Paris of South America
Argentina, for a very long time a dream waiting to become true, but the wait was well worth it. Marking precisely the country number 100 that I’ve visited so far; just being a bit slightly overdue from the goal I set myself of having reach 100 countries by the age of 35 but not to worry too much, it’s merely few months that I turned 36. The most important to me has never changed: if I travel, I like to visit the most and enjoy to the maximum. I hate to say how much I disagree with the people who rush their trips so they can say they have been to the most places. Their travel experiences described into a checklist! I prefer to take the time and explore the countries.
Starting with Buenos Aires, the stunning capital, and terminating at the southernmost point in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, I can easily confirm how huge the country is. 3690 kilometres long no less, and 1400 at its wider point; crossing through different climate regions from subtropical at the north to subantarctic at the far. Hot to cold, wet to dry; forests to deserts, mountains to sea. Nature, wildlife, richness of resources, history, art… Simply too much for such a short time. You would need months here and perhaps that might not be enough.
Nailing down this guide into the main subject, the capital city. Thanks to its climate, the position right at the mouth of the world’s widest river, the Rio de la Plata and continuous development since its foundation in 1536, it has grown to become one of the largest and most populated across the Americas, being one of the oldest and most complete in architecture preserving heritage from the colonial times to the modern period, with an unique European flair. It’s the second most visited in the entire Latin America only after Mexico DF. As a tourist, these are all good news of course, a place with so much to see and do that time will actually be your major limitation.
Due to its elegant architecture, the city’s nickname is Paris of south America, and no wonder why. It’s a mixture of Spanish, French and Italian styles; you could say you are Madrid, Paris or Milan to take the general example everyone uses, but you still in the same city, and very far away from that location. This is the city with the most bookstores in the world, and the one with more live shows than any other, topping New York City, London and Paris. So many theatres, concert halls, opera houses… and we rather don’t go too deep into museums and exhibition spaces, a list with no end, or a trip for several weeks to complete these all.
Three complete days are a good starting point; enough if your plans are tight and you are in a wider tour across some cities within Argentina and/or other countries, otherwise, get yourself some more time. Now, critical to consider when one should travel here is the weather. While in Europe is summer, here in winter, and opposite. Not saying this guarantees you from travelling, say in January, and not expecting rain. It is actually the fact that during the summer months, some of the heaviest thunderstorms can be expected, but rest assured it will at least be some 28 degrees Centigrade.
Because of its perfect urbanism of an orthogonal grid of streets and avenues, it is very simple to follow a route and rarely get lost. Traffic and congestion in the other hand is on a different level, especially during rush hours. No matter if this is along the traffic jams on the streets or the packed trains, metro and buses. It is a fact you need to know and be patient that you will need to let some buses and metro trains go before you can get into one. People are polite and educated in that sense, so act as the locals do by queuing in line.
Coming to an important subject which applies not only to Buenos Aires, but across the country in general, it’s the food. Everyone knows this is a country with some of the best meats in the world, and a great variety and mix, legacy of the original native people, colonial influence from the Spanish and the British, and influence of the large immigration groups as the Italians, French and Germans. Enjoying a delicious “asado” (mix of grilled meats) is not difficult to find, however considering the overall costing of living and income, it does not come cheap if that’s what you were thinking, still, very affordable to the average tourist. It generally includes steak, ribs, chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), mollejas (pancreas or other glands) and served with Chimichurri sauce (mixed herbs, garlic and vinegar).
One of the most known dishes is the empanada. Although from Spanish origin, South America has specialised in these more than ever. It is a pastry filled with meats, vegetables, cheese, or simply anything and the combination of these all, very similar to a British Cornish Pastry. Some of the best are to be found in La Continental, nowadays a large chain but for the original one then you’ll find it almost opposite the Palace Barolo in Avenida de Mayo. Other popular dishes are the milanga, this is a milanesa (breaded and deep-fried meat like chicken); and of course pasta of any kind due to the Italian influence. They do love pizza! And certainly they do know how to make good one.
As for dessert, while there are countless sweets and pastries, chocolate and churros is served widely, and so the dulce de leche which they use to fill pastries, put over cakes, top ice creams or simply eat on its own as such. The national desert is the alfajor, which is a sort of cookie filled with dulce de leche, and if you leave the country without having at least one, then it’s not a complete trip to Argentina!
