (palaisdeglace.org), all located in the Recoleta area. Entry to these museums is free, although on certain days there is a nominal charge of US$5.
From Recoleta it’s a 20-minute walk to the Palermo neighbourhood, which is one of the biggest green spaces in Buenos Aires. Walk there along Libertador Avenue under the calm shadow of the trees lining the street. (If you are running short of time a cab will cost around US$17.) The parks and lakes of Palermo have flora from across the country and it’s a lovely place to relax and stroll around. There are also several good museums in the area, including the Planetarium (planetario.gov.ar, entry US$4) and the Museum of Latin American Art Buenos Aires (entry is US$15 from Thursday to Monday, free on Wednesdays, malba.org.ar), which presents films, art exhibitions and conferences. The museum is also home to several intriguing projects by local designers. Finally, the Japanese Garden (jardinjapones.com.ar) combines cultural activities in the middle of a landscape with oriental flowers and trees, and a magnificent view of the lake from a panoramic bridge. The garden is open every day from 10am to 6pm, and entry is US$3 during week days, while on weekends and holy days it is US$4.