Why go now?
The Argentinian capital is at its best during the first months of the year, basking in high-summer temperatures that foster a merry, near-carnival atmosphere. This will play out from 9 to 17 February in the shape of the annual Festival Shakespeare Buenos Aires – a celebration of Britain's revered playwright (various venues; festivalshakespeare.com.ar).
Only British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies direct from the UK, with a daily non-stop from Heathrow. Air Europa (0871 423 0717; aireuropa.com) flies from Gatwick via Madrid; American Airlines (0844 499 7300; americanairlines.co.uk) flies from Heathrow via Miami.
Ezeiza airport (00 54 11 54806111; aa2000.com.ar) is 14 miles south-west of the city. Manuel Tienda Leon (00 54 11 4314 3636; tiendaleon.com.ar) operates a bus transfer from the airport at least once every hour, fare 75 pesos (A$75/£9.60). It takes 45 minutes to the main drop-off point at 1299 Avenida Eduardo Madero (1). The firm also offers private cars for A$295 (£38), bookable online. Taxis take 40 minutes and cost about A$120 (£15).
Get your bearings
Buenos Aires spreads out on the south-west bank of the River Plate as it nears its estuary. It exists as a series of distinct districts: Monserrat and San Nicolas at its heart, the newly gentrified docklands of Puerto Madero to the east, historic San Telmo, and the traditionally working-class La Boca, directly south of the centre. North of San Nicolas, the gilded barrios of Retiro, Recoleta and Palermo swell with parks, style and quiet affluence.
Despite its size, Buenos Aires is easily explored on its excellent Subte underground system (metrovias.com.ar). There are six lines – flat fare A$2.50 (32p).
San Nicolas has a tourist office (2) at Calle Florida 100 (00 54 11 4313 0187; bue.gov.ar) – while Puerto Madero (3) has another at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 200 (00 54 11 4315 4265). Both are open daily 9am-6pm.
Hotel Boca (4) is themed around the city's most eulogised football team, Boca Juniors – though, confusingly, it is found at Calle Tacuari 243 in Monserrat. Double rooms from US$133 (£101), with breakfast (0054 11 4590 8540; hotelbocajuniors.com).
The boutique Aspen Square Hotel (5) sits close to the bars of Palermo Soho at Calle Thames 2313 (00 54 11 4776 1711; aspensquare.com.ar). Doubles from US$115 (£72), room only.
And the Meliá Recoleta Plaza (6) is a five-star at Calle Posadas 1557 in Recoleta – doubles with breakfast from US$224 (£140) (00 54 11 5353 4000; melia-boutique -recoleta-plaza.com).
Take a hike
Begin at the core of the city, in the Plaza de Mayo (7). Note the Cabildo (8), in the south-west corner of the square at Calle Bolivar 65, the seat of Spanish colonial power. Whitewashed and elegant, it is a foil for the Casa Rosada (9), at the plaza's east end which houses the Argentinian president's office, from where Eva Perón made her quasi-religious balcony appearances.
Leave the plaza at its south-east corner, passing the fenced-off Parque Colón (10), with its Christopher Columbus statue. Turn south on Avenida Ingeniero Huergo – noting the Thirties bulk of the Edificio Libertador (11), the Ministry of Defence, on your right – then east on to Calle Azucena Villaflor and into Puerto Madero. The swing bridge, Puente de la Mujer (12), a 2001 vision in white, is visible along Calle Juana Manuela Gorriti.
Lunch on the run
Continue through the Puerto Madero docks. Try a steak sandwich – about A$30 (£3.75) – from the food trucks (13) at the end of Avenida Dr Tristán Achával Rodriguez.
Running north to south between Plaza San Martín (14) in Retiro and Avenida de Mayo in Monserrat, Calle Florida is the city's key retail drag. This pedestrianised strip includes Galerías Pacifico (15) at No 753 – a Beaux Arts arcade, dating to 1889, that hosts more than 150 stores (00 54 11 5555 5110; galerias pacifico.com.ar). The cross-street, Avenida Corrientes, is also known for its bookshops, such as Librería Hernández (16) at No 1436 (00 54 11 4372 7845; libreria hernandez.com).
