Sometimes you have to escape the kids (just briefly) to become a better parent – to break away from the routine, the bad habits, to reflect on what’s important and reacquaint yourself with your spouse. And if you go by the theory that the benefits increase the further afield you go, and your parenting improves with a dose of retail therapy, an elegant hotel and a glass of Malbec, then you’ll probably find just what you’re looking for in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Add to this polo, tango, charming neighbourhoods, museums and unbelievably good steaks and you’ve probably got the ultimate city break. So, if the moon turns blue and it’s your turn to spoil yourself, here are a few ideas for your visit.
Stay: Alvear Palace Hotel is ranked the number one city hotel in Central and South America. It combines Parisian-style grandeur with excellent service and great restaurants. It might sound like a strange thing to do in Argentina, but if you have a sweet tooth, the high tea is a real treat. The staff will even deliver your choice from the cake trolley to your room, to eat later. (You never know when you’re going to get peckish). The hotel is situated in the swanky Recoleta neighbourhood, within walking distance of museums, markets and the city’s most famous cemetery. It’s also a celebrity favourite – J Lo was staying while we were there.
Howard Johnson is a much more reasonably priced boutique hotel in the Recoleta district. Don’t let the name put you off, the hotel, located on a quiet neighbourhood street with plenty of shops and cafes nearby, has been recently renovated in a minimalist style. Breakfast is included with a continental buffet style – the service makes up for the small assortment of fruit and pastries. Carlos, the lone waiter, was only happy to rummage up some scrambled eggs when requested.
See: Recoleta Cemetery is where everyone who is anyone in Argentina is buried – Eva Peron, being the most famous. The cemetery is massive, with grand crypts, towering statues and a puzzling number of well-fed cats. It’s a beautiful place to stroll in the late afternoon, when the sun shines through the pines into the central square. But an early morning visit can be an entirely different experience. While looking for Eva Peron’s crypt, I found myself alone and lost on one of the back blocks. Some of the crypts had fallen into disrepair – glass was broken, the ironwork was rusty and the spiders had moved in. It was really quite spooky.
Plaza de Mayo is the old heart of Buenos Aires and is bordered by some of the city’s grandest and most historically significant buildings. It’s also the home of celebrations and protests in the city. Evita gathered the workers here. During the brutal military dictatorship of the seventies and early eighties, the mothers of the disappeared gathered here. Now, the square is occupied by protesters demanding those responsible for the death of dissidents be put on trial.
Teatro Colon is the home of culture in Argentina. The Renaissance-style theatre is best known as an opera house, but also stages ballet and concerts. The acoustics here are world class, but beware, you might find yourself distracted by the beautiful tiered balconies and the stunning frescoed dome.
Almacen stages an intimate tango show, combining tango, singing and indigenous musicians. It’s not just for the tourists. The night we visited, we sat next to a local couple celebrating their anniversary. The show featured an elderly chanteuse who had to be helped onto the stage. She sang her lungs out and drew a standing ovation and quite a few tears. You can also see street performers dancing the tango, on weekends, near the Recoleta Cemetery.
Polo season runs from September to November, culminating in the Argentinian Open at Campo Argentino de Polo in Palermo. The lead up carnival at the Hurlingham Club, offers a great taste of this beautiful sport, without the crowds. The Club itself is a little slice of England on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and the horses are just as magnificent as the grounds. Sit in the very modestly priced public stands. No need to dress up. Just enjoy the scenery and a barbequed chorizo between chukkas. Note: make sure your taxi driver knows where he’s going (the club is not easy to find) and fix a price.
Soccer is more of a way of life than a game here. And a clash between River Plate and Boca Juniors is the ultimate sporting spectacle – as much for the passion in the stands as on the pitch. But a word of warning: don’t cheer for Boca if you’re surrounded by River fans, or vice versa. People have been killed for less.
Palermo Viejo is the funkiest neighbourhood in BA. Visit for unique accessories (very cute wedges) or just to soak up the atmosphere over a coffee or drink. Also try the spectacular Abasto Mall for shopping.
Cabana Las Lilas is one of BA’s most famous parrilla (barbeque) venues. The Puerto Madero restaurant is huge, with steaks to match. The beef is sourced from the restaurant’s own estancia and is staggeringly good. The cover charge includes bread and tapas, too tasty to ignore, so you will probably find one steak is more than enough for two people.
While in Argentina, you MUST visit the Iguazu Falls, on the border with Brazil. You think you’ve seen a waterfall – you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen this! You’ll need at least one full day to explore the falls on the Argentinian side (more time and a visa if you want to see it from Brazil as well). We stayed at the Loi Suites, a beautiful hotel, about 20 minutes from the National Park.
Note: The traffic is terrible in BA and if you can walk, do so. It’s so much more pleasant.
Learn some Spanish before you go. You can get by with English, but you’ll get a lot more out of your experience if you speak some Spanish. The San Telmo weekend markets get painfully busy in the tourist season.
If you’re into running, Recoleta and Palermo are lovely spots to pound the pavement.
Watch out for dog walkers who take up to a dozen dogs out in the mornings (also watch out for dog poo). The jacarandas are in full bloom in November – a beautiful sight. Happy travelling!