Former Buenos Aires resident, James Newman, reminisces on 5 of his favourite things about the home of Tango…
Living in Argentina was a full-throttle ride of passion, magic and rapid weight-gain. From my apartment on the corner of Calle Junin and Avenida Santa Fe, I would often marvel at the intensity of the ‘City of Fury’, as it is often known. Everything in Buenos Aires is done at full pace. The summers overwhelm you with heat, the storms flood the streets in minutes. The city beats with life and lust.
I always recommend friends to put my former home on their bucket list, and these are the things I’d suggest they do when they visit...
#1 Cementario de Recolata (Recoleta Cemetary)
The word ‘cemetery’ might mislead you here. Thoughts of rotting carnations limply drooping onto long grass are far from accurate. Recoleta is like a city - with mausoleums more expensive than your house.
This is where the rich and famous, including Eva Peron, are laid to rest. Stunning marble statues and pristine tombs are laid out in a mixture of wide passages, and narrow nooks – creating what can only be described as a labyrinth city of the dead.
Whilst the mood might be sombre, the sights take your breath away. Aside from seeing Eva Peron’s resting place, you should find the grave of Liliana Crociati, whose parents recreated her bedroom inside her tomb.
The cemetery is open daily, 8am to 6pm. Free tours in English take place at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The closest Subte stations are Retiro and Callao.
#2 El Ateneo
As an avid reader, I’m at home in a bookshop. However, you don’t need to be a wordsmith to have your jaw-drop in El Ateneo. Just a few blocks from my apartment in Barrio Norte, this bookstore is housed in a former theatre and was this year voted ‘world’s most beautiful bookstore’ by National Geographic. The store has retained most elements of the theatre – the stage, the grand boxes and curved balconies and is home to stunning frescoed ceilings. There is a café on the stage and plenty of books and floors to browse.
El Ateneo is on Avenida Santa Fe and Callao is the nearest Subte station.
#3 The Corner Cafes
Buenos Aires is best viewed from its corner-street cafes. There are thousands of them across BA and you can watch the vibrant life of the city pass you by. Many cafés are blessed with waiting staff who take great pride in their work – to be a waiter is still a distinguished profession in many parts of the country. Luckily for coffee lovers, they take the coffee bean seriously too. Expect to see the best beans ground for your enjoyment and in many places you are sure to find the most extravagant menu for coffee concoctions you could only dream of.
Having said that, one of my favourite spots for coffee was a more relaxed chain (sorry, super serious travellers) Havanna Café. They are everywhere – but they are great. The coffee is good but the galletitas de limon (lemon biscuits) are delicious (I definitely did not buy boxes as gifts then eat them all myself…). Order one of these with your coffee and you will be a convert too.
For those who prefer a more ‘authentic’ Buenos Aires coffee experience – La Gruta (corner of Calle Arenales 2198) became my go-to haunt. I was such a regular that the waiter had shouted my order (two meat empanadas and a caffe con leche) to the kitchen before I’d even finished stepping through the door.
If you do head to a café, you might see a Submarino on the menu. If you are a chocolate fan – order this without delay. Think sweetened and steamed vanilla milk with a slab of dark chocolate for you to drop in (hence the ‘submarine’) and melt.
#4 Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods)
Make no mistake – Buenos Aires in summer is stiflingly hot and the power can be hit and miss, meaning air conditioning is not guaranteed. So, when things heat up, los porteños (a nickname for Buenos Aires residents) head to the dappled shade of wealthy-Palermo’s trees. Families and friends lounge, kick a football or have an asado out here in the area formally known as Parque Tres de Febrero.
Around this wooded area, The Paseo el Rosedal (a sprawling rose garden with over 12,000 roses) is worth a visit, but my favourite place to find tranquillity in the melting pot of the city was in El Jardín Japonés (The Japanese Garden). This place was a haven outside of the hustle and bustle.
The nearest Subte station is Palermo.
#5 San Telmo Fair & Market
Chances are you will hear this one come up a lot. There is a good reason. San Telmo is undoubtedly a tourist hotspot (visit outside of the weekend for a more chilled experience) but it is also an example of all the great constituent parts of the city. It has tango, architecture, history, bohemianism and lots of frankly unbelievable antique shops.
The neighbourhood is throbbing with artisans and antiques on Sundays (for the San Telmo Fair) and there is block after block of amazing street-market finds. San Telmo is also the place to head for fantastic, cheap red wine and food, with the indoor San Telmo market being a great place to eat, drink and be merry.
San Telmo is served by Independencia and San Juan Subte stations.
James Newman runs a light-hearted 'bookstagram' account over @helikesbooks on Instagram.