Buenos Aires is a place of charming contradictions.
Sometimes known as the “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere,” this elegant Latin city holds tight to its European roots while proudly putting forth a new generation of artists and tastemakers.
In the neighborhood of San Telmo, cobbled streets lead through dark alleys painted with political murals. On the other side of town, Palermo and Recoleta’s opulent gated mansions rise above top-tier boutiques. With a population of almost three million (more than 10 million if you count the surrounding metro areas), Argentina’s capital city has something for everyone.
In 2009, the vibrant arts (and expatriate) scene drew me to Buenos Aires. Although the beautiful city kept my heart (and my rent money) for three years, it’s possible to experience it like a local in far less time than that. Keep reading for a quick-yet-all-encompassing guide.
Buenos Aires is enormous, but can be navigated fairly easy by taxi, public transportation, or bicycle (for the brave). In the north of the city, the posh Palermo and Recoleta neighborhoods are home to excellent shopping and chic cafes. Be sure to see highlights like Barrio Norte and Recoleta Cemetery as you check out the impressive architecture along with some of the city’s loveliest green spaces.
Further south are the more “colorful” (literally and figuratively) neighborhoods of San Telmo, Puerto Madero, and La Boca. Seeing a soccer match at La Boca is an experience no sports fan should miss, though it might be wise to do so on a guided tour — crime is still something to be aware of.
Insider tips from local Intrepid guides Alberto Gaitan and Juan Sanchez:
Visit the Gaucho Market in Mataderos (open only on Sundays) for gaucho items such as clothes, boots and typical food. It’s in Matadero neighborhood, 35 minutes from downtown by taxi.
Also head to Centro Cultural Kirchner at weekends. They have a variety of cultural activities including tango music and dancing, operas and concerts. It’s free of charge, you just need to get admission tickets in advance to ensure your place.
For daytime dining, check out the Lab Café in Palermo Hollywood. The modern, trendy spot is a nice place to while away a couple hours on your laptop. For the best French pastries in town, head to one of L’épi Boulangerie’s three locations (in the Belgrano, Recoleta, or Villa Ortúzar neighborhoods) and try an almond croissant or some pan de campo from the 100-year-old wood oven. On Callao, the traditional café bar Los Galgos traditional serves some of the best coffee in the city, until 7pm when the cocktails start flowing.
At night, you can’t go wrong at Paladar, a trendy closed-door restaurant that serves Eastern-inspired food to the city’s chicest inhabitants. For something much more casual, pop into the standing-room-only Pizzeria Las Cuartetas in San Telmo for the best fugazzeta (onion and cheese pizza). Locals love Sarkis, a popular family-run Armenian restaurant. (Opt for take-out to skip the inevitable long lines.)
Food and drink tips from local Intrepid guides Alberto Gaitan and Juan Sanchez:
For amazing BBQ, go to Gran Parrilla del Plata. It has a nice environment and is good quality but is half the price of some similar spots in Palermo and Puerto Madero. Alternatively, head to El Establo for homemade Argentinian food (try the empanadas!). After, go to El Federal, a typical Argentinian bar, for a beer or two.
For lovers of the arts, Buenos Aires is a dream destination. The famous Teatro Colón, considered to be one of the top three opera houses in the world, offers guided tours in addition to live shows. The Nestor Kirchner Cultural Center is the largest in Latin America, with a correspondingly large calendar of events.
To start off an evening out, head to the Sky Bar in the Hotel Pulitzer for the view over the city at sunset. Bar Presidente has some of the best cocktails in town, and a relaxed ‘speakeasy’ vibe. The posh Jet Lounge is one of the city’s top nightclubs — be sure to dress accordingly.
No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without experiencing tango in some form. The sensuous dance is quintessentially Argentine, and visitors to the city can take in a professional show or even participate by attending a milonga. For a traditional dinner show, visit Cafe de los Angelitos or Esquina Carlos Gardel. Those wanting to participate in the dance should check out the outdoor milonga at La Glorieta de Belgrano when the weather is nice — this is where the locals dance. Many milongas offer lessons for all levels of experience before the dancing begins (lessons are usually around 8pm, and the real dancing can start as late as 10pm).
Tango tips from local Intrepid guides Alberto Gaitan and Juan Sanchez:
If you are looking for something flashy (a big band, great costumes, amazing dancers and a nice dinner with free drinks while you are watching), go to Madero Tango or Piazzolla Tango. Both are around $150.
For a much cheaper option (under $40) that has just as good dancers and musicians but is less fancy, Café Tortoni is a great option. Dinner is not included but you sit at a table and can order food from a menu. There are two shows per night and they sell out pretty fast.
Buenos Aires has some of the best shopping in Latin America. From the highbrow to the street, there’s fashion to be found everywhere — and window shopping is just as rewarding as spending money.
It’s worth taking a trip to the Galeria Guemes shopping mall just to see the roof mirador (skylight). The Mercado Bonpland is a former traditional mercado de barrio that’s been updated to a little market selling organic and fair-trade treats. La Nueva Casa Japonesa has authentic Japanese fare as well as a miniature market filled with Japanese food and bazar goodies.
Attending the Mercado de San Telmo is also a wonderful way to spend a Sunday. Indoor and outdoor stalls have interesting antiques and artisan-made goods, and dancers and buskers make the atmosphere lively.
Ready to experience this lively city? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Argentina.