24 Hours in Buenos Aires

24 Hours in Buenos Aires
Dancing tango in the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (urbazone/iStock/Getty Images)
April 01, 2024
April 08, 2024

Argentina’s stylish, often superheated, South American capital not only sings—it also dances. A lot. And although a city this big can feel unknowable, it’s actually easy to see a great deal—if you know where to look. Even if you have only a single day (and night!), you can tour its many neighborhoods, taste delicious flavors, and encounter its huge personality. If you still have a little energy left, maybe slide into a speakeasy, or two.

Note that it’s worth checking the rate before you go, and throughout your trip. Argentina’s currency remains volatile, with the value of the peso rising and falling dramatically even over a span of days and weeks. For the moment, it’s making the country an excellent value for those spending foreign currency—especially American dollars, which receive a very favorable rate if you’re using an international credit card.

For example, on a recent visit to one of the fanciest restaurants in the city with two friends, a decent bottle of Malbec cost just $8. And we each walked away after a lovely three-course meal for about $25 per person.
An old cafe in Buenos Aires that dates back more than 100 years. (T photography/Shutterstock)
An old cafe in Buenos Aires that dates back more than 100 years. (T photography/Shutterstock)

Getting There

You’ll probably arrive at Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), also known as Ministro Pistarini International Airport. This is Argentina’s busiest hub, and it sits 14 miles outside of the city center.
Depending on traffic, it takes at least half an hour to get into town. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, and Uber is also a good option.

Morning Explorations

Stretch your legs and shake off the fatigue of a long flight with a morning walk in Recoleta. This is the city’s loveliest neighborhood, close to the River Plate and crisscrossed by tree-lined streets that are home to former palaces. You’ll find all sorts of good shopping, plus some of the coolest bars and restaurants in town.

Here, you’ll find several of the country’s top cultural institutions, including the national fine arts museum, and library. But your main destination will be the cemetery, regarded as the most beautiful in the world. The cemetery’s more than 4,500 burial vaults (covering 14 acres) are all above ground. Many of them are adorned with statues and built in Baroque or Art Deco style, and 94 have been declared national monuments.

Once you pass through the Doric columns guarding the cemetery gate, head straight for the main attraction. Many former presidents and Nobel prize winners are interred here, but most come to visit Eva Perón. Usually known by her nickname, Evita was Argentina’s super-popular former first lady. Her rise and life inspired a Tony-winning musical that enjoyed long runs and many revivals in London’s West End and on Broadway. The film version, starring Madonna, was released in 1996.

(Left) La Recoleta Cemetery, renowned for the beautifully crafted monuments that lie within. (Right) Fresh flowers adorn Eva Perón’s vault. (larigan - Patricia Hamilton/Moment; James Strachan/Photodisc/Getty Images)
If you have time, walk to the nearby Patio Bullrich. Once a neoclassical-style auction house, it’s been reinvented as one of the classiest malls you’ll find. Grab a coffee and some pastry at Nucha Bakery.

Lunch at the Market

Head south for an early lunch at the San Telmo Market, which opened its doors in 1897—and hasn’t changed a whole lot since then. Its beautiful Italian façade and vaulted metal roof let in a flood of natural light. It’s been declared a national historic monument, but this is very much a working market.

Locals come here for all their culinary needs, visiting stalls overflowing with produce and well-stocked with fresh fish and meat. Some hipster-ization is happening—fancy coffee shops and even avocado toast have made more recent appearances. But this is still probably the best place in town to order that great Argentinian invention—the empanada. Order a carne (usually beef), pollo (chicken), or humita (creamed corn with cheese)—they’re small and inexpensive, as little as 50 cents apiece, so you can grab all three and still have room for more.

Sights at San Telmo Market (left to right): colorful glass vessels for sale; salami and cheese; fresh vegetables and fruit. (Leonardo Ale Rocha/Shutterstock; holgs/E+/Getty Images; Kathrin Ziegler/Stone/Getty Images)

Afternoon: Discover National Pastimes

This is a good time to visit La Boca, just a little farther south. This neighborhood has always been rough-and-ready, welcoming a melting pot of immigrants flowing through the nearby port. The working-class identity is so strong here that they’ve tried to secede from Argentina at least twice.

