Updated: Jul 26
Bienvenidos to Buenos Aires, the bustling capital of Argentina and the home of tango dancing, Evita Perón and a carnivorous dining scene dominated by parrillas (grills) and rich local wines. Dubbed the “Paris of South America,” for its romantic European architecture and flare, Buenos Aires is vibrant, cosmopolitan and diverse, making it one of the most visited cities in both South America and all of Latin America. With its own café culture and distinct neighborhoods like Palermo, Recoleta and San Telmo, it is a city of joie de vivre where you can taste delicious food from the parrilladas, drink Malbec, shop handmade goods in San Telmo and visit hot spots like La Boca for a tango performance or two.
Where to stay in Buenos Aires
There are lots of great places to stay in Buenos Aires, but a few neighborhoods stick out as a favorite for many travelers. Palermo is a beautiful neighborhood with plenty of cafés, bars, restaurants and shops to keep you busy while experiencing trendy yet unpretentious Argentinian culture. The cobblestone streets are shaded by a canopy of trees and lined with charming storefronts and street art.
If a more posh, upscale environment is more your style, the Recoleta neighborhood is filled with palatial townhouses, high rises and luxury hotels. With its sweeping avenues and architecture, this area is perhaps the best example of the European architecture the city is known for. But in addition to the affluent socialites that live here, it’s home to the famous Recoleta Cemetery where ornate and extravagant mausoleums were constructed for famous dignitaries including beloved first lady, Eva Perón.
Many people seek out the “old town” section of a city to capture the historic and authentic charm of a culture, and the best neighborhood for that is San Telmo. This is the oldest barrio in the city, dating back to the 17th century when it was an industrial area and home to blue-collar laborers. The colonial buildings are beautiful and house bohemian art galleries and antique shops, restaurants and the famous San Telmo Market. The area is also known for a huge and impressive antique market on Sundays.
Why you should visit Buenos Aires
You should visit Buenos Aires if you’re a Europe lover, a culture lover, a food and wine lover and want to experience all of them at a fraction of the cost. Because of the mass immigration that happened at the turn of the 20th century, you feel the French, Italian, German and of course Spanish influences instead of just one culture. The proverbial melting pot makes it unique and more “European” than just lumping it all into Paris, though that’s what most people associate it with.
Another interesting feature about Buenos Aires is that it’s a very livable city. It’s not stuffed to the gills with tourist traps or places where only the tourists can be found. Sure, they’ve got places like the Japanese Botanical Gardens or the Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays with its beautiful glass greenhouse, but they’re not exclusive to visitors by any means. There are Argentinians enjoying all the places we’ve recommended so don’t be afraid you’re going to get stuck in a Hard Rock Café-type trap.
Where to eat in Buenos Aires
Eat everything and everywhere. Buenos Aires is without a doubt, a foodie destination. While it’s known for its succulent selection of flame-grilled meats procured by world-famous gauchos, you can find just about anything you desire. They’ve even got a burgeoning vegan dining scene for those on the hunt for the elusive vegetable in a carnivorous land.
One of the hotly contested dishes people are most competitive about are the empanadas. In a pseudo street food war, everybody has their favorite place to get them and swears they are the best in the city. Including us. Here’s how we knew these particular empanadas were delicious: locals from all walks of life were standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in. There were doctors in white coats and scrubs, hipsters on skateboards, impeccably dressed Argentinian women and the occasional, unwashed passerby…. all waiting in line at La Cocina. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type place with just a handful of seats and stools.
Then there are the heavy hitters, world-renowned chefs and grill masters like Francis Mallmann with Patagonia Sur in La Boca, Gastón Riveira at La Cabrera or frequently listed on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Don Julio Parrilla in Palermo. These are temples constructed to worship meat in many forms. It’s hard to understand how something as simple as cooking over an open flame can have such a profound effect on texture and flavor, yet this uncomplicated method of preparation is what puts Argentina on the culinary map. And they’ve been doing it this way for centuries. Want more?
What to do in Buenos Aires
Take a tango lesson
Go to a milonga
Visit the Casa Rosada
See the Obelisk
The Puente de la Mujer Bridge
One really interesting thing about Buenos Aires is the fact that there are lots of things to do, but some of the most appealing seem to be just being in the city itself. The cafés are stunning, and you trip over one on each corner. The Café Tortoni is touristy for sure, but it was built in the mid 1800s and has hosted a slew of dignitaries and celebrities throughout history, so it is still a must-see. Restaurants and bars are another way to experience the city and culture, and there are notable choices everywhere. This is one city to skip cooking or making coffee for yourself.
Tango is a uniquely Rio de la Plata dance that is thick with passion and cultural significance in Buenos Aires. While you can see it just about anywhere in the world now, there’s nothing like seeing it from the source. Catch a milonga, an event where people come to dance and watch tango, on just about any night of the week. Many of them even start with a tango lesson beforehand so you can learn the steps ahead of time. If you visit La Catedral’s milonga, the instructors are multilingual.
There are many traditional attractions to see like the Casa Rosada, the Obelisco, the Puente de la Mujer bridge in Puerto Madero and El Caminito in La Boca. The city is a little spread out, but you can easily hop in a rideshare to get where you need to be, and it’s a cheap form of transportation. Or as cringe-worthy as it might be for some, you can take a hop on-hop off tour that will give you the lay of the land and make sure you don’t miss anything notable.
More things to see in Buenos Aires
Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.