Buenos Aires travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit Argentina's capital city

1. GO INTO THE RED

Sipping wine in one of Buenos Aires' charming small bars is a delight. Malbec grapes put Argentina on the world wine map but don't pass up the opportunity to try some lesser known South American reds, including bonarda, tannat and tempranillo. Argentina's weakened currency may be tough on locals, but it's a bonus for wine-loving tourists who need not pay more than $10 (and often less) for a bottle of very drinkable plonk. See urbanadventures.com

2. VISIT A BEAUTIFUL BOOKSTORE

El Ateneo Grand Splendid started life a century ago as a lavish performing arts space, its stage once graced by tango dancers and the most popular plays of the age. It transformed into a cinema, before its latest reinvention as a bookstore, all the while retaining its stunning interiors. Browse the shelves and admire the red velvet stage curtains, ornate balcony boxes and frescoed ceilings. Be ready for your star turn when you take a seat on centre stage, where coffee and cake is now served. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/atractivo/el-ateneo-grand-splendid

3. MAKE LIKE MARADONA

Football is a religion in Argentina, and the stadium is the church. Nowhere is this more true than Buenos Aires, where a fierce rivalry exists between the two mega teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate. It can be difficult to score a legit ticket to a match, so best to ask for assistance from your hotel concierge. Expect huge crowds, no alcohol (it's banned) and plenty of creative insults hurled at the ref. Things are guaranteed to get rowdy. See bsas4u.com/en/experiencing-football-in-buenos-aires

4. FEAST ON A STEAK

It's estimated Argentinians consume the most beef in the world, almost twice as much as those burger-loving Americans. With juicy steaks on every menu, this is no country for vegetarians. You won't have any difficulty finding a good steakhouse in Buenos Aires. Two worth seeking out: Fervor, in Recoleta, with its red-leather booths and brasserie style oozes Parisian flair; and Don Julio in Palermo is well worth the inevitable wait for a table. See fervorbrasas.com.ar, parrilladonjulio.com

5. SEE WHERE STEAK GROWS

A visit to the Argentine Pampas, South America's version of the Wild West, is a journey into the traditions and folklore of gaucho culture. On Collette's Highlights of South America tour, guests head out of the city to a typical ranch (estancia), for a day of horse riding, traditional dancing and barbecue lunch. Expect plenty of grilled meat, empanadas and local wine, along with colourful cowboy tales. See gocollette.com.au

6. PRETEND YOU'RE A LOCAL

In a dreamy art deco apartment experience a home-hosted, chef-prepared dinner, as memorable for the food as it is the setting – a stunning floor-through apartment with a private pool in one of the city's most fashionable neighbourhoods. On Collette's tour, guests have the option to attend this three-course private dinner and get to know fellow tour participants. See gocollette.com.au

7. FOLLOW THE POPE TRAIL

To say Pope Francis is kind of a big deal in his hometown, Buenos Aires, is like saying there once was this little band from Liverpool you've probably never heard of. The first Pope from the Americas, indeed the first from outside Europe since the eighth century, the beloved figure is known simply as Jorge in Argentina. A free tour, offered by the city, takes visitors to his birthplace and the Metropolitan Cathedral where he officiated Mass for 20 years before moving to Vatican City. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/article/pope-francis-tour

8. EAT EMPANADAS

Those flaky little parcels of deliciousness are the staple food of Portenos, which is what Buenos Aires residents call themselves. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or as an any-time snack, empanadas traditionally come stuffed with seasoned beef or ham and cheese, but can contain much more. There's hot competition for the title of best empanadas in Buenos Aires. Pizzeria Guerrin (since 1932), La Cocina and Na Serapia make the cut on most foodies' lists. See facebook.com/pizzeriaguerrin

9. SWOON OVER TANGO

The sensual, improvised Argentine version of tango arose from the city's bordello districts more than a century ago and soon spread like wildfire to Europe. Today the tango is performed in swanky establishments such as La Ventana Tango House in Buenos Aires' oldest neighbourhood San Telmo. Seven nights a week, La Ventana's exceptional dancers ignite the stage with their tantalising moves. Dinner, wine and show packages available. See laventanaweb.com

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10. HAVE A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Teatro Colon, Argentina's main opera house, is considered one of the 10 most beautiful in the world. An impressive roll call of the greats including Callas, Pavarotti and Baryshnikov have graced the stage. The building dates from 1908 and an extensive restoration in 2010 returned it to its former glory. Check the schedule ahead of time to nab tickets to opera, ballet and classical music performances. Guided tours are available most days. See teatrocolon.org.ar

