I had been hearing about “the steak” for three years. My boyfriend, Andy, took a trip to Buenos Aires and has been raving about the Argentine beef he had at La Cabrera Norte ever since. So when I finally made it to the South American hot spot a few weeks back, I had to try this by now almost mythical meal — paired with a juicy, fruit-driven Malbec, naturally.

Almost impossibly, the steak lived up to the hype, but best of all, sharing a common experience made me feel connected to Andy all the way back in New York City. That’s part of the reason I love to get personal recommendations from friends. We could be thousands of miles apart, but in a way, it’s as if I’m having dinner with them.

Buenos Aires is a city that needs an exclamation point after its name. And maybe all caps.

El Ateneo was once a theater. (Photograph by Mac Aque, Flickr)

El Ateneo was once a theater. (Photograph by Mac Aque, Flickr)

BUENOS AIRES! seems to capture the city’s exuberant, exhausting, and beautiful urban buzz. I spent a full week in the South American capital and left wanting more. The wide boulevards, green parks, French-inspired architecture, late-night dancing, custom leather shops, and delectable dishes combined to deliver an exhilarating travel adventure.

Of course, there are problems. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was warned 20 times about pickpockets my first day in town. I also heard constant complaints about the government’s economic policies. And, though the city has long been known as a great value destination, hotel and restaurant costs are climbing. Still, Buenos Aires is one of the most intoxicating places I’ve ever visited.

Here are my reasons why:

See & Do

Though getting around Buenos Aires is easiest by taxi, (each ride is around $5-8), you need to put on your walking shoes to really get the lay of the land. Start by exploring the city’s distinct neighborhoods.

Craving nature? Explore the Bosques de Palermo. (Photograph by Azotesdivinos, Flickr)

Craving nature? Explore the Bosques de Palermo. (Photograph by Azotesdivinos, Flickr)

You’ll find the city’s most exclusive shops and cafes in the Recoleta neighborhood. If you want a custom leather jacket, try Uru Recoleta. Nearby you’ll find city-center sights like the gorgeous Teatro Colon opera house, Casa Rosada, and the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis served as archbishop. Don’t miss one of the world’s most stunning bookstores, El Ateneo, and the famous cemetery where Eva Perón and other notables are buried (the real draw is the intricate architecture of the mausoleums).

You’ll be charmed by Palermo. The shaded, cobblestoned streets there reminded me of my neighborhood (the West Village) in NYC. Spend one late night at the casual milonga (dance hall) Salon Canning, where the locals start dancing after midnight. Save a few hours to check out the mind-boggling, sometimes gut-wrenching exhibitions at the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art and take a stroll through the Bosques de Palermo, a beautiful urban oasis. The area perks up in November and December when the glamorous Argentine Derby and Argentine Polo Open Championship come to town. Watch for beloved native son, polo player, and Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras.

The old docks area of Puerto Madero has been reinvigorated thanks to the bizarre Faena Hotel and Universe, which puts on one of the city’s most over-the-top (and pricey) tango shows, Rojo Tango. Though the rest of the area is unremarkable, the Fortabat Collection is worth seeing, and outdoor biking and birding enthusiasts will love exploring the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve.

Make a quick stop during the day in La Boca, the colorful, small area where tango was born. Though it’s touristy during the day and generally lifeless at night, it’s still an essential stop for the first-time visitor.

And, on Sundays, the place to be is the bustling flea market in San Telmo for leather, antique watches, and unique artwork.

La Boca can be touristy, but it's worth checking out. (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

La Boca can be touristy, but it’s worth checking out. (Photograph by Wally Gobetz, Flickr)

Sit & Eat

While Argentina doesn’t come close to disappointing when it comes to red meat (besides La Cabrera Norte, try Cabaña Las Lilas or Fervor for steaks), I’ll take dulce de leche any day of the week. Lucky for me, a different version of the South American sensation — inside crepes, drizzled over grilled bananas, giving flavor to gelato – was offered on nearly every menu I encountered in the city. Speaking of gelato, head to Volta or Persicco to sample more local flavor.

