Buenos Aires is one of the most captivating cities in the world, and I’m not just saying so because I called it home for eight years. It just truly is. It is gorgeous despite being a mess of around 15 million people in the Greater BA area, and it is decidedly gorgeous because it is almost 500 years old.
Buenos Aires is the most visited city in South America, and if you go once, you’ll understand why. The booming capitol once attracted immigrants from all over the world and each brought their own culture along, turning this city into a metropolis of incredible architecture reminiscent of classic Europe, with worldwide cuisine, a unique take on the Spanish language and some of the worst drivers the world over. Side note: over 60% of Argentines are of Italian ancestry, after all!
There is so much to see, do and eat in Buenos Aires, that when Gilbert asked me to write a 48 hour guide I told him it was impossible. In retrospect, what’s impossible is to visit the city for only two days and feel like that’s all you need. Here’s everything you need to know, to have an incredible time in Buenos Aires, from top restaurant tips to blue market magic…
Getting from the Airport
Once you land in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires’ international airport, you’ll find out you’re not in fact in Buenos Aires. At least not the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (think D.C. for comparison). You’ll find yourself about 45 minutes outside of the city, and technically in the Province of Buenos Aires.
There is one bus, line 8, which connects the airport with Plaza de Mayo, right outside Casa Rosada, which is the Presidential Palace. I would strongly discourage you from riding that bus, unless you enjoy dragging your luggage around on a very crowded bus that takes at least one hour to reach its destination. The only upside is that it costs less than 2 dollars, but it does require you to get one of their reloadable fare cards (called SUBE, which works like Oyster, Metrocard, etc.).
Uber might be your best option, considering you’ll be able to track where you are and know how much you’ll end up paying, which will be substantially cheaper than a taxi, before you even get in the car.
While Buenos Aires has an amazing public transport network that can get you anywhere you want, I wouldn’t suggest you use it. If you’re not used to public transport where you’re from, I assure you that BA’s will prove to be too complex to figure out. You’re better off using Uber, which is by comparison, extremely affordable. Do keep in mind that the Uber experience in Buenos Aires is, let’s say, unusual. While they’re allowed to provide transportation services, they’re constantly harassed by the mafia-like taxi establishment who does not want to have to compete with those providing a much more affordable, clean and decent service. Uber does offer to pay in cash at the end of your ride which, on my last visit a couple months ago, I discovered is preferred over credit cards (had a few drivers cancel on me once they saw I was paying with a credit card through the app). Again, considering the currency exchange, do yourself a favor and hop on an Uber.
Where to Stay
There are so many hotels to choose from in Buenos Aires, so I will make this easy for you; many of them are old, not well maintained and most definitely not up to international standards. There, I said it. However, there are a few that range from perfectly acceptable to damn!
You can stay at the Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt for 25,000 Hyatt points (or upwards of $450 a night!) – their breakfast spread is delicious. When it comes to Marriott Bonvoy properties, you can choose between the Sheraton Buenos Aires or the Park Tower, which are both in the same building and range from 35,000 to 50,000 points a night (or $220 to $250 a night).
The two IHG properties you have on offer in BA are the InterContinental and the Holiday Inn Express Puerto Madero, both available for 30,000 and 25,000 points respectively. The Hilton Buenos Aires and Anselmo Buenos Aires are the two Hilton Properties in the city.
The are other options ranging from the Four Seasons, the Sofitel, some NH properties all the way to about a million AirBnB properties. If you’re looking into non chain hotels or AirBnB, you should restrict your search to the Microcentro, Recoleta, Palermo and San Telmo neighbourhoods, where everything worth seeing is and you won’t waste your time commuting back and forth to your accommodation.
I very much enjoy eating the local fare wherever I go, and Argentina has a lot to offer, particularly in Buenos Aires. I would definitely steer away from most recommendations you’ll get at your hotel. They will most likely direct you toward Puerto Madero, a place almost exclusively designed to lure people into culturally sterilized experiences and unrecognizable bland internationalism.
I assure you that you will not find anything recognizably Argentinian beyond the penchant for overcharging non-savvy tourists.
If good, tasty, authentically Argentinian food is what you’re after, you’ll want to go where locals go to, which almost invariably isn’t the fancy, expensive, all-about-the-show, restaurants. And please, please, PUH-LEASE, avoid any of those places offering a Tango show along with dinner, unless you, unlike me, are into that kind of expensive, unauthentic, bad quality food experience.
If you are looking for a tango show, go to La Boca neighborhood, particularly Caminito, and have a choripán (chori – from chorizo, pan – from bread) while you enjoy a tango show on the streets, in the place where it all started.
If there’s something the Italians made an imprint on in Argentinian cuisine, well, pizza ain’t it. While yes, they did bring it into local menus, and you’ll find a pizza place in almost every corner, the current pizza offerings in Buenos Aires are almost unrecognizable compared to original Italian pizza (but hey, so is New York pizza, and that thing some folks keep referring to as pizza, Chicago deep dish).
