‘Sexy, alive and supremely confident.’ That’s how the Lonely Planet describes Buenos Aires, and we would have to agree. Spend even a small amount of time here and this beautiful city will get under your skin. If you are heading off on perhaps one of our favourite rides, The Patagonia Trail or Sierras Chicas through Argentina, stop and take some time to explore the magical city of Buenos Aires either before or after your Globetrotting adventure. You definitely won’t regret it! Here’s just a taste (and our recommendations) of what you can see, do and eat in this unforgettable city.
Now before we forget, if you’re after an awesome tour guide who can take you (and only you – we’re talking a private tour) around the main sights as well as those off the beaten tourist path for a very reasonable price, you can’t go past Marcelo Mansilla. You can find out more about Marcelo on his website here and can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Trust us, he’s worth it!
Sights and activities
An astonishing metropolis that looks a bit like Europe but with an edgy Latin American twist, Buenos Aires is a city travellers fall in love with. Known for its soaring architecture and rich European heritage, it is often called the ‘Paris of South America’. There is so much to do and see in this vibrant city that we urge you to spend a couple of days getting to know the place. But if you are on a tight schedule, here are a few things not to be missed!
Cementerio de la Recoleta
This cemetery is arguably the city’s number one attraction and should be at the top of your list. The ‘city of the dead’ has countless streets lined with impressive statues and marble mausoleums, and crypts with dusty coffins inside. Past presidents, military heroes, politicians and the ridiculously wealthy have made it past the gates here in their afterlife. Free tours are offered in English at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or just grab a map at the entrance and wander around for hours.
Plaza de Mayo
Argentina’s most famous square is a political hub, the financial and administrative centre for the city of Buenos Aires. It is also ground zero for the city’s most violent protests. In the plaza’s centre is a white obelisk, the Piramide de Mayo, built to mark the first anniversary of Buenos Aires’ independence from Spain. On the north side of the plaza is the impressive Banco de la Nacion, the work of famed architect Alejandro Bustillo. Spend some time exploring the plaza and its surrounds. The Casa Rosada, the Cabildo and the city’s main cathedral are all within a stone’s throw and well worth a look.
Wander the San Telmo district
This lovely neighbourhood is just a short walk south of Plaza de Mayo, but it’s like stepping 100 years into the past. Full of cobbled streets, colonial mansions and rich history, San Telmo is a beautiful time warp, full of antique stores and some of the best markets in town – a perfect place to pick up some special souvenirs!
You can’t visit Buenos Aires without immersing yourself in the rich culture the Teatro Colón has to offer. This impressive seven-story building is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and is a world-class venue for opera, ballet and classical music with some of the best acoustics you will find. Sitting on an entire city block, the Colón can seat 2500 spectators and provide standing room for a further 500. Backstage tours run frequently and are definitely worthwhile.
One of the best-kept secrets in Buenos Aires is the Feria de Mataderos, also known as the Gaucho Markets. If you want a real South American experience, you can’t miss this. There are folk singers, dancers, gauchos on horseback, displays of horsemanship, handicrafts, and delicious food. It’s a jovial atmosphere and you’ll have a great deal of fun! And it’s also the perfect chance to pick up some Argentinean souvenirs from the troves of leather goods, stone and silver jewellery, trinkets, good luck charms, wind chimes and other fun trinkets.
Back in the centre of the city, you also can’t miss shopping at my favourite tack shop, Arandu, where you can pick up brilliant Argentinean tack and my all-time favourite riding pants, Bombachas! Don’t forget to get yourself a poncho, which will serve two purposes – an all-weather riding coat and a keepsake for your travels.
If the opportunity arises, be sure to to take in a tango display! Argentina’s famous dance, this steamy strut has been described as ‘making love in the vertical position’! You’ll find endless venues around the city for perfecting your moves, from salons to milongas (dance events) to cafes. Have a go, join in the fun – this sensual dance is addictive!
Places to eat
In a land that has perfected grilling wonderfully tasty cuts of beef, Buenos Aires is known for its carnivorous pleasures. Parrillas (steakhouses) sit on practically every street corner and offer up numerous cuts. Your best bet for steak with local character is in the San Telmo neighbourhood. Don’t forget to pair it with a glass of outstanding Argentine Malbec – the perfect accompaniment! Here are a few other places to try:
Café San Juan
Run by celebrity TV chef Leandro Cristóbal, the food here is scrumdiddlyumptious! If you enjoy your seafood, this is the place to be. Start with some fabulous tapas, then jump straight into the grilled Spanish octopus or the delicious pork bondiola. If you can’t get a table here, try the sister venue, Café San Juan La Cantina, located just a few blocks away with a different menu.
Simple, spicy Peruvian food at affordable prices… what’s not to love? It’s popular at lunch time with the local office workers, but has relatively quick service, so don’t let the bustle put you off. Help the food along with a pisco sour or a pitcher of chichi morada (a sweet, corn-based drink).
A wildly popular Armenian restaurant in the trendy neighbourhood of Palermo, it’s cheap, the servings are abundant and the food is simply wonderful! We recommend bucking the Buenos Aires tradition and arriving nice and early so you don’t have to wait for a table. The idea is to order a number of dishes to share – a good introductory combination is hommus, marinated eggplant, stuffed pear leaves, felafel and kefte (spiced meat rolls), but there are plenty to choose from, so mix and match to your tastes.
If you’re looking for serious fine dining, this restaurant offers a mind-bogglingly delicious epicurean experience, distilling the very essence of Argentina on every plate. There’s a story behind every ingredient and the staff take immense pleasure in explaining the intricacies of each dish. The wine pairings are absolute heaven, as well. It’s pricey, but if you want a meal that will absolutely hallmark your time in Buenos Aires paired with service that will make you feel like royalty, this is the place to go.
Your best bet at finding a good and affordable place to stay is Buenos Aires is to jump on Airbnb and look for a room in the neighbourhoods of Recoleta or Palermo – safe but close to the action! If you haven’t used Airbnb before, never fear, it is brilliant! Just make sure you read the reviews (there need to be at least three) before you book. You will be an Airbnb convert by the end of your trip!
The Poetry Building in Recoleta also comes highly recommended from a fellow globetrotter.
Image credits: Lonely Planet, Wikimedia (x2), Itinerarist, Blogspot, Virtual Tourist & Argentina Travel Blog