Buenos Aires, an Argentinian jewel with a sprinkle of European flair
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We have SO MUCH to say about this incredible city. In total, we stayed 2 weeks in Buenos Aires (with a week in Rosario in the middle), but we could have stayed for months and not gotten bored. We were lucky enough to know several locals to meet up with and get shown the ropes, which definitely improved our experience. Buenos Aires is a popular place for tours and cruises to stop by, so there are plenty of guides to be found if you don’t fancy self-guiding.
We stayed in both the Palermo area and San Telmo, but much preferred Palermo for its hip, buzzing vibe. San Telmo is fantastic to be around extravagant buildings and some of the main tourist attractions, like the San Telmo Market on Sundays and Casa Roja. However, if you’d rather soak in the local culture rather than tick off all of TripAdvisor’s top attractions, Palermo is the place to be in Buenos Aires.
After you’ve read this guide to what to do in Buenos Aires, Argentina, check out these posts:
In terms of where to stay, we spent time in 3 different hostels and we have one recommendation that trumps them all – Maleva Muraña Hostel in Palermo.
This place was out of this world good, and the breakfast was the best we had in the whole of Argentina and Uruguay (think toasties, waffles, cakes, eggs, bread, churros, fruit, cereal and press-it-yourself fresh juice). The staff are all family and are so proud of their little hostel that everything is pristine, the kitchen is better than most European homes and the beds are incredibly comfy. Plus hot, well-pressured showers which is always a bonus.
They do asado nights and live music on the terraces too, so everyone feels at home. The street it’s down is super-graffiti’ed, and is so painfully cool that every time we left the hostel there was a new fashion photoshoot going on.
We also stayed at the Art Factory Beer Garden Hostel in Palermo (lured in by the craft beer bar), and even though we made a fantastic group of room-mate friends there, the beds weren’t comfy, we had no curtain on the giant window, there weren’t enough lockers, and – here’s the real bad news – there was no communal kitchen, so we had to eat out in the pricey capital for every meal.
Things to do in the day in Buenos Aires
Hear about the history of La Boca
One area you must go and see in Buenos Aires is La Boca (you can get the metro and bus there but we decided a taxi from San Telmo was cheap enough). Once a brick-a-brack hub of immigration and poverty, now the colourful houses have become a beacon for tourists with fannypacks and intrusive cameras.
There are plenty of tours to choose from there; we went with Free Walking Tours (named so even though this particular one actually has a set price rather than tipping system), which unfortunately didn’t have a Spanish option so we did it in English.
It’s sort of everything we hate about tourism; large groups of people gathered around a tour guide with a loudspeaker pronouncing Spanish terms in an American accent and then tipping locals because they just happened to ‘coincidentally’ be playing an accordion on the corner as we turned up; BUT it has to be said that the tour was very informative and the guide was actually a really engaging guy. Once we got over the cringe-factor, we really enjoyed it.
After the tour, we walked around the area to the non-touristic area (not especially advised but had to get out of the Disneyland feel of the centre) which was far more eye-opening to how people live now. We walked all the way back to San Telmo, and on the way stopped in at the Rock & Roll Restobar, which had cheap food and super-friendly owners (and more importantly, to Andy’s delight, it had football on the TV).
Take Norma’s Argentine Cooking Class
Another great day was our cooking class. Lozzy is not into cooking at all (she has to google how to cook an egg), but still had a fantastic time. We were gifted vouchers for the Norma’s Argentine Cooking Class as a leaving present from work, and she didn’t disappoint.
Fluent in English, friendly, interested in finding out about new people and an excellent cook, Norma was enthusiastic and made us feel super welcome in her beautiful apartment with panoramic views of Buenos Aires. We cooked a lentil stew, empanadas and alfajores, all coupled with wines.
She is based in Belgrano which is easily accessible by metro, and well worth it. You can find Norma here.
Stroll round parks, squares and cemeteries
El Rosadel is a lovely green space to be late afternoon/early evening. You can hire some precarious-looking pedlos or enjoy a stroll in the rose garden. There is also a line of uber-cool bars near the Western entrance to the bar (under the bridge arches), but remember when we said we waited an hour for a cocktail? Hello, Avant Garden!
On a more poignant note, every Thursday at 3:30pm in Plaza de Mayo (San Telmo) you can see the remaining of the mothers of those lost to the regime of Jorge Rafael Videla silently marching to protest the lack of answers about the supposed death of their children during the ‘Dirty War’. They wear white scarves (once nappies) on their heads, which they have embroidered with the name of their missing son or daughter.
Oh, and Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery is a must; we wish we’d done a tour to hear of all the stories and myths (there are several tip-based free walking tours there), but it was interesting nonetheless. Some of the tombs have been broken into by grave-robbers or left in disrepair, so they can be fairly creepy if walking alone!
