An Insider’s Guide to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, most commonly referred to as the “Paris of South America” is a city of greatly diverse culture. In this sprawling city sights, nightlife, gastronomy and the arts are concentrated in a few central neighborhoods.

With every neighborhood or ‘barrio’ offering something different, you’ll be sure to find something new to explore in each part of the city that you visit.

How to Get Around

The international airport in Buenos Aires is located right on the water on the East coast of Argentina. From here you’re only about a 15-20 minute drive into the heart of the city. There is fabulous public transportation in Buenos Aires, giving you the option to take the subway, bus, or rent a bike if you’d rather not pay for a taxi.

There is also Uber in Buenos Aires which makes it very easy to get around. That way you don’t have to have as much cash on you at all times as opposed to a taxi. You also won’t have to worry about haggling taxi prices when the meter is off, there will be a set price on Uber that you’ll see before requesting.

The cost of the Uber from the airport to Palermo cost about $11. In the city, from one neighborhood to another can range from $7-$15 for a one-way, which is usually a lot cheaper than cab fare.

The subway system in Buenos Aires is the cheapest, and sometimes quickest way to get around. Once underground in the station, you can buy a card and pay for a number of rides to load onto your rider card. Depending on how long you’ll be in the city, it’s best to buy somewhere between 5-10 rides at a time so you can easily swipe for access.

What to Eat

I had certain assumptions before I started planning my trip that proved me right to always do my own research before making judgments. I had been informed for years that when you’re traveling to Argentina, you best prep your body with greens beforehand because you’ll have a slim number of options other than meat; wrong.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, don’t be fooled by the movies or food blogs of the “best food in Argentina” being that of meat, cheese and bread – there are other plenty of other options other than meat. In fact, there were TONS of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, cafes, and natural health food markets. (I personally eat meat, but having the option of other types of cuisine, and perhaps, a well-prepared salad every once in a while was a delightful surprise that I discovered once arriving to Palermo, aka the bohemian district of Buenos Aires.)

Buenos Aires has a very distinct European feel to it and a growing international expat community in the Palermo district. The quality of life is very high here and you’ll quickly see why! Floating from cafe to cafe, exploring the markets, and eating your way around the city are all part of the experience in Buenos Aires.

The Neighborhoods

Palermo

When looking at a map, you’ll see that the city of Buenos Aires (being the capital of Argentina) is pretty huge. There are a few more popular districts that all have their little niche. Palermo is known to be the “chic green” neighborhood and the safest barrio of the city due to its high volume of tourists and having more police patrolling the area.

This is the neighborhood I chose to stay in simply because of the ability to walk to cafes, parks and restaurants and feeling safe if I happened to make a wrong turn. The neighborhood has much to offer; tree-lined cobblestone streets, jazz clubs tucked off the side streets, boutique shops sprinkled between new and old restaurants and bars.

A few to mention…

Casa Munay – vegetarian/vegan café & bakery; breakfast/lunch/dinner – I could have eaten every meal at Munay. The restaurant has a beautiful ambience to escape the hustle of the city and invites to stay for a few hours. A delicious veggie island in the ocean of carne.

Calden del SoHo – traditional, authentic, 5-star Argentinian cuisine. This parrilla has every type of steak you can imagine, empanadas, salads, sausages, and a wine list to go with it all.

Nola – New Orleans style eggs Benedict, fried egg and biscuit sandwiches; with this traditional Southern comfort fare you can never go wrong!

La Fabrica del Taco Comida – a taste of SoCal in Palermo; tacos, burritos, salad bowls, nachos, traditional Mexican in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Al Arabe – “cheap eats” Mediterranean to-go or dine-in foods with options of falafel, lamb, tabouleh, hummus platters and baklava.

Burger Joint – the most simple yet delicious menu, 6 rotating burgers (1 vegan/vegetarian), fries, beers. Simple, tasty, and affordable.

Antares Palermo – the best brewery in Palermo in my opinion, 15 rotating taps with house-brewed beers of all types; low alcohol to double IPA’s and ciders. Plan accordingly, this place gets packed on a weekend night.

Palermo will not disappoint in terms of the food and drink scene; from wine bars to craft breweries to taco shops to burger joints to an Arabic hole-in-the-wall – you won’t go hungry wandering the streets.

There are also a number of speakeasies in the area which I found to be a unique feature. Underground and tucked away unless you know where to find it, there’s something very romantic about being in a dark, cavernous-like bar- almost as if you discovered a place less traveled.

This isn’t it say that other areas of Buenos Aires are not “nice”, in fact, in many cases, the very grit of a neighborhood is usually what makes it more interesting. The neighboring district to see is Recoleta.

