Best Tango Shows for Tourists
Tango, a beautiful dance that tells the pained story of the city's early-20th-century immigrant poor, is the ultimate Buenos Aires-defining experience. For an authentic historical look, see the tango show El Querandí, Perú 302 (tel. 11/5199-1770), which traces the dance from its origin in brothel slums, when it was only danced by men, to its modern-day leggy sexiness. Señor Tango, Vieytes 1655 (tel. 11/4303-0231), employs Hollywood glamour and Fosse-esque moves, as well as horses trampling the stage, in the city's most popular show. A more elegant tango experience can be had at Esquina Carlos Gardel, Carlos Gardel 3200 (tel. 11/4867-6363), in the Abasto neighborhood, where Carlos Gardel, the city's most famous tango crooner, lived and worked. A classical symphony accompanies traditional instruments in this show.
Best Tango Hall for the Experienced or Those Who Want to Watch the Experienced
If you're an expert tango dancer, or at least want to watch those who are, head to a milonga (tango salon). El Niño Bien, Humberto I no. 1462 (tel. 11/4483-2588), will take you back in time as patrons whirl about under ceiling fans in an enormous Belle Epoque-era hall. The best dancers come here to show off, though you'll also find instructors in search of potential students watching from the sidelines. Salón Canning, Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 (tel. 11/4832-6753), in Palermo Hollywood, has what many local dancers call the best tango floor in all of Buenos Aires -- a hard, smooth, parquet surface perfect for the dance. The tight space, however, is less than ideal for the tango-challenged.
Best Architecture Walks
Buenos Aires abounds in beautiful architecture, thanks especially to its highly ambitious rebuilding project for Argentina's 1910 Centennial celebration of its independence from Spain. The plan was put into action in the 1880s, and by the turn of the 20th century, entire neighborhoods had been rebuilt. The French Beaux Arts movement was at the height of its influence then, meaning the city looks more like Paris than any other Latin American city. Avenida de Mayo, the world's widest boulevard and the city's official processional route linking the Presidential Palace (Casa Rosada) to the National Congress Building, is the longest and best-preserved example of this. The corner buildings along the wide Diagonal Norte, also known as Avenida Sáenz Peña, are all topped with fantastic neoclassical domes, from the street's origin at the Plaza de Mayo to where it intersects Avenida 9 de Julio at the Obelisco, Buenos Aires's defining monument. Don't miss the neighborhoods of San Telmo and Monserrat either, with their balconied late-19th and early-20th-century structures, most of which are gracefully decaying.
Best Park Strolls
The Palermo park system runs along Avenida Libertador and includes some of the world's most beautiful parks. You could spend more than a day here, wandering amid trees and monuments, and still not see everything. Within the system are numerous small parks such as the Rose Garden and the Japanese Gardens, as well as museums such as the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 (tel. 11/4808-6500), and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Av. del Libertador 1473 (tel. 11/4803-0802). In the Argentine spring -- late September and early October -- the weather is at its best and the jacaranda trees here are in their full purple-bloomed glory, making this the perfect place for a stroll. In summer months, locals who can't escape the city come to jog, sunbathe, and while away the day beneath the trees.
Proof that nature is stronger than whatever humankind throws at it is just a brisk walk away from Buenos Aires's tallest office structures at the Ecological Reserve (along the Costanera, near Puerto Madero; tel. 11/4893-1588). In the 1960s and 1970s, demolished buildings and construction debris were dumped into the Río de la Plata. Nature responded by covering it with sediment and then grass and small plants, creating a home for myriad birds. Wander with caution if you're on your own, as some areas are still rough or unstable. Ask a tour company about bird-watching tours.
Most Heartbreaking Political Experience
Argentina's political history is a long series of ups and downs. Perhaps the worst tragedy occurred between 1976 and 1982, when a military government, bent on destroying what it considered political enemies, ruled the country. During that period -- referred to as the Guerra Sucia, or Dirty War -- as many as 30,000 people, mostly college-age, were secretly murdered. Most of their bodies were never found, granting them the name los desaparecidos, meaning "the disappeared ones." The Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an organization formed by mothers of the victims that strives for justice for those murdered, marches on the Plaza de Mayo every Thursday at 3:30pm, giving speeches and handing out fliers. They also run a university with a store and library of books on this painful period of history that is still being dealt with emotionally and legally.
Best Evita Experiences
Visit the Plaza de Mayo, the political heart of Argentina, and look toward the facade of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). The northern balcony is where Evita addressed her adoring fans, and now you too can stand here and sing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina": The Casa Rosada's free weekend tours now include the balcony, once reserved for visiting dignitaries. Others pay their respects at the Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita was laid to rest in a tomb belonging to the family of her wealthy father. To understand why it has taken Argentina more than 50 years to come to terms with this controversial woman, visit Museo Evita, Calle Lafinur 2988 (tel. 11/4807-9433), in Palermo, where the story of her life is told through personal objects.
The MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 (tel. 11/4808-6500), boasts an extensive and diverse modern art collection. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Av. del Libertador 1473 (tel. 11/4803-0802), was built into a former water-pump station and also houses an impressive art collection, including many European masterpieces and paintings depicting the history of Argentina.
Best Ethnic Neighborhoods
With a population that is predominantly white and of either Spanish or Italian descent, Buenos Aires, on the surface, seems lacking in ethnic diversity. The neighborhood of Once, however, around Calle Tucumán in particular, is home to a still-thriving Jewish community. You'll find numerous kosher restaurants, synagogues, and Jewish businesses. For another neighborhood of cultural interest, head north to Belgrano, the city's Chinatown. Most people in Buenos Aires know nothing of this neighborhood, a flourishing, busy community of Chinese restaurants, shops, and other businesses. If you're in town for the Chinese New Year, check out the Dragon Parade.
Best Outdoor Markets
There's no market like the San Telmo Antiques Fair, held every Sunday in Plaza Dorrego, the old colonial heart of the San Telmo district. You'll find lots of small antiques and collectibles dealers here along with some kitschy souvenirs, local crafts, and free live tango dancing as good as anything that you might pay to see onstage. The Feria de Plaza Francia, in front of the Recoleta Cemetery, is another market you shouldn't miss, with crafts, live music, and a beautiful setting on a grassy knoll.
Best Shopping Experiences
There's no shortage of top designer shops along Avenida Alvear, offering the same high quality and high style you find throughout North America and Europe at slightly lower prices befitting the Argentine economy. Leather shops abound on Calle Florida near Galerías Pacífico, and you can even have items custom-made at some of them. For top-quality high-design clothing and home items, my favorite shop is Tienda Puro Diseño Argentino, Gorriti 5953 (tel. 11/4776-8037). For little boutiques specializing in the sexy styles Argentine women favor, wander the cobblestone streets of Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood.
Best Vista Points
Odd-looking as it might be, the Palacio Barolo, Av. de Mayo 1370 (tel. 11/4383-1065), designed by an architect who took Dante's Inferno a little too literally, is finally open to the public for tours. Previously only accessible to those who worked here, the building's interesting interior is well worth a visit. Its tower, which once made it the tallest building in South America, provides a sweeping view of Avenida de Mayo and across the entire city. The Torre Monumental, Av. Libertador 49 (tel. 11/4311-0186), better known by its old name, the British Clock Tower, has a fantastic view up and down Avenida Libertador and out to the Río de la Plata. So what if the tower represents a country with which Argentina has had some disagreements over the years? It's the view that counts now.
Best Oddball Museums
Two modern-day necessities -- taxes and toilets -- are honored in two different small museums in Buenos Aires. The Tax Museum, Hipólito Yrigoyen 370, at Defensa (tel. 11/4347-2396), contains historical items relating to money, coins, and taxes throughout Argentine history. The Museo del Patrimonio in the Aguas Argentinas building; Av. Córdoba 1750 (museum entrance at Riobamba 750; tel. 11/6319-1882), better known as the Water Palace, is really about waterworks, but it contains what surely must be among the largest toilet collection in the world. Kids will have a blast here.
Best Museums for Kids
Called Museo de Los Niños (Children's Museum), Av. Corrientes 3247 (tel. 11/4861-2325), this is certainly a great place to bring the young ones. It's full of displays on various careers presented in an accessible and lighthearted way. In the Museo Participativo de Ciencias, Junín 1930 (inside the Centro Cultural Recoleta; tel. 11/4807-3260), not touching the displays is forbidden. This place is full of scientific exhibits that are so much fun that kids will forget they're educational, too!
Pedestrianized Calle Florida is not the elegant shopping stretch it might have been a generation ago, but all kinds of Porteños make their way here, especially at lunchtime. Day and night, musicians, tango dancers, broken-glass walkers, and comedians thrill crowds of tourists and locals alike. Avenida Santa Fe also remains busy and vibrant at night, with people popping into stores, gossiping at sidewalk cafes, and just checking each other out.
Best Nightlife Street
Whether you want to eat at a parrilla, try some nouvelle cuisine, have some drinks, or do some dancing, Calle Báez in Las Cañitas is the place to go. This busy street in Palermo offers such excellent restaurant choices as Novecento, Báez 199 (tel. 11/4778-1900), and El Estanciero, Báez 202 (tel. 11/4899-0951). Afterwards, savor the night over drinks at trendy Soul Café, Báez 352 (tel. 11/4778-3115). This street boasts some of the most densely packed nightlife in Buenos Aires.
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