The capital of Argentina is one of the most fascinating cities in Latin America. While I am not generally a city person, I very much loved exploring all the things to do in Buenos Aires for the several days I was there.
There is indulging in food (who doesn’t like pizza, gelato and grilled meats?), there is rich heritage with strong Spanish but also Italian influences, there is a varied cultural offer (more theatres than any other city outside New York, more bookstores per capita than anywhere else), and then there are copious amounts of dulce de leche, Argentinian charm and waterfront living.
Are you interested to know what to do in Buenos Aires? This is the place to find out.
Buenos Aires is a very walkable city, but it is big and spread out, without too many tall buildings, so the most popular Buenos Aires attractions are best covered by neighbourhood.
I spent a few days in each of the main areas staying at a different hotel every time and exploring on foot. Uber works really well and is not too expensive, but you might spend quite a lot of time back and forth. If you are staying in the city longer, you may also want to look for an apartment in Buenos Aires.
Things to do in Buenos Aires – Recoleta and Retiro
Recoleta and Retiro are the two poshest areas in Buenos Aires. Here is where you have the embassies, the luxury hotels, the businessmen and women wearing suits, the high end shopping malls and the mansions of the wealthy.
This is also where a lot of the best things to do in Buenos Aires are. It pays to spend a few days here when you are visiting the city because most places are within walking distance of the best hotels at the top (Palacio Duhau, Alvear Palace).
Floralis Generica is a mechanical flower by Argentinian artist Catalano who gifted it to the city in 2015. The structure is located in the United Nations Square and opens and closes with the sun, changing schedule throughout the year, just like regular flowers do. Its name derives from Latin for all flowers.
Because it is located in a slightly elevated green grass park, you can have different views depending on where you stand. It is worth coming at sunset when the flower closes for the day.
Facultad de Derecho – Law Faculty
The Law Faculty of the university of Buenos Aires has a grand feel to it and is a very Instagramable place with the long and straight stairs and the concrete building at the top.
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Across from the Law Faculty, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a wonderful opportunity to explore the largest public art collection in Latin America. The museum has two main sections: the 19th century European Art and the Argentinian art collection.
It is impressive to see so many of the grand painters and artists of all time under one roof. Look out for Goya, Picasso, Manet, El Greco or Van Gogh and you can also learn more about Argentinian art.
The museum offers free guided tours on Wednesday and Friday at 2,30pm.
This square located right in front of the Cementerio de Recoleta has a few notable elements. Firstly, it hosts an artisanal market on weekends and has been doing so for 30 years. The Feria de Artesanos de Plaza Francia is on every weekend and public holiday with all sorts of artesanal and handmade items.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
This Baroque basilica adjacent to the Recoleta Cemetery was built by Franciscan Recoleta monks between 1715 and 1732 and is the oldest in Buenos Aires. You can go in and visit the church and cloisters on your own, make sure not to miss the altar decorated with Aztec Silver.
There is also a hidden religious museum in the back and upper floors which is accessible for a small fee, and which gives way to a series of religious art pieces and also, one of the best views of Recoleta Cemetery, through the grid windows, quite a hidden Buenos Aires attraction!
The church offers monthly guided tours in Spanish and English, dates are here. But if you are not in town when they occur, the visit to the museum area is well worth it.
The city’s most famous cemetery is one of the top places to visit in Buenos Aires, not least because its most famous personality, Evita Peron, is buried there and her grave is a cult destination for many.
The cemetery was built in 1822 and received its name from the convent that used to be on the premises and was inhabited by the same monks who built the basilica next door.
This is a beautifully laid cemetery garden with lots of trees and the graves of many important Argentinian personalities such as Presidents or Nobel Prize winners, some of which are stunning marble mausoleums. In fact, 94 of the graves are considered national monuments and protected by the government.
There is an app you can download for your own self-guided tour and also daily free tours offered. But the app is pretty good if you can’t make the tour times. It has an interactive map you can follow and highlights all the interesting stories of those who found their final resting place at the cemetery.
This is probably one of the most uplifting cemeteries there is and it is full of fascinating stories of life. Through them, you can also learn more about the history of Buenos Aires and Argentina.
Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco
A visit to the Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco is one of the top things to do in Buenos Aires, and in my opinion largely overlooked (I was the only one there for the hour I spent browsing the exhibits).
This museum started as a private collection by Isaac Fernández Blanco who had a fondness for violins and string instruments which then expanded into Latin American art, in particular Peruvian art from Cusco.
When it opened in 1921, the museum was housed in the family home but it moved to today’s beautiful Spanish colonial revival Palacio Noel, with its pretty Andalusian garden courtyard, in 1943. The museum has been under ownership of the city of Buenos Aires since 1922 and its collection has expanded through the years with donations.
The majority of the museum is devoted to art and culture from colonial Peru and River Plate and provides great insight into not just the artistic expression of the time but also into life in those colonies including religion, and ethnic and cultural evolution as the indigenous population mixed with the settlers.
The museum walks visitors through the concept for the Fourth World, the Americas, which was not considered in 16th century Europe, and then the colonial expansion of the Spanish Empire into all the Latin American countries, including modern day Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
The exhibitions also talk about the evolution of the colonies through the centuries and how settlers became civil servants and the Americas became the land of opportunities. It is a very insightful way to learn more about Spain’s colonial past across all the countries in one place.
