Buenos Aires is a seductive city known for its European façade and Old World charm. It’s distractingly good-looking and stylish just like its residents, the porteños. The refined chaos, the architecture, the juxtaposition of old and novel, the sights and sounds of tango, the cuisine and the energy of this capital city all invite admiration and adoration. It’s South America’s most visited capital city with good reason. Whether you wish to savour art at MALBA, sip on fine Malbec or find yourself at one of the many meat Meccas, this city will deliver. Here’s the Buenos Aires travel guide for every type of traveller.
THE BUDGET TRAVELLER
What to Do
Enjoy an outdoor market and free tango show
Every Sunday, 20,000 people visit the Fería de San Telmo (San Telmo Antiques Fair), whether they intend to purchase antiques or not. To obtain a stall here, traders must sell items produced before the 70s. Bursting out from Plaza Dorrego, one may enjoy live tango shows, shops, alfresco dining and live performers all around San Telmo.
Take a free walking tour
There are countless companies offering free walking tours where you pay what you wish at the end. Very often the tour guides are historians who combine a passion for their city with deep, ingoogleable knowledge. Check out Buenos Aires Free Walks or Strawberry Tours.
Follow the comic strip trail
Paseo de la Historieta in San Telmo is an open-air sculpture trail paying homage to Argentina’s most iconic comic book characters like Isidoro Cañones and Mafalda, who became popular throughout the Spanish-speaking world. she can be found sitting on a bench on the corner of Chile and Defensa. The trail spans San Telmo, Monserrat and Puerto Madero.
Visit the National Museum of Fine Arts
What was once a pumping station is now a majestic fine art museum (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes) with works from Argentinian and European artists a short walk from Recoleta Cemetery. Admission is free on Tuesdays.
Ateneo Grand Splendid
National Geographic called it ‘the most beautiful bookshop in the world’, a well-deserved title. Ateneo Grand Splendid is housed in a former theatre with a café now occupying the main stage. Head to the top balcony to admire it in all it’s glory.
Where to Eat
Parilla lo de Freddy/ Nuestra Parilla
Lo de Freddy is less restaurant, more hole in the wall grill with bar stools. Select your preferred cut from the grill right in front of you and loiter around the bar or outside to eat. It’s in Mercado de San Telmo and a well-known, low-key hangout spot. It also goes by two names: Nuestra Parilla and Lo De Freddy. The grill master Freddy seems to make up the opening hours as he goes along but when you catch him, you won’t be sorry. Anytime after 11AM is a relatively reliable estimate.
Chori in Palermo is casual, hip and lively with bright yellow walls. Many restaurants in Buenos Aires close for siesta (between 3PM and 8PM) but Chori is thankfully not one of them. Come here for the perfect meal on the move or stay put and enjoy a customised gin and tonic. Vegetarians can get an aubergine, goat’s cheese and spinach sandwich.
Seek out El Hornero in a corner of Mercado de San Telmo for some of the best empanadas this side of Salta. They’re freshly baked and adequately stuffed, the kind of empanadas that locals will tell you to eat with ‘gambas abiertas’ or with your legs open to sidestep drips. Napkins at the ready.
Cervecería Chapultepec’s concept is that everything is the same rock bottom price – be it a burger, cocktail, burrito, taco or michelada. The Mexican chain has two branches in Palermo with string lights, funky décor, bottled beers and fantastic nibbles.
Where to Stay
America del Sur Hostel
This fun (and large) San Telmo hostel will pad your itinerary and your social circle. Evening activities include pub crawls and tango lessons. Should your travels take you up north, America del Sur Hostel also has a sister hostel in Calafate. Highly recommended.
Caravan Hostel Boutique
You’ll be surprised by the pool and garden at this hostel which believes ‘there are places where you stay and places that stay with you’. Caravan Hostel Boutique has tango classes, breakaway areas for solitude and socialising and a dedicated ‘asado and amigos‘ zone.
