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La Boca district of Buenos Aires. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)
La Boca district of Buenos Aires. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)

Make your first time in Buenos Aires count. Use this guide Add to ...

It’s currently springtime in the “Paris of the south,” which makes Buenos Aires increasingly appealing to autumnaly chilled northerners. But since I’ve yet to visit, I touched base with three in-the-know BA locals – also known as portenos – for first-timer tips.

Blogger Tim Fitzgerald (gringoinbuenosaires.com) notes that guidebook-featured hot spots, including historic Recoleta Cemetery and the bright-painted El Caminito street should be covered off first. Exploring areas like Palermo Soho on foot – while deploying standard big city street smarts – is also recommended.

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“Memorable experiences in Buenos Aires come from stumbling on hidden cafés, cool boutiques or hole-in-the-wall restaurants filled with locals,” he says, suggesting two experiences that will bring you even closer to the city’s heartbeat.

“Visit a milonga club such as La Catedral. [lacatedralclub.com]. You’ll see local tango dancers and you can also participate in classes,” he says, adding that soccer is BA’s other nimble-footed religion. “There’s nothing like the sheer energy of a football match here – go for a superclasico between local teams Boca Juniors and River Plate.”

If solo exploring seems a little daunting, recommended guided tours include the foodie-loving Parrilla Tour (parillatour.com) and the colourful street-art-wanders offered by Graffitimundo (graffitimundo.com). For camera-worthy vistas, Fitzgerald suggests touring the lovely, 1923-built Palacio Barolo tower for its bird’s-eye city views (palaciobarolotours.com.ar).

Street market fans are also well-served. “La Feria de San Telmo on Sundays is a must. Full of antiques and arts and crafts, there are also cool street performers, food and music here,” he says. If you’re still hungry, he points to La Feria de Mataderos for traditional Argentine grub like locro and empanadas – served with a side dish of gaucho cowboy demonstrations.

Food, of course, is a lure for many BA visitors and local blogger Allie Lazar (pickupthefork.com) has many taste-tripping suggestions.

“You can become porteno for a day – and have a really full stomach – by eating the local staples,” she says, suggesting cortado coffee with croissant-like medialunas for breakfast; breaded cutlets and meat empanadas for lunch; and tenderloin steak with chimichurri sauce and salsa criolla for dinner. “Malbec is also a must,” she adds.

Lazar also has some useful pointers for where to go.

El Obrero [bodegonelobrero.com.ar] is a wonderful spot in La Boca. It’s a bodegon – Argentina’s version of a cantina. Also, La Cocina is a tiny Recoleta hole-in-the-wall serving homemade, freshly baked empanadas and cuisine from northern Argentina.” And for street food cravings? “Head to Costanera Sur for dozens of mobile, smoke-filled grills serving chorizos, pork shoulder and steak sandwiches.”

Finally, take a break from stuffing your face by hitting the town. Local journalist Sorrel Moseley-Williams (sorrelmw.com) agrees with Fitzgerald that tango clubs are a must – she recommends La Viruta (lavirutatango.com) – but adds that the bar scene, from cocktail-loving Floreria Atlantico to the speakeasy vibe of Frank’s, is also hot.

“I love Rey de Copas for its camping mugs and artichoke-based cocktails,” she says, noting that one local drink is a must-try in BA. “Order a Fernet and Coke. It might taste like old detergent mixed with diesel but after a few rounds you won’t know what hit you. Argentines have adopted this aperitif as their own.”

But nightlife isn’t all about drinking here. Moseley-Williams suggests Gallery Nights (gallery-nights.com.ar) plus English-language Gringo Stand-Up at Café Rivas. But wherever the evening takes you, be ever-ready for a surprise or two. “If someone in BA invites you to do something last-minute, seize the day!” she says.

OUR READERS WRITE

  • You must see the tango performed. There are many places to see it, in neighbourhoods, on the main shopping street, Avenida Florida, but the Tango Show at the Faena Hotel in Porto Madera is by far the best, and should not be missed. John L. Henry
  • If you’re into eating meat, you have to experience a good Asado restaurant. @TheLowerCrust
  • Lavalle Street: famous for its charcoal fire pits and for barbecuing whole sides of beef. They’re fronted with thermal floor-to-ceiling glass windows. @PemGateway
  • Make sure you leave some space in your case for some all-leather shoes – available in every variety of colour, shape and heel height. A lot of the shops in BA are independents, so I found a much greater variety than in North America. Prices were about half to one third of what I would have paid elsewhere. One of the best areas for shoe shopping was Recoleta. @Journeywoman
  • Palermo Viejo neighborhood – leafy streets, outdoor bars/cafes, Porteno culture and not entirely touristy. @RemyScalza
  • We did this free walking tour – bafreetour.com – and found it worthwhile. Also, shopping in Palermo is a must. One useful tip is that most restaurants and cafés have free WiFi: just ask for the password and you can trip-plan on the go. Oh, and if you head to Recoleta Cemetery, do it very early: it gets crowded fast. @kattancock
  • La Recoleta cemetery. It’s a real necropolis where the streets of ornate tombs are thronged by cats. Eva Peron is buried there. @Lynn_Shepherd
  • La Catedral Club for tango and folklore; Thelonious Bar for some local jazz; San Telmo fair on Sundays for everything else. @solevega
  • Go for pizza with history at El Curatito, one of my happy BA memories. @devourNconquer
  • Did BA for the first time last May. Terrific markets: Recoleta craft market Sat-Sun, San Telmo market Sun. Both memorable. @ABWeir
  • San Telmo, Recoleta and Palmero markets on weekends. Walk or take the Subte: it’s cheap. Also, go without the fancy jewellery and be aware of your surroundings and possessions: muggers and pickpockets prey on opportunity. There’s a blue market for money exchange on Calle Florida that will give you a great exchange rate for US dollars (big clean bills = the best rate). @Chiqee

Send your travel questions to concierge@globeandmail.com

 

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