All the things to do in Buenos Aires to feel (a bit ) like a local
I love Buenos Aires. There are so many things to do in Buenos Aires that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough for me to go through them. So much I love it, that after having been there twice I realized that I could live there. I feel incredibly comfortable there – perhaps the fact that I speak Spanish fluently and that I can easily pass for Argentinian helps a bit (interestingly enough, the only other place where this regularly happens is Tel Aviv!). This is to say, I think visiting Argentina without taking the time to properly explore Buenos Aires (or Baires, as the Porteños call it) would take out from the overall experience of the country.
Buenos Aires is the beating heart of Argentina, not to mention its political, economic and cultural centre. It’s a city that offers a lot in terms of places to visit and activities. It’s as charming as the most beautiful European capitals (they even call it “the Paris of South America”), but it has that warm, welcoming vibe that only South American cities have. It’s easy to fall in love with it.
This is a city where old meets new – right next door: gorgeous colonial buildings sit right next to modern skyscrapers. There are some beautiful city parks, and so many museums. The large boulevards give way to tiny cobbled alleys. There are many cafés where the locals enjoy drinking coffee and eat medialunas (which are tiny croissants); there are a multitude of bars and clubs; milongas to practice tango; restaurants and budget eateries; boutiques and flea markets. And since Argentinians are literally obsessed with futból, the Bombonera is the ultimate place to enjoy a great football match.
Here’s a few more things to do in Buenos Aires that are fun, budget friendly and that, more than anything, can help in getting a good local feel.
Go for a walk
There are so many places to visit in Buenos Aires and some can’t be missed. Baires is huge, but with some good planning it is possible to visit it in a couple of days. I recommend to start exploring from Microcentro, the commercial heart of the city. This is where the trendy Porteños can be seen in the morning, all dressed up on their way to work or jumping from one business meeting to the other.
Not too far from Microcentro, Plaza de Mayo is another must see in Buenos Aires, not only because it is splendid, but also for its symbolic value. I am a former human rights lawyer, so to me visiting the square where the mothers of the desaparecidos – the victims of the Argentinian dictatorship – meet regularly to demand justice for the victims of the regime and to protest against the violations of human rights committed by the dictatorship was almost a rite of passage. I happened there during one of the demonstrations, and it was a touching, intense experience.
Right in front of Plaza de Mayo there are the beautiful Catedral Metropolitana and the Casa Rosada, one of the symbols of Buenos Aires! Casa Rosada is the seat of the Argentinian President, and the political heart of the city. There often are some interesting art exhibit in the garden, and during the summer months Porteños enjoy eating their lunch in the park right outside.
The most charming barrios of Buenos Aires are San Telmo and La Boca. The first used to be somewhat a posh area where the rich Porteños used to live but then, after an epidemic of yellow fever in 1870, they moved to Recoleta. In the last few years, it has become an incredibly popular place to hang out, packed with artists and bohémien. It is known for its Sunday antiques market and for the lively Feria de San Telmo (the local market).
I simply enjoy walking along its cobbled streets and admiring the beautiful colonial buildings. San Telmo is my favorite area to stay in Buenos Aires. It has a good local feel, there isn’t as much traffic as in Microcentro, and there are some of the best hotels in Buenos Aires.
La Boca, on the other hand, is a major tourist attraction with its colorful and iconic Caminito. Walking a bit more into it, there are some interesting finds too. Besides, La Boca is where the Bombonera, Boca Juniors impressive stadium, is located.
Another part of town I enjoy walking around is Recoleta. This is where the wealthy Porteños moved after the yellow fever epidemic of 1870. I particularly enjoy Avenida Alvear with its villas and shops. Recoleta is also home to the famous historic Cementerio de Recoleta, where lots of famous Argentinians are buried – first and foremost Evita Peron.
Palermo is a good place to hang out and walk around. It gets crowded on Sundays, when Porteños go to one of the many parks and they can be seen drinking their mate – a bitter infusion made of yerba mate which they love (they even take the thermos, mate and cup and bombilla, which is the straw they use to drink it, on their travels!). Personally I never acquired a taste for mate, but I will be glad to give it another try next time I go to Argentina. In Palermo Viejo there are some beautiful buildings, cobbled streets as well as wider boulevards.
Having said all this, I admit that I am a Puerto Madero kind of girl and that is where I love to go for a walk any time I am in Buenos Aires. Lots of Porteños enjoy running along the waterfront. I think that if I ever decide to move to Buenos Aires, I’d try to live in Puerto Madero – except that it is incredibly expensive there.
Puerto Madero has become one of the trendiest parts of Buenos Aires, with lots of eateries, luxury condos, and the famous Puente de la Mujer, a bridge planned by the famous architect Calatrava. I love admiring it at night.
When the weather in Buenos Aires is not good, I go to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, whose exhibit includes pieces of painters such as Renoir, Monet, Picasso and Gauguin. I also enjoy the Museum of Modern Art.
Dance tango in a Milonga
Buenos Aires is (together with Montevideo) one of the birthplaces of tango. I am not a dancer at all, but I find tango incredibly sensual and passionate and I enjoy watching the shows. There are many milongas in Buenos Aires – there are places where tango is danced. Some are so famous that they are more like theaters and even require advanced bookings; others are smaller and give a much more intimate feel. I like it either way.
Watching a fútbol match at La Bombonera
I was under the impression that nobody could be more obsessed with football than the Italians, or the Spaniards. Then I went to Argentina and realized Italians are amateurs. People in Argentina take fútbol really seriously and the best way to understand how importantly they take it is to watch a game with them. And for an even better experience, watch one live at Bombonera, the famous stadium in La Boca. Here, the vibe is incredible, lively. For a real treat, try to get a ticket for the superclásico – Boca Juniors v. River Plate.
Vegans and vegetarians have a hard life in Argentina (though watch this space, there is an increasing trend in restaurants that only serve vegan and vegetarian food). As a proper capital, Buenos Aires has an incredible offer of restaurants. Fine Italian dining, sushi, pizzerias, Vietnamese food – name it: Buenos Aires has it all.
Yet, one of the best things to do in Buenos Aires, and that the locals truly enjoy, is eating a proper asado, a mixed grill with several kinds of meat: from the unmissable beef to chicken, pork and lamb. Those who enjoy meat should never leave Buenos Aires without having tried it.
There are plenty of restaurants around town where to have asado. Needless to say, the best are the small ones where the locals go!
Taking a day trip from Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires does get overwhelming, especially in the summer months when the heat is pretty much unbearable. The best thing to do, then, it to get out of the city. I enjoyed a few day trips from Buenos Aires. I went to El Tigre, a lovely small city at about 35 km from Buenos Aires that can be reached on an easy train ride from Retiro train station and where it is possible to take boat tours around the river delta.
I also went to Colonia del Sacramento, in Uruguay, which can be reached by a quick (1 hour) ferry ride. Walking around Colonia feels like stepping back in time. Imagine beautiful cobbled alleys with flowers pouring outside gardens onto the streets; a gorgeous lighthouse with spectacular views over the Rio de la Plata, and vintage cars scattered around town. It’s no wonder that it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? What did you enjoy the most about it?