HTL 9 de Julio
Who doesn’t love luxe lofts at wallet-friendly prices? This affordable hotel is well-located within walking distance from numerous sites and a delicious breakfast is served right to your room by friendly, multi-lingual staff. Rooms are clean and there’s reliable Wi-Fi. Best of all? The rooms at HTL 9 de Julio are utterly humongous.
You get your money’s worth at Circus Hostel owing to the chic sun deck with pool and gardens. The whitewashed walls create an airy, clean ambience and the prime location in San Telmo will delight. Plaza Dorrego is just 3 blocks away for the Sunday market.
THE DISCERNING TRAVELLER
What to Do
Take to the sky at Salón 1923
One of the most outstanding buildings in Buenos Aires, and perhaps all of Latin America, Palacio Barolo was designed by Mario Palanti who stuffed it with overt references to Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Purchase tickets on the ground floor before your heavenly ascension. Alternatively, you can take a guided tour of the building.
See a show at Teatro Colón
There almost 300 active theatres in Buenos Aires; Teatro Colón is the glitziest and the one you can’t miss. It’s considered to be one of the five best opera houses in the world due to its incredible acoustics. Take it in via a guided tour or buy tickets for a show; it seats 4,000.
Sip at a classy haunted mansion
Recoleta cocktail bar Milión may or may not be haunted. However, that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the spoils of this elegant, multi-level Belle Epoque mansion with fabulous gardens.
Get some retail therapy
Buenos Aires has no shortage of malls where you can find all that your heart desires under one roof. In Palermo, there’s Alcorta Shopping and Alto Palermo. On the intersection of Avenida Córdoba and Calle Florida (the city’s pedestrian shopping street) is where you’ll find Galerías Pacifico (right). It’s an opulent building dating back to the early 20th century. For big-name international brands like Lacoste and Levi’s, head to Recoleta Mall where you can also catch a movie at the Cinépolis. The most exclusive collection of high-end and designer stores can be found at Patio Bullrich in Retiro.
Where to Eat
Don Julio made it onto the list of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America and it’s Buenos Aires’ most famous upscale steakhouse. What hits your table here are plates of top grass-fed Aberdeen Angus and Hereford steers that were raised in the nearby humid pampas (grassland). A displayed quote reminds diners that ‘life is too short to drink bad wine’ so expect an extensive wine selection and don’t forget to sign your empty bottle to join their customer wall of fame.
Chila has also graced the list of 50 best restaurants in Latin America. To call the offerings here innovative would be an understatement. A fixation with detail has led to an outstanding tasting menu with dishes you want to study and then devour, just as pretty as they are palatable. There’s eccentric garnishing and presentation too; a hibiscus box, well-manicured fish bones and tableware fashioned from eggshells. The view of the water in Puerto Madero isn’t too shabby either.
El Mercado at Faena
Faena is a Leading Hotel of the World. This Phillipe Starck-designed powerhouse hotel draws the fashionable crowd to Puerto Madero. Enjoy classic Argentinian cuisine at El Mercado, one of several restaurants within the hotel (you better like the colour red). The Faena pool is one of the most iconic in the city with its burgundy lounge chairs and a crown fountain in the water. There are light bites available at the pool bar too.
Sacro is a high-end vegan restaurant that leaves herbivores as well as carnivores gobsmacked by its atypical, boundary-pushing dishes like the activated charcoal and mushroom empanada.
Where to Stay
Naturally, Buenos Aires has a wine hotel and Algodon Mansion is it. This 5-star property in upscale Recoleta boasts a swimming pool and complimentary wines. The building is an opulently restored French-style mansion. You may recognise the name from Mendoza’s Algodon Wine and Estates Champion Club.
Expect world-class service and regal French decor at Alvear Palace in Recoleta. This glamorous 5-star hotel has extravagant chandeliers, 207 rooms and has won too many awards to count. Enjoy spectacular views at the Alvear Roof Bar or afternoon tea at L’Orangerie with service from white-gloved waiters.
