Called the “Paris of South America” and birthplace of the sensuous tango, cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, has been a melting pot of indigenous tribes and Italian, Spanish, British, French, German, Central European, Jewish, Arabian, Greek, Japanese and, more recently, Chinese and Korean immigrants. This melange is reflected in the architecture and diversity of the city’s neighbourhoods and suburbs with their wide boulevards, squares, parks, museums, theatres, boutique shops, fine wine, steak restaurants and lively bar and music scenes. No visit to Argentina is complete without spending some time in the diverse cultural cauldron that is Buenos Aires.
The city is divided into various neighbourhoods, many of which offer an interesting mix of history, culture, food and drink and include the following:
Plaza de Mayo – The heart of the city, containing the Casa de Gobierno, the offices of the president of the republic also known as the Casa Rosada. It was from the balcony of Casa Rosada that Eva Peron made her speeches. The Metropolitan Cathedral, built on the site of the first church in Buenos Aires, is to the north of the Plaza, and the Museo del Cabildo y la Revolucion de Mayo, the seat of Spanish colonial power, to the west. A short walk along the Avenida de Mayo is the famous Café Tortoni, haunt of artists and writers for over a century. Though now a popular stop on the tourist trail with its evening tango show, it is still worth a visit.
San Telmo – The oldest neighbourhood and site of the first settlement in 1536. it contains quaint, narrow streets of 19th century buildings now housing artists’ studios, antique shops, youth hostels, small hotels and bars. Sites include Parque Lezama and the flea market. On Sundays there is an outdoor market stretching a few blocks from Plaza Dorrego with antiques, souvenir and other stalls, as well as free tango performances and live music.
La Boca – Buenos Aires’ blue-collar neighbourhood where tango evolved amongst the brothels of Necochea Street. Caminito Street is lined with colourfully painted wood and tin buildings, many with figurines leaning out of second floor windows or over the balconies. La Boca is also the home of Boca Juniors, one of the city’s two first division football teams.
Recoleta – One of Buenos Aires’ most stylish residential neighbourhoods with French architecture, parks and lively cafes. Sites of interest include Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of Eva Peron, the National Gallery, and the craft market.
Palermo – A very popular neighbourhood divided into upmarket Palermo Chico and Palermo Viejo, a once-decaying district of factories, warehouses and small houses. Palermo Viejo is further subdivided into lively Palermo Soho with small boutique shops, bars, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife, and quieter Palermo Hollywood where many Argentine film studios used to be based.
Puerto Madero – A rapidly expanding regenerated 19th century dock area with elegant restaurants and high-rise luxury flats, whose focal point is Santiago Calatrava’s Bridge of Woman.
Tango originated in the brothels of La Boca in the late 19th century but the dance was prohibited by Argentine high society. In the early 1900s, tango became popular in Paris, eventually gaining acceptance and adoption by Buenos Aires’ wealthy families and was soon performed in the city’s public salons. Today there are a variety of tango shows aimed at international visitors, usually with dinner included. The shows are usually very entertaining and the dancing is of a good standard. A cheaper, more authentic way to watch tango is at a milonga, where locals dance gather to dance. Tourists may join the dancers or just watch: the dancing is usually preceded by tango lessons.