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Downtown Buenos Aires mirrors the sophistication of any European capital, with its wide avenues, fine colonial architecture and rows of pavement cafés. The city was built by French, Italian and Spanish immigrants and many porteños (locals) still regard themselves as more European than South American. Indeed, travellers walking through the city's leafy parks and boulevards could be forgiven for thinking they were in Madrid, Paris or Milan.
Buenos Aires was founded on the shores of the Rio de la Plata in 1570, and was named after the patron saint of sailors for the good wind or buen aire. The city remained a colonial backwater for 200 years while the Spanish concentrated their attention on wealthier Peru. During this time, Buenos Aires became a thriving centre for smuggling between South America and Europe.
Dissatisfaction with Spanish economic and political dominance escalated to boiling point and culminated in the revolution of May 1810 and finally brought about independence in 1816. Its history since then has been dogged by military coups and political mismanagement; the consequences of which are growing disaffection with the government and widespread poverty, as is evident in the sprawling shantytowns on the city's outskirts.
This turbulent history has not managed to stifle the indomitable spirit of the porteños whose passion, charm and vibrancy have forged this great city, a place in which the fire of Evita's soul and the allure of the tango endure. A holiday in Buenos Aires is a journey of discovering the gritty and valiant spirit that pervades Argentine culture, in everything from food and conversation to music, art and dance.
Sitting opposite the Casa Rosada on the Plaza de Mayo, the Cabildo is an old colonial building fronted by rows of breathtaking arches. Construction began in 1610 and ended in 1894, with the interior housing museums dedicated to its illustrious past and boasting relics, religious icons and paintings by Enrique Pellegrini. The changing of the guard is a popular attraction, with the troops being members of the revered Regimiento de Patricios and dressed in traditional uniforms unchanged for nearly 200 years. Lastly, craft markets are hosted on the back patio on Thursdays and Fridays, from 11am to 6pm.
The famous Casa Rosada is iconic, rousing images of fiery political rallies or the tragic romance of Eva Peron. The Italianate-style mansion is front by palm trees and fountains, its edifice painted pink when it was converted into a presidential palace. The building has since been declared a National Historic Monument of Argentina. Today, the building houses a small basement museum, and each evening, a small platoon of mounted grenadiers emerges from the guardhouse to lower the flag on the plaza, adding a touch of pomp and ceremony to the striking building.
Situated in the Plaza de Mayo, the neoclassical Cathedral Metropolitana houses the tomb of General José de San Martin, the revered hero who liberated Argentina from the Spanish. The mausoleum is guarded by three sculptures, each a life-size female figure representing Argentina, Chile and Peru. It also contains the remains of General Las Heras, General Tomas Guido and the Unknown Soldier of the Independence. The cathedral has been periodically rebuilt and renovated since the 16th century, its gilded columns, Venetian mosaic floors and silver-plated altar in pristine condition. Some interesting things to see in the cathedral are the two pulpits, a wide variety of colonial sculptures and paintings, and the 1871 Walcker Organ, one of the finest examples of its kind.
An unlikely tourist attraction, La Recoleta Cemetery is well worth visiting to see its magnificent display of monuments and the ostentatious tombs of Argentina's rich and famous. The cemetery is the second largest in the world, covering more than five hectares and filled with more than 4,700 vaults. Each vault has the family name carved over its entrance, while a collection of brass plaques next to the entrance displays the names of all the family members buried inside the vault. One of the more modest but most celebrated is the grave of Eva Peron where thousands leave flowers. Another famous cemetery inhabitant is the supposed daughter of Earl Alexander Walewski, Isabel, who died in Buenos Aires when just a baby. The superstitious say that on some nights, you can hear the baby crying from her godmother's arms.
Plaza Dorrego lies in San Telmo, the bohemian artists' quarter of Buenos Aires and the birthplace of tango. The tiny square is surrounded by elegant houses, now mostly converted into antique shops and bars whose tables overflow onto the street. There are numerous excellent museums nearby, including the Museo Histórico Nacional and the Museo de Arte Moderno. On Sundays, the plaza hosts the Feria de San Telmo. You won't find too many bargains, but you may find an interesting souvenir or two. Once the stallholders pack up their wares, the square becomes a stage for informal tango dancing, popular with locals and tourists alike.