Be Jardin Escondido
Be Jardin Escondido by Coppola has quite the back-story. It was once the home of ‘The Godfather’ director Francis Ford Coppola and all 7 rooms are named after a Coppola family member. ‘Francis’ is the best and largest room. There’s an outdoor kitchen with a lush garden and a parilla too.
What to Do
Shake your stuff at La Bomba de Tiempo
If you’ve as much as peeked at any Buenos Aires travel guide for nightlife tips, chances are you’ve come across La Bomba de Tiempo (The Time Bomb) at Ciudad Cultural Konex. It’s impossible to sit (or stand) still at this percussion event, which has been running in Buenos Aires every Monday night for 14 rump-shaking years. Expect trance-like, frenzied dancing and a very international crowd. To avoid disappointment purchase your tickets in advance at cckonex.org.
Have a nice time at Niceto
Boliche is Argentine for a nightclub, though a quick Google search will tell you it means ‘bowling’ as it does in the rest of Latin America. Party until the early hours at Niceto, a prominent boliche in Palermo which has the highest concentration of hip nightlife venues. Know that if you’re hitting the town, things rarely get going before midnight – when people are still too busy having dinner.
Enjoy cocktails inspired by the world
You’ll be thoroughly impressed by Verne Cocktail Club which draws its inspiration from Jules Verne and his wacky adventures. The ‘Around the World in 80 Cocktails’ menu is delightful, as is the outdoor back garden and 1920s jazz club vibe. The owner Fede is a self-styled cocktail historian who also gives classes for curious, thirsty punters.
Enter a speakeasy through a flower shop and refrigerator
You’ll want to try everything at Florería Atlántico, a speakeasy in Retiro. After being funnelled through a flower shop and a refrigerator door, you’ll be rewarded with a collection of creative cocktails categorised by geographic provenance: Polish vodka, English gin and sherry drinks from Spain. There are photogenic tapas bites to nibble on, too.
Where to Eat
If you find yourself in Colegiales you should swing by Strange Brewing. Trendy locals meet and mingle at this brewpub with a rocking DJ on weekends and hearty pub grub.
Beer is a way of life at BierLife. That’s why they put it in all their food too. This old San Telmo house has a patio and countless breakaway areas to enjoy their broad brew collection. Perhaps try a pumpkin pinta on for size.
Plaza Serrano in Palermo is throbbing on weekend afternoons during the Fería Honduras market. At night it’s doubly atmospheric with an endless array of bars and restaurants for you to choose from. Find outdoor seating at Keller Serrano and order an entraña empanada. There are real chunks of juicy entrails and a sauce that explodes as you pierce through the outer layer.
Where to Stay
An immensely popular hostel chain with locations in San Telmo and Palermo. At Art Factory Beer Garden, guests congregate around a string-lit tree while Art Factory Palermo has stunning murals painted by local artists. All dorms have plugs and lights.
Selina Buenos Aires
Hostel chain Selina’s plans to take over the world have extended to Buenos Aires, with this new Palermo Soho hot spot a stone’s throw from the throbbing nightlife of Plaza Serrano. Expect Selina’s typical uber-hip decor with everything from reggaeton classes to yoga sessions and dining options under one roof.
There’s a nautical theme throughout at Hotel Pulitzer – after all, it’s close to the Naval Centre (and the Borges Cultural Centre too). The jewel in its crown is the 13th floor where you’ll find a rooftop pool with inviting sun lounger (open seasonally). Hotel Pulitzer is also home to one of Buenos Aires’ most fabulous rooftop bars, Sky Bar. Hotel Pulitzer in one word? Sleek.
A Leading Hotel of the World, this Phillipe Starck-designed powerhouse draws the fashionable crowd to Puerto Madero. Faena’s swimming pool is iconic with burgundy lounge chairs and a crown fountain in the water.
