The Best Of: Buenos Aires

It's home to the world's sexiest dance. And the locals' appetite for meat would make a veggie shudder. Aoife O'Riordain reports
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The Independent Travel

November is a great time to visit Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and one of South America's most cosmopolitan cities. Summer is fast approaching and the jacarandas in the city parks are in bloom. The Argentine polo season is in full swing, culminating in the Argentine Open Championship, the highlight of the world's polo-playing calendar, which is held in the centre of the city at the Campo di Polo from 20 November to 11 December.

November is a great time to visit Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and one of South America's most cosmopolitan cities. Summer is fast approaching and the jacarandas in the city parks are in bloom. The Argentine polo season is in full swing, culminating in the Argentine Open Championship, the highlight of the world's polo-playing calendar, which is held in the centre of the city at the Campo di Polo from 20 November to 11 December.

Best hotel

There are several luxurious options in Buenos Aires, but none is held in quite the same esteem as The Alvear Palace Hotel, Avenida Alvear 1891 (00 54 11 4808 2100; www.alvearpalace.com). Situated in the heart of the smart Recoleta district, it has been the hub of Buenos Aires society since it opened in 1932. Double rooms start at $496 (£292) with breakfast. 1555 Malabia House, 1555 Malabia Street (00 54 11 4831 2102; www.malabiahouse.com.ar) is a diminutive designer b&b with 15 rooms in an old house in the atmospheric Spanish colonial district of Palermo Viejo. Double rooms start at $139 (£82) with breakfast.

Best restaurant

La Cabaña, Rodriguez Peña 1967 (00 54 11 48140001; www.lacabanabuenosaires.com.ar), which opened last year, reincarnates one of Buenos Aires's most celebrated restaurants which closed, in different premises, in 1996. Serving prime cuts of beef, including bife con lomo (T-bone steak), its most famous dish is bife de chorizo, or baby beef. All meat dishes are cooked over the traditional open fire known as a "parilla". La Brigada, Estados Unidos 465 (00 54 11 4361 5557) in San Telmo is another lively parilla restaurant festooned with football memorabilia, which is always jam-packed with customers tucking into huge steaks.

Best cultural attraction

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Avenida del Libertador 1473 (00 54 11 4803 0802; www.mnba.org.ar) houses an extensive collection of largely European works by artists including Rodin, Matisse, Klee and Goya. The turn of the century Teatro Colon, Cerrito 618 (00 54 11 4378 7100; www.teatrocolon.org.ar), is considered to be one of the world's great opera houses, alongside those of Vienna and Paris. Guided tours are available most days, but for the real experience, book a seat for an opera or ballet performance.

Best shopping

Recoleta is the upmarket shopping area of Buenos Aires with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Armani and Hermès lining the grand Avenida Alvear and charging predictably astronomic prices. Stick to Argentine shops and locally made products for good value - needless to say, a by-product of all that beef is a lot of reasonably priced leather goods such as bags, shoes, jackets and belts.

The regenerated colonial-style streets of Palermo Viejo are where to find the stylish independent boutiques, interiors shops, cafés and bars. Arte Etnico Argentino, El Salvador 4600 (00 54 11 4833 6661; www.arteetnicoargentino.com), is one example, selling beautiful furniture, rugs and decorative objects that are hand-made in villages using traditional methods. Shopping centres are also popular. Two to visit are the Abasto de Buenos Aires, Avenida Corrientes 3247, housed in the city's former fruit and vegetable market and containing several good Argentinian chains, and the Galerias Pacifico, at the junction of Florida and Avenida Cordoba, which is a beautifully designed arcade along the lines of some of the great European examples. The streets of San Telmo are where to go for antique shops, and the area also hosts a weekly flea market on Sunday mornings, around Plaza Dorrego.

Best sightseeing

Buenos Aires's most famous symbol is the 221ft obelisk in the middle of the traffic-choked Avenida 9 Julio (said to be the world's widest avenue), erected in 1936 to commemorate the city's founding four centuries earlier. The nearby Plaza de Mayo, the historic heart of the city, has formed the backdrop for many chapters in Argentina's often turbulent history. Its most famous building is the "Casa Rosada" or Pink Palace, which is the seat of the Argentine government. It is also dominated by the neo-classical Cathedral Metropolitana, which contains the remains of Argentina's liberator, General Jose San Martin.

A seemingly strange choice, yet one of Buenos Aires's main sights, is the cemetery in Recoleta. Most people come to see the tomb of Eva Peron, but it also offers the chance to take an engaging stroll through the city's social history, and is crammed with the highly decorated graves of former residents each outdoing the next in opulence. The brightly coloured corrugated houses of La Boca, painted in the hues of the local football teams, near the banks of the Richuelo river, are some of the most photographed in the city. You can wander along El Caminito street and peek inside one of the buildings, which would have traditionally been home to some of the thousands of Genoese immigrants who colonised this part of the city.

Whiling away an afternoon in one of the city's historic cafés is a must-do. The atmospheric Café Tortoni, Avenida de Mayo 829 (00 54 11 4342 4328; www.cafetortoni.com.ar), which dates from 1858, is one of the best-preserved examples. You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of couples dancing the tango at one of the regular milongas held in the upstairs salon.

Best nightspot

Buenos Aires is the capital of tango and you cannot visit the city without taking in a show. Esquina Carlos Gardel, Carlos Gardel 3200 (00 54 11 4867 6363)

carlosgardel.com.ar), is named after the man attributed with popularising the dance. It offers nightly shows and dinner which costs 120 pesos (£21) per person. Otherwise there are countless bars dotted around Palermo Viejo and the neighbouring Las Cañitas. Milion, Parana 1048 (00 54 11 4815 9925), is a busy bar in a townhouse with an outside courtyard and garden. It's not uncommon to be dancing till dawn in BA - Kika (00 54 11 4831 1081; www.kikaclub.com.ar), Honduras 5339 in Palermo Viejo only really gets going in the early hours.

How to get there

British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Buenos Aires via São Paulo in Brazil. Aerolineas Argentinas (020-7290 7887; www.aerolineas.com) flies from Heathrow via Madrid. Return fares in November start at around £700. Iberia (0845 601 2854; www.iberia.com) also offers flights from Birmingham London and Manchester via Madrid from around the same price.

The best way to get into town is to book a taxi at one of the desks just outside baggage reclaim. Expect to pay around 40 pesos (£8) one way.

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