Image: Painted homes in Buenos Aires
Natacha Pisarenko  /  AP file
Back dropped by colorful painted immigrant homes, a man plays with a ball in the Buenos Aires tourist district of La Boca, which is world-famous for being the cradle of the melancholic tango music and of Boca Juniors soccer team.
updated 3/12/2007 4:47:27 PM ET 2007-03-12T20:47:27

Best Tango Shows for Tourists
Tango, a beautiful dance that tells the pained history of its immigrant poor from the beginning of the 20th century, is the ultimate Buenos Aires-defining experience. For an authentic historical look, see the tango show El Querandí, Perú 302 (tel. 11/4345-0331), which traces the dance's roots from brothel slums, when only men danced it, to its current leggy sexiness. Señor Tango, Vieytes 1653 (tel. 11/4303-0212), adds Hollywood glamour and Fosse-esque dance moves, as well as horses trampling the stage, in the city's most popular show. You'll find a more gracious experience at Esquina Carlos Gardel, Carlos Gardel 3200 (tel. 11/4876-6363), in the Abasto neighborhood where Carlos Gardel, the city's most famous tango crooner, actually lived and worked. A classical symphony accompanies the more traditional instruments in this show.

Best Tango Hall for the Experienced or Those Who Want to Watch the Experienced
If you're an expert tango dancer, or want to at least watch the people who are, head to a milonga (tango salon). El Niño Bien, Humberto I no. 1462 (tel. 11/4483-2588), is like taking a step back in time as you watch patrons dance in an enormous, smoke-filled, Belle Epoque-era hall under ceiling fans. The best dancers come here to show off, though you'll also find instructors looking to mingle with shy potential students who watch from the sidelines. Salón Canning, Scalabrini Ortiz 1331 (tel. 11/4832-6753), in Palermo Hollywood has what many local dancers call the best tango floor in all of Buenos Aires, a hard, smooth, parquet surface perfect for this dance. The tight space, however, is not big enough for the tango-challenged.

Best Architecture Walks
Buenos Aires abounds in beautiful architecture, especially after its very self-conscious and ambitious rebuilding project before Argentina's 1910 centennial celebration of its independence from Spain. The plan was put into action in the 1880s, and by the turn of the 20th century, entire neighborhoods had been rebuilt. The French Beaux Arts movement was at its worldwide height at that point, meaning much of the city looks more like Paris than any other Latin American city. Avenida de Mayo, the city's official processional route linking the Presidential Palace (Casa Rosada) to the National Congress Building, is the longest and best-preserved example of this. The corner buildings along the wide Diagonal Norte, also known as Avenida Sáenz Peña, are all topped with fantastic neoclassical domes from the street's beginning at the Plaza de Mayo until it hits the Obelisco, Buenos Aires's defining monument, at Avenida 9 de Julio, the world's widest boulevard. Don't miss the neighborhoods of San Telmo and Monserrat either, with their balconied late-19th- and early-20th-century structures, most of which are gracefully decaying as they await gentrification when the economy improves.

Best Park Walks
The Palermo Park system runs along Avenida Libertador and is one of the world's most beautiful. You could spend more than a day here, wandering this tree- and monument-lined part of the city, and still not see it all. Within the system are numerous small parks such as the Rose Garden and the Japanese Gardens, as well as museums such as the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 (tel. 11/4808-6500), and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Av. del Libertador 1473 (tel. 11/4803-0802). In the Argentine spring -- late September and early October -- the weather is at its best, and the jacaranda trees here are in their purple-bloomed glory, making this the best time to stroll. In summer months locals who can't escape the city come to jog, suntan, and while away the day in this area.

Best Bird-Watching
Proof that nature is stronger than whatever humankind throws at it is just a brisk walk away from Buenos Aires's tallest office structures at the Ecological Reserve (along the Costanera near Puerto Madero; tel. 11/4893-1588). In the 1960s and 1970s, demolished buildings and construction debris were dumped into the Río de La Plata. Nature responded by wrapping it with sediment and then grass and small plants, creating a home for a myriad of birds. Wander on your own with caution, as there are still rough areas, or ask a tour company about bird-watching tours.

Best (& Most Heartbreaking) Political Experience
Argentina's political history is a long series of ups and downs, some more tragic than others. Perhaps the worst occurred between 1976 and 1982, when a military government, bent on destroying what it considered political enemies, ruled the country. During that time, up to 30,000 people, mostly college-age, were secretly murdered, their bodies never found, giving them the name los desaparecidos, meaning "the disappeared ones." The Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo is an organization that aims for justice for their murdered children and marches on the Plaza de Mayo every Thursday at 3:30pm, giving speeches and handing out flyers. They also run a university with a store and library full of books on this painful period of history that has yet to come to an end.

Best Evita Experiences
Visit the Plaza de Mayo, the political heart of Argentina, and look to the facade of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace). The northern balcony, with its three French doors, is where Evita addressed her adoring fans. Just as many people come to see her now at the Recoleta Cemetery, where she was laid to rest in a tomb belonging to the family of her wealthy father. To understand why it took Argentina more than 50 years to come to terms with this controversial woman, visit the Museo Evita, Calle Lafinur 2988 (tel. 11/4807-9433), in Palermo, where the story of her life is told through personal objects.

Best Museums
The MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 (tel. 11/4808-6500), houses an extensive and interesting modern art collection. The building itself, though, is as unique as the art, and nothing is more impressive than the giant sculpture of a man doing pushups suspended over the escalator bay in the central atrium. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Av. del Libertador 1473 (tel. 11/4803-0802), was built into a former water-pump station and houses an impressive art collection, including many Picasso drawings.