THE DIGITAL NOMAD
What to Do
Meet locals and other slow travellers over mate
Flex your mental muscles over a gourd of mate at the Mate Club Conversación language swap. Drinking mate together (pronounced mah-tay) very much symbolises camaraderie in Argentine culture. Every 15 minutes groups of four or five switch languages (mainly English, Spanish and also Portuguese). Check the schedule and register at Mate-club.com.ar.
Spend the day at Padre Coffee and Beer
Hotfoot it to Palermo’s Padre Coffee and Beer where your cafécito is multi-coloured and actual Nutella jars are being used to serve their Nuteccino 360 drink. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
Cowork at a space with rooftop barbecue
At Huerta Coworking, there’s a warm and inviting vibe – you even get free mate, an invigorating bitter tea that’s widely consumed in Argentina. At the Palermo outpost, there are factory-like, tall white ceilings and an abundance of plants that breathe life into the joint. The achingly cool rooftop lounge with parilla doesn’t hurt either.
Find a hidden garden restaurant at this eternally inviting bookstore
If you didn’t peer further back into Eterna Cadencia, a bookstore in Palermo, you wouldn’t know it has a bright inner courtyard restaurant and cosy ‘living room’ with reading chairs, cushions and funky wall art. Some English books are also available within the shop.
Where to Eat
When you wish to work and have mouthwatering snacks to refuel too, opt for Café Registrado’s Palermo branch on Gurruchaga. You’ll find large, spacious tables, fantastic salads, meaty wraps, amazing desserts and vegan options on the menu too.
Café Martinez could very well be Argentina’s answer to Starbucks; there’s practically one on any corner. Watch out for their budget-busting lunch specials. There’s no shortage of sockets and no one will bat an eyelid if you’re in there working for extended periods.
Where to Stay
Checking into a hotel for your first couple of days is worthwhile to scout the neighbourhoods and find the one that most appeals to your heart. For longer stays, Airbnb is your best bet in Buenos Aires and it’s perfectly legal.
THE WELLNESS TRAVELLER
What to Do
Workout at Parque 3 de Febrero
Run, walk, row, rollerblade or cycle with the rest of the fitness fanatics at the biggest park in the city. Parque 3 de Febrero is popularly known as Bosques de Palermo. It’s also home to the Galileo Galilei Planetarium, making your workout all the more scenic. This UFO-shaped planetarium stands on the site where the first ever recorded football match in Argentina took place in 1867. Also within the park is El Rosedal, Palermo’s rose garden with over 18,000 beautiful roses. Skates, bikes and even boats can all be rented within.
Kill two birds with one stone
Combine a workout with sightseeing on the widest street in the world – Avenida 9 de Julio. Teatro Colón and the Obelisk are among the sites here.
Explore Puerto Madero on foot
Treat yourself to an outdoor workout in Puerto Madero where you’re promised expansive water views and you can admire the old ports, Puente de la Mujer, a yacht club and the area’s presidential residential buildings. Start at Parque Mujeres Argentinas, a park dedicated to the women of Argentina. Incidentally, many streets in Puerto Madero are named after women.
Where to Eat
Bio adopts a fully green ethos – even the building is painted green. It’s the first certified organic restaurant in Argentina. A pink Buddha greets you as you enter and the aesthetic feels like eating at your healthy aunt’s house. Proving that veganism and alcohol don’t have to be mutually exclusive, there’s a selection of organic wines too.
Avenida Caseros is a lovely culinary corner where the neighbourhoods of San Telmo and Barracas meet. It’s here you’ll find Hierbabuena which is vegan-friendly and serves kombucha alongside creatively fashioned organic produce. Hierbabuena is flexible vegetarian; coeliacs and vegans are well catered for but there are also rogue chicken and salmon dishes.
