It's surely one of the most impressive cities in South America, and a must-see for any traveler, even folks who prefer the countryside. Having said that, Buenos Aires is a gigantic mass of humanity, and for many, two days and nights could be plenty.
One thing that will prove to be very efficient and thrifty is to purchase a blue Subte card from kiosks and ticket windows in the subway stations, and there are many. The cost is minimal, which for two people for two days is about AR$300 (less than US$10). Thus will get you around and downtown and back — as long as it's before midnight, when the tracks stop dead. There are now six lines; they don't cover the entire city, but they will get you close to most of the special sites and cool places.
Where to stay
I prefer to stay in the vast Palermo neighborhood, which actually encompasses Palermo Viejo, Soho, and Hollywood. This sector contains much of the very best eateries, bars, and nightclubs, so it makes sense to stay here instead of San Telmo, or elsewhere in the city center.
There are hundreds of affordable places to stay in Palermo, and I always use one of the hotel and hostel websites to locate them. Locations around Plaza Armenia and Plaza Italia are ideal, and basically anywhere in the giant grid surrounded by Santa Fe and Cordoba, and between Scalabrini Ortiz and Arevalo, provide walking access to the prime spots.
What to do: Day 1
Without further ado, here's a master plan for extracting the juice from this planet sized city:
Hop on the subway, lines B or D and ride to 9 de Julio station, and transfer to line C (there's no extra charge). Get off at Independencia station and walk five blocks east to Defensa street, and follow it south to Plaza Dorrego, This is the heart of San Telmo, with heaps of old school BA flavor. There are lots of economical places to eat and drink, and every Sunday a huge street market. From here it's a leisurely walk north through the Montserrat district to arrive at Plaza Mayo, surrounded by historical buildings and sites.
Just a couple of blocks towards the water sits the swank Puerto Madero hood, which seems like it's a different country altogether. New and modern is the rule here, and it makes for an enjoyable stroll past some landmarks such as the Puente de Las Mujeres, the Women's Bridge.
Continuing our march, we can trod past the Obelisk, smack dab in the middle of absurdly wide 9 de Julio avenue, and walk on up Cordoba through the core of downtown — or hop on at any subway station, connect to line H and unload at Aguero station.
A 12-block walk through the scrubbed Recoleta neighborhood, with lots of luxury for sale and rent, brings us to one extraordinary cemetery. This is truly a walled mini city of the dead, with some very over-the-top tombs, holding the remains of many illustrious 'Portenos' such as Eva Peron.
Many of the mausoleums are like miniature buildings and absurdly gaudy, and the cemetery is free, although aficionados of such places may want to contract a guide to help navigate the hive of walkways and seemingly endless tombs. Recoleta is a shiny, expensive part of the city, but this city of the dead is worth an hour or two. After this trek, a late lunch and siesta is deserved, so get back to your lodging and take a break. You deserve a brownie or a beer, take your pick.
Tonight is the night to take advantage of early dinner happy-hour pricing at one of the first-rate beef houses, which are a stalwart in BA. La Cabrera, at the corner of Thames and Cabrera, offers a 40% discount of the total check if you make it in to eat before 7:15. This is hours before the locals even begin to think about dinner and an opportunity to experience prime Argentine cuisine at a decent price. The big ribeye is perfect to share with a salad and a bottle of Malbec, and after this the tank will be full. Time to take a walk a few blocks across the tracks to Palermo Hollywood, and sample a few bars.
A great first stop is Frank's, almost hidden at Arevalo 1443. First pick up the phone and ask to come in. The bouncer will emerge, give you the once over, and if you're accepted, let you enter a classy, old-school cocktail lounge with a long bar and heavy drinks.
Then, shuffle north and a couple of blocks west to Humboldt, turn right, and enter Ferona Social Club, another hidden gem with a comfortable rooftop patio and lots of cush sofas and chairs, Our next stop is right across the street at Carnal, with multi levels and a great place to meet friendly Portenos. Finally, now you're ready to cross Niceto Vega and go in the fabled Niceto Club, a big place with two sides of music, one always live. This is where you can dance and kick out the jams until the sun comes up, or you hit the wall.
Day 2 begins with a stroll around Palermo to find some coffee and breakfast, and the choices number in the dozens.
After fortification, walk south towards the river and check out the vast parks that stretch for several miles along Avenida Libertador. This is where the botanical garden, Japanese Gardens, Rose Gardens and Modern Art Museum are found, and it's where the fit folk run, walk, bike and roll on miles of paths. On a sunny warm day there are heaps of active peeps here, and you can rent a bike, skates or a paddle boat and join in.
Lunch can be had at a thousand places on the way back to your Palermo pad, and strolling around Palermo close to Plaza Armenia takes you by every hip clothing store in the city, and the shopping crowd can be very alluring.