Lastly knowing where to go out to bars and pubs, there are two main areas, one is Palermo at the northwest, and the other San Telmo right in the city centre, walking distance from Plaza de Mayo. Recommending you one in each area, then you have Antares at the corner of Calle Bolivar with Calle Venezuela in the heart of San Telmo, and La Barata de Palermo en Calle Thames, near the metro Plaza de Italia. here you can have awesome grills at very local prices.
For further information about Buenos visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Argentina’s currency is the Peso ($, ARS). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Buenos Aires
- Retiro District Towards the northeast end of the city, home to the railway and bus stations and principal ferry terminals.
-Central Bus Station At the northernmost part of the area, where the vast majority of the transnational and international buses do arrive/depart.
-Retiro Railway Stations These are in fact, three separate stations, the San Martin at the north, opposite the Central Bus Station; Belgrano next to it with an splendid 1914 French style facade; and Retiro Mitre, the largest and major landmark for its architecture, opened in 1915 in British Edwardian style.
-Fuerza Aerea Argentina Square Along the main facades of the Retiro stations complex. Nice park offering great views of the buildings and surrounding area.
-Monumental Tower Or still known with the original name, Tower of the English. Built to commemorate the 100 years since the May Revolution of 1810.
-Manuel Tienda Leon Central The main office of this bus and cab service to both airports (see below in the section of transports). Mentioning here only so you know where it is located, right by the north corner of the Sheraton Hotel with the Fuerza Aerea Square.
-Catalinas Norte Visible behind the Sheraton Hotel at the beginning of Avenida Leandro Norte, the first purpose built business district in the capital with several towers of importance in design.
-Macro Tower and BankBoston Tower Both designed by the Argentinian-American architect Cesar Pelli (1926-2019). These are located at the northern side of the area.
-Alas Building Located at the opposite end at the southernmost part of the area. Completed in 1957 becoming the tallest in the city between the years 1955 through 1995. It’s design is purely rationalist, as is a 1930’s art-deco gem taken from New York City.
-Plaza San Martin One of the largest urban parks where several of the major thoroughfares converge. It is across the Fuerza Aerea Square, as a continuation of the park.
-Torre Pirelli At the northwest corner of the square. Designed by Italian architect Mario Bigongiari in 1975.
-San Martin Palace Continuing south along the west side of the square. Completed in 1909 in beaux-arts style. It serves as the Ceremonial Headquarters for the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
-Paz Palace Built at the time for the second most circulated newspaper in the city, La Prensa, in 1912, and completely designed in French style by French architect and 100% French materials, along the south side of the square. It was then transformed to be the home of the Military Officers’ Association Club and National Museum of Armaments which remains today.
-Haedo Palace Next to the Paz Palace. Built in 1860 in neo-gothic style resembling an Italian castle. It is the headquarters of the National Parks Authority.
-Plaza Hotel At the southeast corner of the square. Opened in 1909 as one of the most luxurious and modern in Latin America, remaining ever since a principal point for the rich and famous.
-Kavanagh Building By the southeast side of the square next to the Plaza Hotel. Surpassing any other construction in the city as the tallest structure at 120 meters high, was completed in 1936 in pure art-deco style. It became the world’s first building to have a centralised air-conditioning system.
-Holy Sacrament Basilica While not in the square itself, it’s right behind the Plaza and Kavanagh buildings. Completed in 1916 after the design of French architects, with mostly French materials.
-Calle Florida One of the largest pedestrian thoroughfares in Buenos Aires, with up-scale shops, restaurants, bars and elegant residential buildings along. It connects San Martin Square with the area around Plaza de Mayo crossing the entire San Nicolas district north to south.
- San Nicolas District South after Retiro, it is together with San Telmo, the oldest areas in the city and so the most historical full of sights everywhere. Its limits are 8 blocks in length and 16 blocks in width, where the Avenida 9 Julio traverses north to south and Calle Corrientes west to east splitting it in four quadrants, meeting at Plaza de la Republica.
-Avenida 9 Julio The widest avenue of any city in the world. It crosses the entire city from north to south. The buildings across the section of San Nicolas and San Telmo contain grand and elegant buildings worth to have a little stroll along.