Perhaps the star of the museum is the collection of Art from the Cuzco School of which Fernández Blanco was especially a fan. This artistic style mixed Spanish influence from the Golden Period of the 16th century, with the indigenous painting and sculpture style.
This has to be one of the nicest of the museums I visited in Buenos Aires, not least because of the place it is located in. From the moment you enter, you feel like time has slowed down.
The entrance ticket fee was a donation of any amount. I gave $10 and the lady was quite shocked and insisted everybody gives far less. The receipts are in 10 peso bundles. More information here.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
This widely awarded bookstore is one of the most beautiful attractions in Buenos Aires. Before reading about it, I actually thought it was a modern place made to look old, so perfect it was.
Ateneo Grand Splendid has been named by pretty much any publication and media organisation as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and with reason.
Built by a local entrepreneur to be a theatre, it first opened its doors in 1919. The design of the building as well as the interior decorations, sculptures and ceiling frescoes were all done by notable artists of the time.
The theatre was also the headquarters of Radio Splendid started by the same businessman, and known for broadcasting the first tango shows of some of the famous artists of the time and in 1929 it was converted into a cinema that showed the first sound movies in Argentina.
In 2000, the theatre opened as a bookstore after being acquired by the publishing house and book company Grupo Ilhsa, who removed the seating and filled the space with bookshelves.
The result is an always-busy place where locals come to read, browse and take it all in while tourists flow in a constant stream at all times of day and night (the bookstore closes at midnight during the weekends) to take photos and admire this beautiful place.
My suggestion is, take it easy, enjoy the place by sitting at one of the many areas that have been designed for that, or better yet, sit at the cafe where the stage used to be. More information here on the official website.
Built in 1934 by Irish Corina Kavanagh, the Kavanagh Building is a combination of Modernism, Art Deco and Rationalist styles in a simple and modular structure. When it opened it was the tallest in Latin America, at 120 meters.
The residential building is located in the most official of the areas in Buenos Aires, where most of the skyscrapers are, in front of the green Plaza General San Martin whose jacarandas bloom in spring, at the bottom of pedestrian Calle Florida.
When it opened, it was also the most modern in Argentina, with elevators and air conditioning and it has remained a recognised landmark in Buenos Aires.
Legend says that the building’s architects had only one request from the owner: that the building block the view of the church from the Palacio San Martin. The palace was the home of an aristocratic family whose son she was in love with but who were against the relationship.
This grand shopping center is a beautiful place to spend some money. Classy, elegant and filled with 150 local and international high end brands. But beyond the shopping, this is a worthy tourist attraction in Buenos Aires. Let me tell you more…
The building is considered a national monument noted for its murals which were painted in 1945, its central dome and its vaulted glass ceiling. The galleries opened as a department store for fashion and was then sold to the railway company. The current shopping center opened in 1992.
The murals in the central dome are beautiful and were designed by five Argentinian painters all with their own interpretation of universal messages.
The center offers an audio guide that lasts 20min and tells you more about the building and the many murals. You can borrow headsets from the information desk to listen to it in four languages including English, Portuguese, French and Spanish.
Things to do in Buenos Aires – San Nicolas, Montserrat and San Telmo
The next neighbourhood down from Recoleta and Retiro are the official, artsy and vintage areas of San Nicolas, San Telmo and Montserrat. This is where you find the markets, the antique stores and the vintage clothing. This is an easy to explore area on foot because of its grid design.
San Telmo was originally the place for the wealthy to live but, when the plague spread, the rich escaped to Recoleta. Today, this is the best part of the city to visit on Sundays, when it comes alive with the weekend market, one of the best things to see in Buenos Aires.
Stroll along the pedestrian Calle Florida
This pedestrian street that starts at Plaza San Martin next to the Kavanagh Build has a few notable stops along the way besides Galerias Pacifico and is also a lively place for a stroll.
You will hear lots of money changers catching the interest of passers-by. I didn’t quite understand why that was the case, until I tried to exchange some money myself and saw the complexity of simply changing $10. Suddenly, these money changers sounded far more appealing.
Marvel at the Galerias Gueme
Galerias Guemes is one of the most historical and enchanting buildings in this part of the city and a must see tourist attraction in Buenos Aires.
When it opened, this Art Nouveau building was the tallest in town and was split into various levels with different uses all with incredible technological advances for 1915.
On the ground floor were the shops and restaurants are, offices occupied floors one to six and then there were residential apartments for rent. Antoine de Saint-Exúpery lived on the 6th floor in 1931. The building was topped with a Mirador, a view point. The basement was used for events and there was also a theatre.
The building was very modern at the time and had both central heating and air conditioning, as well as an internal mail system with tubes and elevators that could cover 140 meters within 60 seconds.
Some of the original businesses to open in the arcade are still there today. Look out for Boston City Cafe, a place to come enjoy a coffee Spanish style, standing up by the bar. When it opened the bar only allowed men.
The Galeria was often referred to as the perfume arcade thanks to Ruiz y Roca whose owner used to create fragrances for her clients and gave the name to the whole arcade.
Another institution is Sellos Policilla, which specialises in cigarettes and cigars and whose clients are now the grandchildren of the original clients from the 60s when the store opened.
One of the best ways to enjoy this part of the city is by going up to the viewpoint which is open in the afternoon from 3 to 6pm. You need to get a ticket from the ground floor and each visit lasts about 20min. More information here.
