With its unique mix of European traditions and Latin flair, Buenos Aires (“BA”) has always had a magnetic appeal. This is true now more than ever as the city’s many small ateliers craft bespoke leather goods and its fashion-forward boutiques sell clothing, jewellery, and ceramics by local designers. Also stepping it up is the food scene, contriving modern twists on traditional dishes. The corner spot Chori pairs its gourmet chorizo sandwiches with negroni and Cinzano concoctions. Add in a crop of world-class cocktail bars and a handful of new hotels, and you’ll find yourself plotting to extend your stay. (Tip: Visit in February and March, when days are long, sunny, and not too hot.) A bonus attraction lies a ferry ride across the Plata River (Río de la Plata): Montevideo, the laid-back capital of Uruguay, known for its easy hospitality, elegant colonial buildings, and one-of-a-kind museums.
—Nell McShane Wulfhart
Discover a neighbourhood on the verge, browse hip fashions, view edgy art, and relax in nature
In the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Villa Crespo, stop in JT, an airy boutique cum atelier that showcases clothing by Buenos Aires–born designer Jessica Trosman, who creates fashion that is both high concept and fun. Then pop into Yeite for egg tarts, soups—and a dulce de leche “volcano.” Café San Bernardo opened in 1912 but is very up to date, with ping-pong tables and pints of local Quilmes beer. Late night, speakeasy Bar 878 is all subdued lighting, pours of fine whiskeys, and inventive cocktails.
Indie designers are churning out fashions inspired by Argentine culture. Three sisters are behind Las Cabrera, a new brand of handbags made from soft goat skin and cow leather that celebrates the gaucho (cowboy) lifestyle of Argentina’s Pampas. In the Palermo neighbourhood, a shop front houses the Nimes studio, where leather totes and chic wallets are made by hand. At Acento de Autor you’ll find handcrafted footwear (check out the nerd-chic lace shoes), bags, and linen clothing.
Patio del Liceo, a warren of galleries and boutiques selling vintage clothes, handmade notebooks, and other wares, doubles as an arts venue for stand-up comedy upstairs and DJ sets in the leafy courtyard. Once a power plant tucked into an Italianate building, Usina del Arte is now an elegant space for live theatre, music performances, and art exhibits. In riverside La Boca, the contemporary-art gallery Isla Flotante hosts shows by emerging local artists, such as award-winning Valentín Demarco.
Buenos Aires is as urban as it gets, but the city has plenty of green spaces. Within walking distance of the city centre is the Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, a nature preserve by the Plata River where you can rent bikes and take free birding tours. The paths, lakes, and lawns of the Bosques de Palermo (also known as Parque Tres de Febrero) cover nearly 1,000 acres and draw everyone from dog walkers and bikers to rollerbladers. Strollers will enjoy paths in the rock- and water-scaped Jardín Japones.
Buenos Aires has an abundance of top-tier hotels; its newest, the glass-sided Alvear Icon, rises magisterially over the revitalized Puerto Madero district. Surrounded by upscale restaurants and shops, the Alvear draws well-heeled patrons with its sun-filled rooms, marble bathrooms, and eight bars and restaurants (alvearicon.com). Baronial Palacio Duhau, in the tony Recoleta district, is one of BA’s landmark hotels. The original neoclassical building, with its crystal chandeliers, fireplaces, and multilevel garden, has been bolstered by a contemporary wing housing spacious guest rooms with wooden floors and butler service (www.hyatt.com). The trendy Palermo Hollywood neighbourhood is home to the playfully stylish Hotel Clasico and its guest rooms featuring a mix of furnishings, from cowhide-covered headboards to herringbone floors. Many rooms come with balconies that overlook Palermo’s vibrant dining and nightlife scene (www.hotelclasico.com).
For palate pleasers, what’s in the glass rivals what’s on the plate
Thanks to Argentina’s Old World heritage, workdays traditionally end with an aperitivo of vermouth or Campari. At cocktail bar Doppelgänger you’ll find modern versions of old-style bitters drinks, plus juleps made with Cynar. Or try a Cinzano sundowner at tiny La Vermutería in quiet Almagro. Vermouth also stars at CSJ La Vermutería, popular for its tasty tapas.
A wood fire is as essential to Argentine cooking as beef. La Carnicería sends out enormous cuts of grilled steak along with blood sausage and fennel puree. At hip Proper, chefs put the flames to use in dishes like pork flank and halloumi cheese. Nearly everything at Mishiguene Fayer, from sausage to hummus, comes smoked, roasted, or grilled.
The city’s wine shops often pull double duty as bars. Pain et Vin sells local wines from lesser known producers and offers tastings along with sandwiches and cheese plates. Trova buzzes come evening, with a dozen flights divided by preference and varietal. At deli-café Oporto Almacén, the tasting room tempts with hundreds of ready-to-open bottles.
It took years, but the city now can tout top spots for a caffeine fix. All Saints Cafe was one of the first to offer everything from flat whites to AeroPress espresso. In Palermo, LAB Tostadores de Café roasts its own beans and turns out an impeccable Americano. Coffee Town operates a tiny stand in the San Telmo antiques market; grab a Chemex drip, and explore as you sip.
From Buenos Aires, it’s a scenic ferry ride to Uruguay’s capital city
Chime in on the regional debate “Whose steak is better?” by sampling Montevideo’s steak houses. A huge grill dominates tiny Parrillada La Pulpería, always packed with locals relishing the made-to-order beef. Beloved local joint La Otra Parrilla is known for its sizzling sausages. Mercado del Puerto is crammed with barbecue restaurants; El Palenque stands out for its juicy entrecôte (and tasty fries).
The streets of Montevideo’s picturesque Old City are lined with art deco buildings that house cafés and artisanal shops. La Farmacia cranks out coffee in a vintage pharmacy lined with antique glass cabinets. Expect pan-fried local fish and filet mignon at chic little Estrecho, its long bar filling up fast at lunch. La Pasionaria is a onetime residence turned design shop selling skeins of Uruguay’s famous yarn.
See costumes and masks at the Museo del Carnaval, a celebration of Uruguay’s 40-day carnival, the lengthiest in the world. Sobering Museo Andes 1972 tells the story of the Uruguayan rugby players who survived the plane crash immortalized in the film Alive. It’s all soccer at the Museo del Fútbol, which pays homage to the national sport—and Uruguay’s victory in the inaugural 1930 World Cup.
Montevideo’s social life centres around La Rambla, an about 21-kilometre-long boardwalk that borders the Plata River. You’ll spot retired couples gathering to share gourds of earthy yerba maté tea, runners and bikers going the distance, groups of friends meeting to watch the sun set, and, on sunny days, almost everyone lugging towels and beach chairs to sandy Pocitos Beach to swim, splash, bodysurf, and stroll.