Recoleta

Recoleta is perhaps where you will see the famous saying of Buenos Aires being the Paris of South America coming to life. Everything from the French-style architecture and beautiful plazas and parks, you’ll see why Recoleta is said to be the most cultural part of Buenos Aires.

You’ll want to map out some sort of itinerary so you can plan when to see the sights of the city in the most economical fashion. During the day, taking the subway is the easiest and most affordable way to get around, but I recommend to take the subway during the day as much as possible, and save Uber trips for when it’s dark and you don’t want the hassle.

If you’re staying in Palermo, Recoleta is about 15 minutes away with a few major highlights to see.

El Ataneo Grand Splendid Bookstore – a theatre-turned-bookstore/café, this is truly the most “splendid” bookstore I have ever seen. From the elegant stairways to the breathtaking view from the balcony down onto the stage of the theatre to the thousands of books lining the walls, I could spend hours getting lost in this store.

El Ataneo also features a café for breakfast and lunch where you can actually sit ON the stage of the theatre looking out into what would have once been the audience; such a unique and picturesque experience!

Recoleta Cemetery – One of the World’s most famous cemetery’s. Explore thousands of years of Argentinian history wandering through the many corridors of eloquent gravestones, including “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” singer Eva Peron’s grave. Recoleta is the final resting place of many of Argentina’s wealthiest and most famous families and personages.

Florería Atlántico – Buenos Aires’ most famous cocktail bar, with a flower shop serving as the false front. This bar is described as being a tribute to the multiethnic history of the city’s population.

The menu is divided by national influence, with sections dedicated to Spain (sherry drinks), Poland (vodka) and England (gin, Scotch), however, the bar’s signature drink is, naturally, a Negroni variation.



Los Galgos – Pop into one of the city’s most historical bars for lunch or catch some live music up on the rooftop. What was once a 1930s café has been restored into an iconic piece of Buenos Aires history with its remaining tarnished mirror and wood paneling. If you fancy a cocktail, be sure to try the Negroni on tap.

San Telmo

San Telmo is famous for being the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Its cobblestone streets and colonial buildings used to be the quarters of dockland workers and it was one of the city’s first industrial areas.

This is also home to Casa Rosada where you can see the official residence of the President of Argentina. The building also houses a museum, which contains objects relating to former presidents of Argentina. It has been declared a National Historic Monument of Argentina.

Take a Tango Lesson – Offered all over the city, but here is where you’ll find many group/private lessons hosted in private studios, homes, or parks. Escuela Mariposita is one of the best for starting with the basic steps or even for those with previous experience in tango.

Run from an old mansion in San Telmo, it has tango classes for all levels, regular workshops and even intensive, week-long classes of tango. These lessons range from $20 – $40 per person, offering a 90 minute class and, depending which you choose, unlimited wine and cheese… the best kind of post-dancing snack!

If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a free live performance on the street. Often filled with dancers, Buenos Aires’ second oldest square, Plaza Dorrego, is a San Telmo highlight. Particularly on Sunday evenings, but more regularly during the summer months.



See the Underground Tunnels – Manzana de las Luces, or “Block of the Lights,” housed the activities of the early Jesuit missionaries in Buenos Aires. The first documented report of an uncovered tunnel came in 1865, and interest in the tunnel network reappeared during a project to drain the neighborhood of San Telmo when engineers discovered more tunnels.

The tunnels range in size, and some lead to large, vaulted chambers. Many tunnels remain undiscovered, however, and may remain to serve secret purposes.

Although full of history, the tunnels were closed when I took the tour, and may be closed for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, a very inexpensive $3 way to spend an hour learning about the history of the city.

Accommodations & Costs

Budget hotel prices – Centrally-located hotels start around $35 USD for a double room. Most include breakfast, free WiFi, and many include air-conditioning.

There are a fair number of Airbnb hosts in the city as well and you can get a studio apartment for anywhere between $30 – $40/night. You can also choose to rent out a private room for slightly less (about $20/night.)

Average cost of food – In most of the cafes around the city, you’re looking at $6-7 USD per dish, though you can find also find many lunch specials at the smaller, locally owned cafes for $4-5.

Pizza is really popular in the city and costs about $8-10. Steaks begin at $10, bottles of wine at $7-8, and pastas at $7.

If you are looking for a really nice sit down meal with good steak and wine, expect to pay around $22 USD. Alternatively, you can buy a week’s worth of groceries (including bottles of wine) for around $32. 

Buenos Aires is also widely known for its tapas and wine bars where you can sample a large selection of bites and tastes of wines for a very reasonable price, and end up skipping dinner altogether!

Although you will notice that many restaurants don’t even open until 8 pm due to the fact that the locals in Argentina don’t eat dinner until somewhere between 10 pm – midnight! So tapas are really more of a late lunch.


