How to Do Buenos Aires: Favorites and Least Favorites

In addition to taking Spanish classes, I was excited to spend six weeks in Buenos Aires for a couple of other reasons. When you are on the road for so long it is nice to have a place where you can unpack your stuff, do laundry, and almost feel at home. Staying a little longer somewhere means you can find a favorite café for breakfast every morning and learn how to get around like a local (to accomplish that, download Como Llego and you’ll be navigating the bus system with ease).

Mostly I wanted to stay longer because there is just so much to see and do in Buenos Aires (as the local gov well knows, their slogan being “there’s always something to do in the city”). I wanted to be able to get beyond the greatest hits of the tourist trail, and really get to know BA. Even with six weeks, I did not get to everything that was on the list. I guess I’ll just have to go back and visit Tigre and Tierra Santa

But I do feel that I got to experience the city in the way that I wanted to, and to the level which I was hoping. After my time there, here are some of my recommendations.

For the Art Lover

For many, the Bellas Artes museum is a can’t miss. It is the big art museum in town, and is a wonderful collection with a European tilt. But basically, it reminds me of any art museum you can see pretty much anywhere. If you only have time (or patience) for one art museum, make it MALBA. The MALBA has a Latin American focus which is a bit more unique and offers a more sense of place.

Regarding another kind of art: if you have a chance to catch a show at Teatro Colon, do it. I saw the symphony perform there, and the stunning interior is well worth the small price of admission. Alternatively, you can take a tour of the theater but for me if I am going to go to the theater I am going to go to the theater.

The Nature Lover

It is always nice when you can find patches of green inside dense cityscapes. Buenos Aires is not covered in parks, but you can still find lovely pockets of nature throughout the city. For weeks everyone told me I needed to get out to Puerto Madero and see the Ecological Reserve. I finally made it… You can skip the reserve. It’s out of the way, crowded on the weekends, and not particularly pretty.

Spend time at the Bosques de Palermo instead. You won’t be disappointed by the lovely well-manicured rose gardens, the meandering paths, and the peaceful bodies of water. The botanical gardens also do not disappoint, and if you are looking for a culture mash-up (and are willing to drop a couple bucks) the Japanese gardens are lovely as well.

The Food Lover

If I were to mention Argentina, you’d probably immediately think wine and beef – am I right? And while the wine is divine, I have found that the barbeque is really nothing to write home about. Argentinian barbeque follows a similar all-the-meats-you-can-eat philosophy as Chilean asado – which is fine, although I prefer more variety in my meals. And while the quantity of meats on display can be staggering, I would say they generally lack in quality cuts. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a nice juicy ribeye that you can cut with a butter knife off my dad’s grill in the summer… Although there is something to be said for grilling over wood rather than propane.

Argentinians would probably also add pizza to the list of prized food items, but of the Italian delicacies they replicate here I’d pass on the pizza in favor of the ice cream. I did eat some decent pizza, but nothing impressive. And I’m baffled why every slice has a whole green olive on it (even though I’m an olive lover!). In a surprise turn of events, Buenos Aires does have a lively Armenian community and the scrumptious plates turned out by Sarkis is unmissable if you enjoy Middle Eastern food.

Hit the Cultural Centers

Probably one of the most pleasant surprises about Buenos Aires is the center of social life that is the cultural center here. Every day of the week you can find classes, lectures, workshops, concerts, and all sorts of activities for every type of person. I’ve seen art exhibits, language classes, laser shows, film screenings, tango workshops and hip hop battles on offer. You never know what you could find.

So before you come to Buenos Aires, check out what is going on at a the cultural centers near your hotel or hostel – there’s bound to be a couple nearby as they seem to be on every corner. Or at the very least, check out what is going on at Konex CC (DON’T miss La Bomba de Tiempo on Monday nights) or Recoleta CC, where it is wonderful to drop in on a Saturday or Sunday late afternoon while the artisan feria is going on outside.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention a few other notable to-dos:

  • Take a stroll in the Recoleta cemetery, and make the pilgrammage to Evita herself. If all you know about her is “don’t cry for me Argentina” then maybe make your way to the Evita museum and study up a bit.
  • I put off visiting it for awhile because I could not imagine what would be special about going to yet another cafe, but visit Cafe Tortoni. Walking through the door is like stepping back in time, the atmosphere is leisurely (despite the often long line out the door), and the service is surprisingly attentive! Practically a miracle around these parts.
  • A good option for lazy weekend afternoons, as I mentioned before, is to hit up one of the many ferias around the city. Every little neighborhood seems to have one. The Recoleta one seems a standout in size and quality, and the San Telmo one is famous for antiques and evening tango (in Plaza Dorrego).
  • If you are interested in watching tango, or even taking a class, you could not find a cooler place to do it than the bohemian/industrial chic Catedral de Tango.
  • Like jazz? Be sure to check out what’s playing on stage at the cozy yet elegant Thelonious.
  • I try and take at least one walking tour in every new city I hit, and Buenos Aires was no exception. I ended up taking all of the walks offered by Free Walks Buenos Aires. I always love a free walk.
  • Everyone will tell you about Ateneo Grand Splendid, and while it must be one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores in the world, it is crowded and offers very little in comfy seating if you want to cozy up and read a book. Still, go. But don’t expect to spend much time there.

I think that’ll about do it. After all this reflecting on Buenos Aires I want to head back… but right now I’m being called westward. More on that later.

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