Buenos Aires is one of those cities that everyone knows of but not many people know a lot about. It is absolutely enormous, the wider province being home to 17 million people. It is also a city of immigrants, and it shows in everything from its cuisine to its architecture, with Spanish, French, Italian and even British influence all very apparent. It is the gateway to Argentina and one of the principal hubs of Latin America, so you have absolutely no excuse not to go. Here’s how:
You can fly direct to Buenos Aires from pretty much all the major European and American hubs, it is a very well connected city. Within Latin America, you can also take long distance buses from all over the place into the Retiro bus station. Internal flights within Argentina are very expensive, especially for foreigners, so buses are often the best option. I should note, however, that Retiro is not for the faint-hearted. It is colossal, roasting hot in summer, dirty and chaotic. Also, the food is a rip off. If you get a bus from there, buy your journey provisions in advance. Lastly, give yourself plenty of time to find your bus. There are over 150 departure gates at Retiro, very few announcements and the information boards are more decorative than useful. You do not want to be running for a bus here.
As already stated, BA is absolutely colossal. Luckily public transport is very efficient and very cheap, if at times a bit confusing. There is an extensive metro system, an overground train network and shed loads of buses. The city’s public transport is linked with Google Maps, and there’s a great website/app called Como Llego which tells you how to get from one place to another.
All public transport is paid for with a SUBE card, which is essentially an Oyster card. It costs you ARG$25, but you can go to -$20 credit so it actually only really costs you $5. Each journey on the subway cost $7.50, the trains and buses slightly less. At the time of writing there are ARG$19 to one pound. On the subject of SUBE cards, don’t get rid of it when you leave. If you are heading to Bariloche you can use the card there too, and if you throw it away it will set you back a scandalous ARG$35 in the mountains.
As you would expect, the options in BA are completely endless. Most people stay in one of three areas: Palermo Viejo, Recoleta or in the Microcentro. The reason for this is pretty simple – this is where most of the tourist attractions are. We actually stayed a little further out in an Airbnb in Colegiales. I can’t recommend this place enough, our room was brilliant and our hosts were lovely, the neighbourhood was beautiful and very safe, plus they had a dog, a kitten and a swimming pool. What’s not to love? Sign up here for discount off your first booking.
There is so much to do in BA, suiting every taste. I’m not going to copy and paste the Trip Advisor top tens, so here is what we did by district, plus a few other options:
- Palermo – Check out the beautiful parks, the zoo, the Japanese Gardens and the Botanical gardens. South of these in Palermo Soho, there are hipster bars, boutique shops, restaurants and clubs ranging from traditional tango outfits to all night raves. Pretty much everything you could want from a city in one little (or not) district. On the subject of tango, no visit to BA is complete without taking some in. We found the best way to be to go to a Milonga, a dance night for locals, sometimes including a class, then a show at the end. Visit https://www.hoy-milonga.com/buenos-aires/es for a list of milongas by day. And try not to be scared.
- Recoleta – Next to Palermo, and walkable. Here you can see the famous Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Floralis Genérica (which is essentially a giant, steel flower but it’s definitely worth a look), as well as more parks and squares than you can shake a stick at. Also next to the Cemetery is a craft market, where you can pick up local artwork, souvenirs and clothing. Admittedly it is aimed at tourists and almost certainly ripping you off, but you can get some nice stuff there. There is often live music on the grass next to the cemetery too around sunset.
- Microcentro – although this isn’t so “micro.” The historical centre of BA, the seat of government and home to its most beautiful architecture as well as its most famous monuments. A walking tour, starting at Plaza Mayo and taking in Avenida de Mayo, Palacio Parolo, the Congresso building, Obelisco and the Colon Theatre, among many other architectural gems, is a great way to spend anything from a few hours to a whole day, depending on your pace. Be warned though, BA gets HOT in the summer so don’t plan on doing too much too fast.
- La Boca – in the South of the city, this bustling neighbourhood is much more authentically Argentine. It is much rougher round the edges than the previous three, and it’s not somewhere you want to be after dark, but go to see the famous La Bombonera stadium or the Caminito beautiful coloured houses. A note on getting Boca Juniors tickets, it is nigh on impossible, as pretty much every seat in the house is accounted for by season ticket holders. You might find it easier to get tickets to a River Plate game if you really want to take in some Argentine futbol.
- Puerto Madero – Not a must-see, but a nice neighbourhood nonetheless. A former industrial barrio redeveloped into a Mecca of glass and steel, go here if high dining and sleek bars are your thing. Home to Buenos Aires’ new street racing circuit where they host a Formula E race every year.
Food and Drink
There are just a few things that you have to try when you get to BA. Argentine cuisine is very different (and arguably more varied) to the rest of Latin America, thanks to its mass of immigration from all over Europe. Specialities include:
- Parrilla, literally means grill. They tend to be cheap and cook insanely good meat, beef of course being the preference. Ask where you are staying for a good local one, they are everywhere throughout the city.
- Argentines, and particularly Porteños (according to Wikipedia this is the collective noun for folk from Buenos Aires) are fiercely proud of their pizza. Not as deep as a Chicago pizza, not as rustic as an Italian and not as thin as a New Yorker, they tend to be quite thick, topped with simple combinations and lots of cheese. There is a list of good pizzerias dotted around the city here (https://www.gringoinbuenosaires.com/best-pizza-in-buenos-aires/). A survival tip: do not insult Argentine Pizza in Buenos Aires, unless you fancy being on the receiving end of a verbal and potentially physical ear-bashing.
- Ok, you know what Empanadas are, but they are everywhere in BA. The city practically runs on these little Cornish Pasty-like delicacies. People buy them in boxes of twelve, presumably to share with their families but honestly I wouldn’t blame them if they ate the full dozen. Don’t pay more than $10-15 for one if you can help it. Very tasty.
- Drink all the wine. Fantastic and affordable, it is often cheaper than water or soft drinks. Malbec is the Argentine speciality.