-Lavalle Park Located west of 9 July. Occupies 3 blocks hence once of the largest greeneries in the heart of the city. The major thoroughfare Diagonal Norte links this park to Plaza de Mayo via Plaza de la Republica.
-National Theatre Cervantes At the northeast side of the park. Designed in Spanish baroque style in 1921.
-Colon Theatre Along the east side of the park. The largest and most prestigious in the country, and one of the world’s major opera houses. It opened in 1908.
-Presidente Roca School The next building after the Theatre Colon, also designed in neoclassical style increasing grandeur to the area.
-Palace of Justice Opposite the Theatre and the School along the west side of the park. Built in 1905 yet completed almost 40 years later.
-Plaza de la Republica Just a block southeast along Diagonal Norte. It is one of the major sections on Avenida 9 Julio, and quite an iconic image of Buenos Aires.
-Obelisk Built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city’s foundation. Designed by Alberto Prebisch, same architect of the Grand Rex Theatre.
-Calle Corrientes The Broadway or West End of Buenos Aires due to the many theatres, cinemas and venues for the performing arts and concerts.
-Broadway Theatre By the western side of Plaza de la Republica, merely 2 buildings beyond in Corrientes. One of the most emblematic, in art-deco style from 1929.
-Grand Rex Theatre East from Republica. At the time of opening in 1937 was the largest in Latin America. An art-deco jewel designed by Alberto Prebisch who also designed the Obelisk at Plaza de la Republica.
-Opera Theatre Opposite the Grand Rex, another large art-deco venue designed by Belgian-Argentine architect Albert Bourdon in 1936.
-Comega Building At the easternmost end of Corrientes, face to face with the Kirchner Cultural Center. Another structure like the ones you can see in New York from the 1930’s in art-deco.
-Diagonal Norte Worth to walk at some point during your visit. Consider planning a route in zigzags, forth and backs to enjoy as many streets in the area as possible. Diagonal is an architectural feast in the constructions.
- Montserrat District Following in order, the next after San Nicolas. Once again of the same proportions at 8 blocks in length and 16 blocks in width, with Avenida 9 Julio traversing north to south, then Avenida de Mayo at the north and Avenida Belgrano the principal thoroughfares west to east.
-Congress Plaza The kilometre 0 for all the roads in Argentina. The beautiful gardens and monument to the Two Congresses overlooks the stunning buildings surrounding the square.
-National Congress Palace Flanking the western side of the square. Designed by Italian architect Vittorio Meano, was completed in 1906 as one of the grandest neoclassical structures in the city, takes similarity to the Capitol of Havana.
-National Auditory Office By the northwest side, built in 1927 in Venetian style, with a nice clock and statues at the top.
-Avenida de Mayo A must see while in BA. It does connect the Congress Plaza at the west with Plaza de Mayo on the east, being home to several landmark buildings in neoclassical, art-nouveau and eclectic styles; luxurious hotels, shopping and restaurants. The first metro stations in in the Southern Hemisphere were here built in 1913.
-Barolo Palace Located at the west, neat the Congress Plaza. At the time of construction in 1919 was the tallest building in South America, the first “skyscraper” in Argentina. Designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti, who then designed the Palacio Salvo in Montevideo, overtaking the title for the tallest building. The views from its top are difficult to top from anywhere else. 400 Pesos to visit, but come early to secure a guided tour slot for later in the day.
-Plaza de Mayo The original colony’s administrative center. Surrounded by colonial structures and elegant late 19th and early 20th century grand buildings. At the west side, Diagonal Norte, Avenida de Mayo and Diagonal Sur are the major thoroughfares.
-Cabildo Along the west side of the square. Dating from 1610, was from where the Viceroyalty of the River Plate of the Spanish Empire was governed. Only a portion of the original building was preserved and restored after the construction of Avenida de Mayo, downsizing from 11 to 5 the arches. It is home to the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution.
-City Hall Opposite the Cabildo across the street. From 1892 in the Second Empire style, expanded in 1914.
-Metropolitan Cathedral Along the northwest side. Completed in 1791 in a blend of several styles, its most notorious element is the 1826 neoclassical facade.
-Central Bank of Argentina Also along the north side of the square, in neoclassical style. Together with the buildings at all sides and behind, is a perfect example to feel in Europe rather than South America due to the architecture.