Be left speechless at Palacio Barolo homage to the Divine Comedy
This magnificent work of art is a total metaphor of the Divine Comedy. The architect, Mario Palanti, and the owner, a migrant and successful cotton businessman from Piedmont, Luis Barolo, were obsessed with Dante Alighieri and designed the whole building and another one the architect was designing at the time in Montevideo, Palacio Salvo, as a homage to Dante’s work.
The two buildings were meant to connect through the lighthouse at the top but the architect miscalculated the science behind the Earth not being flat and even if the beacon had been powerful enough the light of the two buildings would not have met. Palacio Salvo in Montevideo, never had a beacon either because the light was so bright it creates issues with shops in the River Plate.
When it was finished in 1923, Palacio Barolo was the tallest building in Buenos Aires and in Latin America, above Galeria Guemes, at 100m high, the same number of cantos in Dante’s work. It remained number one until the Kavanagh building was finished in 1935.
The references to The Divine Comedy are incredibly meticulous and well thought out and every single element of Palacio Barolo’s interior and exterior is a reference to the novel. For example, the building is divided into three parts. The ground floor and basement symbolise hell, with the bronze flowers representing flames and the snake gargolas. Floors 1 to 14 represent purgatory, and 15 to 22 represent heaven.
On the ground floor there used to be a statue of Dante on a condor elevating him to heaven which was meant to be his mausoleum where the architect wanted to house his ashes away from the wars that were ravaging Europe. The statue can be seen from any floor through the interior courtyard, but only by bowing down.
The building also has several references to Dante’s love, Beatrice, and the terrace at the back of the building looks more like a Hindu temple and may symbolize the Tantric love between the two.
Because both the architect and the owner were Italian, Palacio Barolo was built using materials that came from the country, like carrara and travertine marble or the bronze statues. They were also both part of a secret society, the Freemasons, and the building has a few hidden references to it.
Look at the elevator on the ground floor by the stairs and you will notice the letter A and the arm pointing at the floor finishes in a flor de lis.
Palacio Barolo is open to the general public as it is a working building with offices, but the truly exciting way to learn more is by joining one of the daily guided tours which tells all about Dante’s references and also shows one of the offices decorated and furnished as it once was. You also get to take pictures from the balconies. The visit concludes at the very top, inside the lighthouse. Go at sunset for the tallest viewpoint in Buenos Aires.
More information about the building here and to book tours go here. I booked my tour on the spot but the group was quite big. But they also have evening tours with wine, concerts, and even tango demonstrations which must be super cool as the acoustics of the palace are amazing.
Feel the history at Plaza de Mayo
This square is probably considered the city center and is the most important place to visit in Buenos Aires.
Originally the place where Buenos Aires was founded, the square was made up of two separate squares before its unification in 1884. The two squares, Plaza de la Victoria and Plaza de Armas, were separated by a Roman colonnades which were demolished in 1811 when a pyramid monument to commemorate the independence of the provinces of the River Plate was erected.
The name, Plaza de Mayo, refers to the country’s independence movement from Spain which started in 1810 with the May Revolution and ended in 1816.
The square is most famous for being the site of most demonstrations taking place in Argentina and it is common to find groups expressing their opinions on any matter at any time of the year.
The surrounding area is also of interest as many of Buenos Aires’ main tourist attractions are here, from the government building, La Casa Rosada, to El Cabildo or the Cathedral.
The square is also known for being the gathering place of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers who have been demonstrating and pushing for justice and political change ever since 1977.
The organisation has evolved and changed through the decades and the changes in government, and its original objectives have evolved too, but a fraction of the original movement still demonstrates on the square every Thursday seeking justice for the disappeared children and the babies born to disappeared women in captivity who were adopted by members of the regime.
These are the grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo who are seeking justice for the more than 500 babies who were taken away from their families. If you want to learn more about this, there is a documentary that was nominated for an Oscar. Here is a great video on YouTube.
Despite its importance and constant flow of locals and tourists, Plaza de Mayo has some quiet spots and is a great place to people watch and take Argentinian past in. There are some shaded grass areas on the side where you can even lay down and read a book, and benches in the middle.
Be official at Museo Casa Rosada
La Casa Rosada is the seat of government in Argentina and has been the place where all forms of government in the country have resided since the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century, albeit in different formats.
The original construction was a fort that was built in the same place by Juan de Garay and was called Real Fortaleza de don Juan Baltasar de Austria. The fort was replaced by a castle, Castillo de San Miguel in 1720.
The fort was expanded, refurbished and modified through the years with the major addition of a customs house in 1855 which was used until almost the beginning of the 20th century when Puerto Madero was constructed.
In parallel, a large and modern post office building was also constructed next to the fort in 1873 and when finished, it overshadowed the government building so the two were finally connected through arches and the remains of the fort destroyed. Today’s building is from 1898.
I highly recommend going on a guided tour of La Casa Rosada which is offered free of charge in English every Saturday. The tour takes you around the building, the many halls, rooms and even the Presidential Elevator and it is very informative and interesting. You can make a booking online here and should do so in advance as these get booked fast.
A visit to the museum is also a must. The museum opens daily except Monday and Tuesday. Here you can still see on one of the original thrones used by the Spanish colonial government and a part of the walls of the fort. La Casa Rosada is one of the most interesting places to see in Buenos Aires.
