The Latino answer to New York, except with better food, friendlier locals and dancing in the streets, Buenos Aires is that kind of vibrant and stylish city everyone who visits dreams of moving to. As in, the day after they arrive. With her vast array of historic landmarks, gorgeous architecture, world-class museums, art galleries, shopping and dining options, Buenos Aires will have you at first glance.
So whatever you do, don’t make your visit a fleeting one. This is not a city you want to rush through.
Overview of Buenos Aires, Argentina
A thriving metropolis of almost 3 million people, and one of the most prominent gateways into Latin America, Buenos Aires is one of the most enjoyable, avant-garde and captivating cities in the entire continent. But it can also be a very intimidating city, especially for first-time visitors. Luckily, although this is a sprawling and at-times chaotic city, there are just a handful of suburbs or barrios (out of the 48 that make up the capital) which hold interest to visitors, so finding your bearings and getting around is easier than it may seem.
Here’s an overview of the most popular suburbs to stay in Buenos Aires:
Microcentro (Downtown) – Calle Florida is the city’s main pedestrian luxury shopping strip in the centre and although it doesn’t necessarily showcase the uniqueness of the city (you’ll have to hit the markets of San Telmo, Recoleta and Palermo for that) it still manages to attract every single tourist who comes to town. But that’s probably because downtown boasts the most celebrated landmarks in all of Buenos Aires, like the impressive Obelisk, world-famous Teatro Colón, and historic Casa Rosada – Eva Peron’s favourite stage – as well as Plaza de Mayo, the main city square. Crazy busy by day and quiet at night, Downtown fits sightseers who don’t mind taking taxis to reach more happening suburbs in the evening.
San Telmo – the most historic quarter of the city is also its most romantic, with cobblestone streets, faroles (traditional candle street lights) and beautifully restored old mansions lending an immensely charismatic, old-world feel. Gentrified in recent years, San Telmo now boasts boutique hotels, hostels and B&Bs, as well as trendy boutiques and art galleries that attract weekend crowds in droves. Most meet up in Plaza Dorrego to peruse the wares of its legendary flea market. San Telmo is the famed birthplace of the tango and the whole neighbourhood is awash with tango bars which spring to life of an evening. If you like your evenings to be as busy as your days then this is the barrio for you.
Recoleta – stunning colonial mansions, grand plazas and wide, tree-lined avenues define this stylish barrio, home of the most famous cemetery in the whole continent, along with swanky hotels and world-class restaurants. Centrally located and offering all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a modern city, not to mention easy access to every corner of the city and a lot of nearby attractions, Recoleta is a good choice for first-time visitors looking for luxury.
Barrio Norte – a hybrid between Microcentro and Recoleta, this barrio right next to the latter offers the best of both worlds. Whilst local real estate agents would insist that this is, in fact, all part of Recoleta, lower prices and a less upmarket feel say otherwise. A flourishing hood with good metro connection, Barrio Norte is a great option if you like the sound of Recoleta but wish to spend less, yet still have the fantastic strolling, dining and shopping options of a thriving centre.
Palermo – a collection of four distinct areas in one (Palermo Viejo, Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho and Palermo Chico) this is one of the trendiest areas of the city. With its large green open spaces, parks, lakes and forests, it is one of the most popular weekend destinations for locals looking to get away from the chaos of the city centre. With a wicked nightlife and plenty of hip bars and clubs, and a high concentration of accommodation choices in Viejo, Palermo is a great option if you like to go for a stroll and a drink near your hotel after dark.
Puerto Madero – this is Buenos Aires’ newest upscale neighbourhood and, although you’ll certainly find a lot of luxury and comfort here, you will miss out on the more traditional atmosphere of Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, the gentrification of this dock area is not exactly unattractive, and with plenty of dining options and breathtaking sunsets, Puerto Madero is certainly a gorgeous place to stay.
Every suburb of Buenos Aires boasts its own history and intrigue and although there are plenty more barrios to discover you’d do well to stay in one of the above-mentioned established areas, where tourist infrastructure and safety is quite spot on.
Buenos Aires’ Top Attractions
Those who have visited and fallen in love with Buenos Aires will attest to the city being all about experiences rather than landmarks. Have a read of our guide of top things to do in Buenos Aires to understand what we mean. Nevertheless, this is a city drenched in history and culture, so the list of sightseeing attractions is both extensive and impressive.
Here are the city’s top attractions in Buenos Aires you really shouldn’t miss:
Plaza de Mayo
The heart and soul of Argentina’s political life for over two centuries, Plaza de Mayo is the epicentre of Downtown and, for many locals, represents the city’s most hopeful and painful memorial. It was here that the revolution for independence started in 1810, and here that mothers of the Desaparecidos congregated every week for over three decades to demand news of their missing children, alleged victims of the brutal military junta which ruled the country in the 1970s and early 1980s. Framing the plaza are the most important landmarks in the city – if not the whole country – including the former seat of the colonial-era government (Cabildo), the Metropolitan Cathedral (from where the current Pope hails) and Casa Rosada, the current Government House.
