Buenos Aires, Argentina
I’ve fallen in love with more cities than I have fingers to count with. But with only a handful of those cities was there a feeling of that instantaneous movie moment with blurred backgrounds, sparkling lights, and a musical soundtrack. It’s a short list: Venice, Seville, New Orleans, Istanbul. Buenos Aires has just made the list. Even Rome, near and dear to my heart, wasn’t love at first sight; my affection for The Eternal City slowly blossomed as I got better acquainted with it over time. But Buenos Aires….
Have you ever met someone with that certain je ne sais quoi? That’s what BA is like for me; it draws you in like a magnet. Maybe it’s the old-world charm. Maybe it’s the food. Maybe I’d just dreamt of going for so long that I was predisposed to like it before I’d even experienced it. Whatever the case, Argentina’s capital rightly holds rank among the world’s great cities.
So what do I like so much about Buenos Aires, a.k.a. BsAs, a.k.a. BA? I mentioned old-world charm; there’s a lot of it to be found. Head to Monserrat, for example, and visit the Casa Rosada; its beautiful interiors, like in the Salón Blanco (White Salon), bring you back to the opulence and wealth of another era.
A mere door, like one of La Legislatura de la Ciudad Autónomo de Buenos Aires (or simply, Legislatura Porteña), quietly beckons you to stop and admire it – maybe even try the ornate lion knocker.
The Argentine eye for aesthetic extends to its cafes. Take Cafe Tortoni, an iconic BA favorite named among the world’s most beautiful cafes. Seemingly frozen in time, this locale is Argentina’s oldest, most popular coffeehouse. A Porteño favorite since 1858, the French-style café has long been frequented by artists and writers, and today often features live tango.
The city is filled with many beautiful buildings in general, like the Basilica Auxiliadora, in the Almagro neighborhood. The church’s full name: Basílica de María Auxiliadora y San Carlos – try saying that five times fast. Step inside and blink twice. Are you in Buenos Aires, AR or Córdoba, ES? The red and white arches might give you momentary pause.
Design is taken seriously in the city of “fair winds,” where even tombs are theatrically staged, showcasing ornate graves, one more intricate than the last. The city’s Cementerio de la Recoleta has been named as one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. You might visit the monuments of the country’s former presidents, pay tribute at the family crypt of Argentina’s beloved Evita Perón, or just see the sculptures.
If you enjoy such dramatic views, Teatro Colón may already be an interest of yours. An opera house listed among the world’s best, it’s ranked only below La Scala in Milan and Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? BsAs seems to have an awful lot of landmarks and historical monuments counted in several “world’s best” lists. Among them is El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Speaking of theaters and old-world charm, this one’s a real gem.
Did I mention I have a thing for cafes? We can’t overlook La Biela, short for Cafe Historico La Biela. (Do you see another pattern? In addition to getting on world’s-best lists, Porteños (what the locals call themselves) also assign really long names to their landmarks.) A historic and traditional cafe, La Biela is a see-and-be-seen locale for good food and people-watching. You might spot famous public figures here, or you might have to resign yourself to taking photos with the permanent fixtures of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Or Atlas and his giant tree, El Gomero, just outside the cafe.
While we’re on the topic of eateries, BA has no shortage of them. In this metropolis, delicious is the word.
For art lovers or lazing Sundaygoers, Feria de San Telmo might be more your pace. This antique fair is an outdoor bazaar peppered with live music and spontaneous dancing. Add in the food, and it feels a little like a neighborhood block party.
As one of Latin America’s –nay, the world’s– largest and most populous cities, BsAs has attracted its share of expats for centuries. This has shaped the city’s history and development, which includes much European influence in design and architecture. You might walk down an Argentinean block; then you reach a corner and you’re in Madrid; then you reach a park and you’re suddenly in Paris. With its European charms (and architecture!) and its Latin vibes, the city of “good air” provides no shortage of interesting sights. In fact, there’s a stretch of road, just over half a mile (1 kilometer) known as Nueve de Julio. July 9. Yes, it’s a date – Argentina’s Independence Day. But it’s also the widest avenue in the world. Can you make it all the way across in one go? You’ll certainly have fun trying.
Racing across 9 de Julio might almost be as fun as a learning to tango. Almost. In an exhibit of speed and precision, tango dancers demonstrate the kind of flirtatious intensity that inspires romance novels. A couple moves in unison across the dance floor, legs tangled, pushing away from each other with dramatic flair, reuniting in a close embrace. Are they playing hard to get? Are they angry? Madly in love? Perhaps all of the above. Considering Buenos Aires gave birth to the tango, it’s no wonder the art form is alive and well here. Passion abounds in dance and in daily life, which is probably why the BBC has listed BA as one of the world’s best cities for dating. In fact, people will say that watching and learning tango are among the most romantic things you can do in Argentina. (Watch this or this to see what I’m talking about.)
When you’ve done with BA (whether or not you’re looking for more romantic scenery), you can always head to the famous Cataratas del Iguazú, among the world’s largest waterfalls. A short flight will take you here:
But we’ll explore the falls in a future post.
Buenos Aires, BA, BsAs, BSAS, CABA. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Just like the dulce de leche that fills, flavors, or tops many foods here, the city is rather quite sweet.