Once you've arrived in Buenos Aires, it won't take you long to identify the mainstays of tourism in the city: tango, meat, and soccer. Rest assured: you'll have plenty of opportunities to eat a good steak, to enjoy a show with music by Gardel, and to visit the Bombonera, the city's most famous soccer stadium. But behind these pillars of traditional Buenos Aires lies a modern cosmopolitan city that holds scores of secrets, a city that combines a wide range of cultural events with a lively nightlife.
Palermo Viejo was once a fairly bohemian neighborhood of cobblestoned streets and old mansions. Since the year 2000, it has experienced a major transformation, becoming the center of Buenos Aires in terms of food and drink, fashion, and design. The neighborhood is divided in two: from Avenida Juan B. Justo northward lies Palermo Hollywood (it gets its name from the large number of film and TV production companies located in the area); south of the avenue is Palermo Soho which—named after the celebrated New York neighborhood—is the city’s hub for alternative shopping.
With over 750 restaurants, Palermo is the engine of new Buenos Aires cuisine; the range and quality of the culinary options available is constantly on the rise. Two establishments that have been around since 2001, the beginning of the neighborhood's transformation, are Olsen, which serves Scandinavian food in its lovely garden, and Sudestada, a small bistro specialized in Asian cuisine. Tegui, the restaurant belonging to chef Germán Martitegui, was voted the best restaurant in the country in 2013; it ranks 9th on the list of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants put out by William Reed Business Media. If you are looking for Peruvian food, Osaka is the place for Nikkei fusion and Olaya for high-end Peruvian cuisine. For sushi lovers, it's worth visiting M Omakase, a restaurant with premises on a second floor, where the sushi chef provides personalized attention. The outstanding young Argentine chefs working in Palermo include Matías Kyriazis, with a meal in several courses at Paraje Arévalo, and Rodrigo Castilla at his rustic bistro Las Pizarras.
For a leisurely lunch or a cup of tea and pastry in the sun, visit Plaza Armenia, the nerve center of Palermo Soho whose many restaurants and cafés offer views of the park. Two particularly appealing options are Fornería (a combo traditional eatery and Manhattan bistro) and Quimbombó.
A recent and rising trend is delis that serve a wide range of sandwiches and fresh baked goods: B-Blue, Oui Oui, Pani, Nucha, Cocu, Ninina, and Le Pain Quotidien are all good options. Be sure to stop at Lattente for a machiatto on the go. It's one of the best coffee shops in the city.
There is, of course, no shortage of grills like the famous and excellent La Cabrera and Don Julio. Great deals on grilled meats are available at venues like Don Niceto, Minga, Miranda, La Bandurria, El Bonpland, and many others. These are rustic but dependable grill restaurants where a provoleta—or grilled slice of provolone cheese—and a skirt steak go perfectly with a glass of red wine. If you are looking for something off the beaten path, visit Club Eros, an old neighborhood club that has not lost its original feel. Social La Lechuza is another hidden eatery worth a visit.
As midnight approaches, Palermo comes alive with a cluster of dance clubs on Avenida Niceto Vega between Humboldt and Arévalo. This is the site of scores of places to dance until dawn. Some of them, like Niceto Club, house live shows by local and international bands. Ink is another favorite in this area. The other center for dance clubs is the corner of Honduras and Godoy Cruz, home to Congo, Kika, Brook, and Belushi.
At first, a few independent designers came to the neighborhood to test their luck. Then, the major brands arrived. And so, today, in Palermo Soho the stores of major brands like Adidas, Gola, Vitamina, and Bensimon (and many more) can be found alongside lesser known brands like El Cid, and sneaker-company Demócrata. Armenia Street is where most women's clothing stores are found and Gurruchaga is the center of fashion for men. On Saturdays, there are street fairs and vendors with good deals in and around Plaza Julio Cortázar.
