Things to do in Buenos Aires
This is my second visit to Buenos Aires, almost exactly one year time difference and I’ve once again found myself staying here longer than anticipated. For sure the hitchhiking to Brazil for the World Cup begins tomorrow at the crack of dawn — or maybe earlier. In the meantime, it’s time to do a post of things to do in Buenos Aires which I hope won’t be too boring or unoriginal. The city is well loved by many travelers and has been pretty thoroughly canvassed, but there’s always something new to discover here and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I visit.
Explore the Neighborhoods
One of the most touristed areas in the city is the swankiest part of town, Recoleta. I’ve stayed here twice now because an former USC roommate lives here with her family. It’s home to a myriad of fancy shops, large and beautiful mansions, and the Cementerio De La Recoleta. I don’t know why people love cemeteries so much, but they do and I guess I’m also partial for the old tombstones and mausoleums, especially the ones that are breaking down (the ones in Recoleta are very well kept). If you come here on the weekend there’s a craft fair that you can pick up all sorts of artisan goods like matés, leather crafts, paintings, and so on. Make sure you also check out the Museum of Fine Arts because it’s free and has some magnificent paintings, including pieces from Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, and important Argentine painters. I was invited to the opening of a temporary Fernando Botero exhibit here last year which came with the bonus of free wine. You can also check out the Cultural Center, watch tango dancers on the street, and eat ice cream (which you should do whenever you can in BsAs).
You can stop by the oldest neighborhood in the city any time of the week, but Sundays are the busiest and probably the best because of the famous Feria de Antigüedades with about 10,000 visitors every week. During the weekdays it’s relatively quiet in the street of San Telmo, but it’s buzzing in the evening with a lively restaurant and bar scene. If you walk down the main street, Defensa, you’ll hit a number of shops and the Plaza Dorrego where you can have a drink and watch more tango. There’s a some important old buildings in this neighborhood including the former Argentine National Library, a Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and the Nuestra Señora de Belén Church. For art fanciers make sure to check out the MACBA and MAMBA Museums of Contemporary and Modern art, respectively, or just wander the streets for an excellent selection of graffiti.
Palermo is another one of the fancier districts in town and it’s separated into several subdivisions, all with their own appeal, including Palermo Viejo, Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Chico/Barrio Parque, Palermo Nuevo & Zoolólogico, Las Cañita and La Imprenta. If you are looking for shopping outlets, Palermo is definitely the place to go. The Museum of Latin America Art (MALBA) is worth a visit along the Paseo Alcorta. There’s also plenty of street art to be found wandering around the area and, of course, a dizzying number or restaurants, bars, and clubs. The parts that are quiet during the day are crowded all night long into the early morning hours and if you’re looking to party in BsAs this is where you should consider looking, particularly Palermo Hollywood.
Historic Center & Microcentro
Take a stroll around Plaza 25 de Mayo, see the Casa Rosada, visit the Manzana de las Luces and the market for the oldest buildings in the city, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Teatro Colon. Walking from the plaza up Avenida de Mayo to Congress will take you past all the old and important buildings. The microcentro is the financial/commercial district and basically impossible to miss. There’s a virtual river of people going up and down the main shopping stretch Av Florida all day, with money changers yelling ‘cambio’ and lots of people selling crafts.
Unfortunately anyone and everyone who lives in Buenos Aires will tell you that La Boca is a dangerous place to go so I didn’t venture into the parts that I would have liked to explore. The safe place is, of course, the tourist magnet of El Caminito — the colorfully painted street created by Argentine artist Benito Quinquela Martín. This area is perfectly safe and bustling with tourists, tango dancers, and restaurants. It’s a cool aesthetic and fun to visit, but I found the place a bit to catered to tourists for my taste. You can also visit the Boca Juniors stadium La Bombonera nearby and booking a tour is probably the best thing to do. There’s also a modern art museum called Fundación Proa which is very good and right at the entrance of the Caminito.
Food & Drinks
I’m not going to write anything about this… I think we all know it’s famous, making BsAs a strange place for a vegetarian. Last year I did try the asado–cooked in the ground and everything–on the estancia my friend and I were living on and it was delicious.
Italian Flavors & Pizza
If you don’t know it before you come, you’ll figure it out soon, Argentina is famous for its Italian food. The ancestry of the Argentines has led to pizza shops on every street and restaurants serving artisan pasta. They love it here and you should too! Who cares if it’s full of carbs… supposedly the best pizza is Guerrín on Av. Corrientes. I didn’t stop by this year, but I remember it was really good and really crowded.