The Teatro Colón opened in 1908 and is one of the largest performing arts theatres in the southern hemisphere, second only to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. It was designed by Italian architect Francisco Tamburri and is an Italian Renaissance-style building with seating for 2,500. Richly decorated in scarlet and gold with frescoes lining the cupola, the theatre has hosted many international performers including Nijinsky, Pavarotti and Domingo, and is considered to be among the top five venues for acoustics in the world, an opinion voiced by Pavarotti amongst others. The theatre is also home to the Superior Arts Institution of the Teatro Colón, and guided tours take visitors to the theatre's workshops, rehearsal rooms, auditorium and stage.
Situated in the south-east of Buenos Aires at the mouth of the Riachuelo River, La Boca is the most colourful neighbourhood or barrio in Buenos Aires, original home of both football legend Maradona and the tango. An assortment of brightly-painted houses made of wood and metal line streets of artisans, painters, street performers, cantinas and open-air tango shows. Originally settled by Genoese immigrants, it's now a veritable melting pot of cultures and people. Today it is frequented by crowds of tourists who come to soak up the lively atmosphere and sit in picturesque cafes sipping coffee and beer. Some places of particular interest in La Boca are La Ribera theatre, and La Bombonera, the home of the famous Boca Juniors football club.
Floralis Generica is a working metal sculpture located in the United Nations square in Recoleta, composed of stainless steel, weighing 18 tons and measuring 76 feet (23m) high. It was offered to the city by Argentine architect Eduardo Fernando Catalano, who described it as an 'environmental structure'. Its metallic petals open and close based on the incidence of solar rays and visitors to the site will find the giant metal sculpture in full bloom beneath the sun and closed at night. The sculpture sits above a reflecting pond, and the area around it has been landscaped to resemble woodlands. The sheer genius and technical artistry of the giant flower makes it a sight worth seeing.
At 416 feet (127m) wide, spanning the width of an entire city block, Avenida 9 de Julio is claimed to be the widest avenue in the world. Named for Argentina's Independence Day which falls on 9 July, the avenue was only completed in the 1960s, some 70 years after its original planning. The avenue runs from the Retiro district in the north to Constitucion station in the south, roughly one kilometre to the west of the Rio de la Plata waterfront, and consists of 18 lanes of traffic, nine on each side. In the middle of the street stands the impressive 67-metre-tall obelisk marking the heart of Buenos Aires.
The Galileo Galilei Planetarium is located inside the Bosques de Palermo, its massive dome making it almost impossible to miss for those who love the stars. The building is made up of six floors, five staircases and a main room with a 60-foot (20m) diameter, filled with 360 seats. On any given day, this planetarium is abuzz with the chatter of children enjoying a spot of stargazing. The planetarium regularly changes its shows and displays, including First Man in Space, A Blue Planet, and Super Moons. In addition to the main show, there is also a small museum containing a lunar rock, a collection of 100-million-year-old sea life fossils and a metallic meteorite from Chaco Province.
Lined with trees, flowers and other indigenous plants, the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens are a great place to take the kids. Open since 1898, the grounds contain a symmetric Roman garden, a picturesque Oriental garden and a mixed French garden. With plenty of open space, hundreds of stray yet friendly cats and a fascinating greenhouse for inquisitive kids, it's the ideal location to relax with a picnic or take a leisurely walk with the family. Its 33 sculptures and monuments, along with a botanical library, are also open to the public.
For many children travelling in Buenos Aires, the chaos of the city can be quite intimidating. But parents don't need to fret as there are great child-friendly attractions tucked away in just about every barrio (neighbourhood).
Buenos Aires is a great city to explore on foot, but for the more active, it is also extremely bicycle-friendly. Rent a bike and pedal your way round the leafy suburbs and side streets. Stop off at the Nueve de Julio Avenue, the widest avenue in the world and admire the 220-foot-tall (67metre) obelisk in the centre, marking the heart of Buenos Aires. Or for a slightly more cultural experience, take a stroll with the children past the Floralis Genérica in Recoleta, a working metal sculpture of a flower that opens and closes with the sun.
