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The Insider’s Guide To Buenos Aires

On your way to Buenos Aires? I hope you’re ready; this city has stolen many a traveller’s heart and there’s a good chance you’ll be next.

Buenos Aires is exciting. Despite the economic woes, the city is still vibrant with activity. With Brazil to the north, Chile to the west and Uruguy to the east, it’s also the perfect launching pad for a trip through the continent.

Argentina’s capital may also be the most international city in South America, seamlessly blending local traditions with influences from Italy, Spain, Georgia, Lebanon, Germany and more. Many foreigners have decided to call this city home, resulting in a tantalising city that brims with culture, food and faces from every corner of the world. Add to that the spectacular architecture, interesting art, world class steak and wine and a surprising number of Tarot readers, and there really is something for everyone in Buenos Aires.


In This Guide

1. Map of Buenos Aires

2. Where to Stay

3. Day Trips

4. Getting Around Buenos Aires

5. Getting a SIM Card in Buenos Aires

6. Getting Cash in Buenos Aires

7. Safety in Buenos Aires


Map of Buenos Aires

With over 40 neighbourhoods and a myriad of cultural influences, where you choose to base yourself can have a huge impact on your Buenos Aires experience.

In the map above I’ve outlined what I think are the four best areas to stay in Buenos Aires for travellers. Each of them rank highly in atmosphere, things to do, safety, and availability of accommodation.

Each area is special in its own way, we’ll break them down below:


Where to Stay in Buenos Aires

San Telmo

Dorrego Square, San Telmo

The oldest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, San Telmo is all cobbled streets, well-preserved colonial buildings, and 17th century brick factories, many of which have been converted into trendy bars and funky tattoo parlours. The area juxtaposes antique stores with steakhouses and hip cafes, giving the entire area its bohemian feel. This is a major destination for tourists, but with its multicultural local community it doesn’t feel too touristy, and isn’t overly expensive. This is also the place to find Buenos Aires’ best tango parlours, frequented by tourists and locals alike.

While each of the neighbourhood’s streets hides unique cafes and shops, Defensa Street is the centre of the action. It’s lined with restaurants, bars, cafes and boutique shops, and on Sundays the whole 5km street transforms into an open-air market. Artists rock up to sell their wares, but they’re also happy to sit and discuss their work with you without pressure to buy. You will encounter many artists here decorating the small wooden cups that many Argentinians wander the streets with. These are used for drinking mate, a caffeine-rich tea that’s very popular in Argentina (do try it!)

They say that Argentinians never throw anything away, which won’t be hard to believe after visiting San Telmo Market, a large indoor antiques market in the heart of San Telmo. You can buy pretty much anything here, including other people’s old family photos (yeah, really!). The market is also a great place to fill your belly, and has a wine bar in the centre where you can sample different local wines by the glass. The Parilla on the outskirts of the market is an excellent place to try some famous Argentinian BBQ and sample local beers.

Heading north, San Telmo is only a short walk from the city centre where you can find all the modern shops that occupy the centre of all big cities. Heading south you will encounter the Museo Historical Nacional. If you are willing to walk even further south, you’ll eventually reach La Bombonera, the home of the city’s famous football team – the Boca Juniors. It’s generally advised not to head there alone at night, or on match day. Go with a local – it can get a little gnarly!

Other Things to see in San Telmo:

  • Iglesia Apostolica Ortodoxa Rusa, a gorgeous Russian Orthodox Church featuring blue onion domes.
  • Nuestra Senora de Belén Church, which has been gradually developed since the early 18th century and looks a bit like an iced wedding cake.
  • Museum of Modern Art, with over 6,000 works of art from the likes of Josef Albers, Antonio Berni, Macció Marcelo and Emilio Pettoruti.
  • El Solar de French, a colonial house turned art space.

Stay in San Telmo if you:

  • Want to stay in the heart of Buenos Aires, close to everything;
  • Are looking for a more hipster/bohemian experience;
  • Want to stay among classic Buenos Aires architecture, tango and antiques.

Where to Stay In San Telmo

For the Backpackers – America Del Sur Hostel Buenos Aires

A modern hostel right in the heart of San Telmo. Their 24 hour front desk is staffed by friendly multilingual locals who also organise activities like tango lessons and pizza nights. While there is no bar, the common room and TV room are still a great place to socialise and meet other travellers. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Babel

This boutique hotel in San Telmo offers great access to the bohemian quarter of the city, and is close to the city centre. Its nine rooms open up onto a bright and friendly courtyard where you can have breakfast, drinks, and relax and chat with other travellers. Fun spot! Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Patios de San Telmo

For a luxurious escape among the busy streets of San Telmo. Tucked away in a 19th century building with award-winning restoration, a rooftop pool and sun terrace. Its onsite restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and will do take-out meals for guests heading off on excursions. A piece of Buenos Aires luxury and worth every penny. Best rates here.