Across Avenida Cordoba on Aguirre and Velazco streets there are scores of outlets, where major brands offer discount items. While this is not, strictly speaking, Palermo, it's worth walking a few blocks to see what's available.
The commercial and financial heart of the city is downtown, where a busy pace is palpable during the week. While walking streets Florida and Lavalle are the traditional arteries on which to stroll through this area, new carless streets have been added in recent years, among them Reconquista, home to a good many bars that overflow with people and pints of beer for 6 p.m. happy hours. Plaza San Martín is a green haven that provides the neighborhood with light and fresh air. If you are looking for entertainment and bookstores, check out the traditional Avenida Corrientes. After the show, go for pizza at one of the many old-fashioned pizzerias around the neighborhood. Great options include Guerrin, Banchero and El Cuartito.
Palermo has witnessed not only a gastronomical boom but a blossoming of bars, many of them offering a wide range of cocktails.
There are those bars that serve mostly draft beer and fernet and coke, places where the music is loud and, at peak hours, people stand at the bar. Most of these establishments are located around Plaza Serrano, though two of particular note—Bar Único and Sonoman—are at the corner of Fitz Roy and Honduras. Bangalore is known for its draft beer and pitchers of gin and tonic and Carnal for its terrace where, on warm nights, you can enjoy a caipirinha.
But, mostly, Palermo is a center of mixology, with some of the most creative bartenders in the city. Frank’s Bar, for instance, looks like a New York bar from the fifties; you can only get in if you know the code which is available on its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Worth visiting as well are Victoria Brown (a hidden gem), Rey de Copas (an “arty” place created by the son of Uruguayan artist Páez Vilaró), and Peugeot Lounge. Get a gin and tonic at Bernata, visit the terrace at Leit Motiv, and go to happy hour at Duarte. Soria is ideal who those who want to enjoy a good drink and socialize. The curious can inquire about Nicky Harrison, a secret bar near the corner of Malabia and Costa Rica that is sure to hold surprises.
If you cross Avenida Alem from downtown, you’ll reach Puerto Madero, once the site of the Buenos Aires port. This is the most modern and well maintained commercial district in the city, with a great many restaurants (mostly on Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo) and open areas to walk along the docks. The striking silence in this neighborhood makes you feel that the city is far away. This area holds the most luxurious buildings in Buenos Aires. If you keep walking, you’ll come to the Costanera Sur and the Reserva Ecológica, one of the city’s largest green spaces.
San Telmo, perhaps the most traditional neighborhood, is located in the southern section of Buenos Aires. Closely associated with tango, it has become a sort of Buenos Aires Montmartre thanks to the bohemian air that hovers over its narrow sidewalks. The antique fair that draws tourists to Plaza Dorrego each Sunday is worth a visit, but it’s just as enjoyable to get lost in the neighborhood’s cobblestoned streets, to stumble upon a bar to have a snack and a beer, and maybe even to come upon a milonga, or tango dance hall. Defensa Street and surroundings are the center of this neighborhood.
Buenos Aires offers visitors a number of other attractions, among them:
Plaza de Mayo: The oldest plaza in the city, this is the site of many of the most important political events in Argentine history. Attractions located on the plaza include the Casa Rosada (seat of the national government), the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Cabildo.
Caminito: In the heart of the traditional La Boca neighborhood, this is an alley lined with tenements whose tin facades are painted in bright colors. A picturesque crafts fair with artists and tango dancers takes place here.
Barrio Chino: Just four blocks from the Belgrano neighborhood there is a cluster of businesses run by members of the local Chinese community. Chinese grocers and houseware stores, as well as scores of Asian food restaurants, can be found here. This fun outing is well worth it.
Reserva Ecológica: The largest green space in Buenos Aires is located in the southern section of the city. It is a perfect spot for those that like to go for walks and take bike rides. If you want to grab a bite along the way, stop at one of the stands that sells bondiola, or pork, sandwiches and the famous choripan, or grilled sausage sandwich.