The European influence is palpable in the Argentinian capital known as the Paris of South America. Although it’s safe to say Buenos Aires is not quite as beautiful as its French counterpart, the city does a great job of preserving its heritage. Historic cafes and bookstores, among other cultural establishments receive tax breaks to stay in business, which creates a retro feel in some pockets. Nonetheless, I found a majority of the city to feel a bit sterile. Buenos Aires can’t match the chaos of other South American capitals nor the history or beauty of the European cities that its “new money” tried to emulate.
What Buenos Aires does have is fantastic restaurants for all budgets and it’s certainly one of the continent’s best food cities. There aren’t many must-visit attractions, but there are a variety of fantastic cultural experiences to be had. There are interactive dining experiences where you learn about asado culture, tango shows, drumming performances that turn into street parties, and soccer matches. The food and these fun ways to immerse yourself in the culture make Buenos Aires worth more than a few days of your time.
Is Buenos Aires Safe?
Buenos Aires falls into the same category as Quito, Ecuador when it comes to being safe. There’s nice architecture and nothing to make you feel unsafe, but at the same time, tourist robberies are not uncommon. The only place the average tourist goes with a bad safety reputation is La Boca.
This doesn’t mean you can’t go to this beautiful neighborhood, but don’t wander too far. I wandered away from the touristy part, only for a local to race across the street to tell me to not walk any further because it’s too dangerous. If you’re concerned about feeling safe in Buenos Aires, Palermo is the best neighborhood to stay in.
When to Visit
The best time to visit Buenos Aires is during the spring or fall. In the months of October-November and March-Abril the weather is pleasant and the crowds are thinner. During the peak months of December to February, it’s very hot and crowded with tourists. Also, many businesses take their vacations during these months, so the city doesn’t feel very energetic.
It’s a safe bet that you’ll be heading to Patagonia after visiting Buenos Aires. When planning your trip, keep in mind that the best time to visit Patagonia is not the best time to see northern Argentina.
Where to Exchange Money
Moneychanges who buy dollars, euros, and reals at the blue market rate line the streets of Calle Florida shouting “cambio”. Go inside the Galerie at 860 Calle Florida and ask around. A shop owner will point you to someone in the building who trades currency, and you won’t have to deal with people on the street. The exchange rates in Buenos Aires are the best in the country.
How to Get Around
Buenos Aires is a large city with attractions that are a 30+ minute drive apart. There’s no district to stay in that’s close to everything and walking will only get you so far. Cabify is the best ride-hailing app and be sure to pay with cash to take advantage of the blue dollar. The metro and bus lines are a very cheap and easy way to get around. With a SUBE card and the BA Como Llego app, you can navigate the public transportation efficiently.
*All prices are in USD due to Argentina’s high inflation*
What to Do
Visit La Boca – The city’s most colorful neighborhood is worth spending a few hours in to admire the architecture. The famous El Caminito street has restaurants with live tango shows at lunch. You’ll also notice many abandoned warehouses and run-down buildings, a sign of the economic times in Argentina. If you’re concerned about staying safe in La Boca, Buenos Aires Free Walks gives a tour of the neighborhood.
Feria San Telmo – A lively Sunday fair with crafts and the occasional food vendor lines the streets of San Telmo for nearly 2 km. San Telmo is the city’s bohemian neighborhood and it retains the feeling of a previous era. As sunset approaches, singers and drummers perform near Plaza Dorrego and small parties break out on the streets.
This was by far the most memorable part of Buenos Aires for me. Afterward, grab food and drinks at Mercado San Telmo or one of the many long-standing bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.
La Bomba de Tiempo – Every Monday night at the Ciudad Cultural Konex an improvised drumming performance takes place and it leads to the occasional after-show street party. The drinks are cheap and you’ll want to book your ticket in advance for $8.50 to avoid waiting in line.
Feria de Matadores – This Sunday fair is a showcase of food and crafts from different regions of the country. There are street food vendors, crafts for sale, and lots of dancing in the streets. The fair doesn’t take place during the summer months of January and February.
