South America is like a dream. The historic cities. The people. The manner in which most live their lives. Traveling through South America you step back in time to another era and another place. Whether you are watching indigenous Peruvians farming along a cliffside, or seeing a spontaneous Tango break out in Buenos Aires, you feel special. You feel alive and you want to partake. Buenos Aires is special. Not only is Buenos Aires one of the largest cities in Argentina it is one of the largest cities on the entire continent. Standing as the capital of the country, Buenos Aires is one of the most popular destinations for travel in Argentina. Not only does the city has a massive infrastructure of cultural institutions, festivals, nightlife, art, and history but it also is a jumping-off point for many visitors to explore the rest of the beautiful country that is Argentina.
People from Buenos Aires are known as “porteños” which means “people from the port” and the reason for this is a major portion of inhabitants are immigrants or descendants of immigrants and that is very noticeable in the cultural makeup of the city. Italian, Spanish, and other European immigrants made up and make up a large portion of the demographics in Buenos Aires giving the city its distinctive European flair. The city itself is a large urban sprawl that is simply just amazing to explore so head out there and check out the top things to do in Buenos Aires.
Hang Out in the La Boca Neighborhood
La Boca is one of Buenos Aires’ most visibly interesting neighborhoods and is a hot spot for everything fun. La Boca is your place to go for simply just doing some people watching and colorful characters from all walks of life congregate in this artsy and eclectic part of town. The cobblestone streets add a certain charm but the barrio is known to be a little dodgy at night so consider that if you’re planning to visit in the evening.
More than colorful buildings though, check out the El Caminito, a tiny little alleyway in the neighborhood that is full of people, vendors, and even Che Guevara and Diego Maradona impersonators.
Eat Dinner in an Underground Restaurant
Buenos Aires is a major foodie city so if you’re into the finest culinary traditions and trying delicious meals you won’t be at a loss for finding something good in the city. With so many major international influences and people calling Buenos Aires home, the city has a huge cultural culinary template to draw from.
In 2001 there was an economic crisis hitting the country, which while not very good for local Argentines was good for tourists looking to travel here as it meant travel was cheap. When local chefs couldn’t keep their restaurants open they simply just opened the doors to their homes to serve smaller amounts of clients and so the “underground restaurant” movement was born. The closed-door atmosphere of these restaurants made dining a more intimate dining experience where guests would often be seated at a table with other guests. And while the economy has recovered the “closed-door” restaurant tradition has continued. Some of the most popular is Casa Felix and Casa Saltshaker.
Watch Boca Juniors Play at Bombonera
Home to Buenos Aires’s biggest soccer club, getting some tickets to a match at the legendary Bombonera stadium is a must. Much like visiting Paris and not eating a croissant, visiting Buenos Aires and not heading to the stadium to watch Boca Juniors is essentially a crime.
Located in the La Boca neighborhood, when it’s game day the streets are filled with the colors of blue and yellow (the team’s official colors) and there is a parade of chants and parties. Even if you’re not a fan of soccer simply just hanging out in the area during game day is an experience in itself. If you’re really looking for Buenos Aires soccer experience, try scoring tickets to a superclasico game featuring Boca Juniors playing their biggest rival River Plate.
Wander through Recoleta Cemetery
Although, yes it is a cemetery, the Recoleta Cemetary is a piece of Buenos Aires culture that features amazingly ornate mausoleums. Visiting the cemetery is a cool option for traveling on a budget as the admission is free and the photo opportunities are pretty much endless. The cemetery is densely packed with tributes and resting places of some of the city’s most powerful and respected people.
Admission is free but you’ll likely need a map to find your way through the maze of mausoleums with the most popular one being the one of Eva Peron where people continue to leave flowers for the first lady and pay tributes.
Buy a Book at El Ateneo Grand Splendid
The building that El Ateneo Grand Splendid is in was built in 1919 and is a fine example of a grand European-style style theater complete with ornate decorations, gold trimmings, and fresco paintings on the walls and ceiling. The red velvet curtains, illustrious private boxes, and plush theater seats make you feel like you took a step back in time. In one era the Teatro Grand Splendid hosted tango legends and theatrical performances until the 1920s when cinema was all the rage. The theater then became the first in Buenos Aires to show film with sound, though live tango performances continued.
After economic difficulties in the 2000s, the beloved movie theater was under threat of being torn down until it was bought and turned into a bookstore. Although many lament the death of the movie theater the El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the world’s “most beautiful bookstore” according to National Geographic. The grand splendor of the theater was kept intact and the stage where some of Argentina’s most famous tango stars once performed is now open to guests to enjoy a coffee, pastry, and a good book.
