Overview of Buenos Aires' 9 de Julio Avenue with the Obelisk in the background.

Why go now?

The Argentinian capital is at its best during the first months of the year, basking in high-summer temperatures that foster a merry, near-carnival atmosphere. This will play out from 9 to 17 February in the shape of the annual Festival Shakespeare Buenos Aires - a celebration of Britain's revered playwright (various venues; festivalshakespeare.com.ar).

Get your bearings

Buenos Aires spreads out on the south-west bank of the River Plate as it nears its estuary. It exists as a series of distinct districts: Monserrat and San Nicolas at its heart, the newly gentrified docklands of Puerto Madero to the east, historic San Telmo, and the traditionally working-class La Boca, directly south of the centre. North of San Nicolas, the gilded barrios of Retiro, Recoleta and Palermo swell with parks, style and quiet affluence.

Despite its size, Buenos Aires is easily explored on its excellent Subte underground system (metrovias.com.ar). There are six lines.

San Nicolas has a tourist office at Calle Florida 100 (bue.gov.ar) - while Puerto Madero has another at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 200. Both are open daily 9am-6pm.

Check in

Hotel Boca is themed around the city's most eulogised football team, Boca Juniors - though, confusingly, it is found at Calle Tacuari 243 in Monserrat. (hotelbocajuniors.com).

The boutique Aspen Square Hotel sits close to the bars of Palermo Soho at Calle Thames 2313 (aspensquare.com.ar).

And the Meliá Recoleta Plaza is a five-star at Calle Posadas 1557 in Recoleta (melia-boutique-recoleta-plaza.com).

Day One: Take a hike

Begin at the core of the city, in the Plaza de Mayo. Note the Cabildo, in the south-west corner of the square at Calle Bolivar 65, the seat of Spanish colonial power. Whitewashed and elegant, it is a foil for the Casa Rosada, at the plaza's east end which houses the Argentinian president's office, from where Eva Perón made her quasi-religious balcony appearances.

Leave the plaza at its south-east corner, passing the fenced-off Parque Colón, with its Christopher Columbus statue. Turn south on Avenida Ingeniero Huergo - noting the Thirties bulk of the Edificio Libertador, the Ministry of Defence, on your right - then east on to Calle Azucena Villaflor and into Puerto Madero. The swing bridge, Puente de la Mujer, a 2001 vision in white, is visible along Calle Juana Manuela Gorriti.

Lunch on the run

Continue through the Puerto Madero docks. Try a steak sandwich from the food trucks at the end of Avenida Dr Tristán Achával Rodriguez.

Window shopping

Running north to south between Plaza San Martín in Retiro and Avenida de Mayo in Monserrat, Calle Florida is the city's key retail drag. This pedestrianised strip includes Galerías Pacifico at No 753 - a Beaux Arts arcade, dating to 1889, that hosts more than 150 stores (galeriaspacifico.com.ar). The cross-street, Avenida Corrientes, is also known for its bookshops, such as Librería Hernández at No 1436 (libreriahernandez.com).

The Palermo district is festooned with modish fashion outlets such as men's clothing store Bolivia at Calle Gurruchaga 1581 (boliviaparatodos.com.ar).

Take a ride

Though richly evocative, Boca has a reputation for street crime. Hail a (yellow and black) Radio Taxi to see the key sights: Caminito, the iconic street painted by artist Benito Martin in the Fifties, and La Bombonera, the cauldron-stadium home of Boca Juniors (bocajuniors.com.ar).

Alternatively, Buenos Tours (buenostours.com) has a three-hour tour of Boca and San Telmo with local guides.

An aperitif

Palermo Soho buzzes at night, especially Plaza Serrano. Mundo Bizarro at No 1222 (mundobizarrobar.com), is noted for cocktails.

Dining with the locals

BA is famous for its parrillas - grills selling fine Argentinian beef. Desnivel is a budget option at Calle Defensa 855 in San Telmo. La Lorenza is one of a cluster of splendid parrillas in Recoleta (la-lorenza.com.ar).

Vegetarians may prefer Puerto Madero, where Bice is a chic Italian at Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 192 (bicebuenosaires.com.ar).

Day Two: Sunday morning: go to church

Pitched on the corner of Plaza de Mayo at Calle San Martín 27, Catedral Metropolitana (catedralbuenosaires.org.ar) is an oddly secular structure, lost behind a Neoclassical façade (open 7.30am-6.30pm, weekends 9am-7pm; Sunday services at 10am, 11.30am, 1pm and 6pm).

Rather prettier, the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar (basilicadelpilar.org.ar) is a Jesuit landmark, dating to 1732, at Calle Junín 1904 in Recoleta. You can visit on Sunday morning only if you attend one of the services, at 8.30am, 10am or 11am. Otherwise, it opens 2.30-6.15pm (10.30am-6.15pm on other days).

A walk in the park

Near the Basilica, the Cementerio de la Recoleta at Calle Junín 1760 (cementeriorecoleta.com.ar), is a lovely spot for a morning stroll. A necropolis of narrow avenues and mournful trees - open daily 7am-5.45pm (free) - it contains the tombs of the national elite. Evita's family vault, well signposted, is marked, simply, “Familia Duarte”.

Out to brunch

Head to Café Tortoni, a city legend at Avenida de Mayo 825 (cafetortoni.com.ar). This coffee salon, with its stained-glass interior, still recalls its 1858 origins.

Cultural afternoon

Puerto Madero has the hot spot of the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat at Calle Olga Cossettini 141 (coleccionfortabat.org.ar). Open daily noon-9pm except Monday, this striking gallery was built in 2008 to showcase 20th-century Argentinian art, as well as pieces by Klimt, Dalí and Rodin. The Museo de Arte Latinamericano at Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415 in Palermo (malba.org.ar) also shines a spotlight on Latin art in the 20th century.

It is worth visiting the Teatro Colón at Rua Cerrito 628 in San Nicolas too. The spiritual home of Argentinian ballet and opera boasts an ornate auditorium that holds 3,500 people.

Icing on the cake

Tango is Argentina's obsession. Café Tortoni puts on nightly displays; (usually at 8.30pm and 10.30pm on Sun). The Esquina Carlos Gardel - named after the tango composer - also stages shows, nightly at 10.30pm, at Calle Carlos Gardel 3200, in the Abasto district. (esquinacarlosgardel.com.ar). - The Independent