Erected to commemorate the 400th birthday of the city, the Obelisk on the corner of 9 de Julio and Corrientes is quite impossible to miss, even if you tried. It rises 68 metres into the air and has become a symbol of pride and patriotism. Along with Plaza de Mayo, this is the one place locals congregate to either protest or celebrate, things they tend to do quite regularly.
Not just your everyday cemetery, the Recoleta necropolis has become a bona-fide tourist attraction, with the graves of the most prominent Argentinian politicians and figures of the last two centuries buried here, including former First Lady, Eva Peron. The intricately carved artsy marble mausoleums have made Recoleta famous the world over and led to it being ranked among the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.
Until Sydney celebrated the opening of its famous Opera House, Teatro Colon was the world’s largest opera theatre and is a historic venue held in the highest of esteems since it was first built in 1908, thanks to its sublime acoustics. Yet a visit is worthwhile even if you can’t manage to nab tickets to a performance. The eclectic and opulent architecture, and the extensive restoration work, make this a totally stunning feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Guided tours are highly recommended.
La Boca’s iconic colourful street is arguably one of the most photographed in the whole city and although nowadays it’s littered with overly-touristy stalls selling kitsch souvenirs, it still remains a delightful place to visit, at least once.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
It may seem a travesty that the most prestigious fine art museum in the city be housed in a renovated former drainage pump station, but if that doesn’t explain the evolution of Buenos Aires then nothing else does. An impressive collection of fine art by Argentinian and European artists are spread out over three floors and 30 halls, with prominent works by Manet, Picasso and Rembrandt helping cement the museum’s reputation as South America’s ‘Louvre’. Entry is free (crazy but true) but do spend a few dollars on an audio guide as inscriptions are only in Spanish.
Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo
The city is brimming with fantastic weekend markets but the one you really shouldn’t miss is the one held in Plaza Dorrego on Sundays. Locals have been trading here for over three centuries, and although modern trend dictates wares be mostly of the antique kind (as opposed to the more traditional market goodies of meat, fruits and vegetables) the historic ambience remains the same. Outdoor cafes and impromptu tango performances make this an absolutely lovely place to just ‘hang out’, as youngsters say, all day long.
Best Time to Visit Buenos Aires
The best months for visiting beautiful Buenos Aires are during the southern spring, between September and November (when jacarandas bring the city to life) and in autumn, during March, April and May. Having said that, your visit should be planned primarily around the activities in which you wish to partake in Argentina. If you’re here for the exceptional skiing on the southern slopes, then you’ll want to book your trip for July and August. If the only time you can take off is during the Christmas-break, then you’ll find a surprisingly peaceful Buenos Aires. Locals enjoy their summer break at seaside locations like Mar del Plata, leaving the somewhat sweltering city with a quiet atmosphere.
The first two months of the year tend to be the busiest and most expensive, as international crowds descend on the Argentinian capital, on their way to a host of other destinations all over the continent. If you’re after the quietest months to visit, then you ought to consider July and August, in the heart of winter. While temps may be low there’s usually still plenty of sunshine, and the lack of crowds and lower prices for just about everything can more than make up for the chill in the air.
Best Way to Visit Buenos Aires
Although many visitors reach Buenos Aires overland from neighbouring countries, the great majority will first set foot in Argentina through the city’s main transport hub, the Ezeiza International Airport. This is one of Latin America’s busiest airports and is serviced by all major international airlines connecting passengers to all major cities in Europe, North America and Australia. The most convenient direct flights are from London, Madrid, Paris and Rome in Europe, New York, Chicago and Miami in the US, as well as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia via Auckland (great for New Zealanders) and via a stop-over in Santiago, Chile.
The Ideal Springboard for More South American Adventures
Throw a dart blindfolded at a map of South America and it’s highly likely there’ll be a direct flight there from Buenos Aires. From awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls to the wine-drenched region of Mendoza and the glacier-filled horizons of Patagonia, Argentina’s most celebrated highlights shine like a beckoning beacon from the departure hall of Buenos Aires’ airport. And if you have more than just two weeks up your sleeve, then the world is your oyster. From here, you can catch direct flights to all major South American capitals, including Santiago, Lima and Rio de Janeiro, with each option opening up an even wider world of travel possibilities.
As both a destination in its own right and a fantastic springboard for greater explorations of South America, Buenos Aires is one of the most coveted travel hubs in the world. We can help you plan an unforgettable adventure in the Argentinian capital as well as an extended, once-in-a-lifetime tour to experience the best highlights in the whole continent. So check out all our Buenos Aires tours options and contact us for further info.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”