Buenos Aires Culture

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Buenos Aires Culture
On a walk through the city, Buenos Aires’ unique cultural identity is on vibrant display—from its proud Spanish and Italian heritage to its modern style and provocative urban art scene.
By Bridget Gleeson, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Yadid Levy/age fotostock
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    Architectural Masterpieces
    Buenos Aires’ eclectic architectural landscape is a product of the city’s immigrant history. Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816, and while a few Spanish colonial buildings exist—notably the Cabildo on Plaza de Mayo—the city became an experimental playground for European architects. As you walk around the neighborhoods of Congreso, Montserrat, and San Telmo, note the mix of baroque, art nouveau, Italian Renaissance, and beaux arts architecture. Make sure to pause at unique landmarks like Mario Palanti’s magnificent Palacio Barolo, modeled on the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
    Photo by Yadid Levy/age fotostock
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    Grand Avenues and Leisurely Strolls
    Thanks to some smart city planning, Buenos Aires features a few Parisian-style boulevards—wide and beautiful, lined with trees and elegant architecture—that beckon travelers to take a leisurely stroll. The loveliest are Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Alvear. The former connects Plaza del Congreso and Plaza de Mayo, and features many of the city’s most famous architectural landmarks. The massive Palacio del Congreso is at one end, and the famous Casa Rosada at the other; in between are Palacio Barolo, inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, and the historic Café Tortoni. The latter traverses the heart of the ritzy, old-money Recoleta neighborhood, and offers access to the glamorous Alvear Palace Hotel and the leafy Plaza Francia.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    High Society and the Recoleta Cemetery
    When a devastating yellow fever epidemic struck Buenos Aires in 1871, the city’s wealthiest citizens fled from San Telmo and resettled in the higher ground of Recoleta. The elegant neighborhood—with its tree-lined avenues, Parisian-inspired architecture, beautifully landscaped parks, and designer boutiques—today remains a center of old money and European-style glamour. Major attractions for visitors include the Cementerio de la Recoleta—the final resting place of many of the city’s most illustrious citizens, including Eva Perón (often affectionately referred to as Evita)—as well as Plaza Francia, the Alvear Palace Hotel, and the El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a former theater that is now one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores.
    Photo by Lindsay Davis
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    Contemporary Culture in Palermo
    If the city’s history and architecture are downtown, and the old money is in Recoleta, then sprawling Palermo—divided into several sub-neighborhoods, including Soho, Hollywood, and Palermo Chico—is the center of the city’s contemporary culture. From modern art and politically charged graffiti to craft cocktails and an evolving gourmet dining scene, this is the place to see the city’s contemporary tastemakers in action. Come for dinner and drinks in a closed-door restaurant, pop into an edgy art gallery, or rent a bicycle and cruise past some of Buenos Aires’ most striking urban murals.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    The Melancholy Romance of Tango
    Just as it's important for any visitor to Buenos Aires to witness both the old and the new, it's key to the traveler's experience to see both sides of tango: the tourist spectacle, where gorgeously outfitted dancers wow the crowds with grace and athleticism, and the milonga, or tango club, where local dancers of all ages and skill levels gather to practice and dance. The former isn't hard to find: Tango shows are advertised everywhere. Some of the best include the seductive Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel, a simpler show at the old-fashioned Cafe Tortoni, or the classic evening performance at legendary Bar Sur. To experience a real milonga, try El Beso or La Catedral—you can just sit and watch if you like.
    Photo by Carlos S. Pereyra/age fotostock
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    Fine Art and the Gallery Circuit
    Buenos Aires is visibly teeming with artists of all kinds. If it's fine art you're after, stop by some of the city’s major museums, such as the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (often referred to as MALBA) and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts). Cultural centers like Centro Cultural Recoleta host impressive, and free, rotating exhibits. The gallery circuit is just as important. Look for exhibition openings and organized gallery nights in Palermo and Recoleta, where you can appreciate locally produced artwork and see the art crowd in action with champagne flutes in hand.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Striking Urban Artwork
    Some of the city’s most striking and significant artworks aren’t located inside museums or galleries, but out on the streets and splashed across abandoned buildings, garage doors, and cement walls. Explore Buenos Aires’ exciting, rapidly developing urban art scene by taking a tour with Graffitimundo—a street art organization that puts the graffiti, stencils, and murals into their social and political context on weekly guided treks—or Buenos Aires Street Art. Alternatively, just set out on your own, camera in hand, to find surprising works of art on the side streets of Palermo, Villa Crespo, Colegiales, Abasto, Almagro, and San Telmo.
    Photo by Lindsay Davis
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    A Night at the Opera
    Teatro Colón is considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. Though the theatre was, to the great disappointment of many travelers, closed for years while undergoing major renovations, the Colón has now reopened and is playing host to a busy schedule of opera, ballet, and symphony. If you can’t get tickets for this legendary theater, try another elegant venue like Teatro Nacional Cervantes or Teatro San Martín. Check out Ciudad Cultural Konex if you’d rather see an edgier contemporary performance of modern dance or theater, or head to La Trastienda to hear live music by some of Argentina’s best young artists.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Legends of Soccer
    Argentines are famously proud and passionate, and this stereotype applies especially to their love of fútbol (soccer). They do have good reason to be proud: Argentina produced such legends as Diego Maradona and, more recently, Lionel Messi. On home turf, the classic rivalry is between two teams—River Plate and Boca Juniors. If you’d like to visit the cancha (stadium), it’s best to go with an organized group arranged through a travel agency, or with a local friend (if you’re lucky enough to have one). Of course, the local athletic culture isn’t entirely about fútbol: Argentina’s celebrated polo and tennis traditions are also on fine display in and around Buenos Aires.
    Photo by Vanina Montano
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    Artisan Souvenirs
    On weekends, Buenos Aires is a paradise for shoppers in pursuit of one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Head to Feria San Telmo on Sundays to peruse artisan designs and antiques along Defensa, the neighborhood’s main drag, and then stop into the wrought-iron Mercado San Telmo to photograph vendors selling leather suitcases, and stands spilling over with vibrant fruits. Even better for handmade jewelry and ceramics is the open-air fair in Recoleta’s Plaza Francia. For hipster-friendly home décor and accessories, head to the boutiques of Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood.
    Photo by Alvaro Leiva/age fotostock