Argentina: 48 hours in Buenos Aires

By Chris Leadbeater

As summer sun bathes Argentina's capital, the city takes on a carnival air – just in time for its annual Shakespeare festival.

Boca Juniors fans. Photo / Supplied
Boca Juniors fans. Photo / Supplied

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

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, a celebration of Britain's revered playwright.

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.

San Nicolas has a tourist office at Calle Florida 100, while Puerto Madero has another at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 200. Both are open daily 9am-6pm.

CHECK IN

Hotel Boca is themed around the city's most eulogised football team, Boca Juniors though, confusingly, it is found at Calle Tacuari 243 in Monserrat.

The boutique Aspen Square Hotel sits close to the bars of Palermo Soho at Calle Thames.

TAKE A HIKE

Begin at the core of the city, in the Plaza de Mayo. Note the Cabildo, 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, at the plaza's east end which houses the Argentinian president's office, from where Eva Pern made her quasi-religious balcony appearances.

Leave the plaza at its south-east corner, passing the fenced-off Parque Coln, with its Christopher Columbus statue. Turn south on Avenida Ingeniero Huergo noting the Thirties bulk of the Edificio Libertador, 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, 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 from the food trucks at the end of Avenida Dr Tristn Achval Rodriguez.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Running north to south between Plaza San Martn in Retiro and Avenida de Mayo in Monserrat, Calle Florida is the city's key retail drag. This pedestrianised strip includes Galeras Pacifico at No 753 a Beaux Arts arcade, dating to 1889, that hosts more than 150 stores. The cross-street, Avenida Corrientes, is also known for its bookshops, such as Librera Hernndez at No 1436.

The Palermo district is festooned with modish fashion outlets such as men's clothing store Bolivia at Calle Gurruchaga 1581.

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, the iconic street painted by artist Benito Martin in the '50s, and La Bombonera, the cauldron-stadium home of Boca Juniors.

Alternatively, Buenos Tours has a three-hour tour of Boca and San Telmo with local guides.

GO TO CHURCH

Pitched on the corner of Plaza de Mayo at Calle San Martn 27, Catedral Metropolitana is an oddly secular structure, lost behind a Neoclassical facade. Rather prettier, the Basilica Nuestra Seora del Pilar is a Jesuit landmark, dating to 1732, at Calle Junn 1904 in Recoleta. You can visit on Sunday morning only if you attend one of the services, at 8.30am, 10am or 11am.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Near the Basilica, the Cementerio de la Recoleta at Calle Junn 1760 is a lovely spot for a morning stroll. A necropolis of narrow avenues and mournful trees open daily 7am-5.45pm, it contains the tombs of the national elite. Evita's family vault, well signposted, is marked, simply, "Familia Duarte''.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Puerto Madero has the hot spot of the Coleccin de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat at Calle Olga Cossettini. 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, Dal and Rodin. The Museo de Arte Latinamericano at Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415 in Palermo also shines a spotlight on Latin art in the 20th century.

It is worth visiting the Teatro Coln at Rua Cerrito 628 in San Nicolas too. The spiritual home of Argentinian ballet and opera boasts an ornate auditorium that holds 3500 people.

- INDEPENDENT

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