Long called the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires is exactly that, and yet so, so much more besides. Granted, this is a city of wide boulevards and French-styled palaces, but it is one too of wildly exciting innovations and new styles. From the opening of state-of-the-art museums like the MALBA, to the thrilling renaissance of the tango, Buenos Aires now buzzes with a contagious, creative energy and a brash new self-confidence. Put simply, it is South America’s sexiest, most intoxicating capital, and one that is easily discovered in a day.
Start your day at the centre of Buenos Aires, at the historic Plaza de Mayo. At the square’s eastern limit behold the fluorescent-pink Casa Rosada, the presidential palace. Evita Perón regaled thousands from its balcony; Diego Maradona hoisted the World Cup here.
Walk west on Avenida de Mayo, an avenue fronted by Parisian palaces and cupolas. Smile at the art-nouveau whimsy of the Hotel Chile (No. 1297) and drink in the majesty of the Palacio Barolo (No.1370), a towering edifice inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Gargoyles adorn its walls. Stop for coffee and buttery medialunas (a local pastry) at glorious Café Tortoni (No. 825). Open since 1858, it’s the city’s oldest café.
At the western extent of the Avenida you arrive at Plaza del Congreso, location for the formidable National Congress building, whose great dome looms above a tapestry of patriotic statuary and belle-époque fountains.
From parliament to pandemonium: brave the Avenida 9 de Julio, a roaring concrete thoroughfare that smashes a route through the heart of Buenos Aires. At its centre is the Obelisco: a brilliant white needle which soars skywards in memory of Argentina’s Independence from Spain. The magnificent Teatro Colón (Cerrito 618) opera house is nearby.
On 9 de Julio, hail a cab and hurtle northwards to the exclusive Recoleta district. Alight at the Recoleta Cemetery (Junín 1760), Buenos Aires’ great necropolis, where former presidents, military generals and, most famously, Evita, lie buried in grandiose mausoleums. Then onto Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Avda. del Libertador 1473), where Picasso rubs shoulders with Rothko at the city’s recycled waterworks building; and to the MALBA (Avda. Figueroa Alcorta 3415): the city’s museum of modern Latin American art and a cutting-edge design space.
Lunch on juicy Argentinian steak and red wine at Recoleta’s Cafe Biela (Avenida Quintana 600) – one-time haunt of literary deity Jorge Luis Borges.
Cab it back to Plaza de Mayo, from where you walk south on Defensa street. You are now in Buenos Aires’ mythical old south and one-time colonial heart. At Defensa 219, peek inside Farmacia de la Estrella, a pharmacy open since 1894. Elaborate frescoes colour its ceiling.
Sticking to Defensa stroll on to San Telmo, Buenos Aires’ most romantic barrio: a web of narrow, cobbled streets lined with colonial houses and Spanish churches. Stop at Pasaje de la Defensa (Defensa 1179), a perfect example of the conventillo (slum dwelling) once common to San Telmo. Its interior now houses a busy flea market.
Plaza Dorrego, a gorgeous little plaza at the heart of San Telmo, is minutes away. On Sundays, it hosts the city’s antiques market; on weekdays it’s a shaded area lined with sepia cafes – order beer at Bar Plaza Dorrego (Defensa 1098). Pop in and out of time-worn antiques stores and visit the beautiful Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Belén (Avnda. Humberto Primo 378), a 1733 church.
Hop on the No. 152 bus to the port district La Boca, the Italian barrio that gave birth to tango and Boca Juniors, Argentina’s greatest football team. Alight at the line’s end. The toxic River Riachuelo faces you. Look north for the iconic Puente Transbordador (Transporter Bridge) whose muscular iron frame straddles the water; a tango pirouette south and you are on El Caminito, an artists’ street overlooked by multi-coloured conventillos built a century ago.
Back to San Telmo for dinner and tango at El Querandí (Perú 322).
Round out your evening at Congo (Honduras 5329) in the fashionable Palermo district. Order a bottle of Malbec red – it’s Argentina’s national grape – and relax: Buenos Aires’ nightlife won’t sleep till dawn.