Buenos Aires is a place of architectural splendour drenched in lively Latino spirit. Nowhere is better to experience Argentine passion for food, music, arts and sport, or to explore the European cultural footprint on South America. We’ve compiled some of the coolest things to do in Buenos Aires to help you get the most out of your time in the city.
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Buenos Aires has become almost a second home to us. It was our base for several weeks during five months of travel in South America, and although we didn’t have the best start, we really grew to love it. The highlights we’ve picked out below are based on our own experiences of getting out and about in this truly absorbing city.
1. See the amazing percussion show of La Bomba de Tiempo
Let’s start off with a bang. If you want to throw yourself in at the deep end of Buenos Aires’ music and party scene, there’s no better to start than with this explosive show of talent and energy.
La Bomba Del Tiempo (‘the time bomb’) is a 17-piece percussion group that fuses Argentine folk and samba with styles from Africa and Central America. Every Monday night, crowds pack out the Ciudad Cultural Konex centre to see their freestyle improvisational performance. The show starts at 8pm and lasts a couple of hours, but the fun doesn’t stop there; street parties usually continue well into the small hours.
The Konex centre is easy to reach from most of the city’s backpacker districts. It’s close to the Carlos Gardel (yellow line) and Once (red line) underground stations. Tickets for the show cost 170 Argentine pesos, which you can book online, or buy at the venue on the night (doors open at 7pm). There’s usually a bit of a queue; look out for street vendors selling empanadas outside to eat while you wait.
2. Join the open folk night at El Universal
For a taste of live music at a more relaxed pace, but still lively and entertaining, head over to Palermo for El Universal’s Tuesday open folk night. Entry is free, and you’ll get to see some great local folk acts. If you’re up for it, you may get the chance to join in too!
Palermo is the city’s premier district for nightlife, with a swath of bars, pubs and clubs packed within short walking distance. El Universal, a cool outdoor bar with a large shed-hall for hosting live music and theatre, is located a few paces away from Plaza Serrano, the heart of the action.
The night usually kicks off around 8:30pm with a set by a popular local folk artist, after which it’s a bit of a free-for-all. It’s a great option for a mid-week night out, and you’re in the right place if you want to keep the party going afterwards.
3. Eat lots of Argentinian steak
Argentina is world-famous for its steak for very good reason. We’ve eaten in steakhouses all over the world on our travels, including New York, London, Melbourne and Paris, but nothing has compared with Buenos Aires.
There are countless steakhouses across the city to choose from. Everybody will give you a different answer if you ask which is the best. We tried several during our stay in the city, which you can read about in our article on the best steak in Buenos Aires.
As a rule of thumb, if you see a steakhouse filled with locals rather than tourists, it’s likely to be a good one. You’ll find plenty of these in the old San Telmo neighbourhood. Our favourite for the quality of meat, however, was La Carnicería in Palermo.
4. Go to the asado night at Rayuela Hostel
An alternative way to experience Argentina’s finest meat on a budget is to attend an asado night at a hostel. The Thursday night asado at Rayuela Hostel (which you need to be a hostel guest to attend) is absolutely superb, and was often the highlight of our week.
Asado is Argentina’s national dish, which comprises various different meat cuts barbecued on a parrilla grill over several hours. It’s often a big social event that brings friends and family together.
Rayuela’s asado night is hosted by the hostel manager, Rhys, who is highly knowledgeable in the tradition and provides insightful commentaries when serving each dish. The courses served vary each week but usually include steaks, chorizo, beef ribs, blood sausage, sweetbreads and potatoes cooked in meat fats. Argentine red wine flows through the night, and it’s an awesome way to meet fellow travellers and share stories.
You can book your stay at Rayuela Hostel on hostelworld.
5. Check out San Telmo Market on a Sunday
San Telmo is our favourite district of Buenos Aires. More rough around the edges than the likes of touristy Recoleta and Palermo, it is one of the oldest neighbourhoods and feels like the authentic heart and soul of the city.
Every Sunday San Telmo’s cobbled roads host Feria, a huge open-air market stretching along Calle Defensa and spilling out onto the sidestreets. Local vendors sell all manner of arts, crafts, second-hand clothes, jewellery and antiques.
There’s plenty of entertainment and nourishment to be found as well. Street food BBQs sizzle away all along the market, while tango dancers and musicians perform. San Telmo also has a great choice of local food. Try a greasy burger at El Banco Rojo or a chorizo sandwich at El Desnivel.
6. Take tango lessons
In Buenos Aires we met a young traveller from France called Lucie who was volunteering in our hostel. She was staying in the city for several months to fulfill her dream of learning to tango. When we first met her she was just getting started, and by the time we left, she was already performing at a mid-week show!
Buenos Aires has a whole host of dancing schools for people of all levels, from beginner upwards. This article by The Culture Trip compiles some of the best options for travellers who want to take tango lessons in the city.
GetYourGuide offers a private one-hour tango lesson. For 50 US dollars, an expert teacher will show you the basic steps of Argentina’s most traditional dance.
7. Go to a tango show
If learning to tango is way beyond your comfort zone, you can always settle for going to see a show or two. A tango night in Buenos Aires is a one-of-a-kind dancing extravaganza.
Sometimes you will find tango performances staged for free in restaurants, in particular in tourist-filled spots like La Boca. Other eateries have ticketed shows. Café Tortoni (see more below) hosts ‘Mission Tango’ every Saturday at 10pm for 600 Argentine pesos.
8. Go to an Argentine football match
No country in the world is more passionate about football than Argentina. Its great players through the ages – the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi – are bestowed with national legend status.
Football matches in Argentina can be intense affairs. In 2018 away fans in the top division were permitted to attend matches after a five-year ban that followed a series of violent incidents. Buenos Aires’ biggest two clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate, made international headlines in 2018 when they had to play a cup final abroad due to problems between fans.
As such, going to a game can be an exciting experience, but it’s not one for the faint-hearted. When a goal is scored by the home team, fans rush forwards and the noise is deafening. It’s enjoyable and all part of the fun, as long as you’re prepared for it!
Tickets for Boca and River are hard to come by and can cost a lot of money. Oftentimes it’s only possible to get them through tour companies, which charge big commissions. As an alternative, we went to see Racing Club, another of the city’s big clubs.
We bought our tickets at the stadium, but it’s also possible to get them in club shops or online beforehand. Make sure you check local advice on safety and getting around before planning to attend a match.
9. Take the stadium tour of La Bombonera
If going to a match sounds like a bit too much, an alternative way to get immersed in the city’s football culture is to take a tour of La Bombonera, the famous home stadium of Boca Juniors.
Boca has been home to many of world’s greatest football talents. Maradona, Batistuta, Riquelme, Caniggia and Tevez are just some of the legendary names to have played for the club.
The stadium’s museum, Museo de la Pasión Boquense, is open from 10am to 6pm every day (apart from match days). Through interactive exhibits and memorabilia, you can relive over a century’s worth of Boca Juniors history. Tours of the stadium run throughout the day; see the museum website for the latest prices.
La Bombonera is located, naturally, in the La Boca district. You can reach it from the main downtown districts using the 29 and 64 local bus services.
10. Walk around the streets of La Boca
La Boca is a fantastic district to visit whether or not you’re into football. It’s the most colourful corner of the city, filled with brightly painted houses following an artistic renovation in the 1950s.
The district has a rich history of migration and art. It was the setting for a wave of European arrivals during the 19th century. In the 1830s, ships docked in Buenos Aires carrying immigrants from Genoa, Italy, who chose La Boca to settle.
The main road, El Caminito, is today an open-air museum. Walking along it you will find local artists and street performers at work, busy market stalls, and restaurateurs beckoning you in for a meal. The eateries here charge a tourist premium, but it’s worth it for the unique setting.
11. See the Pink House at Plaza de Mayo
Buenos Aires is full of fascinating sites of political history. None are more significant than Casa Rosada, the ‘Pink House’, which is the executive mansion of the country’s president. It’s the most distinctive feature of Plaza de Mayo, a major city square and the site at which Buenos Aires was formed.
The blue-and-white flag of Argentina flying high above the grandiose pink structure is one of the most iconic images of Buenos Aires. It’s also been the setting for much political drama in the past. During the 2001 December crisis, which saw people rioting on the streets against the government, the president of the time – Fernando de la Rúa – made an escape from the roof of the building by helicopter.
Plaza de Mayo has witnessed many more famous protests throughout history. Look for the white headscarves painted on the ground around the circle at its centre. This commemorates the Mothers protest of 1977, when women whose children had gone missing during the military dictatorship marched in front of presidential building.
12. People-watch at Plaza del Congreso
Another of the grand squares of Buenos Aires is Plaza del Congreso, a park of green gardens, symbolic statues and flowing fountains. At the western end of the plaza stands the impressive Palacio del Congreso, one of the city’s most important government buildings.
The green-domed palace was built in 1906 based on Washington DC’s Capitol Building. Four days a week you can take free tours, which include both government chambers. You can also see the ‘pink room’, where women met to discuss policies until 1951, when women were first permitted to run for office.
