“I had to extend my stay in BA until my tailored tango boots were ready,” Debbie confided to me. “I came from Australia for the dancing but could easily live here for the culture.”
Buenos Aires, universally known as BA, is a grand city. It has many impressive buildings from the time early last century when Argentina and Australia were the richest two countries in the world. Here are 10 highlights.
1. Teatro Colon
Built in 1908, Teatro Colon (Columbus Theatre in English) is regarded as one of the best opera houses in the world with excellent acoustics. The grand building has been renovated recently and the surrounds updated so it’s back to being as impressive as when it was built. There are no performances in January and early February but it’s open for guided tours during weekdays year-round.
2. La Recoleta cemetery
It’s said that the upmarket suburb of Recoleta is so expensive you can’t even afford to die and be buried here. A visit to La Recoleta Cemetery with its elaborate vaults and mausoleums will reveal why this is true. Just about every visitor to the cemetery is here for one reason alone – to see the burial place of Eva Peron, better known as “Evita”. Hers is far from the grandest tomb but the ever-present tributes reveal her enduring legacy.
There's a big price tag for a spot in La Recoleta Cemetery
3. La Boca
Even a casual perusal of travel brochures will show photos of BA as a colourful artists commune painted in vibrant primary colours. In fact that’s just one small neighbourhood: La Boca or, in reality, just one pedestrian street: the Caminito, and the shops, clubs, bars and tango clubs around it. The area is still rough so it’s better not to venture outside this strip – and don’t carry valuables at night.
Colourful and vibrant houses fill the La Boca neighbourhood
4. El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore
This may well be the most beautiful bookstore in the world. It was originally a 1000-seat theatre and it shows. In 2000 this theatre at 1860 Santa Fe Ave was converted into a book and music shop. Head upstairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the whole store, or take some time out at the small cafe hidden behind what was once the stage.
Even if your only interest in tango comes from Arnie and Jamie Lee dancing in ‘True Lies’ it’s worth going to at least one tango show. The dancing is fun and sensual but the meal is likely to be rubber chicken. A cheaper option is to watch the dancers on the streets around Florida St. If you are serious about tango, find one of the many local dance clubs.
There are many restaurants and cafes in BA. For a fun pizzeria that has been serving locals for more than 80 years visit El Cuartito. It’s at Talcahuano 937, a block off 9th of July Avenue. For a good parilla, take a taxi to Parilla Don Julio at Guatemala 4691, Palermo. The hard-to-find Tegui at Costa Rica 5852 is rated as one of the world’s 100 best restaurants and while the meal won’t be cheap it will be wonderful. Try as many local malbecs as you can, too – they are both very good and good value.
Enjoy the fine dining on offer in Argentina's capital, such as Tegui restaurant
If you have an interest in football you’ll know of BA’s two teams: Boca Juniors (Diego Maradona’s team) and River Plate. While Boca Juniors is the people’s team, River Plate is the club of the silvertails. In this stratified city each of the many games is more like class warfare than soccer. To their opponents, River is known as “Millonarios” while they simply refer to Boca as “Bosteros” or dung. If you’re brave, catch a game at Boca’s La Bombonera (Chocolate Box) or River’s El Monumental.
Attending a local football match in Buenos Aires is a must for sport fans
8. 9th of July Avenue
This street, named after Argentinean Independence Day, is the widest avenue in the world. In fact it spans an entire city block or 110 metres. There are seven lanes in each direction but parallel streets, separated from the main road by nature strips, add an extra two lanes each way. The avenue is only about one kilometre in length. The main feature is the towering Obelisk in the middle at the Plaza de la Republica but there are many hotels here plus the Teatro Colon.
Avenida 9 de Julio is the world's widest avenue
9. Galerias Pacifico
BA’s vibrant street life can be daunting. The main pedestrian strip, Florida Avenue can be a seething mass of street artists (including tango dancers), street market and money exchange shysters “cambio, cambio?” So this upmarket shopping mall, built in the 1890s for a Parisian department store, is an oasis of calm. It’s also very beautiful – have a look up at the central cupola. The best local handbag brand is named Prune and it has a shop in the complex.
10. San Telmo
The oldest neighbourhood in BA has retained much of its atmosphere with cobbled streets, old houses, a quaint shopping market arcade, and lots of bars. There are scores of art galleries, too. If you are in town on a Sunday it’s worthwhile wandering along Defensa from Plaza de Mayo towards San Telmo when the whole street becomes an antique and flea market. Eventually, you arrive at the San Telmo’s square, Plaza Dorrego, for coffee and tango.
Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? Let us know in the comments section below.