Some Other Things To Do

Go to a Live Jazz Show

Jazz is huge in Buenos Aires. If you’re not seeing a tango show, go to a jazz concert; or better yet, see both! You can make both experiences as budget-friendly or as luxurious as you wish based on the venue you’re choosing, and if you’d like to enjoy dinner and drinks as you enjoy the show.

Virasoro Bar offered 2 nightly shows in their intimate, lively venue playing big band New Orleans style jazz. The theatre holds only about 25 people, so it’s necessary to make a reservation beforehand. The tickets cost $20 a person to sit at your own table where you can have drink and food service offered.

See a Tango Performance

Or better yet, try for yourself! Many performances that you’ll find tickets for offer a 30 minute practice before the show to teach you the basics of the dance.

Piazzolla Tango cost $30 a person and include the option of a steak dinner and wine with the show (these packages cost about $75 per person.) The theatrics and beauty of the show are truly amazing; from the authenticity of the costumes to the traditional music and overall performance.

Bar Sur is another location for experiencing a tango show in San Telmo. With only nine tables in the whole bar, it’s a cosy, atmospheric setting for admiring the sensual steps of the tango.

La Bomba de Tiempo

This was the highest rated activity to do in Buenos Aires and it was quite apparent why. Packed on a Monday night with locals and tourists alike all sharing the same passion for music. This show is a group of world-performing percussionists with a fantastic stage presence and light-show.

It’s only available to see during the summer months since it is held outside. There is a huge covered bar area and the stage is open air, which is perfect for all the dancing and jumping to ensue.

The show lasts about 90 minutes and is a non-stop performance of all different types of percussion and dancing on stage. Tickets are extremely affordable priced at $10 a person. I recommend buying tickets online beforehand especially on a weekend to avoid the show being sold out.

Spend an Afternoon Living Like Royalty

Experience an afternoon enjoying high tea at L’ Orangerie Alvear Palace; a hotel built in 1932, originally conceived as a luxury hotel to accommodate the growing number of European visitors who arrived in Buenos Aires at that time.

Alvear Palace is now a unique place to live a special afternoon and savor their exquisite cakes, mini pâtisserie, fresh fruit tarts, warm scones and other delicacies specially prepared by Chef Pâtissier.

I recommend making reservations if you plan to come on a Sunday afternoon. Prices range anywhere from $45 – $60 a person depending on the day of the week (Sunday is the most expensive day), and the time of the year. The summer months tend to be much busier and require reservations.

Wine Tasting

Wine bar Ser y Tiempo recently starting hosting affordable weekly tastings of four wines and small tapas. Additional meals, like lamb stew or veal, are served after the tasting when you have worked up an appetite.

Different than a most private wine tastings, guests sit in groups with friends and chat in between the explanations of the various wines. Wines can then be purchased for consumption on the spot.

Tapas may include cheese boards with ripened meats, locally baked bread, exquisite desserts, you name it! An intimate atmosphere and exquisite place to taste different wines.

For a simpler, less expensive tasting; head down the street to Trova Wine Bar. You can do a smaller tasting of three (generous) pours for about $10. You can purchase wine by the glass or by the bottle. There is also a fair selection of local beer on tap if you’re not in the mood for vino!

Attend a Yoga Class

Buena Onda Yoga – daily lessons in Spanish, English, and even “Spanglish”, these affordable studio classes are in two locations; Palermo and San Telmo.

Offering a handful of classes throughout the day at a very reasonable price (in fact some days of the week the classes are donation based, meaning you pay how you feel after the class).

Pick your type of class; Slow Flow, Restorative, Power Vinyasa, or a meditative Yin. Don’t forget your water bottle and a towel and prepare to sweat!

Rent a Bike

Rent a bicycle for the afternoon and see the city in a different way. Head to the Rose Garden about three miles outside of Palermo and watch the paddle boats go by. For a closer, less strenuous ride; head north of Palermo to the Japanese and Botanical Gardens.

The Botanical Garden is free of charge and the Japanese Garden has varying feed depending on the day of the week and time of day. Ranging from $2-$5. The cost to rent a bicycle is about $8 for 4 hours or $10 for the full day (6 hours.)

If you fancy some lunch or a drink after your bike ride and tour of the gardens, head down the street to Casa Cavia, an eclectic, refurbished house with an outdoor garden and dining area; the perfect oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The food and drinks will not disappoint and neither will the experience of wandering through this historical mansion.

You could truly spend months exploring Buenos Aires and still not see everything that the city has to offer. I recommend visiting Buenos Aires for at least a week so you can get a glimpse of the different neighborhoods and a feel for the city and culture.

Ciao!

The Traveling Yogi

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