For those days when the sun isn't shining, head to one of the many indoor playgrounds or museums dotted around the city, such as the Museo de Los Ninos or the Galileo Galilei Planetarium where children will have a great time stargazing and learning about the solar system.
Buenos Aires has a humid subtropical climate with average temperatures ranging from 84°F (29°C) highs in summer (December to February) to less than 50°F (10°C) lows in winter (July to August). The heaviest rain falls during summer, early autumn and late spring, though rain can be expected at any time of the year. Many locals leave Buenos Aires during the hot summer months (December, January and February) and head for the coastal resorts.
Beef is king in the Buenos Aires food world; Argentina is famous for the juiciest and most tender steaks, served in its (steak houses). Foodies can also enjoy various Spanish and Italian pleasures, as well as sushi, fusion, and vegetarian cuisine.
There are numerous (walk through) places in the city, selling (hot-dogs), (beef sausages) and (breaded, fried cutlets). You can buy a , the most traditional non-alcoholic beverage, in any Coto or Carrefour supermarket. Be sure to try the gourmet (ice cream) and (small pastries stuffed with combinations of cheese and meats), or the , an Argentinean cookie.
Various small restaurants offer foreign meals, mostly Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Arabic, Spanish and Italian. Expensive and luxurious restaurants can be enjoyed at Puerto Madero and Palermo. The main areas to go out are Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Palermo SoHo and Palermo Hollywood, home to trendy stores, restaurants and bars. Most locals head out to dinner around 9pm.
A grand coffee house with a longstanding history, Café Tortoni is a must see on your Buenos Aires exploration. Unpretentious and with an old world charm, patrons can rest a while under the high ceiling of the dining hall, while sipping on a freshly brewed Argentinean coffee. Snacks with a hint of a Spanish flair are on offer throughout the day. Visit any day of the week and perhaps catch a glimpse of one of the many tango shows or jazz concerts that take place on the small stage.
Presidents, movie stars, and Porteños come here for the best meat in Buenos Aires. In fact, the restaurant has its own (ranch), which raises the cattle used for its famous grilled lomito and (beef cheeks). The wine cellar is well stocked with superb Argentine wines and the service is impeccable. If you have to wait long for a table, as you undoubtedly will, enjoy a glass of champagne in the cigar bar. Reservations are recommended. Open daily from 12pm to midnight.
For modern Argentinean cuisine, silky red wines and a comfortable contemporary atmosphere, try out the renowned Sucre restaurant. With both a lunch and dinner menu, this Argentinean favourite serves up mouth-watering meat dishes and light fusion tapas. Enjoy a pre-drink at the trendy bar and soak up the lively ambiance of this well-established Buenos Aires eatery.
Buenos Aires is known for its 'closed door' (puertas cerradas) restaurants, where top-class chefs create mouth-watering meals in their own homes. One of the most popular is I Latina, serving five- to seven-course Latin fusion meals with wine pairings on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The restaurant also serves brunch on Sundays. Reservations are required.
A well-known restaurant among tourists, La Cabrera is situated on a corner and makes a wonderful setting for outdoor dining, but the charming inside dining room with exposed brick walls and antique posters is just as pleasant. La Cabrera serves some of the best steak in Buenos Aires, with portions guaranteed to suit their prices. One of the restaurant's specialties is pamplona, a roll made of various meats and sauces. The pork ribs with a sauce of dried tomatoes and pesto is a definite must and all meals are served with a selection of olives, spreads, sauces, breads, and other appetisers. Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, Mondays and Tuesdays dinner only. Reservations are recommended.
The Sushi Club is part of a very popular chain, but of all the locations throughout Buenos Aires, this is by far the nicest outlet. The Sushi Club lives up to its name, serving sushi and other Japanese cuisine in a club-like interior with orange, black, and metallic décor, creating a trendy dining environment. The selection of sushi rolls is extensive with many taking themes from various countries and creatively using ingredients to match. Other highlights on the menu include plenty of fish and beef seasoned the Japanese way. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
After ample empanadas and asado, travellers looking for something a little different might want to try some authentic Korean fare at Una Cancion Coreana. This family-run restaurant is situated in the Flores barrio of Buenos Aires, sometimes called Pequena Corea (Little Korea), and offers Korean specialties like kimchi, bulgogi and the infamous soju. Simple, neat and spacious, this friendly neighbourhood restaurant is well worth the taxi ride it takes to venture out of the city centre.