Day-trip out of Buenos Aires
To get out of the city, lots of people recommend going to Tigre, which we did, but although it was quaint there wasn’t a huge amount to do and see without better planning, so we’re not sure it was worth the 2 hour round journey for us. We ended up walking down the river to find a place for lunch, sitting on the river bank for half an hour and then going back to the city. If we’d have researched more before, we could have gotten in a boat tour round the delta or a visit to the Aquafan waterpark.
Food, Drink and Nightlife in Buenos Aires
The Shoreditch of Buenos Aires, in Palermo there is a craft beer bar every few metres, and the area is mostly inhabited by Porteños instead of socks-and-sandals tourists. Nightlife begins in earnest on Thursday evening, and keeps going until Sunday night. It’s more of a bar area than one for clubbing, but some of the bigger, stickier-looking bars have dancefloors.
There are some clubs further out in Palermo Hollywood, but be warned that they are almost all trance/techno/terrible music, and men have to pay more than women for entry.
Craft is HUGE here, with everything from beer to pasta to fruit being labelled ‘artesanal’. In reality, most craft places sell the same 5 beers on tap (usually an unbranded IPA, APA, Honey, Amber and Malt), but some venture out into real craft, with variety and labels. Prepare to pay out of your arse, but for the atmosphere we’d say it’s worth it. For more info on the beer scene in Buenos Aires, check out Andy’s beer blog.
Places we’d recommend visiting in Palermo are The Burger Joint for dinner – which is normally pretty packed so get there early-ish to get a table (there is a lot of space and another bar round the back) – and Queen Victoria Bar, though just for one as it’s expensive even for London prices. It’s meant to be a speakeasy, and they almost get what that is, but you can just walk straight in without any special act or password; however, the interior is pretty spectacular.
The Temple Bar is also pretty cool; nothing too special but we had a great night drinking beer with the roadies of Coldplay after the last gig of their world tour until 5am. For a hungover brunch, check out Ninina. Great coffee places are Lattente or LAB.
There is also a chain of restaurants that include La Hormiga and Las Cabras, which are fairly cheap, very popular and have fantastic food (check out their sharing platters of steak or the pumpkin (calabeza) and honey tacos. Dribble.
Famous for its market, San Telmo is a lot more chilled than Palermo, and generally for an older crowd with more classical taste. There are still great deals to be had in hip-looking places without getting too touristy though, so fear not!
In San Telmo, we came across a fast food restaurant called El Banco Rojo which is super cheap and has great food (tacos, burgers, etc.). We also really enjoyed a bar called Antares, a slightly hipster bar chain that made it into our list of the best craft breweries in South America.
Where to find the best Argentinian steak in Buenos Aires
Probably the best thing about Buenos Aires is the steak. Vegetarians are really going to struggle here. Unlike Uruguay, steak in Argentina is cooked to utter perfection, and it’s not expensive, either. Our favourite cut is Bife de Lomo, but opt for Bife de Chorizo if you like something more chunky.
Pretty much every foreigner we met raved about El Cabrero, which is featured in Lonely Planet because it offers 40% off if you turn up before the restaurant opens. We were going to follow their recommendation, but a local friend put us off, saying they use the early-birds to get rid of the poor cuts of meat, you have to be there at 6pm on the dot and they kick you out at 7:59pm on the dot (super early for LatAm dinner time), and you will still be paying Western European prices for this meal.
Instead, he recommended La Brigada in San Telmo if we fancied a classy experience. The cuts were BEAUTIFUL, we got to turn up at a normal time, and as a bonus, the steaks were cut for us with a spoon (!). We paid £25 per head for way too much food (lesson learnt: one vegetable side is enough for two) + £30 for a bottle of incredible Cabernet:
But for the tastiest local experience around, he told us to go to Don Niceto in Palermo, and warned us that the exterior shouldn’t put us off.
Despite being told this, it almost did put us off, especially as there is a very swanky-looking hotel opposite. However, we’re glad we went, as we got a huge asado with sides and a bottle of wine, which in total cost only £9 each for 4 of us, and it was THE MOST AMAZING MEAT EVER. It was also full of locals who were queuing for a table, which is always a good sign. Definitely our best meal in the whole 2 weeks in Buenos Aires.
Service in Buenos Aires: Is it really that bad?!
Ummmmm… yes. Service in Buenos Aires is mostly terrible. It’s almost impossible to catch a waiter’s attention, and when you do order something, it’s almost as if you’ve annoyed them by adding extra work rather than doing them a favour by adding to the tip pot. We once waited an hour for a fairly expensive cocktail, standing at the bar watching the barman washing up a few glasses in between restyling his hair.
Don’t take it personally, locals get this treatment too; but just remember you may have to ask twice. Or three times.
The people of Buenos Aires are called Porteños (essentially ‘port-dwellers’), and are infamous all around South America for being cold and unfriendly, much like Londoners or Parisians. However, once you get out of the capital, service and general willingness to chat improves greatly!
How long to stay in Buenos Aires: 5-7 days minimum (but you could stay for months!)
Now you’ve read this guide on what to do in Buenos Aires, Argentina, check out these posts: