Often called the “Paris of South America,” cosmopolitan Buenos Aires has it all: a wide array of cultural sights, fine restaurants, fashionable shopping and countless chic hotels. Argentina’s sprawling capital city offers something for every type of traveler. It’s no wonder why porteños—the residents of Buenos Aires—are so proud of their city.
Here’s my list of the top 10 best things to do in Buenos Aires:
1) Visit Plaza de Mayo – The Plaza De Mayo is the centerpiece and symbolic heart of Buenos Aires. This public square is situated in front of the Casa Rosada, or “Pink House”, the official seat of the executive branch of government and office of the President. Former First Lady Eva Perón (and Madonna in the film Evita) helped make the Casa Rosada famous around the world with her rallying speeches given from one of its balconies. Here’s a bit of trivia: when the Neoclassical building was completed near the end of the 19th century, the exterior was painted pink in order to quell civil unrest. Argentina’s opposing political parties were represented by the colors red and white, so by mixing the two colors together, it symbolized unity for the country. At the center of the plaza is the Pirámide de Mayo, which commemorates the revolution of May 1810. And on the far side, opposite the Casa Rosada, are the National Museum of the Cabildo (old town hall), the Banco de la Nación and the Metropolitan Cathedral, which are also well worth checking out.
2) Explore vibrant La Boca – The working class barrio (neighborhood) of La Boca is a carnival of color, retaining much of the flavor of its original settlers from Genoa, Italy. The district’s main tourist attraction is Caminito, a pedestrian zone featuring cafés, Argentine restaurants, artists and shops selling locally made handicrafts. Many of the buildings in this waterfront district are faced with brightly painted corrugated metal, perfect for photo opportunities.
3) Enjoy Old World glamour in Recoleta – Known for its wide, leafy avenues, opulent homes and amazing parilladas (restaurants specializing in flavorful, fire-grilled meat) Recoleta is Buenos Aires’ most upscale barrio. The finest hotels in Recoleta are all conveniently located within walking distance of the neighborhood’s sights and shopping. A leisurely stroll through the Cementerio de la Recoleta should be on every visitor’s “to do” list. It may seem an unlikely attraction, but the elaborate above-ground tombs, marble-walled alleys and stunning statuary of Recoleta Cemetery give it a museum-like quality. Since the founding of Buenos Aires, this cemetery is where the city’s elite—from poets to diplomats—have been laid to rest. You’ll know when you’ve come across Eva Perón’s crypt when you see the hoards of tourists surrounding it, jostling for a photo.
4) Treasure hunt in San Telmo – One of the most bohemian neighborhoods in Buenos Aires is the barrio of San Telmo, with its evocative Spanish-colonial architecture and narrow cobblestone lanes. On Sundays, the Feria de San Pedro Telmo (a huge flea market) attracts thousands of tourists and locals alike in search of bargains and treasures. Centered around Plaza Dorrego, the market stretches for nearly a mile down the street and is filled with people selling everything from antiques to bric-a-brac.
5) Witness the passion of Tango – Arguably Argentina’s most famous cultural contribution to the world is the sensuous dance, the tango. Both San Telmo and La Boca claim to be “the birthplace of tango” but it’s possible to see shows all over the city. Whether at a casual outdoor café or at a lavish dance hall, all visitors to Buenos Aires simply must see a show. I recommend the Tango Palace for a multi-media experience of tango throughout the ages. For those who are a bit adventurous, there are schools around Buenos Aires where you can even take a dance lesson.
6) Go shopping on Calle Florida – This pedestrian street, located in the Microcentro (downtown) and only a block away from Plaza de Mayo, offers countless stores selling everything from souvenirs and clothing to electronics and Argentine leather. The narrow street bustles with both locals and tourists and is a popular place for street performers and—you guessed it—tango dancers. One of the most beautiful shopping malls in the world, the Galerías Pacífico, is located off Calle Florida and features many upscale boutiques, beautiful murals and frescoed ceilings.
7) Travel down Avenida 9 de Julio – Purportedly the widest avenue in the world, Avenida 9 de Julio is 460-feet wide and has up to seven lanes in each direction. Added to these are up to four additional lanes of parallel streets. It’s truly enormous! The avenue’s name honors Argentina’s Independence Day of July 9, 1816. At the center is a giant obelisk, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Another worthy sight, located on the west side of the street, is the Teatro Colón (Colón Theater), one of the finest and most elegant opera houses in the world. Everyone from Maria Callas to Richard Strauss have performed there.
8.) Relax in Puerto Madero – Once a dilapidated warehouse district, the newest barrio of Buenos Aires is now home to high-rise apartment buildings, bars, waterfront restaurants and office buildings. One of the main sights is a pedestrian bridge called Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge) which links Puerto Madero to the Microcentro and was designed by renowned Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava. Hotels in Puerto Madero are a popular option as they are a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, but are still easily accessible.
9) Experience a game of Fútbol – Tango isn’t the only thing that Argentines are passionate about. Watching a game of fútbol (soccer in America) is an experience never to be forgotten. The two primary teams in Buenos Aires are fierce rivals — the Club Atlético River Plate and the Club Atlético Boca Juniors. Just make sure you are rooting for the right team!
10) Enjoy the culture of Palermo – By day, the barrio of Palermo offers many sprawling parks, a planetarium, a zoo and several world-class museums. One of its main draws, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) houses over two hundred works of twentieth-century Latin American art. By night, Palermo is home to the most fashionable and trendy cafés, bars and nightclubs. Buenos Aires nightlife has a reputation of lasting until dawn and there’s always a new venue worth checking out.
Here are some more photos of this spectacular city:
Have you been to Buenos Aires before? What’s your favorite barrio? Are there any activities or sights that you’d recommend to others? Feel free to share in the comments section below!