Plaza del Congreso is a pleasant place to hang out in good weather. It’s also the meeting point for various free city walking tours. We took the morning tour with bafreetour.com, which included Palacio Barolo, the Obelisk statue and Plaza de Mayo.
13. Sip a coffee at historic Café Tortoni
Café Tortoni is the oldest coffeehouse in Buenos Aires. While the name sounds Italian, its origins are actually French. It was built in 1858 by a French immigrant who named it after the legendary high-society Parisian café on Boulevard des Italiens.
The café’s visitors throughout the years have included the likes of Albert Einstein, the King of Spain and Hillary Clinton, as well as many notable artists, journalists and tango stars. Stepping inside, you can see why it’s popular among dignitaries and creatives. The insides are plush with marble tables, fancy wooden panelling, grand chandeliers and a Tiffany glass ceiling.
The café’s cellar regularly hosts events, such as poetry readings and the above-mentioned Saturday night tango shows.
14. Visit Evita’s resting place
It might be strange to include a burial place in a list of the coolest things to do in Buenos Aires, but La Recoleta Cemetery is not your typical graveyard. This maze of lavish tombs and crypts is the final resting place of many prominent Argentinian public figures.
The most famous occupant of a La Recoleta crypt is Eva Perón, otherwise known as Evita. You can usually locate her crypt – that of the Duarte family – by simply looking out for the crowds of people. Many of the other extravagant shrines around the cemetery are the graves of former presidents, generals and members of high society, buried with their families.
The cemetery has very much become a tourism draw. It is open to the public every day between 8am and 6pm, maps are available at the entrance and there are even free guided tours at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The site is about ten minutes’ walk from Las Heras underground station.
15. Explore a library built in an old theatre
Hidden among the myriad high-street shopping outlets on Avenida Santa Fe in downtown Buenos Aires is one of the city’s coolest quirks. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a giant library built inside a converted century-old theatre. Is this the world’s most beautiful bookstore? Maybe.
The original red-curtained stage, stalls and balconies are still in place, but filled with shelves of books instead of seats. It’s a creative repurposing of space that will delight lovers of the arts, and an endless hunting ground for bookworms. Even if you just like to see interesting buildings, it’s worth a visit.
16. Explore the old book shops of San Telmo
Buenos Aires is a real haven for literature lovers. The romantic city has been a natural home over the years to some of Argentina’s best-loved writers and poets. Tucked away on the cobbled streets of San Telmo you will find many book shops, from antique to modern, that are packed with literary treasures.
Many of the shops have sections for second-hand English books. In Libreria La Calesita, a few blocks north of the heart of San Telmo (and a few doors across from Café Tortoni), I picked up a copy of the great travel book In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin.
Walrus Books is probably the shop with the most English titles on sale. You can find more information about bookstores in the neighbourhood at Welcome San Telmo.
17. Take a ferry across the river to Uruguay
Perched on the mouth of River Plate, Buenos Aires is just a short ferry journey from neighbouring country Uruguay. The picturesque port town of Colonia del Sacramento is just a 75-minute ride across the river, making it accessible even for a day trip. We’d recommend going for at least a night or two though.
Colonia is a Unesco World Heritage Site, distinguished by Portuguese colonial architecture, cafés and craft markets, rows of sycamore trees and riverside views. For us, one of the highlights was witnessing the local tradition of applauding the sunset disappearing below the horizon across the river.
Several crossings are made every day by the three ferry services, Buquebus, Colonia Express and SeaCat. It’s best to arrive an hour before your departure to allow plenty of time to get through customs.
Coolest things to do in Buenos Aires: map of attractions
The map below shows the locations of the various sites compiled in this article:
Where to stay in Buenos Aires
I’ve already highlighted Rayuela Hostel’s legendary asado night. We found it to be an excellent hostel all-round, with a relaxed and sociable vibe, friendly staff and very good facilities. We often cooked in the hostel kitchen, and loved to chill out in the lounge and games room.|
More articles on Argentina
If you are spending more time backpacking in Argentina, you may find our other articles useful:
- Argentina road trip itinerary: Salta, Jujuy and the wine region
- Patagonia itinerary and travel guide: 28 days / two weeks
- Comparing Iguassu Falls experiences: Argentina side vs Brazil side
- 15 awesome things to do in Bariloche, Argentina
- 11 awesome things to do in Ushuaia, Argentina
- El Chaltén trekking guide: Laguna de los Tres
- Trekking El Bolsón: Cerro Piltriquitrón day hike
- Trekking Bariloche in a day: the Cerro Llao Llao trail
Have you spent time in Buenos Aires? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
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