48 Hours In: Buenos Aires

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For tango, midnight dining and bargain prices, you can do no better than to soak up the southern summer in Argentina's beautiful capital



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WHY GO NOW?

Argentina's big, beautiful capital is looking better than ever this southern summer, giving the Porteños (as the citizens are know) even more reasons to be cheerful. Excitement is mounting as Argentina approaches its bicentennial, with events already taking place; see bicentenario.gov.ar. January is the warmest month, with an average high of 27C. Or wait until February and March – both sunny months in Buenos Aires – to catch the city's Tango Festival.

TOUCH DOWN

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Buenos Aires via Sao Paulo in Brazil. Aerolineas Argentinas (020-7290 7887; www.aerolineas.com) flies from Gatwick, with a change of planes in Madrid. The main alternatives from other UK airports are provided by Air France/KLM via Paris or Amsterdam, and Lufthansa via Frankfurt. The international airport is 21 miles south-west of the city centre; the handy tourist office in the arrivals hall opens 10am-5pm except weekends.

Buses to the city centre are run by Manuel Tienda León (00 54 11 54 80 0374; tiendaleon.com), with one-way fares for the 45-minute journey starting at 45 Argentinian pesos (written $45, and worth £9). The bus drops you at the company's bus station (1) at Retiro on the north-west edge of the city centre.

Taxis cost $98 (£20) one way if you book at the official desk, right outside the arrivals hall; ignore all the touts.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Buenos Aires is South America's third-largest city, surpassed in population only by Sao Paulo and Rio in Brazil. But most of the areas you are likely to find yourself in are fairly central, and taxis are cheap and ubiquitous.

The main artery is the very broad north-south Avenida 9 de Julio; marooned in the middle at the junction of Avenida Corrientes is Buenos Aires' iconic Obelisco (2), erected in 1936 to commemorate the founding of the city four centuries earlier. From here, Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña leads south-east towards the main tourist office (3) at Florida 100 (00 54 11 4311 0528; www.buenosaires.gov.ar; 10am-6pm from Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm on Saturdays); beyond it is the Plaza de Mayo, the hub of the city. The east side of this rectangle is filled by the Casa Rosado (4), or Pink Palace, where President Juan Peró*and his wife, the actress Eva Duarte (better known as Evita) waved to adoring crowds from the first-floor balcony.

The Cathedral (5) occupies the west end of the north side. East of the Plaza de Mayo, beyond a pair of busy highways, is the spectacular Puente de la Mujer (6), a bridge created by Santiago Calatrava as the city's first 21st-century monument and intended to resemble the leg of a tango dancer. It takes you to the rejuevnated dockland area, Puerto Madero.

To the south, the quiet colonial streets of San Telmo lead to La Boca, the area where Buenos Aires was founded by the Spanish in 1536 (but temporarily abandoned five years later).

To the north-west you find the trendier and leafier Recoleta and Palermo, named after the Italian farmer, Giovanni Palermo, who drained the area.

CHECK IN

For an ideal combination of style, price and location, consider the self-styled "Hotel Boutique" Reino del Plata (7), close to the Plaza de Mayo at Hipólito Yrigoyen 647 (00 54 11 5272 4000; hotelreinodelplata.com.ar). It opened two years ago and offers 41 stylish rooms and a rooftop plunge pool, plus free Wi-Fi in public areas. A double room with breakfast costs US$145 (£103), though lower rates are sometimes available online.

If you prefer room to breathe, the Miravida Soho (8) at Darragueyra 2050 in Palermo Viejo (00 54 11 4774 6433; miravidasoho.com) is located in a quiet cobbled street in Palermo Soho in a restored 1930s mansion. The rooms are individually designed, and breakfast (included) can be taken on one of the two tables in the courtyard. Rates start at US$155 (£110).

For budget travellers, Buenos Aires has plenty to offer: the Hostel One (9) at Bolívar 1291 (00 54 11 4300 9322) is dwarfed by an elevated freeway, but is close to the centre and has beds in dorms for four at only $40 (£8), including breakfast.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Most shops open at 9am daily except Sunday and close at 8 or 9pm from Monday to Friday, 1pm on Saturdays; shopping malls keep longer hours.

Palermo Viejo, with its atmospheric streets and Art Nouveau villas, is arguably the area where you find the most interesting shops; in particular, a block or two along J L Borges (10) around the junction with Soler has some fascinating boutiques. Moving towards the city centre, Avenida Alvear (11) in Recoleta is the city's equivalent to New York's Fifth Avenue, with all the upmarket names you would expect. In the centre of town, the Avila bookshop (12) on the corner of Bolivar and Alsina dates from 1785 – and has kept its location ever since.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Argentina's favourite fast food is the empanada: a delicious pocket of pastry – like a Latin Cornish pastie – with a variety of fillings, such as beef, ham or cheese. They are sold from kiosks and cafes all over the city, including the Solo Empanadas chain. Many say the best are at La Cupertina (13) at Cabrera 5296 in Palermo Viejo, where a wide range (including vegetarian) are on sale for $4 (£0.80) each.

