Buenos Aires has been described as the “Paris of South America” and it does resemble the City of Light in some areas, with its European neo-classical, Art Noveau, and Art Deco architecture and wide boulevards in some of the central neighborhoods. However, Buenos Aires also has a certain energy that more closely resembles that of New York City or Miami (and it definitely never sleeps) as well as a soul that’s pure porteño.
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Whether you visit Buenos Aires on its own or as a stop on your way to adventures in Argentina’s national parks or even Antarctica, it’s worth spending some time in la Reina del Plata (the Queen of the River, exploring a bit, and getting to know the porteño lifestyle.
Where to Stay In Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires has hotels at every price point, and given the current exchange rates and number of historic mansions-turned hotels to explore, it’s a good place to splurge. We suggest the Alvear Palace, which was built in the 1930s and still looks like it belongs in an Old Hollywood movie (and hey, Sophia Loren once stayed there, among other celebrities) or perhaps the more modern versions of Evita.
The Recoleta, Palermo SoHo, Palermo Hollywood, and San Telmo neigborhoods all have excellent hotel options ranging from interesting boutique hotels and spacious AirBnBs to high end and international brands. Puerto Madero is an up and coming (some would say hipster) area that’s also fun. All of the above have many restaurants, cocktail lounges (it’s a thing there) and cafes so you’ll be spoiled for choice.
What and Where to Eat
Argentina is known for its steaks, so naturally you’ll want to try a steakhouse (called a parrilla) or two. The city also has amazing Italian cuisine due to the influx of Italian immigrants in the 1900s. You’ll find the porteño version of pizza (it’s heavy on the cheese), homemade pasta, and ice cream or gelato everywhere (there are many good options but we especially loved Rapa Nui).
And you can’t forget Argentina’s signature snack, empanadas. These are available with all kinds of fillings and can be vegetarian or vegan-friendly–something that’s hard to find in this city where beef is king.
What to Buy
Inflation is on your side for once, at least if you are carrying U.S. dollars or Euros. Most of the major designer labels are available in Buenos Aires and even with a markup you still might come out ahead once you do the math.
Shop high end leather goods (check out the Palermo and the shops around Recoleta for simple, modern designs), alpaca or vicuna wool pieces. Jewelry made with silver and semiprecious gems like rhodochrosite, the “rose of the inca” and Argentina’s rosy pink national stone are also good choices to take home.
Other souvenirs include futbol/soccer jerseys (skip the ubiquitous Lionel Messi national team jersey and go for one from Boca Juniors or River Plate if you want to look like you’re in the know). Pick up striped polo team shirts, tango shoes, and a painting or print from a local street artist (there are tons of fairs and pop-up markets all around the city).
What to Pack
People dress up a bit in Buenos Aires, so you’ll want to skip the sneakers and adventure gear in favor of casual dresses or pants that are a bit nicer than jeans. Note that since Buenos Aires is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are switched–which makes it a perfect warm weather winter getaway because it’s summertime there!
How to Adventure in Buenos Aires
While you won’t be rappelling down a cliff, there’s plenty of excitement to be had in Buenos Aires and you should stay at least three days.
For instance, you could stay up way past your bedtime to see a tango show (or try your hand at dancing during a milonga–all ages and skill levels welcome!), or check out modern Latin American Art at the MALBA and visit the Teatro Colon opera house.
You could also engage in some underground exploring or urban archaeology at the El Zanjón de Granados museum and see how people used to live in this port city. And don’t miss the huge enclosed market and antique shops nearby.
And you can’t miss seeing the Plaza Mayo centered around Casa Rosada. If you are interested in Argentine history and politics, there’s also the Eva Peron museum, and Evita’s grave in the serenely beautiful Recoleta cemetery. Bonus for fashion history geeks–the Eva Peron museum has a number of her dresses and accessories and they are very well-preserved.
Or you could–and should–just walk around and explore the vibrant neighborhoods. Buenos Aires has tons of sculptures, murals, graffiti, and other street art, interesting little shops, cafes, and galleries. It’s definitely a good place to wander about. Pick a neighborhood and go! La Boca might be the most colorful and traditionally Argentine (seriously don’t miss this area and be prepared to take tons of pictures). Puerto Madero, San Telmo, Belgrano, and other areas are all incredibly interesting.
What to Know About Buenos Aires
Like any other large urban area, Buenos Aires has its share of crime. In the areas you’d be likely to visit as a tourist, this is mostly limited to petty theft like pick-pocketing, so keep your wits about you, your belongings in a secure bag or inside pocket, and you’ll be fine.
If you plan to attend a futbol match or similar sporting event, note that fans can get extremely rowdy, and this includes the areas immediately surrounding the stadiums and fan-centric bars on game days.
How to Get Money
If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires or Argentina in general, you’ve probably heard about the blue market for cash, particularly U.S. dollars. Changing money at a favorable rate is easy and safe at one of the city’s many cambios, but keep in mind these establishments keep bankers hours and you definitely won’t get the best deals rates from an ATM. Get pesos ahead of the weekend or any holidays and you’ll be fine!
You’ll find that most larger stores and restaurants take credit now, and many small sellers will take USD and give you change in pesos if you’re in a pinch.
How to Get Around in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is a fabulous walking city, but it’s also a massive urban center home to 15.6 million people. That said, you’ll probably be mostly visiting the central neighborhoods and you can get around by walking, taking cabs or ride-shares like Uber or Cabify (check to see what apps or services are available at the moment, since the regulations seem to change often). There’s also the Subte or subway that takes you to most areas, which is fairly easy to navigate with a bit of basic Spanish or a translator app.
Where To Next?
North to Iguazu or the Atacama desert, west to Santiago and Valparaiso, or south to the Lake District and Patagonia!
Are you planning a trip soon? Where are you going and where do you want to explore? What is your dream destination? Let us know in the comments or in our Growing Younger Facebook group. Remember that learning new things and exploring can keep your mind and body feeling youthful!
Photos: Jacqueline Zenn for Fountain Of 30
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