Argentina travel blog

Buenos Aires: The European Capital of South America

Buenos Aires, Argentina’s cosmopolitan capital, is where Latin America and Europe intersect; a collision of cultures, food and energy. The city is a destination all its own, or a worthwhile stop en route to the Mendoza wine region, Iguazu Falls or the wilds of Patagonia.

European Style That’s Classically Argentine

Upon arrival, you may feel you’ve made a wrong turn and ended up in Paris, Barcelona or Budapest. Outdoor cafes abound with locals chatting over cappuccinos and wine, while restaurants are abuzz with activity well past midnight. But there’s also a Latin flair that makes this city quintessentially Argentine.

Locals here, due to the capital’s port location, are referred to as porteños, and they stay up late. Dinner is usually eaten after 9pm, so merienda, a mid-afternoon break (akin to British tea time), is common between 4-6pm. Coffee, medialunas (small croissants) and sandwiches are typical merienda fare, as is mate, Argentina’s ubiquitous tea. On sunny days parks will be full of porteños soaking up rays and passing the mate gourd around to family and friends. They take their time, and it is apparent from day one that Argentines enjoy life. And caffeine.

Malbec, Empanadas and Gelato

Argentina has the world’s largest acreage of Malbec, its chief wine varietal. Much of it is grown in Mendoza, at the foothills of the Andes, but it is also produced in other areas. The ideal weather and growing conditions make this deep, red wine a delicious, affordable and plentiful option. Enjoy a glass at the many classic parillas around town—restaurants that serve grilled meats, side dishes and pastas.

Empanada shops can be found everywhere, making for a quick and satisfying meal or snack. Classic fillings include beef, chicken, ham with cheese and spinach with cheese, all nestled inside a pastry-like wrapper and served piping hot. While empanadas can be found in other South American countries, Argentina made them famous… and for good reason.

Owing to the country’s Italian roots, pizza and gelato are hugely popular, but like most of its European influences, Argentines put their own spin on it. The pizza crust is more bready than its thinner, crisper Italian cousin, but not as dense as Chicago deep-dish. It really is its own style. And when it comes to gelato flavors, Dulce de leche is king. This caramel spread, widely adored and consumed, can be found in multiple gelato iterations… sometimes with chocolate chips, nuts or liqueur. Fruit flavors and other classics are also available, but if you’re doing it local-style, dulce de leche is the way to go.

Two to Tango

Nothing is more synonymous with Argentina than tango, and milongas are traditional venues where you can watch this seductive dance. Some halls offer a beginner’s lesson, then clear the floor for the professionals to take center stage. The precision, intensity and grace of this dance is unlike any other, mesmerizing audiences with each deliberate step. Dancers also pop up around town, gliding across street corners, markets and festivals.

Distinct Neighborhoods

The best way to get a feel for the city’s nuances is by walking its neighborhoods. Microcentro is the bustling business district and home to many key sites: Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Teatro Colon (one of the world’s finest opera houses) and the Oblisco which stands tall in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio—the widest street in the world. Not far is Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood characterized by beautiful apartments with wrought iron balconies, shady streets and dog walkers.

San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood, noted for its cobbled streets and tango parlors. It’s also where you’ll find dancers performing at the popular open-air Sunday market. For colorful buildings and more street performers, head to the Caminito in La Boca. This neighborhood also houses La Bombanera stadium where the Boca Juniors soccer club plays. Rival team River Plate is across town, and many locals are fiercely loyal to one team or another.

For a concentration of trendy shops, chic restaurants and nightlife, head to Palermo, which attracts a young, hip crowd. This part of town is actually sub-divided into several smaller neighborhoods, of which Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood are most popular. It’s also where many visitors choose to base themselves, either in boutique hotels, hostels or apartment rentals.

Buenos Aires is full of European charm and Latin zest, which combine to create a city that is perfectly Argentine and perfectly unmissable.

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