Recoleta

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Recoleta is one of the pricier areas to stay, and is currently one of Buenos Aires’ most expensive postcodes. A little like a Latin American Paris, it’s populated by little townhouses, former palaces and upscale boutiques. Its residents also enjoy a variety of green spaces with some interesting and quirky sculptural delights.

Here you will find Buenos Aires’ most exclusive and expensive hotels, its Michelin star restaurants, and expensive bars serving the best wines. Wandering around the suburb on foot is a delight, and you won’t have to go far before finding a café or boutique that catches your eye. It is not well connected to the rest of the city in terms of public transport, so taxis will be needed to get you to other parts of town.

The main tourist attraction here is Recoleta Cemetery – almost like a self-contained city, with the tombs of important men and families organised along little streets. The cemetery covers about 14 acres and has over 4,500 tombs dating from between 1880 and 1930. A large number of tombs feature military titles, revealing the decorated military history in Argentina. Joining a cemetery tour is a good idea to truly understand the place.

Next to the cemetery is the Centre Cultural Recoleta, a modern centre hosting exhibitions and concerts. Also nearby is the Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar, a small but picturesque church popular with tourists.

Other Things to See in Recoleta:

  • Museo Nacional de Belles Artes, a free museum holding works from pre-Renaissance to the modern day including many works by the European masters.
  • National Library of Argentina, the largest library in Argentina founded in 1810 and featuring distinctive brutalist architecture.
  • Pizzurno Palace, a six-acre palatial home left to the city by an heiress in 1882 which now houses the Ministry of Education.
  • Gomero de la Recoleta, a rubber tree planted more than 200 years ago which now has a 50 metre wide crown.
  • Plazoleta San Martin de Tours, one of the city’s oldest squares and most attractive green spaces.

Stay in Recoleta if you:

  • Are looking for exclusivity and luxury;
  • Are a high-end food and wine tourist;
  • Want to experience the upper end of Buenos Aires;
  • Have a passion for architecture.

Where to Stay In Recoleta

For the Backpackers – Benita Hostel

For cheap accommodation in the centre of Recoleta, look no further. This hostel offers a range of accommodations including shared and private rooms, as well as nice shared areas for socialising. It has a clean but retro vibe and a very nice rooftop terrace. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Bel Air

For an affordable hotel in the area, consider Hotel Bel Air. Housed in an impressive neo-baroque building in the heart of Recoleta, rooms are basic but clean and comfortable. There is a daily breakfast buffet included, and the restaurant serves food throughout the day. Also has a gym on site! Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Palladio Hotel Buenos Aires MGallery Sofitel

Recoleta is full of luxury hotels, but this is one of the best and isn’t ridiculously priced. The rooms are fully equipped to five star standard; ask for a balcony room as the views are fantastic. The hotel is complete with outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre, terrace, and in house restaurant that does both Continental and American breakfasts. You can’t go wrong here, I promise! Best rates here.


Palermo

Palermo, Buenos Aires

Away from the commercial city centre, Palermo is Buenos Aires’ cultural heart. Here you will find sweeping boulevards, gorgeous green spaces, countless restaurants and some of Argentina’s most celebrated nightlife. Originally the city’s port, Palermo is now a picturesque coastal area, and you can enjoy a pretty magnificent ocean view from the iconic Club de Pescadores.

Palermo can really be split into two parts, Palermo Hollywood, which is where you will find the restaurants and trendy boutique stores, and Palermo Soho, which is full of green spaces and museums. Palermo Soho is where you will find Las Canitas, 350 acres of parks and wooded areas. Families flock here on the weekends to picnic, bicycle, jog, and generally enjoy the sun. Nearby highlights are the Rose Garden, with 18,000 rose bushes which create a spectacular space when they are all in bloom, and the carefully manicured Japanese Gardens, featuring traditional Japanese plants like Bonsai, Sakura, Katsura, Momiji and Azalea. The perfect place for some greenery in the big city.

While Palermo Soho is the place to visit during the day, Palermo Hollywood is the place to visit in the evening for a lively night out. Drinks are not cheap here, although this does seem to be the heart of the nightlife, and the groups from my hostel always ended up here each night.

Besides the local wine and beer, one drink to try when in Buenos Aires is fernet, which is considered the liquor of the city. It is a bitter amaro that is usually drunk mixed with Coca-Cola. I tried this several times in Buenos Aires (it was always offered by locals) but wasn’t a fan. They love it though!

Note: Many tourists used to visit Palermo for the Eco Park, which was basically a large zoo, but it was closed down relatively recently with no confirmed date for reopening (as of 2019).

