A guide to the buzzing barrios of Buenos Aires

What to see and where to be seen

Argentina’s sprawling capital is famed for its historic sites – from the eerie above-ground tombs of La Recoleta Cemetery to the rose-coloured balcony at Plaza de Mayo where ‘Evita’ waved to the crowds. In fact, you can’t swing a camera in Buenos Aires without snapping a historical icon. But delve a little deeper and you’ll discover there’s much more to this city than tango, steak and Malbec.

Palermo and Retiro: Secret bars

To truly feel part of the in-the-know crowd, visit at least one secret bar. These hidden US-style speakeasies are all the rage in Buenos Aires, and finding them is half the fun.

Floreria Atlantico in Retiro looks like a darkened florist’s shop.

Palermo and Retiro: Secret bars

But head for what looks like a cupboard or chiller door in the corner. Behind it is a secret staircase that leads down to one of the most buzzing bars in Buenos Aires. Cocktails are just as inventive as the entrance, served in vintage-style medicine bottles or standing in jewellery boxes. True to the speakeasy spirit, your bartender will slide your bill across the bar to you in an envelope.

Top tip: there’s often a wait for a table for tapas in Floreria Atlantico, but linger long enough and you can usually grab a seat at the bar. 

A bit more effort (and touch of theatre) is needed to get into Frank’s in Palermo, with clues to solve posted on social media throughout the week. Get it right when you arrive at the unassuming door and you can step inside a darkened hallway where you’ll be given a numbered password – and pointed towards a phone booth. When you pick up the receiver and dial, the back opens up to reveal your reward: a magnificent bar.

Villa Crespo: A Tango twist

Leave the tango tourist trail behind in Buenos Aires and follow the locals to a milonga. Between trendy Palermo and Villa Crespo, Salón Canning feels a little like a well-heeled community centre. You can usually only get a few different drinks in plastic cups, but when the lights go down its charms light up.

Top tip: if you don’t want to dance, avoid making eye contact. A male dancer catching the eye of a woman is often seen as an invitation to tango. 

Villa Crespo: A Tango twist

A younger crowd tends to flock south to La Catedral. Just remember to emphasise that you’re going to La Catedral Tango when you hop in a cab, otherwise you could end up at the city cathedral for a spot of late night religious reflection. Both venues offer lessons before the pros take to the floor. Make sure you arrive at a sociable hour – most Argentineans wouldn’t dream of turning up before midnight. If that seems a bit late to venture out, recharge your batteries with a pre-dinner disco nap in your Buenos Aires hotel. 

pop-up and closed-door restaurants

Tackling an enormous steak, smothered in tangy chimicurri and accompanied by a glass of Mendoza’s finest is a right of passage on a Buenos Aires break. The same goes for traditional dulce de leche desserts, spicy empanadas and morcilla sausage. But the city is experiencing something of a contemporary culinary renaissance, with gourmet tasting menus, closed-door and pop-up restaurants tempting locals and visitors alike.

pop-up and closed-door restaurants

try these top restaurants in buenos aires

• Casa Felix – between Colegiales and Chacarita, this closed-door restaurant is exclusive and welcoming in equal measure. Each evening just a handful of lucky guests get to sample the home-grown, home-cooked tasting menu inspired by Latin American flavours.

• Las Pizarras Bistro – this French-looking spot is in hip Palermo Soho.

• Steaks by Luis – a private parilla in a Palermo loft for five courses and wine pairing, all round one big, communal table.

• iLatina – a real treat in Villa Crespo, where if your name’s not on the list, you won’t get through the wrought iron gates. Creative tasting menus blend seasonal Latin American flavours – including Colombian and Argentinean.

try these top restaurants in buenos aires

Luxury hotels in buenos aires

1828 Smart Hotel puts you close to Palermo, Chacarita and Villa Crespo, while Casasur Recoleta is ideal for the easterly Retiro and Recoleta neighbourhoods.