A restaurant almost exclusively dedicated to mushrooms is unique to say the least. At Donnet in Chacarita, everything is prepared without animal products or derivatives. Vegan owner Manuela Donnet was tired of eating roasted aubergine wherever she went and thus set out to create a meat-free restaurant that would appeal to vegans and carnivores alike. If you’re a mushrooms lover chances are you’ll fall in love with something here.
Green Eat focuses on healthy fast food. Think super cleans salads, gluten-free sushi and carrot-filled chicken sticks. Everything is prepared fresh each day with organic ingredients received from their carefully selected suppliers. There are branches all over the city including Abasto Mall, Galerías Pacifico Mall, Avenida Santa Fe and Florida. Vegetarian dishes include the Playero Slim sandwich with Gruyere and avocado, the veggie curry, the minty quinoa and the Andean burger, a quinoa patty served with roasted mushrooms, potato and pumpkin puree.
Where to Stay
NH Buenos Aires 9 de Julio
Outdoor pool, bar, fitness centre, abundant breakfast options, and faultless service all within walking distance from pretty much everything – what’s not to love about this NH hotel? Take a dip on the rooftop pool while Evita towers over from the Ministry of Health building.
A 19th-century mansion in San Telmo with an indoor heated pool, sauna, gym, rooftop sundeck and pool, Mansion Vitraux is the perfect base for a long weekend in Buenos Aires.
Palladio is an MGallery by Sofitel hotel in Recoleta. The on-site Negresco Bistró is perfect for fine dining enthusiasts. Escape to the heated rooftop pool or lounge at the spa. It’s located in leafy Plaza Rodriguez Peña.
What to Do
Visit the enchanting Japanese Garden
Who doesn’t love long walks in the park? Let romance flourish with a stroll through the Japanese Garden (Jardín Japones) in Palermo. Here, Bonzai and tranquil lakes will be the backdrop for your rendezvous. There’s a fee to access the gardens which is deducted if you eat at the restaurant.
Learn the secrets of the tango
Picture the sheer romance of an outdoor milonga on a checkered-floor bandstand? Everyone in the global tango scene knows of La Glorieta in Belgrano. Hundreds of virgin and veteran dancers congregate here daily for classes and to sway under the fine Buenos Aires breeze. Lights go on at 7PM.
Take a trip to Tigre
Tigre is to Buenos Aires what The Hamptons are to New York City – a nearby oasis that’s miles away from city life. After a mere 40 minute drive (or hour and a half train ride), you could be floating through this riverside town on a boat tour, kayaking, visiting the museum of mate or blowing off steam together at a jolly amusement park.
Where to Eat
Lo del Francés
Take your love to Paris by way of Lo del Francés, a café bistro in San Telmo. It’s set over two floors with obligatory outside seating for the warmer months, and an upstairs area for added privacy. This place has a certain je ne sais quoi. Staff are French-speaking and there are hearty, decorative meals from different regions in France.
If you can’t quite pick between grabbing coffee or wine, why not do both? Serendipity Coffee and Wine Bar in Palermo Hollywood is a hybrid match made in heaven hopefully like your romance). There are also cute and shareable plates making this ideal for date night (or day).
La Poesía is a charming San Telmo café restaurant and former meeting place of the city’s poets, intellectuals and musicians. Tango lyricist Horacio Ferrer wrote a famous poem called ‘Lulu’ for his wife who he met right there. One of the tables has a plaque commemorating their encounter.
Where to Stay
Vain Boutique Hotel
This award-winning 15-room hotel is easy on the eye with distinctive rooms, high ceilings and a rooftop jacuzzi. Guests at Vain can enjoy a made-to-order gourmet breakfast in the lounge areas or in their rooms for added privacy.
Named after your favourite place, Home Hotel is a cosy affair in trendy Palermo Hollywood. There’s a pool in the outdoor garden (open October to March) which is heated by solar panels. Have a Jet Lag Recovery or Chakratastic treatment at the in-house spa.
Nuss Buenos Aires Soho
There are 22 spacious rooms in this 100-year old year Spanish style convent turned boutique hotel. Nuss is set over four floors and the in-house chefs bake fresh bread each morning.