The sultry tango was born in the brothels of Buenos Aires. Becoming an indelible part of Argentinian culture, the dance is celebrated in fine style throughout the city for two weeks during the annual Tango Festival. Beginners and experts alike swirl and twirl in legendary Corrientes Avenue and the numerous dance salons. More than 400,000 people attend the festival, billed as the world's largest tango extravaganza. Buenos Aires comes alive with the sounds of traditional tango music, visitors enjoying demonstrations and free lessons as well as plenty of music performances by soloists and orchestras. The festival also offers a wide variety of craft and food stalls.
The highly successful contemporary art fair arteBA is held every year at La in Buenos Aires. National and international art galleries come together to display contemporary artworks, with an agenda of talks and open debates throughout the five days. Depending on the year, more than 81 galleries from across the world take part in the fair, exhibiting the works of more than 800 contemporary artists. The fair has been hosted in Buenos Aires for 22 years, becoming one of the most important events in the world for promoting Argentine and Latin American artists. More than 120,000 visitors flock to La Rural over the five days, and to make the fair more accessible to all, a free forum is offered in the La Rural auditorium.
Representatives from more than 100 of the country's wineries (bodegas) gather together under one roof for the Vinos y Bodegas Wine Exhibition and, where the public can sip and swill to their hearts' content. Vino Express, organised by the Argentinean Association of Sommeliers, is a circuit of different stands where visitors can find out about specific wine regions, soils and terrains, grape cultivation and tasting techniques. Cooking demonstrations provide a timely and very welcome pause for digestion. There is a wine bar for those who feel the need to relax with a full glass of wine, and a wine store for those keen to acquire some of the wines that have been tasted.
Held at La Rural exhibition centre, further attractions at the exhibition include wine pairing events, lectures on the trends in wine making, sommelier demonstrations and courses, guided tours of wineries, and more. The exhibition draws over 50,000 guests annually, and the month of September is a wonderful time to visit Buenos Aires - the streets are lined with jacaranda trees in full bloom, football season is in full swing, and the city is full of life and activity. The exhibition is a particularly good idea for visitors who won't be able to make it to Argentina's wine-growing regions but would like to sample the wines.
Established in 1975,the Buenos Aires Book Fair is one of the top five book fairs in the world and aimed at both publishers and the general public. The fair encompasses 1,500 stalls from more than 50 countries, drawing more than a million visitors over the course of three weeks. The fair features special lectures each year, covering a broad range of pertinent cultural topics. Some famous writers who have attended and spoken at the fair in the past include Paul Aster, Italo Calvino, Wilbur Smith, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa and Roger Chartier. The fair also features book sales, workshops, and activities for children and adolescents, educational activities like discussion forums and roundtables, presentations and signings, and book readings to delight bookworms of all ages.
Famed for its huge selection of trendy clubs, fashionable music bars and attractive restaurants, it's no wonder the city of Buenos Aires never sleeps. From the dimly lit tango bars and mainstream hard house dance clubs to the Teatro Colón and smaller independent theatres, there is something for just about everyone in this buzzing city.
In typical Latin fashion, dinner is eaten late, usually between 10pm and 11pm, so clubs only really get going at around 2am. Puerto Madero, near the Casa Rosada, is popular with tourists and expats and is considered safe during the day and at night. Recoleta, Palermo, and San Telmo are the trendiest neighbourhoods for dance clubs and all the hippest locals can be found sipping on long drinks in the surrounding bars. It is not uncommon to find residents walking home at sunrise after a big night out on the town.
Culture vultures will simply adore the arts and culture scene here, and plenty of Broadway-style hits can be found in both English and Spanish at most of the 30-odd professional and underground theatres in the San Telmo and Abasto neighbourhoods.
