Hello, Buenos Aires! is what Madonna sings in the famous film about the Argentinian first lady Evita when she enters Buenos Aires for the first time. The bustling city that the character of Madonna is looking for in the film is also what many travelers find in the Argentinian capital. My trip to Argentina and Chile started in this metropolis and I fell in love with the busy streets, the delicious food and the characteristic neighborhoods of the city. In this city guide, you’ll read everything you need to know about backpacking Buenos Aires!
How to get to Buenos Aires?
Buenos Aires will probably be the start of your trip through Argentina, as the most important international airport in the country – Ezeiza – is located near the capital. The international airport is south of the city; from there you can take the public bus to the center, but the shuttle bus is only slightly more expensive and much easier and faster. You will find the counters for the shuttles immediately after customs.
To the north of Buenos Aires, you will find the airport for national flights. From there you can easily travel further into the country. If you prefer to travel by bus – as I did myself – then your bus will probably leave from the bus terminal in Retiro. From Buenos Aires, you can take buses to just about every destination in the country, such as Puerto Madryn (6 hours), Bariloche (10 hours) or Iguazu (7 hours).
How to travel around in Buenos Aires?
Buenos Aires is immensely big, so no matter how much I enjoy walking in a city and no matter how much I have done here, in the end you will not manage it on foot. Then use the metro. It is not expensive and takes you almost everywhere.
Another option is the bicycle. Many bicycle tours are organized through the city; a perfect way to see a lot of the city in a day or part of a day. If you want to explore the city by bicycle yourself, take one of the free yellow bikes from EcoBici that you find all over the city. You can find more information about this on this Spanish website. Cycling in Buenos Aires can be a bit tricky, so beware. It is a busy city, some roads have up to 7 lanes and there is a lot of traffic. Fortunately, you will also find more and more cycle paths!
Tip: every first Sunday of the month you can participate for free in the Masa Critica, a spontaneous bike ride of about 20 kilometers that takes a different and unplanned route through the city.
How much time do you need for Buenos Aires?
In a metropolis such as Buenos Aires, you can spend weeks or months taking in the real city life. Would you like to follow a Spanish course during a tour of South America? Then this is a great city to stay longer and take your classes. Most travelers will want to visit Buenos Aires for a shorter time. My advice is to take at least 48 hours to explore the most important neighborhoods and highlights.
The barrios of Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is a huge metropolis with not one historic center with all sights; there are several neighborhoods that are worth a visit. These barrios themselves are also the most important sights of the city. The colourful streets of La Boca, the stately buildings in Recoleta or the bars and restaurants in Palermo.. every neighborhood is a city in itself. So immerse yourself in the street life and visit the city barrio by barrio. Of the 48 neighborhoods, these are the best to visit.
La Boca is a relatively poor neighborhood with colourful streets and cozy restaurants. It is known as the artists’ quarter, but it is also popular with football fans. Because in this area you can find the La Bombonera stadium of the Boca Juniors, where Maradonna once started his football career. Unfortunately, this is also one of the less safe neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, so pay attention to yourself and your belongings. The street El Caminito is colourful and more touristy, but therefore a bit safer as well.
San Telmo also has been a working-class area and one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Argentinian capital. On Sunday, you will find one of the largest markets in the city here. In the smaller alleys are nice restaurants and boutiques. Oh, and don’t forget to look at the street art around this barrio!
Palermo is the most popular area among tourists. If you love to go out in the evening, this is where to go. The neighborhood is also popular among locals, as the parks are popular picnic areas for the residents of the city on weekends. It is also typical how many people walk around these parks with arms full of dog leashes to walk big hordes of dogs.
Recoleta is the rich barrio of the city. Here you will find the embassies, city palaces of the rich Argentines and the famous cemetery with the white, marble tombs.
Puerto Madero is the neighborhood closest to the coast. This is where the port of Buenos Aires is located. Interested in a day trip to Uruguay? This is where to go for the ferry. Puerto Madero is quite an expensive and new neighborhood. It’s filled with modern skyscrapers and the more expensive type of hotels and restaurants. You should definitely go to the cool Faena Arts Center, housed in an old milk factory.
This barrio is the political center of the city. The heart of Buenos Aires is the Plaza de Mayo, one of the classic highlights of Buenos Aires. The huge boulevard Avenida 9 de Julio also runs through the area. Here, Buenos Aires will feel overwhelming and busy for sure, so we don’t recommend spending a lot of time here. Just take a few hours to see the classic highlights in this neighborhood.
Best things to do in Buenos Aires
#1 Recoleta Cemetery
This mini city with white mausoleums, statues, and monuments in the rich Recoleta district is one of the most visited places in the city. It is a beautiful place to wander around for a morning. There are many graves of Argentinian celebrities, but the best known is of course the one of the famous, former first lady Eva Perón. On our map, we have marked where you can find her mausoleum in the cemetery. There are still fresh flowers every day.