See the Pope’s Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires
This impressive building does not look anything like a cathedral from the outside, at least not if you consider European religious styles, but rather a temple from ancient Rome or Greece. However, inside, it is Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance with plenty of intricacy and color.
As soon as the first Spanish settlers arrived, this corner facing Plaza de Mayo was devoted to a cathedral. But at the origins of the building were modest, with first a small wooden church that had to be replaced and renovated several times when it did not withstand the passing of time. A cathedral was not built with the Pope’s blessing until 1620.
The building suffered several setbacks in the centuries that followed and had to be renovated and rebuilt multiple times until the 1860s when the final structure, similar to today’s was completed.
While the exterior does not look like a typical cathedral, it does not have towering bells or any stained glass windows, the inside decorations are breathtaking. The floors are covered in beautiful tiles and the ceilings with colorful frescoes added at the beginning of the 20th century.
Look out for the wooden altar piece, a real gem crafted in 1785, or the sculpture of the crucified Christ which is even older and was made in 1671.
But the most important element in the cathedral is the mausoleum of General de San Martin, El Libertador de Argentina, who led the freedom fight of Argentina, Chile and Peru.
The cathedral also has a small museum called Cardenal Jorge Mario Mergoglio with liturgical and religious artefacts, as well as clothing, belonging to the current Pope, who used to be the Cardinal in Buenos Aires.
Here is the official website of the cathedral.
Museo Histórico Nacional del Cabildo de Buenos Aires y de la Revolución de Mayo
This church-looking building with a bell tower facing La Casa Rosada at the other end of Plaza de Mayo is today home to the Museum of the Revolution.
The museum displays several objects linked to Argentina’s independence from Spain as well as the colonial times and is also interesting for the building itself which used to be El Cabildo, or town council, during colonial times. The tower has the first ever public clock installed in Buenos Aires.
The building has evolved and changed a lot, as have all other constructions in the square, for the last few centuries and today’s structure is much smaller than the original.
Guided tours in English are available during weekends at 2pm in the summertime free of charge and without the need for a reservation. More information here.
Take a guided tour of grand Teatro Colon
One of the most beautiful and most important theatres in the world, and one of the oldest, the Teatro Colon is an indisputable institution in Buenos Aires and a tour of this magnificent property is one of my most favorite things to do in Buenos Aires, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Today’s Teatro Colon opened in 1908 and replaced the previous one which opened in 1857 in Plaza de Mayo. It was constructed at the time when Buenos Aires was shifting from a colonial city to a modern one where culture had a new role.
The building’s design mimics European tradition as this was the model to follow at the time with horse shaped seating around a central stage. The first ever opera to be represented in full at the Colon was El Barbero de Sevilla in 1825, when 40% of the population in Buenos Aires was Italian.
The theatre’s famous Golden Hall was the place where political and economic issues were discussed, under the ceiling painted with golden leaves of this Baroque room. This is where the high aristocracy socialised.
The Colon can accommodate 4,000 people but only 3,000 are allowed at any given time across the seven floors of the theatre.
There are a few different seat categories from the coveted Palco Oficial, a ceremonial space where dignitaries are invited, to the standing spots in the 4th, 5th and 7th floors. For example, during my visit to Buenos Aires, the G20 was in town and the members were invited to the Colon for a performance of all of Argentina’s traditional dances.
Contrary to what you might think, the 7th floor, though standing and very affordably priced, is the preferred one for music experts as this is where the acoustics of the theatre shine the most.
The seats right by the stage where visibility is not the best, are reserved for the local and country authorities. Their view of the audience is as good if not better than that of the stage, indicating which one of the two is their focus.
There is a semi basement level of seats under the first level that is fenced and hidden by a grid. This was used by widowers who were not usually seen out socialising or at the theatre so the architect allocated them this area which is now closed off.
Despite appearances, at Teatro Colon, the stage is bigger than the audience area, it is equally long but taller and wider in order to accommodate the various backdrops and equipment.
Photograph El Obelisco
This symbol of Buenos Aires is one of the visible and recognizable landmarks of the city. Located in a main avenue, the Obelisco was built in 1936 on the site where a church used to stand. This church was the first place the Argentinian flag was ever raised.
The obelisk is often decorated and used for celebrations.
Admire the beautiful Casa de Aguas Corrientes
The Palace of Flowing Waters, which is a direct translation from the Spanish Casa de Aguas Corrientes, used to be the water pump station in Buenos Aires since the end of the 19th century.
Opened in 1894, this is an absolutely stunning French renaissance-inspired building you can’t walk past without noticing, which is how I came across it.
From the outside, I could not have imagined this was just a pump station because it looked more like a royal palace more than a functional structure responsible for bringing drinking water across Buenos Aires.
The structure occupies the entire block and is built like a 90 meter a side square with the same facade in all four sides. Inside, it hides 12 enormous iron tanks that used to supply water to a city of 200,000 inhabitants.
The iron and the glazed terracotta tiles on the facade came from England, the carpentry from Paraguay and the slate used for the roof from France. The team of architects were British, Norwegian and Swiss.
No expense was spared in its construction because it was located in a wealthy and distinguished part of the city and it had to fit with the elegance and class of its neighbours
More information here. There are guided tours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11am and the building is open mornings and afternoons on weekdays.
Shop for sweets at La Casa del Dulce de Leche
You cannot leave Buenos Aire without eating copious amounts of dulce de leche. But to truly appreciate it, you need to try a few types and understand the wide array of options to choose from.
Dulce de leche is made by cooking milk and sugar until it achieves this thicker texture between a caramel and a smooth peanut butter. But there is more to it than that.
Today you can buy dulce de leche made with other alternatives to sugar, like Stevia, or brown sugar, and you can get it thicker or runnier, you can get it sweeter or less sweet, and you can get it made with different types of milk. The choice is vast.
One of the best places to learn more and to taste a few options is La Casa del Dulce de Leche, a chain of stores that sells only this product, and some products using it as an ingredient. It is best to go in with an empty stomach so you can try as many as you like until you find out the one you like the most.
There are four stores of this chain but I recommend the one in San Telmo Market because it is in a nice street and has a large range of pots to try. Each of the pots has a set of small single use plastic spoons which you can use to scoop a little bit from each of the pots until you’ve had enough.
This is how real dulce de leche fans do it too, by scooping dulce de leche directly from the pot by the spoonful.
It can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t have a sweet tooth but this is the best place to buy your favorite type. There are lots of brands on sale and almost all of them can be tasted. I ended up buying a few kinds for family and friends, even sugar-less dulce de leche for my diabetic father.
More info on their Facebook page.
Take a break at the Mercado San Telmo
Mercado San Telmo is a metal and glass structure with a central dome that is a feast to all senses: sight, touch and taste!
There are several stalls here and the market looks quite similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona. There is a dulce de leche store in the galleria leading to the market, a couple of empanada stores, outlets selling fruits and vegetables and a pretty cafe in the middle under the dome.
See the country’s first pharmacy – Farmacia de la Estrella
This beautiful pharmacy has to be one of the most beautiful places in Buenos Aires.
Located in the middle of Montserrat, at the top of the street San Telmo Market fills every Sunday, this is the oldest pharmacy in the city.
The government initiated the construction of this pharmacy in the 19th century, 20 years after the revolution and independence from Spain, when it realised that there was none in the country.
A famous botanist of the time, Dr. Pablo Ferrari, of Italian origin, was called in to help and the pharmacy eventually opened in 1934 on the ground floor of what is today the Museum of the City of Buenos Aires.
The store is stunningly beautiful. The interior was designed in Neo-Classical style and no expense was spared. The wall panels and shelves were carved from Italian walnut wood, the marble was from Carrara, the crystal from Murano.
There is a clock in the middle, as well as a mirror, and the ceiling is covered in detailed murals by Carlos Barbieri depicting the victory of the Pharmacy over Illness. Everything in here, apart from the products on sale, is from the time when the pharmacy opened and has been preserved, albeit in a working environment.
Here you can buy everything you will find in any other pharmacy, this is not a museum but a working business, yet its origins have been immortalised on the floor tiles and wall shelves. Because of its origins, Star Pharmacy also sells its unique formula medicines and its homeopathic remedies.
It is said that the pharmacy is located on a corner, across from San Francisco Basilica because this is where pharmacies were located at the time, in front of churches, so locals would find their way there easily.
Star Pharmacy was a pioneer in Latin America, and it also opened at the beginning of the 20th century, the largest laboratory in the continent where pharmaceutical products were imported and produced.
More information here.
Get lost in the oldest bookstore – Avila Bookstore
There has been a bookstore in this corner ever since 1785, during the time of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, making the original incarnation of Libreria Avila the oldest bookstore in Buenos Aires and one of the oldest in the world.
Located in front of the church, the bookstore was founded by Professor Francisco Salvio Marull in 1777 and originally called La Botica, the precedent of the Pharmacy Star, because it sold medicinal herbs.
Avila Bookstore has seen the country go from Spanish colony to independence, and everything in between. It played witness to many of the country’s first, including selling the first newspaper in Buenos Aires, and it is here where the intellectuals and revolutionaries of the time got in touch with the progressive ideas of the French Revolution, which then seeded Argentina’s.
The original bookstore was replaced by the Librería del Colegio, or College Bookstore, in the 1830s, a name that persisted until 1994 when the current owner, Miguel Avial, bought it.
But the change in name didn’t alter its focus on unique second hand, first edition, old and rare books, more than 10,000 of them. The original building was demolished in 1924 and the existing eclectic one built then.
The oldest books are from 1700 by Padre Pedro Lozano and the most popular one is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. But one of the most expensive ones is a first edition 100 years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with a retail price of 150,000 pesos.
More information here.
Take selfies at the Paseo de la historieta
This Comic Book Strip is a small stretch where you can find some of Argentina’s most famous comic book characters and snap a selfie with them. The characters are spread along a 20min stroll across several streets, starting in Chile, continuing on Balcarce and then Belgrano.
The best known character is Mafalda, and her two friends, little Susana and Manolo which are located on the corner between Defensa and Belgrano. She is sitting on a bench making it easy to take pictures.
This irreverent little girl was created as a character in an ad for appliances and became a beloved character for children in Argentina and the rest of the Latin world, I used to watch Mafalda’s TV series and read her comic books as a child too.
Browse antiques and handicrafts at Feria de San Telmo
This Sunday market has overtaken the entire San Telmo neighbourhood since 1970. Originally starting at Dorrego Square and stretching along Defensa Street and adjacent areas, San Telmo Fair is the answer to what to do in Buenos Aires on Sundays, when many parts of the city are closed and this is as lively as it gets.
The fair happens from 10am to 5pm every Sunday and public holidays, and sells handicrafts, antiques and homemade items from all across Argentina and abroad. Here you can find leather products from La Pampa, items from Patagonia, handwoven clothing from the mountains, music boxes, mate accessories, toys and dolls, etc.
At Dorrego Square there are mostly old items, like phones and vintage pieces, true antiques which is how the fair started. The stalls have been setting up shop here for years and some are a staple found at the square every day.
More information here.
Visit the narrow Casa Minima
The Minimum House is a green door house with a small balcony that measures only 2,5m wide and is the narrowest in Buenos Aires.
Legend has it that this house was built by a slave when slavery was abolished. Because he was given a very small piece of land by his owner as a sign of gratitude for his services, he could only built it to be 2.5m wide. It is also possible that the house became this small after successive land partitions.
The specifics are not clear and there has been much investigation by the experts into the matter. Whatever its origins, the house is pretty unique and merits a visit.
La Casa Minima is part of El Zanjon complex and can be explored on a guided tour or rented for events.
Go down to El Zanjón de Granados
This recently opened historical and archeological site is one of the most interesting places to visit in Buenos Aires. The entire complex made of several buildings, underground wells, sewage pits and remains of various structures that are some of the oldest parts of the city.
I stumbled upon the complex by chance, walking past its concrete and iron gate on a Sunday as I was exploring San Telmo Fair, and I happened to inquire as a tour was commencing, so I joined.
The tour starts in the patios, on Defensa Street, where you can see the old mansion as well as the top part of the well, one of the few in the city at the time. The 1830s mansion was then turned into a tenement, or conventillo, in the 1890s and subsequently abandoned as the Yellow Fever swept through this part of the city.
You can then walk towards the lower level where El Zanjon, or a maze of vaulted tunnels with exposed bricks, used to channel one of the streams ending in the River Plate.
This underground tunnels brought water to the area but also collected sewage waters from upstream flooding the city with contaminated water.
The space is decorated with artefacts and items recovered from the excavations, look out for the maps from the 1800s that show what the city looked like.
El Zanjon is today a space for hire for private events, not too far from the owner Jorge Eckstein’s original idea to convert the mansion into a restaurant, before the underground tunnels were discovered.
El Zanjon offers guided tours daily and this is the only way to explore this part of Buenos Aires. You cannot visit on your own. More information here.
Go back in time at Pasaje Defensa
This 1880 private residence built for the Ezeiza family was then turned into a school for the deaf and mute when the family escaped the Yellow Fever, and finally into a conventillo, or tenement house.
Today the mansion is a shopping mall with various stores selling mostly Bohemian items, vintage clothing, antiques, etc. much like the rest of San Telmo near Durango Square. From the outside, it does not look like much but as you walk in you can see the sky and the several courtyards.
Pasaje de la Defensa is split into two floors with an internal courtyard opened to the skies and a verandah on the first floor. The space is quite quirky and has a hippie feel with black and white square tiles and wrought iron gates.
Do as locals do at Casa del Mate
There is nothing more Argentinian than mate. This herbal tea the locals sip non stop is one of the most traditional foods one can have in Argentina and there are entire shops devoted to selling all the accessories needed for it.
Yerba mate is a herb similar to tea leaves with caffeine and rather bitter that has an acquired taste and is not for everyone. It took a few cups for me to me tolerate it but it makes for a great companion for medialunas dipped in dulce de leche.
The tea is highly addictive and you can find locals drinking it all day long, walking around with their thermos of hot water and their hollowed calabash mate cups and metal straws called bombillas usually made of steel or silver.
La Casa del Mate is a good place to stock up on mate related souvenirs or, if you became a fan, to buy your own set.
Things to do in Buenos Aires – Puerto Madero
Puerto Madero is the former port area of Buenos Aires now moved elsewhere and turned into a mixture of bohemian and artsy spaces coupled with greenery, the river, dining outlets and several other entertainment and lifestyle concepts.
While there is less of a historical focus here, Puerto Madero is a popular weekend escape to come enjoy a stroll along the river and a drink or meal at one of the restaurants.
Faena Art Center
This forward thinking, contemporary art center is part of the Faena group which includes uniquely designed luxury hotels in Miami Beach and Buenos Aires Puerto Madero but is an NGO funded by donations.
Because the exhibitions and art installations that are displayed at Faena are usually designed for the show only, they are constantly changing and are designed for the time and place. When there is no show, the center is closed.
The space in Buenos Aires is hosted in one of the warehousing areas of the old Puerto Madero very near the hotel, in an old flour mill, and combines industrial concrete architecture of the beginning of the 20th century with a modern renovation.
Alan Faena, the Argentinian group founder, purchased a big chunk of the buildings in Puerto Madero and has been renovating and creating a few different concepts among which are the Faena Hotel & Universe and the Faena Art Center.
Puente de la Mujer
This recognizable landmark in Puerto Madero built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in his signature curved white shapes turns 90 degrees to allow ships to pass and is inspired by a couple dancing the tango, which is why there is a structure with two on the bridge.
Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur
This green park by the edge of Puerto Madero has trails, paths and greenery with birds and other wildlife and is a good way to escape the asphalt and enjoy some peace and quiet.
If you are looking for some Buenos Aires things to do out in the green without going as far as Tigre, Costanera Sur is your best bet.
Originally this was a river bathing resort frequented by the locals where men and women could bathe and enjoy the promenade along the river. But in the 1950s the area started to become abandoned and the river polluted and it fell into decay.