You also must try empanadas. Where can you find them? Well, honestly, everywhere. One place where there’s a few options is at Mercado de San Telmo, think Borough Market In London or Chelsea Market in NYC, where you can find both really good food and coffee as well as antiques.
You HAVE TO try ice cream while visiting Argentina. Yes, even in the winter. They are the most amazingly creamy ice creams you will ever try, and yes, they’re somewhat Italian inspired but oh, so much better than gelato. Places you’ll want to visit for the good stuff include: Freddo, Rapa Nui, Volta or Persicco. You will not regret visiting all of those. Multiple times.
Ice cream is usually sold by the kilo (or half, or quarter kilo) but you can also get a cone. You will be blown away by the variety of flavors, which are usually grouped by fruit flavors, chocolate flavors, dulce de leche flavors, etc.
Try ‘dulce de leche vauquita’ at Freddo, or ‘raspberry and swiss meringue’ or ‘goat milk dulce de leche’ at Rapa Nui. You can thank me later.
One restaurant that definitely deserves a mention is Florería Atlántico. This is a speak easy bar/restaurant whose front is a flower shop and is on the top 50 bars in the world. Once you get into the shop, the entrance to the restaurant area is through what looks like an industrial freezer to keep the flowers fresh (but isn’t).
Located in one of the most French looking neighborhoods in BA called Recoleta, their menu for both meals and drinks is one of the most memorable ones I’ve seen while visiting Argentina. If I had to describe their cuisine, I would go with uniquely Argentinian, with things like morcilla (blood sausage) with fried duck egg, ossobuco empanadas, pizza and seafood.
Their drinks are beyond exceptional. I wasn’t sure what to order and asked the bartender to surprise me. She brought me a Negroni made with Príncipe de los Apóstoles Gin, Le Muscat, Campari, pine mushrooms and Cariló soil (a beach town on the coast – not actually in the drink, but the drink is filtered through it).
Something that I always loved about Argentina, but Buenos Aires particularly, is how influential cafes are to social life in the cities. Whenever you’re meeting up for a chat with friends, a study group, killing some time, or just reading the newspaper, chances are you will be visiting your fave café. However, something I learned after I started traveling is how low quality the coffee generally is, considering how prevalent cafes are.
There are parts of Buenos Aires where you can’t go more than a block without running into a café (ahem, Starbucks in Seattle). I would still recommend visiting a café even if not particularly for their high-quality beans or roasting. For incredibly beautiful, ornate, turn of last century settings, head to Café de los Angelitos (est. 1890) or Café Tortoni (est. 1858) if you’re into the show more than the coffee itself. If you’re into indulging into some nice warm cup of coffee (or just need to stay awake to explore everything in this gorgeous city) go to El Gato Negro or Le Carevelle instead.
Sights to See
Lucky for you, the majority of the best sights to enjoy are somewhat close together, as most of them are packed within the older places in the city. Akin to visiting the White House and the Congress, you have to stop by the Casa Rosada and the Palace of Congress, both adjacent to their own squares.
Casa Rosada offers guided tours during weekends – while the head of state isn’t in the office (Casa Rosada isn’t where the president resides) and you can tour the Congress building during the week.
As one of the ten best opera houses in the world, and one of the five best concert venues, the Teatro Colón is a must see, both from outside and from within. The building opened in 1908 and it shows the clear period of wealth Argentina experienced at the onset of the 20th century (and subsequently lost halfway through it).
Other buildings depicting the incredible growth in economy, culture and population, are the Palacio Barolo, a building depicting Dante’s Inferno by means of its architecture, and the Water Company Palace, a French renaissance building from the 1880 that housed a water pumping station.
Recoleta Cemetery, as creepy as it sounds, should be on your list. Its 14 acres contain over 4500 vaults and mausoleums in art nouveau, art deco, baroque and neo gothic styles right in the middle of the city.
For fans of the living, instead, you can visit the Pasaje de La Defensa, a restored 19th Century mansion owned by the Ezeiza family, which after the family left followed by a yellow fever outbreak, turned tenement house in the 1930s. It housed a whopping 32 families of immigrants from the second wave of migrants that ended up in Argentina.
For those with a more modern taste and who enjoy long walks along the river, Puerto Madero might be your thing. One of the most expensive real estate areas, it houses luxury hotels, theaters, corporate offices and the Hilton. All streets in this neighborhood are named after women, in a nod to the role women have always played in Argentine history.
One of the best places to get inspiration for places to see in BA is undoubtedly this Instagram account (which has been declared of public interest by the government), buenosaires.ar. While all the captions are in Spanish, every single picture is worth framing and hanging up.
Being such an incredible city, BA has tons of museums worth visiting, but you’ll have to prioritize them because there is no way you’ll see them all. You’ll see great art at Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires and National Art Museum. The National History Museum and Casa Rosada Museum are great for history buffs. The Museum of Natural Sciences is great for those fans of old, dusty, yet fascinating objects.
Time is Up
It is now quite obvious that you will never be able to fit a third of these activities into a 2-day window. Hopefully though, this will spark some interest and give you some ideas of things to do while you visit Buenos Aires and maybe I can even convince you to stick around and visit other places in Argentina too.