Updated: Jul 20
One of the most interesting things about Buenos Aires is that there is no single, definitive culture. With its history of immigration, it’s a vibrant blend of European, South American and Indigenous cultures. The Great European Immigration wave in the late 19th and 20th centuries saw Italians, Germans, Spanish, French and other Europeans arriving in the ports of Buenos Aires.
They quickly began settling together in different parts of the city. Each neighborhood has its own rich cultural vibes, and you’ll still feel the essence of the people who settled there hundreds of years ago. But there’s one consistency throughout each of the barrios: they worship at the altar of the asado.
You can find Argentinian asados everywhere, sometimes even in the middle of a city block. You’ll probably smell them before you see the group of men who've hunkered down for the day, committed to long stretches of storytelling and sparring over which of them is the best asador, or grill master. This is a ritual, and they’ve all been baptized by the plumes of parrilla smoke, soothed by the crackling and popping of charring wood, and serenaded by sizzling meat that has just touched the cast iron grill. It’s rugged, it’s unrefined, and it’s utterly magnificent.
Buenos Aires is a bustling, cosmopolitan city with 48 different neighborhoods that all have their own distinct flair. But with so many options, how do you know which suits your style the best? Check out our list of places to stay, and where not to stay in Buenos Aires.
Where to stay in Buenos Aires
Let’s start with our favorite area in Buenos Aires, Palermo. It’s a trendy, attractive section of Buenos Aires with a plethora of cafés, bars, shops and restaurants that have a vibe all their own. It’s the largest barrio, so you can count on at least three or four things to do on just about every night of the week.
As a visitor, having everything you could possibly want (or need) the moment you step out the door, is a dream. With theaters, nightclubs, live music venues and great places to eat that stretch late into the night, it’s pretty impossible to get bored in a neighborhood like Palermo. It’s so large that it’s even broken down into micro-neighborhoods like Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood. Both of which we highly recommend.
The tree lined streets are cobblestone with colonial-style buildings that have been covered in colorful murals and converted into charming bakeries, bookstores and other boutique shops. So much of the design characteristic you’ll find in Palermo uses raw and industrial materials, live edge wood meets concrete floors, wrought iron and glass. It’s unpretentious but ultra-trendy and beautiful. This neighborhood is where all the cool kids hang out.
If you have a taste for luxury and high-end accommodations, Recoleta is definitely the place for your discerning palate. It’s home to the city’s palatial townhouses that once belonged to wealthy diplomats and affluent socialites who wanted to recreate the opulence European homes were known for at the time.
The leafy neighborhood is posh, upscale and probably the best example of that romantic European architecture that earned Buenos Aires its nickname as the “Paris of South America.” With wide, sweeping avenues like the picturesque Avenida Alvear and plenty of green spaces, luxury shopping and fine art to experience, this barrio is very much the “5th Avenue” or “Upper East Side” of Buenos Aires.
It’s also home to what is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, the famed Cementario de La Recoleta, or Recoleta Cemetery, the city’s first public cemetery built in 1822 and designed by the French engineer Próspero Catelin. A sprawling 14-acres filled with close to 5,000 ornate and extravagant mausoleums, it serves as the final resting place for the city’s most famous and respected dignitaries, including Argentina’s beloved first lady Eva Perón.
It’s also an incredible fine art exhibit in its own right, with sculptural and architectural masterpieces reflecting the Victorian, Belle Époque, neoclassical and neo-gothic, baroque, Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles throughout the labyrinth-like cemetery. It’s free to enter and one of the most famous attractions in Buenos Aires.
San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, dating back to the 17th century when it was the center of life for the city’s blue-collar citizens. While there are many places with rich historic architecture around the city, San Telmo is considered the “Old Town” thanks to its age and the fact that it has retained its colonial charm. It almost feels like stepping back in time. This well-preserved barrio has a very bohemian feel and is known for its art galleries, antique shops, tango parlors, an eclectic mix of cafés and bars, and of course, the San Telmo Market.