One of the best ways to enjoy the reserve is by renting one of the city bikes and exploring it on two wheels. More information here.
Buque Museo Corbeta A.R.A. “Uruguay”
This 1874 navy vessel belonging to the Argentinian Armada has been parked at Puerto Madero since 1987 where it acts as a museum. The ship can be visited and explored on guided tours where you can see how a 19th century navy ship used to look like and learn more about its expeditions.
Built in England, the ship arrived in Montevideo with its sister boat, Parana, to join the Armada of President Sarmiento and was originally used as a training school and later as a supply boat. But its most glorious time was in 1903 when it was sent to the South Pole on an expedition to rescue the Antarctic.
The boat has acted as a museum since 1960.
Things to do in Buenos Aires – Palermo Viejo, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood
Palermo Viejo and Palermo Hollywood are the hip, Bohemian and happening parts of Buenos Aires, the place where artists, foodies, fashion victims and seekers of the new and alternative come to live and party.
There are no offices here, and hardly any historical elements, except for the parts bordering Recoleta, you don’t come to Palermo to learn about the Buenos Aires of the past, but the city of today.
There is a whole lot of experimentation and culinary trials worth several visits, and a few spots which invite indulgence. You come here to eat, drink and be merry.
MALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano
This non-government private organisation is one of the most important museums in the country and in latin America and a must in the list of what to do in Buenos Aires.
Spread over several floors and housed in a modern Deconstructive, concrete looking multi-volume building with lots of light, the MALBA exhibits a wealth of contemporary artists from Latin America from the beginning of the 20th century and also hosts several temporary exhibitions.
You can find works from famous artists like Frida Kahlo, Fernando Botero, or San Francisco’s Diego Rivera and several other. There are also workshops, talks and cinema screenings that make it a great spot for any contemporary culture and art lover.
The museum’s shop has cool items that are a mix between contemporary design and funky souvenirs, and the cafeteria looks out onto the street and has floor to ceiling windows for people watching making for a great place to take a break from all the Buenos Aires sightseeing.
The museum offers guided tours of the permanent exhibition in Spanish twice weekly. More information here.
Some of the most popular things to do in Buenos Aires revolve around Eva Peron, for no other Argentinian person ever became so famous and loved, and not just thanks to Madonna’s performance in the movie devoted to her life.
To learn all there is to know about her you can visit Museo Evita, entirely dedicated to her and her life and achievements.
I went in without knowing much about her, and without having watched the Hollywood movie, but her cult following made it clear to me that I had to learn more about Argentina’s most famous personality.
Eva Peron was the country’s first lady and a national icon and this museum is devoted to her short but impactful life. You can learn about how she started as a radio presenter and then actress, before she met her future husband and Argentinian President, Juan Peron.
The upper floor has documents, videos and objects that talk about her thinking and ideology, all her charitable work and her contributions to the development of women and society via her foundation’s work.
Most curious is an entire room devoted to just seeing how her attire evolved through the years as her populist ideology and political career did. Her original clothes are on display on mannequins.
Jardin Botanico Carlos Thayss
A pleasant and quiet garden opened in 1898 where you can take a break if you need. Look out for the greenhouse that was exhibited in the Paris Expo and the 27 sculptures that dot the park which you can find with this handy map.
The park offers guided tours of the gardens on weekends at 10,30am and 3pm without the need for a reservation. The greenhouse can be visited at 4,30pm on weekends.
Paseo El Rosedal
Parque 3 de Febrero is a wonderful park opened in 1914 with a large lake with rental boats and a beautiful rose garden with more than 18,000 types of roses in the middle which can be accessed by a pretty white Greek bridge.
The leafy and green space is a very popular weekend destination for picnics, family time, or a stroll. You will find people running, couples and families rowing around the lake and others simply enjoying a sunny day.
The park has a poet’s garden where the busts of the most famous poets of all time are displayed, and an Andalusian patio with a blue tiled fountain donated by the cities of Seville and Triana to Buenos Aires in 1929.
Planetario Galileo Galilei
This floating UFO looking building could not be anything other than a Planetarium where you can come and learn more about the stars and the planets. This is eminently a didactic space to learn with lots of workshops, shows and fun sessions for anyone keen to explore the universe.
More information here.
This is one of the most fun activities in Buenos Aires and the best option for a little bit of laughter and entertainment. Microteatro is my recommendation for what to do in Buenos Aires in the evening, especially if you are traveling solo but still want to go out in the evening.
I told you that Buenos Aires has more shows and performances than any other city after New York and that there is a street affectionately known as Broadway Porteno. But if you want to enjoy a toned-down and more laid back version, Microteatro is for you.
This hip venue part of the global movement of the same name was recommended to me by the Spanish receptionist working at my boutique hotel by Coppola I was staying at and it was a great discovery.
First starting in a Madrid brothel as a means to make more money, Microteatro consists on short 12-15min theatre performances in small rooms, sometimes standing, where actors and actresses have free reign to put on any kind of show.
Anyone is welcome to submit an idea for a play as long as the concept adheres to the changing monthly theme. When I was there the theme was sex, and there were a wide range of shows available.
You can book tickets online or simply show up and buy them on the spot. The shows are on consecutively and concurrently in the various rooms of the theatre and I would recommend to leave 15min between bookings to feel less rushed.