Piegari and Sottovoce are great choices for Italian. I took a friend’s recommendation to find Guido on a nondescript, locals-only street, where families and friends devour pizza and pasta and no English is spoken. Tegui has a chic-meets-industrial vibe and fantastic Mediterranean food, while Olsen, with its stunning garden, was my favorite lunch spot. Tip: Don’t book a dinner reservation before 10 p.m.

Stay & Sleep

Head to Olsen for great food. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

Head to Olsen for great food. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

I recommend making your home base in either the elegant Recoleta or the au courant Palermo districts.

You’ll find the ultimate in comfort at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires, where much of the design reflects Argentina’s heritage, including the striking horse sculpture out front. The swirly patterns in the lobby were inspired by the tango, while polo lends inspiration to Elena (absolutely the hottest restaurant in Buenos Aires right now). Guests can choose between the historic belle epoque-style mansion or the more modern “tower” with its sweeping views of the widest avenue in the world, 9 de Julio.

In Recoleta, Loi Suites, where some rooms overlook the famous cemetery, is a good value, while the chic Hotel Krista in the Hollywood district of Palermo provides a great boutique option.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her on Twitter @anniefitz.

Comments

  1. Endri Hasanaj
    Greece
    May 22, 2013, 12:41 pm

    This is a really great post about Buenos Aires and I think it does it justice. I got married in Buenos Aires and I will never forget that day. It was magic and one of the most fulfilling days of my life. But enough of that, I just wanted to let you know what a good job you did with this article. I also made one. You can see it here: http://tripandtravelblog.com/argentina-buenos-aires-by-the-end-of-the-world-see-video/
    I know it’s not nearly as informative and well done as yours but I like writing about the places I love just as much as I love reading about them. I look forward to more like this!
    Greetings from Athens!

  2. jeff
    France
    June 24, 2013, 12:02 pm

    This is a nice post. I visit Buenos Aires quite often actually for work reasons ( http://www.carrentalbuenosairesairport.com/ ) reasons but don’t get much time to spend on visiting the beautiful places there. Your post inspires me to explore more about Buenos Aires.

  3. Mariano
    Buenos Aires
    January 28, 9:51 am

    Great post! I’d like to add a few things from my perspective. I am a US-educated Argentinian, living in BA.

    First, I agree what the author mentions about LA CABRERA NORTE. Acutally, La Cabrera, and La Cabrera Norte are just a block away from each other, same owners, same meat, same everything. But it is very important to make a reservation (you can do it online) because if not you will most likely have to wait upwards of an hour to get your table. Evening reservations accepted for 8.30pm only.

    If you visit during the soccer season, you must go to a match. There are many tour operators that organize everything for you so you avoid any possible safety risks involved in going by yourself.

    Most tourists I speak to really enjoy going to Colonia (Uruguay) for a day. It’s a quick day trip and you can take the morning ferry, and return in the afternoon.

    Also, I suggest you organize/reserve your airport transportation prior to arrival. It is not uncommon that the airport stands will make you wait, particularly on rainy mornings, where the bulk of flights from the US and Europe arrive, pretty much all together. Some of the trustworthy companies that offer such pre-arranged reservations for your transfers are “Go Airport Taxi” and Manuel Tienda Leon.

    And now that we’re in the subject, to move around in the city take taxis. A few pointers: Take Radio Taxis, as these belong to a bigger company and it is definitely safer. You can recognize radio taxis by the sign at the top with the brand. The best known brand is RADIO TAXI PREMIUM. But they all are pretty much the same.

    Many tourists ask me regarding where to exchange their dollars to pesos, particularly at the “blue rate” which is substantially more convenient. First and foremost, the blue rate is illegal. So if you find someone willing to make that exchange, make sure he/she is trustworthy (recommended by hotel’s concierge, for example). I would avoid the people who offer blue rate exchanges in Florida Street. While most are probably ok, there are too many reports of robberies taking place by those making the exchange.

    Buenos Aires is beautiful. Enjoy.

    Mariano