Best Ethnic Neighborhoods
With a population that is nearly all white and either of Spanish or Italian descent, Buenos Aires does not on the surface seem to be a very ethnically diverse city despite its cosmopolitan nature. However, head to the neighborhood of Once, around Calle Tucumán in particular, for a still-thriving Jewish community. You'll find numerous kosher restaurants, stores, and other businesses owned by or catering to this community. Then head to Belgrano, to the city's north, for the very little known Chinatown. Even most people in Buenos Aires know nothing of this community, a flourishing, busy area of restaurants, shops, and other businesses. If you're in town for the Chinese New Year, the area's Dragon Parade is a fun affair to check out.

Best Outdoor Markets
There's no market like the San Telmo Antiques Fair, held every Sunday in Plaza Dorrego, the old colonial heart of the San Telmo district. You'll find lots of small antiques and collectibles dealers here along with some kitschy souvenirs, local crafts, and lots of free live tango dancing as good as anything you might pay $50 to see onstage. The Feria de Plaza Francia, in front of the Recoleta Cemetery, is another don't-miss market, with great crafts, live music, and a beautiful setting on a grassy hill.

Best Shopping Experiences
There's no shortage of top designer shops along Calle Alvear, with the same high quality and high style you find throughout North America and Europe, at slightly lower prices befitting the Argentine economy. Leather shops abound on Calle Florida, near Galerías Pacífico, and you can even have items custom-made while you're here. For the best quality high-design items for fashion and home, my favorite shop is Tienda Puro Diseño Argentino, Av. Peuyrredón 2501 (tel. 11/5777-6104). For little boutiques specializing in the sexy styles Argentine women favor wearing, wander the cobblestone streets of Palermo Soho.

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Best High-Building Vista Points
Odd-looking as it might be, the Palacio Barolo, Av. de Mayo 1370 (tel. 11/4383-1065), designed by an architect who took Dante's Inferno a little too literally, is finally open to the public for tours so that anyone can see the interesting interior that only office workers were previously privy to. Its tower, which once made it the tallest building in all of South America, provides a sweeping view up and down Avenida de Mayo as well as of the entire city. The Torre Monumental, Av. Libertador 49 (tel. 11/4311-0186), better known by its old name, the British Clock Tower, has a fantastic view to the Río de la Plata and up and down Avenida Libertador. So what if the tower represents a country that Argentina has had some arguments with over the years? It's the view that counts now.

Best Oddball Museums
Two modern-day necessities -- taxes and toilets -- are honored in two different small museums in Buenos Aires. The Tax Museum, Av. de Mayo 1317 (tel. 11/4384-0282), contains historical items relating to money, coins, and taxes throughout Argentine history. It is one of only three museums in all the world of this type. The Museo del Patrimonio, Av. Córdoba 1750, museum entrance at Riobamba 750 (tel. 11/6319-1882), in the Aguas Argentinas building, is really about waterworks, but it contains what surely must be the largest toilet collection in the world. Kids will have a blast here.

Best Museums for Kids
Its name is Museo de los Niños (Children's Museum), Av. Corrientes 3247 (tel. 11/4861-2325), and this is certainly a great place to bring the young ones. Full of displays on various careers, presented in a fun way, you'll wish you had such a place when you were young. In the Museo Participativo de Ciencias, it's forbidden not to touch. This place (inside the Centro Cultural de Recoleta; tel. 11/4807-3260) is full of science and other displays that make learning so fun, kids won't know it's good for them too!

Best People-Watching
Pedestrianized Calle Florida is not the elegant shopping street it might have been a generation ago, but all kinds of Porteños find their way here, especially at lunchtime. Day and night, musicians, tango dancers, broken-glass walkers, comedians, and the like entertain the crowds along this street. At night Avenida Santa Fe offers another interesting array of people, popping into stores, gossiping at sidewalk cafes, and just checking each other out.

Best Nightlife Street
Whether you want to eat at a parrilla (an Argentine steakhouse), try some nouvelle cuisine, have some drinks, or do some dancing, Calle Báez in Las Cañitas is the place to go. This busy street in Palermo has great restaurants like Novecento, Báez 199 (tel. 11/4778-1900), El Estanciero, Báez 202 (tel. 11/4899-0951), and numerous other choices. Savor the night afterwards over drinks at trendy Soul Café, Báez 352 (tel. 11/4776-3905), or dance to hot Latin tunes at Mambo, Báez 243 (tel. 11/4778-0115), until the sun comes up over the Río de la Plata. This street has the most intensely packed nightlife on any 3 blocks of Buenos Aires.

For more on what to see and do in Buenos Aires, visit our complete guide online at http://www.frommers.com/destinations/buenosaires/.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

Photos: Tango time

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  1. The heart of the city

    The Obelisk is a modern monument placed at the heart of Buenos Aires. It was built in May 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first founding of the city. (Dennis Degnan / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passion dance

    Two tango dancers perform in Calle Caminito, a street in La Boca district of Buenos Aires famous for this passionate dance. (Sergio Pitamitz / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Color block

    Colorful buildings are hard to miss on Caminito Street in Buenos Aires. (Sergio Pitamitz / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A place in the sun

    Sun-seekers crowd a beach in Mar del Planta - Argentina's premier seaside resort on the southern coast of Buenos Aires Province. (Yann Arthus-bertrand / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A walk on the water

    The 335-foot-long suspension pedestrian bridge, Puente de la Mujer (Bridge of the Woman) was donated by Alberto L. Gonzales and his family to this city of Buenos Aires. Designed by Santiago Calatrava , it is the architect's only work in South America. (Michael Lewis / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Amazing acoustics

    The Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It has 2,367 seats and standing room for 1,000. (Hubert Stadler / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Capital beauty

    Finished in 1906, the National Congress Building in Buenos Aires is four stories high and has two pavilions, one on each side. (Anthony Cassidy / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
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