A destination in itself, the San Telmo Market was built in 1897 and honestly, it hasn’t changed much since then. It opened to serve as the center of commerce for a new wave of European immigrants who needed everything from food to furniture. Today, it’s home to a huge and very popular antique market on Sundays, as well as lunch counters, some of the best coffee in the city, fresh produce, hand-made goods and so much more. You can spend hours wandering through the stalls, each offering up their own unique treasures.
Where not to stay in Buenos Aires
What was once the site of rusted out ships and decaying fishing equipment, is now the home of a sleek and modern pedestrian bridge with luxury high-rises and corporate offices to match. Puerto Madero sits right along the waterfront and features a massive ecological reserve spanning more than 350 hectares.
While it’s an impressive feat for a major metropolitan city to have a nature preserve this size, it was actually the unplanned result of a failed building project. Nature quickly took back the land that had once been intended for an administrative complex, and today, it now houses more than 2,000 species of plants and wildlife with multiple walking trails and lagoons for the human visitors.
Thanks to the glossy new buildings and contemporary architecture, Puerto Madero feels a little less like traditional Buenos Aires than the other neighborhoods. It serves as a business and shopping district, so you’ll find everything from a T.G.I Fridays and a Hard Rock Café to the ultra-upscale restaurants like Cabaña Las Lilas and Puerto Cristal with riverfront dining. After dinner, there are lots of hip places to hang out that all come with a heftier price tag than the other neighborhoods.
**If you're interested in taking a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Colonia del Sacramento, you'll leave from a port in this neighborhood.
Why you shouldn’t stay in Puerto Madero
Sure, Puerto Madero is a polished and sparkling neighborhood in Buenos Aires, but it’s almost completely devoid of the historical architecture and authentic culture for which the city is known. It looks like it could be plopped down in any other metropolitan area in the world, and truly lacks the Argentinian flavor the rest of these barrios embody so flawlessly.
If you’re in Puerto Madero on business and want to stay nearby, you’ll find plenty of places. But Buenos Aires has so many other inspiring neighborhoods to choose from, this wouldn’t be a good representation of the culture or the city as a whole.
The vibrant, artistic side of Buenos Aires can be found in the La Boca neighborhood. Translated in English as “the mouth,” it was once the city’s largest harbor, receiving every import that arrived between the 19th and 20th centuries, including people and products. The colorful buildings seen throughout the neighborhood are believed to have been modeled after those found in the seaport city of Genoa. The Italian fishermen who settled in the area were said to have used the leftover paint from their boats on their houses to recreate the look from home.
La Boca is also where you can find the world-famous football team, the Boca Juniors (the home team for the man, the myth, the legend: Diego Maradona) and their stadium, La Bombonera. The club is one of the best soccer teams to come out of Argentina with almost 50 titles, including 13 national cups.
La Boca is also known as the old shipyard that gave birth to an entirely new style of dance: the tango. Tango came from the dance halls and maybe even the brothels in the late 1800s. It’s known for its sensuality and passion with the partners pressed tightly together, tangled and twirling to the melancholic harmonies that reflected their nostalgia and homesickness. El Caminito is the most famous area in La Boca and at any given point during the week, you can watch outdoor tango shows right on the street.
Why you shouldn’t stay in La Boca
It’s not often you come across a highly trafficked neighborhood in a city that isn’t safe for tourists, but that’s the case with La Boca. While you’ll find plenty of petty thieves around El Caminito, and honestly in every other city in the world, the surrounding barrio is just not safe for tourists, especially after dark.
If you’re heading into La Boca for dinner at one of their many excellent restaurants, make sure you take a taxi or rideshare, and do not walk through the neighborhood. We encountered a rideshare driver who told us she doesn’t even recommend tourists go during the daytime, let alone at night.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last nine 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.