Known as the “Paris of South America” due to its architectural ambiance and strong ties with Italy and Spain, Buenos Aires lies in the east of Argentina, where the Rio Plata runs into the Atlantic Ocean. Its location on the country’s pampas (lowlands) was part of the inspiration for its name, which translates from Spanish as “good airs.” After declaring independence from Spain in 1816 and undergoing decades of controversial rule in the 1900s under the Perons, Argentinians and, in particular, porteños (Buenos Aires residents) retain a strong political voice found in few other nations. In Buenos Aires, seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere, with hot and humid summers and mild winters that rarely see temperatures dip below freezing.
Arts and politics—and sometimes both at once—define most every aspect of the city’s culture. Buenos Aires’ literary history has given rise to more bookstores per capita than any other city in the world, while its theater scene boasts more productions each week than either New York or Paris. But it’s music for which Buenos Aires is most renowned, and the city’s prevalent passion and flair is better showcased nowhere else than in the tango, which takes center stage each August during the world’s most prestigious tango festival. The city’s many ethnic cuisines and country’s renowned wines—malbec in particular—are main draws for visitors.
With arts playing such a key role in the culture, museums and theaters top the must-do lists. Some of the world’s finest performers have graced the stage of the Teatro Colón, the city’s internationally renowned opera house, while the National Museum of Fine Arts houses one of the greatest collections of European art in all South America. Bibliophiles will find heaven at El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a former theater now enjoying a second incarnation as one of the world’s most impressive bookstores, both in architecture and selection. The city’s political heart is found in the Monserrat barrio, where the Plaza de Mayo has played a central role during many of the country’s turning points in history. Today, the plaza draws visitors with its obelisk commemorating Argentina’s independence from Spain and colorful and historic buildings that encircle the plaza.
The city is divided into 48 official barrios, many of which have distinct neighborhoods within. The largest barrio, Palermo, contains the fashion-forward Soho and affluent Chico districts. The Recoleta neighborhood is home to Avenida Alvear, the Rodeo Drive of Buenos Aires, known for its haute couture boutiques. While some visitors shun El Caminito street in La Boca for being too touristy, others revel in its many local crafts and street performers dancing tango. One of the oldest neighborhoods, San Telmo is considered an architectural treasure for its well-preserved buildings and narrow, winding streets, as well as a weekend flea market.