I’m often asked by tourists for a list of things to do in Buenos Aires. So, here’s my list of things tourists should try to do while visiting Buenos Aires. Most of these also can be found in any guidebook to the city but I listed the things I liked. It’s ordered in no particular manner. Some items could have been collapsed into a single entry or expanded into multiple ones.
Originally written in January 2006. Check current guidebooks for updated times and prices.
1. San Telmo: On a Sunday morning San Telmo sometimes seems close to being a tourist trap but the antique fair and the atmosphere still make it worth a visit. I live in San Telmo and if you want to avoid the crowds then come on a weekday. The fair is only on Sundays but San Telmo is worth wandering around on any day of the week. Some of the restaurants around the plaza are overpriced and not very good but stop in at Bar Dorrego on Defensa for a snack.
2. Recoleta Cemetery: Must be one of the great cemeteries of the world. Fascinating to wander among the tombs.
3. Teatro Colón: The city’s great opera house. Performances are relatively inexpensive but if you’re not into opera or classical music then, at least, take a tour which will show you not only the beautiful auditorium but take you backstage.
4. Tango at the Ideal: I don’t dance and I’m not a fan of the fancy tango shows for tourists but I do enjoy watching others dance, particularly ordinary people. The Ideal is one of those old style places with tango dancing on the upper floor. In the afternoons, after the tango lessons, the place will be filled with a mostly older crowd. Even if you don’t go for the dancing, the Ideal is a gorgeous place to eat or have coffee.
5. Madres de Plaza de Mayo: Thursday afternoons at 3:30, the mothers of the disappeared still march every week inthe plaza. After their march, which lasts thirty minutes, the madres gather in front of the Casa Rosada for a short speech. It’s worth staying and listening.
6. Café Tortoni: the oldest and most beautiful of the cafés in the city. Mostly a tourist spot now but still worth the visit.
7. Plaza San Martín: a nice shady area in the heart of the city. Plenty to see and do around there so the plaza makes for a nice place to take a break. Go up to the top of the English Tower for great views and then take a look inside the old train station. Borges lived just a few steps from the plaza.
8. Stroll down calle Florida: not the best shopping and you’re likely to be hounded by touts trying to sell you leather jackets or other overpriced goods but the pedestrian street still has an energetic appeal to it. There are some great buildings in the area. An easy one to explore, since it’s a shopping mall, is Galería Pacifico; the top floor is a cultural center that usually has very good exhibitions. If you’re hungry then the Richmond is an interesting place to stop; it’s one of the places that Borges frequented.
9. La Boca: Oddly, it’s one of the least desirable neighborhoods in town but it’s also the most touristy. Actually, it’s only one small area of Boca that has found its way into practically every book’s photograph of Buenos Aires. I do think that the picturesque small street of Caminito is a tourist trap (and the tour buses lined up there seem to prove it). The colorful street was the idea of artist Quinquela Martin, whose paintings I think are superb. His nearby house and studio are now a museum of his works and should definitely be visited.
10. Fútbol! While we’re talking about Boca, if you’re a football fan (or soccer to those in the US) then a game at Boca is a must. If you’re not a fan of the sport, then you can probably skip this one though it’s still an interesting experience.
11.El Ateneo: Simply one of the most incredible bookstores in the world. Located at Av Santa Fe 1860 in a splendidly restored old theater.
12. Manzana de las Luces: historic tunnels under 18th century Jesuit buildings.
13. Palacio San Martín: Only a hundred years old but once a massive home for one of Argentina’s wealthiest families. Guided visits on Thursday and Fridays.
14. Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernándex Blanco: nice small collection of Spanish-American art in a lovely neocolonial house.
15. Plaza Carlos Pellegrini: the plaza itself is nothing but there are some fantastic buildings here, particularly the two that are now the Brazilian embassy and the French embassy. Walking down Av Alvear towards Recoleta provides a glimpse of the luxurious life in Buenos Aires.
16. Palermo Parks & Botanical Gardens: very nice green spaces and a decent zoo.
17. Palermo Chico and around: more examples of massive houses. Nice area for walking and looking at the architecture.
18. Museo de Arte Decorativo: not necessarily a great collection by any means but a good opportunity to visit what was once one of the country’s grandest single-family homes in the early 20th century.
19. Palermo Viejo: Many people love this area. It’s not really my favorite but worth a visit. Borges was born here though it surely has absolutely no resemblance to the Palermo of his childhood. Still, it’s worth the visit.
20. Subte A line: the only subway line in the city that still has the old wooden cars. Board at Perú station and ride out to the Castro Barros stop where you can visit one of the city’s wonderful cafes: Las Violetas at Rivadavia 3899
21. Av Corrientes: browsing the many used bookstores on Corrientes in the evening is one of my favorite activities. A crowded street, some decent places to eat, and some very tacky theaters. Zival’s on the corner of Corrientes and Callao is a good place to pick up tango CDs.
22. Av de Mayo: the best architecture in the city. Start at Plaza de Mayo and walk towards Congreso. There’s an entire book that discusses nothing but the architecture of this avenue. Take your time and enjoy the scenery.
23. Xul Solar Museum: My favorite museum in Buenos Aires. MALBA is a close second but there’s something mystical about the watercolors of Xul Solar. He’s not very well-known outside of Argentina but I consider him to be a great artist. The museum is in his former home and is itself an excellent renovation, worth visiting if you have any interest in museum spaces.
24. MALBA: Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires has one of the best collections of contemporary Latin American art. The modern building is another great example of architecture for museum spaces. (Ok, in my life in the US I was involved with a couple of library renovations so I pay much more attention to library and museum spaces than the average person!)
25. Mataderos: I don’t think many tourists make it out to Mataderos for the Sunday fair. It’s quite a ways out but for those interested in life in rural Argentina and gauchos then it makes for a nice outing.
26. Clásica y Moderna: a charming, romantic little cafe, dark wood, quaint bookstore in the back, live music in the evenings. Find it at Callao 892.
27. Daytrip to Colonia in Uruguay: board the ferry for the trip to the small, historic Portuguese town of Colonia del Sacramento – a World Heritage site.
28. Estancia: Visit an estancia around San Antonio de Areco, spending the night if possible. I usually recommend El Ombú. When we were there two years ago we practically had the place to ourselves. Depending upon when you visit, you might not be so lucky but it’s still small enough that you should find it very enjoyable. There are also many other estancias located around the pampas.
29. Boedo: one of the barrios in the southern part of the city that doesn’t get much attention. Boedo is particulary important in the history of tango and literature. Several nice restaurants and cafes in the area.
30. Asado and Parrilla: If you’re lucky and know someone living here, you may get invited to asado at a local’s home. Otherwise, you have to try one of Argentina’s famously huge steaks at a parrilla in the city. Generally, I avoid any restaurant that has a stuffed cow at the front door. The small parillas in the barrios are often better than the fancier restaurants but it’s a hit-or-miss effort. I’ve always had a good bife de chorizo at Chiquilin (Sarmiento 1599), a very traditional restaurant. While I don’t go there anymore ($8 pesos for papa fritas is ridiculous), I still recommend it for tourists with US dollars or Euros to spend.