Today, it’s known for two things: tango and soccer. The pedestrian streets, lined with homes and shops painted every color of the rainbow, pulsate with music. Pull up a chair at any of a half-dozen bars offering a tango show, order a beer or a glass of good Malbec, and watch the show unfold on the small, wooden stage. It’s simple—just two people dancing. But just consider the talent and training it took for them to achieve such intricate and well-choreographed steps.

Then, head to La Bombonera. Formally known as Estadio Alberto J. Armando, this “bonbon box” rocks when the Boca Juniors have a home game. It’s the most popular club among blue-collar Argentinians and produced both of the country’s best soccer players—Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.

You’ll see their statues around the area surrounding the stadium, which is home to a very good museum that chronicles the history of the team. (On a recent visit, it was open only to club members, but I hope that will change.)

(Left) The La Boca neighborhood is filled with colorful buildings. (Right) La Bombonera is the home stadium for the world-famous Boca Juniors soccer club. (Milosz Maslanka; DiegoCityExplorer/Shutterstock)

Take a Break

Now’s a good time to return to the hotel for a small siesta. The Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau was once a 1930s mansion and has been lovingly restored to its neoclassical glory. It is one of the best hotels in the country and is unabashedly grand, all marble and crystal chandeliers. It’s also home to a large private art collection, and beautiful gardens—the perfect place to grab an Argentinian favorite such as Fernet Branca on ice, sit in the shade of an ancient tree, and enjoy the late afternoon’s cooling breezes.

Take a Tango Lesson

Take a lesson at Rojo Tango. Located in an upscale hotel in Puerto Madero, a redeveloped waterside industrial district, Rojo Tango offers nightly shows with some of the best dancers in the country, paired with a hearty dinner. But since we’re going somewhere else for the latter, book just the lesson, which is offered an hour or two before the show begins. Actual performers will walk you through the basics of this sultry dance, giving a better impression of its intricacies and the passion behind every step.
Tango performers in Buenos Aires often teach dance lessons to beginners. (Sol Pinto/Pexels)
Tango performers in Buenos Aires often teach dance lessons to beginners. (Sol Pinto/Pexels)

A Dinner to Remember

Perennially ranked one of the best restaurants in Latin America, there’s probably no better place in the world to get a steak than Don Julio, a cozy corner restaurant in Palermo. You should reserve a table here at least a couple of months in advance. On a recent visit, even on a rainy Tuesday, every seat was filled and a large group of hungry, aspiring diners waited outside. (A nice touch: if you have to wait, servers will bring free champagne.)
Order your favorite cut of steak at Don Julio. (T photography/Shutterstock)
Order your favorite cut of steak at Don Julio. (T photography/Shutterstock)
An open kitchen showcases a wood-fired parrilla that flames all day, cooking many delicious cuts of meat, which give off the most mouth-watering scent imaginable. The ribeye, a top-seller, comes thick and perfectly seared. Or, take a chance on the skirt steak, which is thinner but totally packed with flavor. Try the provoleta, a grilled goat cheese.

After Dinner

The speakeasy scene is strong in Buenos Aires. For your first nightcap, head down to the subway. Descend an exact replica of a New York City subway station entrance, which leads to a long corridor decorated with graffiti and posters. You enter the club through a train, which looks just like the real thing but smells considerably better. If you still have a little room, try its very good food, which is theme-based on New York neighborhoods, from the West Village to Little Italy.

Next stop: Floreria Atlantico. When you enter, it appears to be just a pretty little Recoleta flower shop. But a secret door leads to a whole different world.

This has been recognized as one of the World’s 50 Best Bars. Here, mixologist Tato Giovannoni serves gin and vermouth he makes himself. He has created a long and inventive drinks list. The theme of the current menu is based on the indigenous people of Argentina and uses traditional ingredients. One example: The drink in honor of the Huarpes people of the Cuyo region, in central Argentina, includes Pisco Calavera, local river water, yellow corn, pumpkin, and bitters made from fish bones.

From there, you can walk back to the hotel—your Palacio awaits.