There is a large bar area with a very spacious open air internal courtyard where you can enjoy casual Argentinian street food and local craft wine and beer. The atmosphere is laid-back and makes for a great way to spend an evening. Shows go on until late so it can be a great pre or post dinner stop.
El Mercado de la Pulgas
This “flea market” received its name from its origins when second hand clothes from the wealthy were sold here at a time when personal hygiene was not a priority so it was not rare to bring home some fleas together with the newly acquired fashion.
The covered market has both vintage and second hand items, and lots of antiques, so if you are looking for an interesting place to visit in Buenos Aires El Mercado de las Pulgas is like a trip up to your grandma’s attic. It reminded me of the sign that sits atop the entrance of a vintage store that is in front of my building in Singapore: “We buy junk and sell antiques. Some fools buy some fools sell”.
Come with patience and time and maybe you will unearth your own treasure in this real size museum of Argentinian life.
Things to do in Buenos Aires – La Boca and beyond
La Boca is the neighbourhood where many important elements of typical Porteno and Argentinian life converge. There is football, there is the harbour and there is the origins of the local working class and of tango.
A little far removed from the main parts of Buenos Aires and, usually considered a bit more dangerous, this is the best place to see in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, before or after San Telmo Fair.
Caminito is a small cobblestone pedestrian street flanked by colorful houses on either side that are made to resemble the traditional houses of migrants who lived in the port area of Buenos Aires. What to do in Buenos Aires on a Sunday? Caminito is where it is at.
The street used to be a stream and when it dried out, the railway track was built across it. The track eventually fell in disuse and the area into oblivion until local artist, Quinquela, started repainting the facades of the houses in an effort to renew it.
His friend and famous tango singer, Juan de Dios Filiberto, wrote a song dedicated to the street called Caminito which gave it its name.
The area acts as a tourist magnet with lots of perfect photo opps along the way, tango dancers ready to pose or dance, statues of famous characters, and a line of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal with a tango show.
There are also lots of souvenir shops inside the old buildings. Be sure not to be distracted by the colors and the art and observe how these houses were built as the original dwelling of migrants in the 19th century.
At the beginning of the street is the home of Quinquela now the Museo Bellas Artes de La Boca Benito Quinquela Martín.
This cool and private art space at the beginning of the Caminito faces the port and contrasts with the rather grey-looking wider port area and the colorful and souvenir-packed Caminito just around the corner.
The center is a place to come enjoy contemporary art from the 20th and 21st century with emphasis on multidisciplinary art that combines video and digital mediums as well as other more traditional art expressions.
You can enjoy a quiet pit stop at the cafe which is facing the port and even has an outdoor terrace and lots of sun during the day.
Football is religion in Argentina. We don’t have Maradona (former Boca Junior player), Messi and many other worldwide renowned football stars coming from Argentina for nothing.
One of the two local teams (because there are always two teams in any big city), Boca Juniors, has its stadium right here in La Boca. This is the most popular of the country’s football teams but has one of the smallest stadiums, practically swollen by the neighbourhood.
La Bombonera is named after its shape, reminiscent of a chocolate box (bombonera in Spanish) and is sandwiched between the many buildings and homes that stand a mere few meters from its walls. On match day, you can hear it as soon as you walk away from Caminito.
The stadium is painted blue and yellow, the team’s colors, with many murals depicting local scenes and famous players, and stands tall, challenging the skyline.
If you walk around it you will find lots of souvenir shops selling football paraphernalia, and the statues of famous football players scattered around on the pavement. There is also a museum of the club talking about its more than 100 year history.
More information here.
Usina del arte
This multidisciplinary space showcases concerts, shows, performances and exhibitions and is always a worthy stop in a visit to Buenos Aires.
There are festivals, foodie events, family activities, talks and workshops housed in a building that used to be a power station but looks more like an Italian mansion.
Because a lot of the events on the program at Usina del Arte are free, popping by is one of the best things to do in Buenos Aires. You can also take a look at what’s on when you visit their website.
Mural – El retorno de Quinquela
Far away from any other remarkable or notable landmark in Buenos Aires and definitely detached from the tourism path, this huge mural facing the warehouses in the port and the river is a work of art you will most likely enjoy all by yourself.
El Retorno de Quinquela is a homage to the famous painter and artist that used to live in the neighbourhood next door, La Boca, and liked to depict scenes of daily life.
The mural was painted by Alfredo ‘El Pelado‘ Segatori across several warehouses and measures 2,000 square meters, making it the largest in the world. The artist has even said that he may continue working on it in the future.
What is on the mural are faces of real people and some of Quinquela’s work. It is all very colorful, which contrasts with what you see around in the area; abandoned warehouses, grey-brown waters and the comings and goings of a working port.
Getting around Buenos Aires
The best way to get around Buenos Aires is to reserve private transportation online and ahead of time. Bookaway is a fantastic and trusted travel booking platform where you can search for transportation between multiple destinations if you are traveling beyond the capital. You can also reserve a bus from the airport or a private driver to take you around the city here.
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get affordable coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing.
- I find all of my flights on KAYAK. Check their Deals section too.
- Search for all your transportation between destinations on the trusted travel booking platform Bookaway.
- I book all my day trips and tours via GetYourGuide, they are the best and their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- Get USD35 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Compare hotels EVERYWHERE at HotelsCombined and book with Booking.com.
- Compare car rental prices at Rentalcars.com