Gelato & Ice Cream
Every time I walk by a McDonalds in Bs. As. and see people ordering those McFlurry cones I want to cry. Argentina is home to some of the best ice cream and gelato in the world! This time around I learned it’s actually a recent (like last 20 years phenomenon) and the tiny street carts have moved into fancy shops. There’s the big chains like Freddo, Persicco, and Volta. On Mondays nearly every ice cream shop has a promotion and my friend Hannah and I indulged in 2 kilos for 100 pesos probably way too many times. I wanted to try every single shop, but there’s too many and all of them a really quite good. This time my favorite was Tufic (Guatemala 4597 in Palermo)… they had all their flavors out in a mouth watering presentation and were super friendly. Another note about ice cream places — free WiFi and Freddo/Volta both have open networks.
Argentines are great at making empanadas and they’re a good snack for 10-12 pesos. As a vegetarian I’m sort of limited on the ones I can try except at this one called Casa de Nonna that has a whole line of ‘health’ empanadas — spinach/quinoa/mushrooms/etc. Look for shops specially dedicated to making only empanadas, those are the best ones and I’ve had several good humitas, vegetable, tomato/cheese, mushroom ones.
Get some Argentinian to offer you this drink or buy one a maté for yourself and make it. It’s kind of like a tea, but stronger and you’ll see people carrying their thermos around. They drink it everywhere…
Drink it. Lots of it. And if you really want to cream of the crop go for selections from Mendoza or Bariloche. We had a whole line of wines from the Rio Negro region we served at the estancia in Bariloche.
Party Like an Porteño
You’re not very likely to find any other place in the world that can throw a party like Buenos Aires. When people eat dinner at nine or ten in the evening you really can’t expect to go out until midnight. If you’re in the mood for the club scene or a dance party, you’ll have plenty of options in Palermo Hollywood or San Telmo. Stay up all night listening to traditional music at a peña while drinking wine and gorging yourself on pizza, calzones, and empanadas. To really get the full experience, I’d say partying till the sun comes up is the way to go… that’s kind of the whole point of a city that never sleeps–honestly the number of people out on the streets or on the bus at 3-6am is like anywhere else 9pm-12am.
Hang Out in the Park or a Plaza
One of the nicest things about BsAs is how green it is, there’s plenty of parks and plazas and even a Japanese Garden to check out. I suggest walking up the length of Avenida Libertadores at least once. Between the Museum of Fine Arts in Recoleta up to Plaza Italia, you’ll go through one green space after another. On the weekends the parks are absolutely teeming with locals on bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, or just walking around. I spent a lot of time talking to a group of old men playing the Argentine version of the card game truco, trying to get them to explain it so I could figure out the difference between that and the Brazilian version I learned. You can bring food or buy something off a vendor in the park and have yourself a nice little picnic or feed the ducks at one of the lakes.
Football, Art, Tango
They aren’t really related, but I’m putting them together anyway. Check out tango in one of the neighborhoods, if I come here and stay any longer I might have to. See if you can catch a football game… I haven’t yet, but I saw one of their crazy parades. Look for art in the museums, in one of the many galleries, or right out on the street — the city has lots to offer.
Wander the Streets
I’m a big fan of walking around and there’s some streets in Buenos Aires that are worth the experience. Av. Corrientes is one of the more famous ones — street art, lots of bookstores, theaters, eateries (very Buenos Aires). Taking the giant Av. 9 de Julio down to the obelisk and the diagonal to Plaza 25 de Mayo is also interesting.
Read at El Ateneo Bookstore
The person who decided to make this bookstore was amazing… it’s by Av. Callao/Santa Fe.
Learn How to Use the Bus/Metro/Bike
There extensive bus and metro network–SUBE & SUBTE–that can take you anywhere you want to go into the city. Maybe you’ve noticed that google maps doesn’t have a public transport button for BsAs, but if you can use the Mapa Interactivo website that locals use to get directions. There’s usually 5-10 different transportation possibilities for every journey. Most the bus stops also say which areas they are servicing and you can just hop on a bus and say where you are going and the bus driver will tell you which number you should look for. The most important thing to do is buy a SUBE card because it will cut the cost in half (1.50-2.70 instead of 5) and you won’t have to constantly search for pesos coins which are hard to come by. If you’re in a group you can charge multiple rides to the same card. It’s 20 pesos for the card and then you can recharge it. I still can’t figure out why you have to go to different places to buy the card and another to sell, but it’s pretty well advertised on the kiosks and they’ll certainly know if you ask.
The city government has actually decided there are too many buses here so, in an effort to ease up the crowding, they’ve installed a system of free bikes. You can pick up a bike at any of the stations as long as you present your passport and a copy. After that you’ll be able to take the bike out for a spin along the network of bikes paths. Just remember that this is South America and people are even less likely to follow traffic rules here than in places like the U.S. so you need to be careful!