Other things to see in Palermo:

  • Eva Perón Museum, dedicated to the famous first lady who inspired the film Evita starring Madonna.
  • Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), a new gallery opened only in 2001, it features modern artists from across Latin America.
  • Museo de Arte Popular José Hernández, an interesting collection of religious icons, artworks, silver and furniture originally collected by Isaac Fernández Blanco.
  • Parque Tres de Febrero, also known as Palermo Woods, it adds to the collection of gorgeous green spaces in the area.
  • Galileo Galilei Planetarium, a UFO-shaped structure which is also home to a collection of 100 million year old sea life and ammonite fossils.

Stay in Palermo if you:

  • crave green spaces;
  • adore quality museums;
  • are looking to enjoy Buenos Aires’ nightlife.

Where to Stay in Palermo

For the Backpackers – Meridiano Hostel Boutique

This hostel is both stylish and affordable and a great base for exploring Palermo. Choose between dorm or private accommodations, and enjoy the shared terrace space with amazing views of the gardens and city. Despite the 19th century building that gives a nice atmosphere, it has some of the best bathrooms you can expect from a hostel. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Selina Palermo

The Selina Palermo is a cosy yet affordable place to stay in this part of the city. The rooms are comfortable, and all rooms also include a balcony. The hotel has a playground for kids, and its own restaurant and bar. The common areas are trendy and a great place to socialise. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Nuss Buenos Aires Soho

If you are looking for something higher end, this luxury hotel offers stylish Spanish accommodations in the perfect location. Fitness centre, sauna and beautifully furnished rooms come standard for all guests. There is a buffet breakfast and onsite restaurant, but it is also close to a number of excellent local restaurants when you are looking for something different. Easily one of the top hotels in Palermo. Best rates here.


Villa Crespo

Villa Crespo, Buenos Aires

A little further from the city centre is Villa Crespo. It’s a middle-class area with a cool edge, and is the centre of the city’s Jewish community, which is the largest in South America. This means it is teaming with Jewish cafes, bakeries and restaurants where you can sample traditional cuisine.

However, Villa Crespo is not just home to the city’s Jewish community, it’s a very multicultural part of the city and is home to restaurants and shops from all over the world. A few popular joints to try are El Chiri de Villa Crespo for something classically Jewish, or if you’re a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine try the famously delicious Sarkis. The atmosphere of the whole neighbourhood is very welcoming, so while it is quite spread out and sometimes tiresome to walk around, it feels very safe. It’s much less touristy than the aforementioned areas too.

Leather goods are big here, with Calle Murillo being both the traditional home and current centre of leather goods in the city. It also has a number of outlet stores around Loyola and Serrano if you are looking for bargains from top name brands.

The other thing that makes Villa Crespo special is its street art. Many now well-known Argentinian artists, such as Ever, Jaz and Pastel, started out painting murals in this part of town. The crossroads of Castillo and Serrano is the place to go for the newest and best. Look up Graffitimundo for a local tour!

Other things to see in Villa Crespo:

  • Parque Centenario, a beautiful park full of jacaranda trees and with an amphitheatre for shows. It has a large street market on the weekends.
  • Villa Malcolm, a traditional milonga where you can sample some quality but affordable wine and experience tango up close.
  • Café San Bernardo, a classic pool hall where you can spend the night drinking, dancing and playing pool with the locals.

Stay in Villa Crespo if you:

  • Want to experience Buenos Aires like a local;
  • Have a passion for street art;
  • Want a less touristy area;
  • Want some offbeat and bargain shopping!

Where to Stay in Villa Crespo

For the Backpackers – Hostel Plaza

Offering a range of private and dormitory accommodations, this hostel has the lively atmosphere that backpackers have come to expect. The beds are comfortable and the shared spaces are vibrant. Best rates here.

For the Budget Traveller – Hotel Nontue Abasto

This basic but friendly hotel is a great place to stay for visiting Villa Crespo. The breakfast buffet is always excellent, the rooms are large, plus a swimming pool, sauna and fitness centre are available for all guests. Best rates here.

For the Luxurious Type – Mine Hotel

For those not scrimping on comfort, the Mine Hotel will house you in style. At the border of Villa Crespo and Palermo, this award-winning designer hotel is complete with pool, terrace and sun garden. Both luxurious and homely – in my opinion – the best kind of luxury in a city like BA. Best rates here.


Day Trips

If you want to get beyond the big city and see a little bit more of what Argentina has to offer, Buenos Aires is a great base for making a few day trips.

Tigre Delta

Tigre Delta

The small town of Tigre is less than 30 miles from Buenos Aires and can easily be reached by train. The best way to arrive is the scenic Tren de la Costa, which lets you take in the coastal sights on your journey.

