Almost all of Argentina’s big, bustling capital is vibrant, vivacious, and colourful, but in its oldest precinct, San Telmo, with its colonial-era buildings and cobblestone streets, locals also seem to take special delight in the small pleasures. For example, here in particular, taking coffee seems to be a ritual at least as soothing as the psychoanalysis of which porteños are so inordinately fond.
Spots where this happens include the Café del Árbol (Plaza Dorrego), Café del Amanecer (Calle Chile 561), with its cañoncitos pastries filled with dulce de leche (kind of a sweetened condensed milk), or El Hipopótamo (Avenida Brasil 401) on Lezama Park. Before or afterward, a stroll through this leafy park is a must, as is a visit to its National History Museum.
Speaking of history, you can pick up your own little chunks of it in the famous San Telmo Fair, more than 200 stands worth of antiques and knicknacks set up every Sunday in Plaza Dorrego and surrounding streets. There are also antiques shops you can visit any day of the week, especially on Calle Defensa (Hugo Breitman and Duggan Krause are two good examples).
Many of the townhouses lining the streets of San Telmo are bourgeois masterpieces. It was colonised by merchants in the 18th century, but most left after a yellow fever epidemic in 1871, to be replaced by immigrants. No surprise, then, to see distinctive churches here such as the neo-Gothic Danish Church (Calle Carlos Calvo 257) and especially the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity (Calle Brasil 315), with its blue onion domes.
Though intimate in parts, for example with its little produce shops (and don’t miss the Casa Mínima, with its 2.2-metre/7¼-foot facade reckoned the city’s narrowest), it can also feel grandiose in parts as well – even downright Parisian in monumentality in places like Paseo Colón and edifices such as the Ministry of Agriculture.
Art-lovers will delight not just in the design expressed across the canvas of a neighbourhood that encompasses nearly Buenos Aires’ entire history, but also some of Latin America’s most cutting-edge currents, in galleries such as Zavaleta Lab (Calle Venezuela 567), Isidro Miranda (Calle Estados Unidos 726) and Appetite (Chacabuco, 551), as well as a very good Museum of Modern Art whose collection includes the likes of Picasso, Matisse, and Miró.
And after all that, when it comes time to refuel, it just so happens that one of the highest-rated spots in the city for parrilla (that legendary Argentine beef) is right at hand. At La Brigada (Calle Estados Unidos 465) it’s so tender you you can cut it with a fork.
Saving one of the best for last, San Telmo also happens to be one of Buenos Aires’ top neighbourhoods to catch a show of that quintessential Argentine art form, the tango, with classic venues including La Ventana (Balcarce 431) and El Viejo Almacén (Independencia 313). But the night hereabouts is eclectic, too (not to mention late). If you’d like to have a go at flamenco, bark at Perro Andaluz (Bolívar 852); or you can rock out to local live music at Mitos Argentinos (Humberto I 489). Check updated listings at Time Out Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires around 3 million inhabitants – rising to 13 million in the greater metro area.
The weather is moderate but on the humid side, with the warmest month being January (daily average 25°C/77°F) and coolest July (average 11°C/52°F).
The currency is the Argentine peso.
More information: Argentina.travel.
image | Helge Høifødt