-Casa Rosada The official seat of the government of Argentina. Occupying the entire east side of the square, was built in 1873 in Italianate style on the foundations where a fortress, customs house and post office stood. Its name comes directly from the color of the facade in pink tone.
-Gardens East of Casa Rosada Right at the opposite side, you’ll see these gardens occupying several city blocks, offering views towards Puerto Madero across the Rio Dique, and the elegant buildings north and south.
-Stock Exchange By the north side of the gardens along Avenida Leandro Norte. Created in 1916 in Luis XVI beaux-arts style.
-Kirchner Cultural Center Housed in the former Central Post Office building, across the road from the Stock Exchange. Opened in 2015 it is one of the largest cultural spaces in the world at the level of Centre Pompidou in Paris; International Forum of Tokio and the Lincoln Center in Nueva York City.
-Ministry of Defence South of the gardens, opposite the Kirchner in the distance. This gigantic building was inaugurated in 1943, designed in French Renaissance style. A nice view of it is from the Dique 3 of Puerto Madero.
- Puerto Madero The narrow but long strip side by side east of San Nicolas, Montserrat and San Telmo. The Rio Dique runs north to south with four marinas, creating the prime waterfront of the city, one of the most desirable places to live with the creation of a new skyline of apartment towers, shopping and entertainment areas.
-Diques From the number 4 at the north to number 1 at the south, linking it with the South Boathouse, and all interconnected with locks. Along the shores, several former wharfs have been preserved as part of the regeneration project, coupled with some historical ships and boats. New bridges were constructed linking the shores and great architecture in general all over the place.
-Puente de la Mujer On Dique 3. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was built in 2001 becoming the first of his works in South America.
-YPF Tower On Dique 3. By Argentinian-American architect Cesar Pelli (1926-2019). Notice the tree at the higher floors, a symbol for the company’s compromise being environmental friendly.
-Aleph Building On Dique 3, one of two projects in Buenos Aires of architect Norman Foster, being the other the New City Hall.
- Constitution District South of Montserrat and west of Avenida 9 Julio. Not the touristiest area that’s for sure. The only site here is Constitution Square right by the Avenida 9 Julio, which you can actually reach from the nicer district, San Telmo as you reach the southern boundaries.
-Constitution Square A major transit hub with several metro lines, plenty of buses and the second largest railway station after Retiro Mitre.
- San Telmo District South of Montserrat and east of Avenida 9 Julio, parallel to Dique 2 and 1. One of the most visited by tourists alike. Beautiful streets and buildings, lots of restaurants and bars and plenty of tango everywhere on this very colonial and bohemian part of Buenos Aires. On Sundays there is a large market taking place, quite worth to visit even if you are not planning on buying anything.
-Calle Defensa Starting at Plaza de Mayo and traversing the entire district towards the south, is the most famous and where majority of the sights are.
-San Francisco Church Completed in 1754, although the main facade and towers collapsed in 1817 hence the current in baroque style date from 1907.
-Convent of Santo Domingo A block ahead south after San Francisco. In neoclassical Spanish colonial style, the current building dates from 1856.
-Pizzeria La Continental On the corner of Calle Defensa with Chile, one of the oldest and famous, not only serving pizzas but also great empanadas, breakfast, lunch and dinner at great value for money.
-Tita Merello Birthplace Born in 1904 she was one of the most prominent actress, tango dancer and singer on the 20th century. You can see the commemorative plaque at the building on number 715.
-Casa Minima Off San Telmo in Calle San Lorenzo, the narrowest house in Buenos Aires.
-Market of San Telmo Opened everyday in a beautiful old metallic structure. Good for some fresh empanadas, coffee or simply watch the colourful vendors.
-Plaza Dorrego The heart of the neighbourhood. An open market set their stalls daily, while you can enjoy watching some tango sitting at one of the many cafeteria terraces.
-San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo Church By Calle Humberto, corner with Defensa. One of the oldest in the city, completed in 1734 although expanded and modified in the centuries later yet preserving the original shape. Its facade was reshaped in the 1900’s in neoclassical colonial style.
- La Boca One of the most famous neighbourhoods and most visited, made famous for El Caminito Street; full of colourful houses and plenty of tango acts. It is immediately south of San Telmo, having the Rio Dique along the east side and Matanza River along the south. While not the safest, it is recommended to visit during the day, and stick to the main tourist areas.
