Buenos Aires is the undisputed tango capital of the world. When the sun sets it is almost as if the whole city is dancing. The tango shows in La Boca or the impromptu street dances are the gentlest introduction to this fierce and energetic dance. But to discover the real culture of the tango – the rules, the codes, the politics, the drama – you need to find a milonga. At a milonga, people come to drink and dance, to watch and be watched.
Milonga Parakultural at Salon Caning in Palermo Soho is a good general milonga with a broad mix of ages and dance abilities. Monday, Tuesday and Friday evenings are best. For a glimpse of tango at its most traditional, head to Cachirulo on Saturday nights. Men and women sit on different sides of the hall, with men asking women to dance using the cabeceo, a system of asking for and accepting dances using eye contact. Or you could join the bright young things at El Yeite. It opens as the other milongas close and is where all the up-and-coming dancers are found.
For something altogether more sedate, head for the bandstand in the hilly Barrancas de Belgrano park for the Sunday night ‘La Glorieta’ milonga. There are free tango lessons from 7pm – then watch the experts perform for a fee.
In Argentina, it’s all about the carne. Each Argentinian eats close to 70 kgs of beef each year and in Buenos Aires there seems to be a parrillas (steakhouses) on every corner. On building sites too. It’s not unusual to see builders and labourers firing up a makeshift BBQ to grill a slab of prime grass-fed pampas beef for lunch.
The commercial steakhouses are the best place to start for visitors. Order a parrillada (mixed grill) and you’ll be treated to a sizzling selection of chorizo (beef or pork sausage), pollo (chicken), costillas (ribs) and carne (beef). You can order a parrillada for as many people as you like. The chef simply adjusts the size of the serving to suit.
Argentinians like their steaks well done, so if you don’t, ask for yours punto (medium), jugoso (medium rare) or poco cocido (rare). If you’re eating from one of the BBQs at Mataderos’s traditional market, just give a simple nod when you think your steak is done.
Looking for the perfect drink to accompany your Argentinian meatfest? You can’t ignore the local Malbec. Robust, luscious and full of flavour, it’s the ideal companion, no matter the cut.
Set at the mouth of the Riachuelo river, La Boca is a riot of colour and music, a buzzing barrio where people tango on the streets and houses are painted every colour of the rainbow. It’s also home to La Bombonera, where the world famous Boca Juniors play, and on match days the area is even livelier.
This fiercely working class neighbourhood was where Italian immigrants first settled. In 1960, local artist Benito Quinquela Martín painted the walls of an abandoned street, set up a makeshift stage and it quickly became a haven for artists. Now, painters, sculptors, and photographers fill the colourful pedestrian streets and the conventillos, shared homes made of wood and corrugated zinc, have been restored and painted. Locals will tut that it’s not the ‘real’ Buenos Aires, but it’s a lot of fun.
If street art is your thing, take a wander around the northern suburbs – especially the barrios of Palermo, Caballito and Colegiales. Here you’ll find some of Buenos Aires’s best street art, created by artists from all over the world.
Just a stone’s throw from Buenos Aires' central business district, the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur is a vast, riverside nature reserve that is ideal for strolling, cycling and birdwatching. 865 acres in size, it’s easy to feel like you’ve left the hustle of the city behind.
The reserve was expanded in the early 1970s, with the newly formed ponds and grasslands quickly becoming a haven for over 200 bird species as well river turtles and iguana.
The reserve boasts a large network of tracks and boardwalks and bikes can be hired at the main entrance. It is also a popular picnic spot, with plenty of bars and parrillas for your steak-and-malbec fix.
Another popular park is the Bosques de Palermo, the Palermo Woods. The Rosedal (Rose Garden) is spectacular and on Sundays the park is full of people out walking dogs, rollerblading or riding pedalos on the lake.
Buenos Aires is home to San Telmo feria, the largest street market in South America. Held every Sunday between 10am and 5pm, stallholders, tango dancers and musicians descend upon the cobbled streets here, with stalls stretching the entire length of Defensa.
You’ll be able to find your usual assortment of mate guords, leather belts and Patagonian knives, of course, but the real pleasure of San Telmo is trawling through the antiques. Argentinians are greater borders and a wander through these markets is akin to picking through their attics and basements. Expect to come away with a a beautiful glass soda dispenser or a set of matching cut glass tumblers.
For a taste of Argentina’s famed gaucho culture, head to the Mataderos traditional markets, held every Sunday too. Here the pampas comes to the city with gauchos on horseback, cattle traders adding to their herds, live folk bands, stalls for all your gaucho needs and the biggest barbecues you are ever likely to see.