Hotel Madero is a business and couple-friendly hotel in Puerto Madero. The rooms are flooded with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Don’t forget about the rooftop spa with panoramic city views.
Hilton Buenos Aires
You can expect the usual Hilton bells and whistles plus views of the city and the river in Puerto Madero. With three restaurants (El Faro, Alberto’s Lobby Bar and Croutons Grab and Go), you’ll never go hungry here.
THE ARTS & CULTURE LOVER
What to Do
Visit Centro Cultural Recoleta
Buenos Aires has a museum mile which the 27 exhibition room Recoleta Cultural Centre is part of. There are also outdoor restaurants, educational spaces, a music studio, micro-cinema and amphitheatre where one may enjoy concerts, workshops and more for free. The building exterior itself is a work of art; it regularly gets a new lick of paint.
Get acquainted with Latin American art
Make friends with Botero and Kahlo at MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art. Buenos Aires is a notoriously creative city but MALBA is the jewel in its artistic crown.
Don’t miss Centro Cultural Borges
This cultural centre is named after Buenos Aires’ most famous writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who famously compared the Falklands War (Las Malvinas) to ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’. Catch an art exhibition, go to a reading or take in a concert.
Walk through Calle Lanín
Calle Lanín is a leafy, colourful dream come to life. The lane is decorated with multi-hued mosaic tiles throughout and they were placed by a local artist who started with his house and thankfully, then decorated many others.
Enjoy colourful Caminito
Caminito is a street museum in La Boca. Artist Benito Quinquela Martín transformed what used to be a landfill (and the city’s eyesore) by painting the walls in bright colours. Today it’s one of Buenos Aires’ most iconic landmarks.
Where to Eat
When visiting Caminito in La Boca, pay a visit to La Perla, a notable cafe that remains relatively unchanged after 8 decades. Its external signage is laden with fileteado, a decorative style of flowery writing that’s unique to Buenos Aires and its tango culture. On the inside, there are gramophones, antique typewriter and tango memorabilia. Dining here is the best kind of time warp.
Be prepared to wait in line for your chance to sip or dine at the oldest established café in Buenos – even Albert Einstein came here. Stepping into Café Tortoni is like being in the 20s; there’s an air of timelessness and a lot of respect is paid to the architecture of yesteryear. It remains stubbornly cemented in a bygone era and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
El Santa Evita
Argentina’s love affair with Eva ‘Evita’ Perón continues at El Santa Evita, where traditional comfort food dishes are spruced up and modernized. Feast on salteña-style empanadas, milanesa, locro (a thick Andean squash stew) and chipaguazú (corn grain cake) under the watchful eye of Evita’s large portrait.
Where to Stay
Play and stay at Play Hostel in Palermo Soho which has music-themed dorms and private rooms. It’s located just 6 blocks from Plaza Serrano and you get your money’s worth with a buffet breakfast each morning.
A Hotel Buenos Aires
Part hotel, part gallery, purchasable paintings hang in each of the 34 rooms here. A Hotel is very well-priced in ritzy Recoleta and it’s conveniently located if you’d like to discover downtown Buenos Aires on foot, as well as Palermo.
Regularly making it onto the list of Buenos Aires’ best hotels is Legado Mítico, an intimate boutique property in Palermo. Legado is worthy of your leisure time even just for the garden area, but you’ll particularly be enthralled by the library and reading rooms, which are a bibliophile’s dream.
There are three room categories: Míticas Classics, Míticas Superiors and Míticas Luxury rooms. Each room is themed and as such, is a dive into Argentina’s history. Stay in ‘El Tanguero’ which pays homage to Carlos Gardel, one of the most prominent figures in tango music or ‘La Primera Dama’, named after Eva Perón. It’s one of the most requested rooms.
Order the Club Elsewhere guide to Buenos Aires here.
Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and content editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.