The Palermo district is festooned with modish fashion outlets such as men's clothing store Bolivia (17) at Calle Gurruchaga 1581 (00 54 11 4832 6284; boliviapara todos.com.ar).
Take a ride
Though richly evocative, Boca has a reputation for street crime. Hail a (yellow and black) Radio Taxi to see the key sights: Caminito (18), the iconic street painted by artist Benito Martin in the Fifties, and La Bombonera (19), the cauldron-stadium home of Boca Juniors (Calle Brandsen 805; 00 54 11 5777 1212; bocajuniors.com.ar).
Alternatively, Buenos Tours (00 54 11 3221 1048; buenos tours.com) has a three-hour tour of Boca and San Telmo with local guides (pick-ups from your hotel; daily 9.30am, 2.30pm; US$55/£34).
Palermo Soho buzzes at night, especially Plaza Serrano. Mundo Bizarro (20) at No 1222 (00 54 11 4773 1967; mundobizarro bar.com), is noted for cocktails (A$30, £3.75).
Dining with the locals
BA is famous for its parrillas – grills selling fine Argentinian beef. Desnivel (21) is a budget option at Calle Defensa 855 in San Telmo (00 54 11 4300 9081), with steaks from A$25 (£3). La Lorenza (22) is one of a cluster of splendid parrillas in Recoleta (Calle Junin 1721; 00 54 11 4803 9791; la-lorenza.com.ar) – steaks from A$50 (£6).
Vegetarians may prefer Puerto Madero, where Bice (23) is a chic Italian at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 192 (00 54 11 4315 6216; bicebuenosaires.com.ar). Pasta dishes from A$120 (£15).
Sunday morning: go to church
Pitched on the corner of Plaza de Mayo (7) at Calle San Martín 27, Catedral Metropolitana (24) (00 54 11 4331 2845; catedral buenosaires.org.ar) is an oddly secular structure, lost behind a Neoclassical façade (open 7.30am-6.30pm, weekends 9am-7pm; Sunday services at 10am, 11.30am, 1pm and 6pm). Rather prettier, the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar (25) (00 54 11 4806 2209; basilica delpilar.org.ar) is a Jesuit landmark, dating to 1732, at Calle Junín 1904 in Recoleta. You can visit on Sunday morning only if you attend one of the services, at 8.30am, 10am or 11am. Otherwise, it opens 2.30-6.15pm (10.30am-6.15pm on other days).
A walk in the park
Near the Basilica (25), the Cementerio de la Recoleta (26) at Calle Junín 1760 (cemente riorecoleta.com.ar), is a lovely spot for a morning stroll. A necropolis of narrow avenues and mournful trees – open daily 7am-5.45pm (free) – it contains the tombs of the national elite. Evita's family vault, well signposted, is marked, simply, "Familia Duarte".
Out to brunch
Head to Café Tortoni (27), a city legend at Avenida de Mayo 825 (00 54 11 4342 4328; cafetortoni.com.ar). This coffee salon, with its stained-glass interior, still recalls its 1858 origins.
Puerto Madero has the hot spot of the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat (28) at Calle Olga Cossettini 141 (00 54 11 4310 6600; coleccionfortabat.org.ar; A$35/£4.50). Open daily noon-9pm except Monday, this striking gallery was built in 2008 to showcase 20th-century Argentinian art, as well as pieces by Klimt, Dalí and Rodin. The Museo de Arte Latinamericano (29) at Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415 in Palermo (00 54 11 4808 6500; malba.org.ar; A$32/£4) also shines a spotlight on Latin art in the 20th century.
It is worth visiting the Teatro Colón (30) at Rua Cerrito 628 in San Nicolas too. The spiritual home of Argentinian ballet and opera boasts an ornate auditorium that holds 3,500 people.
Icing on the cake
Tango is Argentina's obsession. Café Tortoni (27) puts on nightly displays; (usually at 8.30pm and 10.30pm on Sun) from A$70 (£9). The Esquina Carlos Gardel (31) – named after the tango composer – also stages shows, nightly at 10.30pm, at Calle Carlos Gardel 3200, in the Abasto district. Tango-only tickets from US$96 (£59); with dinner from US$140 (£86) (00 54 11 4867 6363; esquina carlosgardel.com.ar).