Eat at a Parrilla
Places in America might be known for their steaks but it’s Argentina that that takes the steakhouse to a new level. A “parrilla” essentially translates to a steakhouse and it is the most classic of Argentine eateries you can indulge in while you’re here. The thing about parrillas is that they can range from the high-end expensive restaurants to a vendor on the street using a makeshift grill.
Parrilla is all about the meat, so if you’re a vegetarian this might not be for you, but for the carnivores out there, you’ll be in greasy meaty heaven. Beef is the star of the show at parrillas but there are always other options as well like chorizo, morcilla (black pudding), or chitlins. La Cabrera is a popular option for upscale dining and Parrilla Mi Sueño is on the more affordable end of things.
Head to the Area of Tigre
Buenos Aires can be a bit of a concrete jungle with a large urban sprawl so getting out of town for a bit is a solid option for those looking to see some nature and simply not be in the middle of a constant hustle and bustle. Just outside the city limits is a place called Tigre which is also on the edge of a delta. The train from the city to Tigre will only cost you about 1$ USD and takes about an hour to get there.
On Sundays, there is a large market set up called Puerto de Frutos where you can find anything from cool handicrafts to fresh food. There are also a couple of museums around but if you’re more into physical activity, head to the dock and rent a kayak, and cruise down the river until you see something you like, like a waterfront restaurant or cafe.
Have a Coffee at Café Tortoni
The iconic Café Tortoni has been around since 1858 and was started by a French immigrant who named the café after another café of the same name located on the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris. The boulevard was one of the grandest and in Paris and was a frequent hotspot for elite Parisians to gather. The Café Tortoni was built in the same style of Parisian cafés of the mid to late 19th century and still effectively looks the same as it did when it opened over 140 years ago.
Although the cafe has gone through some alteration since the 19th century it largely remains the same. In 1926 the basement opened up to performing arts and literary guests which solidified Café Tortoni as a place of culture. Among some of the café’s most popular patrons include people like Alfonsina Storni, Jorge Luis Borges, Molina Campos, and even internationally famed people like Albert Einstein, Hillary Clinton, and Francis Ford Coppola.
Stop by in the afternoon for a coffee or an espresso and take in the atmosphere that has kept this landmark café going for over a century.
Spend the Night at Niceto
Every big city in the world has a must-go club and Niceto is the must experience club in Buenos Aires. Expect to have to wait a little while to get in as the place is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The famed club plays everything from reggae, house, pop, soul, and even brings in large international acclaimed DJs for live sets.
When it comes to clubs in Buenos Aires, visitors should know that the city operates on a similar level to other big city clubbing cultures found in Europe. That means don’t dress too fancy and expect the party to only start late at night. Most people won’t show up before midnight and the party doesn’t even really kick off until around 2 am.
Learn to tango at a Milonga
Tango originated in Buenos Aires and the dance is essentially the language of the people. A “milonga” is a place where people dance and learn to tango so if you’re going to be staying in the city for a while you better learn the right moves. The city is full of milonga some of which offer a little something different than the next. Some are open to beginners, some are catered to tourists, some even have dinner and show.
Every Sunday in San Telmo’s Plaza there is a public milonga where you can come watch for free as people tango in the street or the Salon Cannings offers cheap admission for classes and shows. There are dozens of milongas in the city so search around for one that suits you the best.
Indulge in a Café con Leche at La Biela
La Biela is another one of Buenos Aires’s cultural institutions and iconic cafes. The area up until the 19th was all farmland and before the cafe opened up there was a general store here. Finally, in 1850 a cafe opened up but it was only until the 1950s that the name La Biela was established. The cafe became a popular meeting place for writing and intellectuals, as well as politicians and even people from the world of sports.
They still serve after all these years some of the best cafe con Leche in the city as well as delicious crepes smothered in dulce de leche. The silky smooth and milky caramel syrup has been the sweet treat of choice for generations of Argentinians.
Argentina is a beautiful country and Buenos Aires is the capital city that enamors anyone who visits it. From the amazing food culture and nightlife to the arts, sounds, and people that make the city great, Buenos Aires offers a little something for everyone. This just scratched the tip of the iceberg as there are a ton of amazing things to experience in the city. Part European and part South American, Buenos Aires is a place, unlike any others.
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