The story of Evita’s body is quite bizarre: after her death, the embalmed body was missing for years. When her husband, the former president, was exiled, the body of the iconic first lady also disappeared. Many years later the body of Eva Perón was reunited with her husband and again many years later it was buried in Buenos Aires.
#2 Avenida 9 de Julio
The Avenida is one of the longest and widest streets in the city. The sidewalks on both sides are approximately 140 meters apart and in some places, the street has 7 lanes. It is therefore impossible to cross the street in one go. Sights along the boulevard are the famous obelisk in the middle. From this point, you also have a view of a large building with a portrait of the famous, former first lady Evita.
The Teatro Colón is also located on Avenida. The monumental theater is beautiful to view from the outside but seems to be especially beautiful on the inside. There are guided tours, but you can also visit a performance there.
#3 A first introduction to Argentinian cuisine
Argentinian cuisine is best known for its delicious steaks. Look for a ‘parillo’ – a traditional Argentinian steakhouse – for a good piece of meat. Also enjoy the delicious street food, such as the well-known empanadas. Are you taking one con carne, pollo o queso? The Italian cuisine is also very well represented in Buenos Aires. Delicious! And icecream is also something you will see on every street corner, so don’t miss out on the ‘helado’.
#4 Palacio Barolo
This impressive Art Nouveau style monument is not one of the famous highlights of Buenos Aires, but I definitely recommend a visit. It was once the largest building in South America and still has this greatness today. You can take a tour of the building, ending in the lighthouse at the top of the tower. A beautiful view of the city awaits you here! Here you will find more information about the tours.
#5 Visit a tango show in Buenos Aires
Argentina is the country of the tango and you’ll experience that nowhere better than in Buenos Aires. In many places, locals are dancing the tango on the streets in the evening, so much fun. But do you want to see professionals at work? Then visit one of the many tango shows in the city! We went to the one in the classic Café Tortoni – a beautiful place, so definitely worth a visit itself – on the advice of a local because of the reasonable price. But if you want to dance the tango yourself, there are many courses in the city. In one of the many ‘milongas’, you can show off your new dance skills on tango evenings.
#6 Join a Buenos Aires free walking tour
A free way to see a lot of the city and get to know the Argentine culture is a free walking tour. The concept is simple: you can participate in the tour for free and afterwards you give a tip depending on what you believe the tour was worth to you. Many walking tours can be joined in Buenos Aires. They often start at the obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio, but they do not always have the same route or theme. Find one online that fits your needs!
#7 Visit a museum like the MALBA or Evita museum
The capital of Argentina has many museums. A popular museum is the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) with modern art. Admission is free. Close to the museum you will find the Floralis Genérica, an impressive artwork of steel and aluminum in the shape of a flower. The petals open in the morning and close in the evening.
We also recommend the Evita Museum, dedicated to the famous Eva Perón. On the basis of video, photos, posters, her clothing, and newspapers you get a glimpse into her short but memorable life. Evita died of cancer at the age of 33, but in that short life time became an Argentine legend.
#8 Plaza de Mayo
The political heart of Buenos Aires is the Plaza de Mayo. On the famous square, you will find the Casa Rosada, where the president’s office is located. First lady Eva Perón has held some of her famous emotional speeches from this balcony. Free guided tours of the palace can be joined on Saturdays and Sundays.
Another highlight on the square is the Catedral Metropolitana, a huge cathedral in Baroque style. The church has the grave of the national hero José de San Martín, an important figure in the Argentine struggle for independence.
Every Thursday afternoon around 1.30 pm the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo still gather in the square in protest. Their white caps are depicted on the square floor. They are the mothers of Desaparecidos, people who disappeared under the dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.
#9 The Grand Splendid Athenaeum
The most beautiful bookstore in the world! The building was once a theater and you can still see that in its interior. There are now countless bookshelves in the main hall and there is a small café on the former stage. Don’t forget to walk to one of the lodges at the top for the best view of the hall.
#10 Enjoy the parks of Palermo
Do you want to unwind in the busy metropolis? Then visit one of the parks in Palermo. Recommended are the large Parque 3 de Febrero, which actually consists of several parks where many Argentinian families settle on a picnic blanket in the weekends. The Japanese garden (Jardín Japonés) also seems to be a must, but I did not have the time to visit.
#11 Daytrip to Uruguay
Looking at the map shows how close Buenos Aires is to neighboring Uruguay. A day trip to Uruguay is therefore a perfect day trip! I skipped this trip, but I was told that from Puerto Madero, you can make the boat to the colonial coastal town of Colonia del Sacramento. The trip by ferry would take about an hour.