Buenos Aires is an electrifying capital, a city that always seems set to fast-forward. It’s impossible not to get caught up with the enthusiasm and lust for life displayed by porteños (as the city’s residents are known). From the leafy, hip Palermo neighbourhood, where cutting-edge fashion houses sit along cobbled streets, and the frenetic thrill of downtown to the antique shops and traditional meat restaurants among the colonial edifices of San Telmo, and the upmarket Recoleta neighbourhood, Buenos Aires proves a city with many faces.
Yet, for all its plaudits and popularity, there are few big-ticket attractions. In fact, the real attraction here is intangible. It’s chatting to the gregarious porteños, drinking a café con leche in a corner cafe while watching the city wake. It’s finding a neighbourhood parrilla and digging into the tender meat it serves up.
It’s drinking a beer or cocktail in one of the many trendy Palermo hotspots, or visiting a milonga, where tango music plays long into the night while dancers swirl around the dance floor.
VAT (IVA) on hotel rooms is 21%, and rarely included in the initial rate.
For subtle luxury: Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires
It’s hard to believe this hotel has only been open a decade; it breathes old world grandeur. The Palacio Duhau, in the wealthy Recoleta neighbourhood close to downtown, was once a vast private mansion, but has been since converted into one of the city’s most luxurious boltholes by Hyatt, which built a completely new property behind the original building, pushing the number of rooms up to 165. One of the highlights is the Vinoteca, housing a collection of thousands of bottles of wine and a cheese room — a sommelier is always on hand for a tasting. The spa is also exceptional.
Rooms: From US$540 (£415), room only.
For exploring Palermo: Fierro Hotel
It’s the personal touches that make a stay at the Fierro Hotel so memorable. Staff do all they can to ensure visitors get the most from their stay in ‘Palermo Hollywood’ — known as such for the concentration of media companies that now inhabit many of the old houses of the area — and the city as a whole. An interactive ‘concierge map’ picks out the best bars and restaurants, and personal recommendations highlight hidden gems. The hotel itself is immaculate, with large, modern suites. The food at UCO restaurant is consistently excellent, and don’t miss the roof terrace pool, either.
Rooms: Suites from US$159 (£122), B&B.
For chic couples: Home
When this 20-room hotel opened in 2005, it was one of the city’s first boutique hotels — an instant classic, thanks to its mid-century design aesthetic and attention to detail, from the designer staff uniforms to the llama wool blankets. Tom, who owns the hotel with his wife Patricia, collects vintage wallpaper, some of which appears across the hotel. Its Palermo Hollywood location is unbeatable. The bar staff rustle up a mean cocktail, too.
Rooms: Doubles from US$165 (£134), B&B.
For a city escape: Delta Eco Spa Relax Resort
Tigre is a town on the Paraná Delta, half an hour north of downtown Buenos Aires on the Tren de la Costa and is the perfect escape from the city in summer. Shady and breezy, you can hop onto the ferries for a day roving around on the river. In short, this is the place to relax, so why not go all out and stay at the Delta Eco Spa Relax Resort. Prices include all meals, taxes and use of the sauna, steam room, pool and whirlpool bath.
Rooms: From US$170 (£131), all inclusive.
For nighthawks: Hotel Babel
Located in a converted house on a quiet street in the bohemian San Telmo area, Babel blends fin de siècle architecture with sleek modernity. The suites surround a central patio, typical of houses of the area. Wood dominates the interior design of the rooms making them feel warm and cosy. The communal spaces are equally welcoming, and there’s a small bar. The staff can also help with organising tango classes and transfers. Overall, it’s a well-priced hotel in a great location if you’re looking to stay in the heart of San Telmo.
Rooms: Doubles from US$53 (£41), room only.
For splashing out: Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires
Ageing celebrities, heads of state and those in need of a dose of luxury choose the Four Seasons. It’s based around a Recoleta mansion — with a larger, 13-storey building adjoined — and is the epitome of luxury. The Elena Restaurant is a lovely spot for a superlative steak, but for the full asado experience, the outdoor Nuestro Secreto is a must. The more casual Pony Line Lounge is the place for a cocktail. The rooms in the old mansion are inspired by the Belle Époque, while the rooms in the main building are more modern.
Rooms: From US$545 (£420), room only.
For local sights: Patios de San Telmo
As the name suggests, this is another residence in San Telmo — once again built around a central patio. It captures the time at the beginning of the 20th century when San Telmo was the wealthiest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. When a cholera epidemic swept through the city, the rich moved north, leaving San Telmo to decay. Today, the area continues to be regenerated, and it’s hotels like this that are going a long way to improving one of the most atmospheric neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.
Rooms: From US$70 (£54), B&B.
For rock stars: Faena Hotel Buenos Aires
There is, quite simply, no other hotel quite like Faena. This Philippe Starck-designed property in the regenerated port area hides some of the city’s most cutting-edge hotel design behind a red-brick facade. If you’re a rock star passing through the city, this is where you stay. The lavish red, white and gold rooms mix 1930s splendour, modernity and witty details, while dining is taken care of by two superb restaurants — Bistro Sur is an astonishing space. The bar, meanwhile, is run by expert mixologists and the tango show here is one of the best in the city.
Rooms: From US$335 (£258), room only.
For upmarket backpackers: Circus Hostel & Hotel
San Telmo is the city’s oldest, most atmospheric neighbourhood — full of antique stores, traditional meat restaurants, old bars and boutique shops. On a Sunday, the antiques market is one of the biggest attractions. Contrasting with the crumbling facades is the sleek Circus Hostel & Hotel, offering private en suite rooms as well as dormitory accommodation — at great prices. The rooms are basic, but clean and the communal areas are pleasant. That said, it’s out on the streets of this neighbourhood where you’ll want to spend most time.
Rooms: Doubles from US$48 (£40), room only.
For a quiet break: Duque Hotel Boutique & Spa
A historic family home converted into a great little hotel, the Duque Hotel Boutique & Spa is conveniently located right next to Palermo Soho, one of the most attractive and bustling areas in Buenos Aires. This hotel is a quiet hideaway from the noise of the city and evokes a sense of calm throughout. The rooms are well appointed and comfortable; there’s a lovely little library space, a welcoming breakfast room and an outdoor patio. The spa includes a whirlpool bath and sauna.
Rooms: From US$90 (£70), B&B.
Published in the December 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)