Other than the run-of the-mill watering holes, there are also many bars in Buenos Aires offering live acoustic music or displays of flamenco dancing, readings, tango and folkloric dance, providing a bit of entertainment to accompany your evening drinks. The gay scene in Buenos Aires is thriving and rivals only that of Rio de Janeiro's in South America, with San Telmo being the main strip catering to this market.
Buenos Aires offers a wealth of authentic local treasures, from fine leather goods found in Murillo Street to alfajores, the traditional cakes and cookies often containing dulce de leche. Popular Buenos Aires souvenirs include tango music, mate cups, leather goods and Argentine wine. Shops are generally open Monday through Friday from 9am to 8pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.
Florida Street and Lavalle Street are for pedestrians only. In the zona de calzados there are many shops that sell tango shoes, and the Palermo Viejo in Palermo has various shops that will appeal to the young and artsy. There are also numerous fairs and markets to be explored, including Recoleta Fair and the San Telmo market.
Feria Recoleta, in Plaza Francia, boasts an assortment of artisan goods. Take in the Plaza Serrano in Palermo Viejo and the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. Defensa Street entices visitors as it comes alive with performers and vendors. Funky candles, street address plates and markers are available from Último Taller.
Shopping malls are a regular attraction and convenient shopping locations for many porteños (people from the port). The most famous stores in Buenos Aires can be found in these vast malls, along with restaurants, cafés, arcades and movie theatres. Shopping malls are open 7 days a week from 10am to 10pm.
The street structure, organised in a grid pattern, makes it easy to get around in Buenos Aires, and the best way to explore the city and take in its character is on foot. However, the city is serviced by an efficient, widespread and cheap public transport system that consists of buses and an excellent underground rail service (the Subte). Although it services most of the city centre, the Subte is not very extensive beyond the central core. The Subte is cost effective since it is charged per journey and not dependent on the distance travelled. Pre-paid Subte cards or passes can be purchased from the ticket booths ( ) at each station. It gets very hot and crowded in summer especially during peak hours, and closes between 11pm and 5am.
The bus network is huge and covers the city, and although very useful for getting around, the overwhelming number of routes make it confusing for tourists. Bus fares are paid in coins into an automatic ticket vending machine when boarding the bus. Many services run all night but with less frequency. There are also urban train services that can be useful for reaching the outlying suburbs.
SUBE cards can be purchased at countless kiosks, shops and post offices throughout the city, which unify the bus and Subte services and reduce the cost of bus journeys. It is the most convenient means of payment.
Taxis are everywhere and are relatively inexpensive. Although generally safe, visitors should be aware that there are fake taxis that pick up tourists and rob them. It is safer to phone for a radio taxi or remis, a fixed-price radio cab booked in advance that acts like a chauffeur-driven car and can be cheaper than taxis over longer distances. They are often more useful than renting a car for excursions from the city and even for a day's tour of the suburbs.
Meaning 'fair winds' in Spanish, Buenos Aires has several enthralling attractions. Most sightseeing is best done by day, for aesthetic and safety purposes, and walking is the best but by no means only mode of transport in this intriguing city.
Visit the Cementerio de la Recoleta, home to the tomb of Eva Perón, the actress married to Argentina's President Juan Perón and subject of the musical Evita, or wander under the magnificent facades of the downtown area, particularly enjoyed for its marvellous old European buildings. Enthusiastic sightseers can take a paddleboat from the promenade in Palermo and stroll through the beautiful flower garden.
An absolute must for those refined travellers of culture is a trip to the Palermo Viejo district, with its charming cobblestone streets, bookstores, bars and boutiques. Another must would be an afternoon spent exploring the Caminito pedestrian street's arts and crafts in La Boca or a visit to the National Immigration Museum for a taste of history. Enjoy watching tango dancers in the cobblestone streets and take a tour of the La Bombonera Stadium.
Visitors wanting to catch a show can do so at the Recoleta Cultural Center. Built in 1732, it was originally a convent connected to the Basílica del Pilar. Today it is a cultural centre hosting concerts, live performances and screenings. The historical building also houses sculptures, paintings and photographs in different exhibitions, providing a fantastic sightseeing experience for any visitor to this exciting city.
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