Recoleta Cemetery – This cemetery may be the best example of the Buenos Aires elite flaunting their money. Large mausoleums with imported marble mark the rows where over 6,000 people have been laid to rest. The most famous is Eva Perón, but her grave is rather modest. It’s free and not necessary to hire a guide, but you’ll want to do some research beforehand.
Museo Sitio de Memoria ESMA – This dark museum is evidence in an ongoing trial against the leaders of the military dictatorship that began in 1976. The building where the museum stands was the detention site for those deemed “opposition” to the government. The entrance is free.
Catedral Metropolitana – Pope Francis performed mass here as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the cathedral also has a mausoleum of José de San Martín, Argentina’s liberator. The entrance is free and it’s open everyday.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires has the most bookstores per capita of any city in the world and this former theater is the most famous.
Free Walking Tour – A great way to learn about the history of Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole. Buenos Aires Free Walks gives a great tour.
Holocaust Museum – Having already visited a few Holocaust museums around the world, I still learned a few things here. Some notable exhibits are the capture of Adolph Eichmann and Jewish immigration to the Americas. The entrance is free and there is an English audio guide.
Museo Evita – Eva Perón is Argentina’s most divisive political figure despite never holding office. The museum focuses on how she went from an actress to a hero of the lower class. The entrance is $3.75 and it’s closed on Mondays.
Casa Rosada – The pink presidential palace is most famous for the grandmothers who marched in the adjoining plaza every week. They demanded justice for their grandkids who went missing during the dictatorship but have stopped marching due to old age.
Get involved in Argentina’s football culture – Argentinians are very passionate about the sport and Buenos Aires has two of South America’s most successful teams. If you have the chance to go, attending a match is an incredible experience. If it’s out of season, you can visit the stadium and museum of either team. Boca’s museum has signs in English and a short highlight video of Maradona that was worth the $4.25 admission alone.
Barrio Chino – It pales in comparison to Lima’s Chinatown, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a quick visit.
Where to Eat
Fogón Asado – If you’re looking to splurge on a dinner, this is the place to do it. The guests sit at a bar around the kitchen and learn about the tradition of asado while sipping on bottomless wine. The seven-course menu is delicious and it’s a great opportunity to meet other travelers. Don Julio gets a lot of attention, but I’d rate Fogón Asado’s food and overall experience higher.
El Buen Libro – A takeaway sandwich shop that looks very simple, but always has a line out the door for their milanesa.
Pizzería Güerrin – This is one of the city’s most famous pizzerias and it 100% lived up to the hype. The menu has a wide variety of options including the traditional fugazetta. El Cuartito is another excellent choice.
Santos Manjares – A quality parrilla where you can get a steak and a glass of wine for $7 total.
Chori – A traditional choripan is simple. Chorizo, a bun, and chimichurri. Chori offers a variety of flavorful combinations like pineapple jalapeño choripan. The portions are small, but it sure is tasty.
Both El Hornero and La Cocina are wonderful options for empanadas. Argentina’s empanadas are far superior to those you will find in the rest of South America. They aren’t greasy, the dough isn’t flaky, and there are a variety of fillings.
Guolis Tribulanes – The chocolate covered alfajores are to die for.
Cadore – A delicious gelato shop perfect for a hot summer day.
Where to Stay
Malevo Muraña Hostel – Tucked away on a quiet and colorful street in Palermo, this hostel is one of my favorites. It has spacious air-conditioned dorms, a courtyard to enjoy your morning coffee, and a lively social atmosphere.
Rayuela Hostel Boutique – This cozy hostel with an awesome staff has a great location between San Telmo and the city center.
How Long to Stay
I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in Buenos Aires. The city is spread out and it’s hard to see a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a great place to get to know the culture and history of Argentina before heading off to see the country’s beautiful scenery.
Where to Next
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Córdoba (11 hours by bus) – An energetic student city that’s popular for a night out.
Puerto Iguazú (20-hour bus or 2-hour flight) – The Iguazù Falls are one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
Salta (2-hour flight) – A colonial city with one of the best museums in South America and lively folk music dinner parties.
Jujuy (2-hour flight) – Stunning high-altitude desert landscapes with multi-colored mountains and salt flats.
Ushuaia (3.5-hour flight) – The southernmost city in the world offers hiking and the chance to walk with penguins.
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