The town itself dates from the early 19th century and sits on an island created by several small streams and rivers. It features a craft fair, several antique shops, and riverside restaurants and bars in a gorgeous natural environment. It is also home to a small amusement park, a casino, and the Naval Museum, so can make a great family destination. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking to get out of the city.


Montevideo

Montevideo skyline

If you want to venture a little further, you can cross into Uruguay and explore its capital Montevideo. It’s only a short 2 hour ferry across the Rio de la Plata.

Montevideo is a charming city full of history, making this one of the most popular day trips for visitors to Buenos Aires. It also has a gorgeous sandy beach, Pocitos, right in the centre of the city. You can explore on your own or join on the many organised tours leaving from central Buenos Aires.

Very cool way to spend a day and collect another stamp in your passport!


Getting Around Buenos Aires

It’s relatively easy to get around the centre of Buenos Aires. The subway is called the Subte, and can be used with a rechargeable SUBE card, available to purchase at any subway station.

The subway has six lines that connect pretty much all the major commercial, tourist and residential areas and run until 11pm. Recoleta is the only major city destination not easily reached on the subway, the closest stop at least a 15 minute walk.

Your SUBE card also gives you access to the bus, useful when heading further from the subway stations. About 140 bus lines that run 24 hours a day, though knowing which one to catch can be challenging. Google maps is your friend!

Also be wary that public transport can get pretty crowded during rush hour. Also frequent strikes can see the service shut down.

When travelling at night, Taxi or Uber is the good choice. When hailing taxis in the street get a Radio-taxi, with a lightbox on the roof, rather than a different type of street taxi. Ordinary taxis are more likely to be run by a member of Buenos Aires’ infamous taxi mafia, and you could end up paying more. Legally taxis are only allowed to stop if their passenger side is facing the curb, so if you find that taxis are ignoring you, cross to the other side of the street. Try and have the exact change to hand as drivers in BA occasionally try the “no change” hustle in order to keep your few extra pesos.

If you are looking to go to Buenos Aires’ outer suburbs or another city you can take the train – they all leave from Buenos Aires’ Retiro-Mitre Station in the city centre.

From the airport

Getting into central Buenos Aires can take between 1-2 hours, depending on traffic. Taxis and Ubers are relatively cheap and recommended.

There is also an airport shuttle that stops at various hotels, though sometimes you’ll need to switch to smaller buses in the centre before getting to your accommodation.

If you are on a tight budget, you can also get bus number 8 from Plaza de Mayo or Plaza Congreso for about 10 pesos. It will take about 2 hours.

Overall a taxi or Uber is the best option if your budget allows it.


Getting a SIM Card in Buenos Aires

Both Claro and Movistar offer prepaid packages. Movistar also offers a data only package if you do not need to make calls. Coverage is good within Buenos Aires itself, though can become a bit sketchy if you go further afield.

Get them at the dedicated phone stores or at convenience stores (kioscos). You will need your passport. If you choose to buy in a convenience store you’ll need to set up the service yourself. It’s relatively straightforward, but head to the provider if you are unsure.


Getting Cash in Buenos Aires

I usually don’t recommend travelling with large amounts of cash, but it can be difficult to get money in Buenos Aires. ATMs in the city have very high fees and very low limits, which means that you can be paying 10% every time you want to take cash out. It can be a good idea to bring whatever cash you will need, if you have a safe way to store it.

USD is also accepted. While you can’t use them everywhere, and shouldn’t expect to be able to buy your SUBE card or pay for meals with USD, market sellers are happy to accept them. Currently the Argentinian peso is so unstable people are eager to take the US dollars off you. There are also lots of money changers in the street if you have US dollars or other currencies that you would like to convert to pesos.


Safety in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is relatively safe compared to other big South American cities, but still poses risks, particularly at night. Most of the inner-city neighbourhoods are clean and well-lit, and a strong police presence in the city keeps petty crime in check. The four areas explored in this post – San Telmo, Recoleta, Palermo and Villa Crespo – are all relatively safe. Be wary of venturing alone into La Boca or Retiro, especially at night.

Of course, visitors still need to be on their guard, especially for pickpockets and bag snatchers. Women in particular should be wary of walking alone at night. It can be a good idea to carry a few hundred pesos in an easily accessible pocket to hand over quickly in the case of an incident.

The other thing to be wary of in Buenos Aires is scams, such as taxi drivers trying to charge you higher fares or keep your change, sellers giving you change in counterfeit notes, and overpaying for cheap products. You can avoid this by paying in smaller bills or exact change where possible.

Common sense and extra vigilance at night will go a long way.

Enjoy Buenos Aires!

B


Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Featured Image