TAKE A HIKE

Try this simple but revealing cross-section through the city centre. Start at the Plaza Dorrego (14) in the heart of San Telmo, and walk north along Defensa. After only a block you reach the Mercado Municipal (15) on your left, which opens 7am-2pm and 4.30-9pm daily (but not on Sunday afternoons). Wander in for a surprisingly wide range of produce and antiques. At Defensa 219 you pass the Museum of the City (16) (11am-7pm daily, weekends from 3pm). Negotiate some busy traffic and you find yourself in the middle of the Plaza de Mayo, location for the Pirámide de Mayo. This needle commemorates the 1810 Revolution, which led to independence from Spain; it has long been the focus for political protests.

A quick block north-west along the diagonal Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña takes you to Florida, the first cobbled street in the city and now the main retail drag, replete with moneychangers.

At number 468 you can pause for coffee at the elaborate Richmond Confiteria, while at 753 you should call in at the wonderful Galerías Pacífico (17), if only to enjoy the air-conditioning and appreciate the ceiling murals.

One block further north, you pass the former Harrods at 877, and soon arrive at the Plaza San Martín (18), with its striking monument to the fallen of the conflict in the Malvinas/Falklands. Across the busy Avenida de Libertador on Plaza Fuerza Aérea Argentinas – formerly the Plaza Británica – stands the British Monumental Tower (19), donated to Argentina by the UK community in 1916. Beyond it lies the Retiro railway station (20), another British creation inaugurated in the same decade.

AN APERITIF

Back in Palermo, Meridiano 58 (21) at J L Borges 1689 (00 11 4833 3443) offers cold beer and good-value nibbles, which can be enjoyed on the streetside terrace. If you choose the al fresco option, make sure you pop inside to appreciate the chic industrial style – whch is offset, on the mezzanine, with sofas that verge on beds.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Restaurants in Buenos Aires don't start filling up until 9 or 10pm, and going out for dinner at midnight is perfectly acceptable. The optimum place to try Argentinian beef is in Puerto Madero at Cabaña Las Lilas (22) at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 516 (00 54 11 4315 1010; laslilas.com). Book ahead, especially at weekends or if you want a waterside table, to enjoy the best steak of your life and wine from a formidable list. Around $200 (£40) buys a magnificent chunk of meat and a couple of glasses of something special.

Don Julio (23), at the corner of Guatemala and Gurruchaga in Palermo Viejo (00 54 11 4832 6058), is a lot cheaper. The bife de lomo (tenderloin) is exceptionally tender and flavoursome. A full serving ($38/£10) should comfortably feed two people, and perhaps leave room for the sweet traditional dessert, panqueque de dulce de leche – crèpes wrapped around a sweet concoction whose name best translated as "milk jam" – at $10 (£2) for two.

SUNDAY MORNING: PAY YOUR RESPECTS

Recoleta, named after a monastery whose Franciscan occupants were enamoured of meditation or "recollection", is the place to spend your Sunday morning. Members of the religious order were evicted early in the 19th century, so that their land could become the city's leading graveyard, the Recoleta Cemetery (24) (open 7am-6pm daily, admission free). Here you'll find the elaborately designed final resting places of the city's rich and well connected, including the tomb of Evita.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Argentina has a strong Italian heritage; for excellent pizza at prices you thought had disappeared forever ($25/£5 for a large one and $7.50/£1.50 for a bottle of wine) go to La Moderna (25) on the corner of Humberto Primo and Chacabuco (00 54 11 4362 1281; pizzerialamoderna.com.ar) in the San Telmo district. It opens 8am-midnight, seven days a week.

TAKE A RIDE

...aboard the Southern Hemisphere's original underground railway network. The "Subte" was inaugurated in 1913, and its style still remains intact at Peru station (26). A ride costs $0.90 (£0.20). While some of the antiquated carriages look and rattle as though they have been there since day one, the system also offers free Wi-Fi.

A WALK IN THE PARK

A good destination for a Subte ride is Plaza Italia (27) on line D, which opens up to Buenos Aires' most expansive green spaces. To the south, there is the Jardí*Botánico, while to the east Avenida Sarmiento leads to the heart of the Parque Tres de Febrero; the underpass at Plaza Seeber (28) doubles as an art gallery devoted to skateboarders.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Some excellent art is free and accessible 24 hours a day. In La Boca, the Caminito (29) is a former railway siding now turned into an "art street" that comprises the Museo de Bellas Artes al Aire Libre Caminito, an open-air gallery established 50 years ago.

ICING ON THE CAKE

Buenos Aires embraces Tango, and a good place to experience the art form is the Dandi Royal (30) at Piedras 922 (00 54 11 4361 3537; mansiondandiroyal.com): a boutique hotel, dance school and performance centre.

Additional research by Kavita Favelle

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