Buenos Aires is one of those cities which simply can’t be ‘done’ in just a few days. In all honesty, you could live here for years and still not get the feeling that you’ve even scratched the surface. Nevertheless, your mission (one you should definitely accept) is to taste a little of all this incredible city, culture and country has to offer. No matter how long or short your visit is, make sure to include a few of the following:
Join a bike tour
Getting your bearings in a city as sprawling and chaotic as Buenos Aires may seem a little daunting at first, so finding a nifty way to get your orientation should be rated as a top priority. Join a bicycle tour of the city’s most prominent attractions and you can be privy to a side of Buenos Aires you would otherwise never discover on your own. Take advantage of the wide boulevards, grid-like town planning and knowledgeable English-speaking guides and you could have an epic introduction to this glorious metropolis.
Biking Buenos Aires is the most respected tour operator in town and offers fun and informative 7 hour-long tours to all who want to dive straight into the culture and history of this incredibly enticing city. Ideal for those who are short on time, BBA offer small group tours, infectiously friendly guides and a wealth of informative commentary. Don’t go at it alone on your first day; join an organized tour and learn how to tackle Buenos Aires head on!
Get swept up in tango fever
The sensual tango is one of the most distinctive aspects of Argentine culture and we can guarantee that you won’t go a few minutes in the city without catching a glimpse of a couple swirling about along a sidewalk, in a park or on a restaurant dance floor. Whether it’s a star-studded show you want to catch, or are daring enough to join novice dancers in a milonga class, absorbing Buenos Aires’ tango scene is a nearly impossible experience to avoid. Be part of the action or admire in awe, but whatever you do…don’t miss it!
Go on an architectural crawl
The architecture in Buenos Aires is interesting, grandiose and awe-inspiring and, although you’re bound to come across plenty of grand colonial palaces during your days’ explorations, it’s worthwhile to spend a few hours dedicated to admiring the most beautiful buildings in town.
The most poignant aspect of the city’s architecture is the fact that it is so incredibly eclectic. In Buenos Aires you’ll find neoclassical splendours, Gothic masterpieces and colourful shacks, along with futuristic-looking skyscrapers, all within walking distance to each other.
Highlighting the fusion of historical and cultural influences the country enjoyed for centuries, gems like the famed Teatro Colón, the Pink House, the Palacio Barolo and the art-deco Kavanagh’s Building (and just about every building in Recoleta and San Telmo) ought to more than satisfy the most discerning architecture aficionados.
Support the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
It is widely believed that during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983) over 30,000 young people were murdered under the brutal reign of a military dictatorship hell bent on destroying any kind of political dissent. Young activists were literally plucked off the street and tortured before being disposed of in the most atrocious and secretive ways. Thirty years later a group of mothers, who actually defied the government in the 70s to protest, are still holding vigils opposite the Presidential Palace in Plaza de Mayo every week. The spectacle is one of the most heartbreaking scenes one could witness, with most women holding photos of their young ‘desaparecidos’ (meaning ‘disappeared’) handing out flyers and giving speeches on the importance of political, social and personal freedoms.
Although the organization officially disbanded in 2006, there is still a substantial amount who incessantly turn up every week to hold a vigil. Head to the Plaza on any Thursday at around 3pm and admire the unrelenting strength, courage and resilience of mothers of are still, after almost three decades, looking for answers.
Channel your inner Evita
Eva Peron, or Evita is she is most commonly known, is Argentina’s most famous political figure and touted to be the most revered female politician in world’s history even though, ironically, she never actually held a political position of any sort. Most foreigners know of Evita mostly through a blockbuster Hollywood film starring Madonna, yet we suspect many more would be intrigued to learn all about this most emblematic figure in the Argentina’s history.
If you’re not too familiar with Evita’s life and achievements, we suggest you first head to the Eva Peron Museum to try to understand why Evita is not so much revered here, as held in a near-sacrosanct pedestal. Next, head to the Presidential Palace in Plaza de Mayo where we know you’ll be dying to stand outside the famed pink balcony and belt out a verse of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’. (The Casa Rosada (Pink House) is open to the public on week-ends and free guided English-speaking tours are offered to visiting tourists.)
When your palace tour and musical rendition is over, you can visit Evita’s grave at the Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of not only Argentina’s former First Lady but also some of the country’s most famous personalities.
Shop, shop, shop!
Once you’ve got some historical, political and cultural enlightenment under your belt, you may be ready to get stuck into one of Buenos Aires’ most beloved activities: shopping! The city offers the dedicated shopper a plethora of options: there are designer boutiques on Avenida Alvear, leather-made-everything shops in Calle Florida, craft markets near the Recoleta Cemetery, an antique fair in San Telmo and more than enough shopping malls and dedicated strips all across Microcentro and Palermo as well.