11. BROWSE A STREET FAIR

With hundreds of open-air stalls spread over more than a dozen city blocks and numerous side streets, it's best to hit Sunday's San Telmo market before lunch. The bohemian neighbourhood really comes to life with street performers, live music and roving food vendors. Expect to find original arts and crafts, clothing, souvenirs and more. While in the area, stop by the permanent antiques stores for fabulous mid-century finds. See feriadesantelmo.com

12. BUY A LOVING GEM

Rhodochrosite, Argentina's national gemstone, is most commonly a pretty pink colour, lightly marbled with white. Also known as Inca Rose, it's traditionally believed to draw love to the wearer by balancing the heart chakra. Found in jewellery stores all over Buenos Aires, rhodochrosite is featured in pendants, rings, earrings and bracelets at very affordable prices. Shop around to get the best deal. See solsalute.com/cultural-argentina-souvenirs-buenos-aires/

13. PONDER LIFE AND DEATH

In death, former first lady Eva "Evita" Peron gets most of the visitors at La Recoleta Cemetery but it's well worth looking around. Consecrated in 1822, the cemetery houses close to 5000 vaults and the remains of presidents, priests, entertainers and Nobel Prize winners. A favourite stop on any Buenos Aires photography tour, the rows of vaults display architectural styles ranging from baroque and neo-Gothic to art deco. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

14. SEE EVITA'S BALCONY

Casa Rosada, the palace where Eva Peron lived with her husband, President Juan Peron, is one of the most important buildings in the city. Madonna was finally granted permission, after much lobbying, to film crucial scenes for her 1996 biopic Evita on the balcony. Argentinians remain divided on whether the controversial first lady was a hero of the working class or a power-hungry social climber. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

15. LIVE LA VIDA BOCA

In the colourful neighbourhood of La Boca, expect the unexpected. Impromptu tango street performances, brightly hued houses, museums and artists' studios sit next to cosy wine bars and rowdy pubs. These watering holes are packed before and after any Boca Juniors home game at nearby La Bombonera stadium, where star player Diego Maradona once ruled the roost. Wander Caminito (little path) and enjoy some of the best people-watching opportunities in the city. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

16. SAIL INTO THE SUNSET

Just 29 kilometres form Buenos Aires, the Parana River delta feels a world away. The pretty coastline is dotted with marinas and opulent riverside homes, while the Tigre River is crisscrossed by countless interconnecting streams best explored by boat. It's a beautiful day out of the city, topped by a visit to the Puerto de Frutos open-air market where vendors sell fresh flowers, fruit and handmade crafts. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

17. SPOT ARCHITECTURAL STYLES

Often called the Paris of South America, the streets of central Buenos Aires borrow heavily from European design. On the wide avenues and leafy boulevards see a mix of styles including art deco, art nouveau and neoclassical. Interestingly, there's scant colonial or Spanish-rule-era architecture in place, it being supplanted by Italian and French styles. See gpsmycity.com.

18. DISCOVER AMAZING ART

Buenos Aires has some of the best museums and galleries in the region. At Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes browse the largest public art collection in Latin America. If you love 20th and 21st century art, head to MALBA, the Latin American Modern Arts Museum. At Coleccion Fortabat, the private collection of philanthropist Amalia Fortabat includes works by Klimt, Rodin and Warhol. bellasartes.gob.ar; malba.org.ar ; coleccionfortabat.org.ar

19. DRINK YERBA MATE

Pronounced mah-tay, this hot brew is a daily staple for Argentinians and you'll see many locals walking around with the distinctive gourd mugs and bombilla straws. Mate bars have sprung up all over Buenos Aires, offering a place to drink with friends and nibble on sweet or savoury bites. Las Cholas and Las Cabras are two popular spots for enjoying the beverage that is said to be rich in antioxidants and vitamins, with an energising caffeine jolt to boot.

20. HOP OVER TO URUGUAY

If you're planning to spend a few days or more in Buenos Aires, it's worth considering a side trip to Uruguay. Just 50 kilometres away and easily reached by ferry, Colonia del Sacramento is a charming town of colonial buildings, cobbled streets, galleries and gift shops. Settled by the Portuguese in 1680, it is home to the oldest church in Uruguay. The capital, Montevideo, is further away but can be reached by ferry in a little over two hours. buquebus.com

Kristie Kellahan was a guest of Collette .

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