The cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires is buzzing all year

The woman is beautifully dressed in a slim-fitting blood-red dress with a thigh-high split that reveals her black fishnet stockings. Her partner is wearing a three-piece suit accented with a bow tie in the same vibrant red as her dress. 

They move quickly and gracefully, his arms cocooning her as he plunges her backwards, sometimes only centimetres from the cobblestone street. As she nears the ground, she raises her svelte leg, a pillar of fishnet rising towards the cloud-studded sky. When they finish, a second man in a suit appears. He takes off his hat and weaves his way through the crowd collecting donations. I drop in my offering and stay for another dance. 

Although the exact origins of Argentinian tango are unknown, some say it developed in working-class neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires in the mid-1800s, quickly growing to become popular worldwide. 

Today in Buenos Aires it's danced by buskers in the streets, by teachers and students during tango classes, and by locals and visitors alike at milongas (tango dance parties). Tango is in the air. Tango is in the blood.

I don't manage to get to a tango class, but I do tap my foot and move my hips while watching street performers day after day. Then, in the dockside neighbourhood of La Boca, 

I join the street performers when a smiling stranger whisks me away for a dance. My husband just laughs. Tango is not, I realise, in his blood. 

Our guide, Vanessa, also wants to whisk us away, but not to dance. She wants to show us the colourful houses La Boca is renowned for. Vanessa explains that in the 19th century, La Boca was predominantly an immigrant neighbourhood and most of its residents had very low incomes. 

They would go to the dockyards to scrounge what they could and that often included leftover paint. This usually resulted in each house being painted in a multitude of colours, and to this day many La Boca residents choose to keep the tradition alive.

Next, Vanessa takes us to the Argentina's seat of government, the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, and engages us with yet another story about paint. There are various theories as to why the Casa Rosada is the colour it is, and Vanessa's favourite is that it was chosen to diffuse political tensions between the two major parties at the time, one of which had red as its colour while the other had white. 

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Another theory – that the building was originally painted with cow's blood because paint peeled in the city's humid climate – is less romantic. 

Keeping the slightly morbid theme going, we make our way to La Recoleta Cemetery, walking past thousands of above-ground mausoleums. It's slightly spooky strolling past the many glass doors and visible coffins while pondering the lives of their occupants. 

A crowd alerts us to the fact that we are nearing Eva Perón's resting place. Better known as Evita, the former first lady is a hero to many Argentinians, who idolise her even in death. Her mausoleum (which she shares with family members from her mother's side) is adorned with bouquets left by admirers.

Recoleta becomes one of my favourite neighbourhoods, with plenty of shops to check out and cafes to explore. Although we find funky modern establishments where the baristas sport long beards and even longer aprons, in Buenos Aires it's the heritage spaces that stand out. Cafe La Biela is a beautiful spot full of old-world charm – and a decent rival for the famous Cafe Tortoni in the city centre (if visiting the latter, be prepared to queue for a seat). 

Beyond coffee and cake, Buenos Aires is all about steak, which is best enjoyed with a big serving of fries and a dollop of chimichurri. The concierge at our hotel, Palladio Hotel Buenos Aires, recommends La Estancia and Parrilla Peña. Both are superb and I eat a week's worth of meat in just two sittings.

In the many restaurants specialising in meat, prime beef is usually offered in either half or full portion sizes, and even the half portions are gigantic. Argentinians eat about 56 kilos of beef a year each on average, and this is a downward trend – in 1956 the average consumption was 100 kilos! To put this in perspective, the average Australian eats about 26 kilos of beef a year. 

Palermo, Buenos Aires' largest neighbourhood, is a little edgier than Recoleta and another area that mustn't be missed. We peruse boutiques along Jorge Luis Borges, Gurruchaga, Malabia and Honduras streets, queue up with hundreds of others to admire the exhibits at MALBA, the museum of modern Latin American art, and meander through the Botanical Gardens. And, of course, we eat. 

Gran Dabbang, rated as one of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants two years running, is an explosion of surprising flavours, with Asian-inspired cuisine crafted using predominantly Argentinian produce. 

Argentina also makes superb wines and Vico Wine Bar is the place to sample delectable drops from all over the country. Armed with a pre-paid card and using the self-service dispensers, guests select their own drinks in three different sizes (sommeliers are on hand to offer recommendations). The food at Vico is also excellent – we feast on grilled trout with cauliflower emulsion, velvety mushroom ragu atop semolina tagliatelle and a tender aged steak.

It's a fitting end to another riveting, and delicious, day in Buenos Aires. And of course there's always the possibility of ending it with a tango … if my husband can be convinced.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale February 23.

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