-Rocha’s Bay Along the Matanza River, this small harbourfront is severely gentrified in the north side where El Caminito is, with the famous painted buildings. As opposed, the farther you go the more decaying and therefore, insecure.
-El Caminito Like an open museum, this street is where most of the life of the district stays. One of the most recognisable places of the city to the world. It became forever known after the 1926 Caminito tango song composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto.
Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, or commonly known simply as Ezeiza, is the main international airport, located some 35 kilometres south of the city centre. Every flagship carrier and some low cost airlines do have direct flights from all over the world, every continent. It is a major Latin America hub. The cheapest way to reach downtown is via the Bus 8, right outside Terminal B arrivals. There are two kinds, the Express taking 1 hour, and the Regular taking around 2, both running at half-hourly frequencies and reaching the Plaza de Mayo.
The best option however, is to take the Manuel Tienda Leon coach service for 370 pesos to the city centre area, 450 to more distant locations such as Newbery Airport. This service links the airport with their station at Terminal Madero in Retiro (near the hotel Sheraton), but they can then drive you on a smaller van to your final location/hotel. You buy the tickets from the booth inside the arrivals terminal right after you pass through customs, however, before exiting into the terminal itself. Tell them where you intend to go and they will manage the booking for you.
Taxis are the most comfortable and fastest option, and if you are 2 or more people travelling together, then your best bet rather than the coach or figuring out Bus 8. They do have a fixed fare, and you prepaid from the booths located next to the Manuel Tienda Leon explained above, after customs but before exiting into the arrivals hall. It costs 850 ARS if booking online, or 1100 when booking on the day in person.
The smaller Aeroparque Jorge Newbery located just east of the city centre handles mostly domestic and short distance international routes. This is very convenient rather than having to get to Ezeiza, although sometimes you have no choice. Make sure you know before booking which airport you are intending to go/depart. The ArBus is one of the most convenient way to get into central locations in downtown such as Retiro, Obelisco, Belgrano, Puente Saavedra and Alto Palermo. Take the bus that more closely gets to your destination. It costs merely 45 ARS and takes approximately 25 minutes.
Once you are in the city and get familiar with it, I’m sure you will manage to get a SUBE card, which is needed in order to pay for the public transport. Once you hold one, then you can use more local bus services from/to the airports for example, although bear in mind that will be the slower option. A good place to get a SUBE card is a metro station, then you just simply keep topping it up with value and use it to pay for the metro, buses and commuter railways.
The bus network is one of the largest in Latin America, and so is the metro system, one of the most expanded. Easy to take you to most of the tourist destinations across the city very easy, reliable and cheap, but sometimes overcrowded. You pay with the SUBE card and the fare depends on distance travelled, generally 20 Pesos per trip.
And as a life saver of time and super comfortable, if you have bough a SIM card to use data while in Argentina, then you are connected at the touch of your screen with both Uber and Cabify. Available everywhere, super efficient although sometimes during the rush hours it can get tricky to get one. Cabify is the best alternative to Uber in any Latin America country and Spain, where this service was born. The fares are really low, and moving from the airports to the city centre could not be any easier and faster.
Coming overland, although can be beautiful for the landscapes you might encounter, it could also translate in several hours on a bus, yet super comfortable and reliable. It is one of the best trans-national/continental network of long distance buses in the Americas. Sleeper coaches are very common, so you don’t have to worry on spending lengthily hours on a seat.
A capital city of this size and importance, so important in the world of business and economy, equally into tourism translates in a countless choice of hotels of any kind. From the top ultra-luxurious to the more modest and anything in between, and if this was not enough, the hundreds of thousands of apartments and rooms for rent through sites such as airb&b and the likes.
On a bright side, the overall cost per night at an already high quality property is really good and cheaper than expected, but after a deep research reading through plenty of reviews and dozens of properties, the conclusion is generic: do not really expect too much attention to detail or service. For top rank and good reviews you will then need to reconsider your nightly budget, of course taking also in consideration the location. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
We stayed at the NH Collection Centro Historico, in Calle Bolivar 120. Perfect stay, great experience since the arrival until the departure. Friendly and welcoming staff, beautiful outside and inside; comfortable, nice and quiet room larger than the average, and a nice buffet breakfast. The location was also one of the key points, being right there in the city centre next to the major transport links.