Whilst Buenos Aires was once known for offering the cheapest European brand designer clothing in the world, shoppers-in-the-know have long since recognized the absolute quality and uniqueness of locally crafted wears. Swap Gucci for Gadea or Dior for Dappiano when you visit Buenos Aires and you’ll take home some of the most divine creations in the fashion world.
Be part of street-life
It’s true that every city offers a long list of must-sees and must-dos, yet more often than not the best experiences are found just aimlessly wandering around one suburb or another. What we love most in Buenos Aires is the general atmosphere of barrios like San Telmo and the sheer vibrancy of the street life in and around the Microcentro. Some of the most characteristic scenes are found in just about every nook of the city. You can head to any park in town and you’ll encounter a whole army of morning dog-walkers holding half a dozen massive pooches in each hand, or spend hours admiring the talents of the many street performers in Palermo. Head to Calle Florida for an optimal spot of people watching all day long and don’t miss the impromptu tango shows locals put on at any given chance.
Feast like a beast!
Most people often state that it is just about impossible to have a bad meal in Argentina, although we could think of at least one group of people who would argue with that: vegetarians. If you’re a vegetarian then we’re afraid you’re not going to have a very delicious time in Argentina; if you’re a flexitarian however…now would be a good time to flex.
South Americans love their meat with a passion and none more so than Argys; tell any new-found friend in Buenos Aires that you’re vegetarian and don’t be surprised if they start laughing uncontrollably. Don’t take it personally! In most of South America vegetarianism is a foreign concept and, although there are a few restaurants in the capital which try to cater for un-cavernous eaters, the choices are still quite dismal.
Argentina is home to the best beef in the world and, on this, you’ll find very few people who would be willing to argue. Couple the bife with a wealth of external influences, due to the country’s massive influx of immigrants over the last century, and you’ll discover THE most diverse and incredibly delicious cuisines in all of South America. Workout your molars on a mouth-watering asado and parrillada, fill in the belly nooks with delectable empanadas, start your days with lots of crispy medialunas and, to be really porteño, carry around a thermos and mate cup wherever you go.
For that sweet hit, you obviously can’t walk past everything filled with dulce de leche; by far the most incredible caramel ever created out of a tin of condensed milk.
We almost need not even mention the wine in Buenos Aires…but we will. One of the world’s best producers of wine is indeed an absolute delight to explore, one taste bud at a time. Whether you buy a cask of wine from the local supermarket, go on a wine-bar crawl or confuse yourself with a wine-menu at all parrilladas (most boasting hundreds of local brands), savouring the best drops the country has to offer may just turn all your drinking notions upside down. Whoever said that great wine must be expensive has obviously never been to this neck of the woods.
Don’t forget to check out our Buenos Aires Eating Out guide for more invaluable foodie info!
Be a Gaucho for a day
If it were up to us, we’d highly urge everyone visiting Buenos Aires to rent a 4WD and camping equipment for a month and set off into the Argentinean pampas (lowlands). Gaucho-land is one of the most stunning spectacles in the entire continent and a vision we think everyone should experience at least once in life. But alas, we know that this may not be possible for everyone (sigh).
Do the next best thing when holidaying in Buenos Aires and join a day trip to an estancia, for an incredible chance to be a gaucho for a day. Your options here are almost limitless, with a wide range of ranches set up for tourism just a couple of hours out of the capital city. You could either source out some personal recommendations (always a good bet) or pick from one of the most popular estancias like Los Dos Hermanos or book through an agency like Camino Pampa who will include a few side-stops in picturesque little towns along the way. What you will always find included is an incredible grilled parrillada lunch, more than a few glasses of superb red wine and, of course, a splendid show of horsemanship.
Go futbol loco!
It’s no secret that South Americans are just nuts about their football and, if you know anything at all about the game, then you’ll know that Buenos Aires was the home and birthplace of one of the games’ most legendary and controversial stars: Diego Armando Maradona.
To catch a little of that football fever you can’t go past watching a match at Buenos Aires’ La Bombonera Stadium, home of the world famous Boca Juniors. Whilst sourcing out tickets and going on your own is merely time consuming and a bit of a hassle (but possible), most tourists tend to take the easy option and book through a reputable agency, usually one recommended by the hotel concierge. Doing likewise will ensure you have a bilingual guide with you at all times (who can tell where to sit and where not to sit) and a private transfer to the stadium, which is a rather invaluable aspect. Next, pack your camera and your loudest cheering voice and get swept up in the crazy action.
Cycling in BA, Beatrice Murch via Flickr
Street Tango, Viajesy Turismo via Flickr
Palacio Barolo, Beatrice Murch via Flickr
Mothers of Plaza de Mayo via Wiki
Grave of Evita, David Berkowitz via Flickr
Buenos Aires Outdoor Market, Phillie Casablanca via Flickr
Dog walkers, Jo Potts via Flickr
Parrilada, Sebastian Bassi via Flickr
Estancia, Mary Madigan via Flickr
Maradona graffiti, Rosino via Flickr