Where to Stay in Buenos Aires
There are four main areas of Buenos Aires which are of interest to visitors, and handily, you'll find a decent choice of hotels in each. All of the districts have their own identity and features, so it's really up to you where you choose to stay.
Most of the historical sights in the city are right in the centre, known as Centro. This is where you'll find all the main official buildings, the grand squares like the Plaza de Mayo, and the main shopping streets. Centro also has a large number of hotels and it's well-connected to the rest of the city by Buenos Aires' excellent subté tube network, so this is where many visitors choose to stay on their holiday in Buenos Aires, although it's not our first choice here at RealWorld.
For us, a holiday in Buenos Aires is more about just being here and soaking up the atmosphere rather than having a checklist of tours to take and trips to make. And that means that for us, you're better off staying in one of the other central districts rather than in Centro itself.
To the north of the centre is the well-to-do Recoleta district. An area of grand houses and leafy avenues, it has arguably the pick of the city's more expensive hotels, including the Grand Dame of them all, the Alvear Palace. With some of the city's best restaurants and upmarket shops, Recoleta is a lovely area to stay in. The only downside? It's not on the subté, so you may end up getting more taxis than if you stay elsewhere.
North-east of the centre, you'll find the barrio of Palermo. Although it's another of Buenos Aires' most desirable areas, it has a much younger feel to it than Recoleta, and is more bohemian and alternative, although if you were cynical you might say that it's far too expensive to be truly bohemian. In any case, it has some great boutique hotels and the pick of the city's nightlife and alternative culture, so it's a good choice for a stay on a holiday in Buenos Aires.
To the south of Centro you'll find the traditional 'tango' areas of San Telmo and La Boca and it's San Telmo that we usually choose to stay in on our own trips to Buenos Aires. These are some of the oldest and most traditional districts of Buenos Aires - Boca in particular is a world away from leafy Recoleta - but for many people they are more authentically 'porteño' than the upmarket north of the city. San Telmo is packed with life and although there's nothing particularly to 'see' and so it might feature on the itinerary for a classic tour of Buenos Aires, for us it's what the city is all about...
What to See and Do in Buenos Aires
The centre of Buenos Aires is home to most of the city’s historic sights, but holidays in Buenos Aires are as much about soaking up the culture as taking specific tours, so spending some time just wandering around areas like San Telmo and Recoleta is a must as well.
Central Buenos Aires
Right at the heart of Buenos Aires is the Plaza de Mayo. Surrounded by grand buildings such as the Cathedral and the Presidential Palace (known as the Casa Rosada, or Pink House), this square has been at the heart of political life in Argentina for centuries. From Eva’s famous address from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, to the protests of the Mothers of the Disappeared which helped bring down the military junta in the 1980s, the Plaza de Mayo has literally been at the centre of it all and is a must-see on any trip to Buenos Aires.
Although you can’t go into the Casa Rosada itself, there is a small museum attached to the Palace which is well worth a look as it has regular visiting exhibitions. Across the square, the Cabildo is one of Buenos Aires’ few remaining colonial buildings. Originally the seat of government, today it’s a museum packed with exhibits and paintings from the 17th and 18th century history of Buenos Aires. Please note that this museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Thursdays and Fridays, meanwhile, a small but high-quality craft fair is held on the patio of the Cabildo.
Heading north-west out of the Plaza de Mayo (between the Cathedral and the City Hall) is Avenida Roque Saenz Peña, more commonly known as ‘Diagonal’. In a city of pretty strict grid planning, a diagonal is pretty unusual, hence the name. This road, lined with some of the grand Art Deco buildings is characteristic of this part of Buenos Aires. Almost straight away, however, a right-turn will take you into the pedestrianised Calle Florida. This is Buenos Aires’ premier shopping street, but even if you don’t fancy getting in the goodies, it’s a perfect place to enjoy a snack, a coffee, or one of the city’s superb ice-creams and just do a spot of people-watching.
Florida extends all the way north to the Plaza San Martin, which despite the name is actually more of a park – it’s one of the few big green spaces in the centre, so a nice place to relax if you’ve got some free time. Just over the road is another square called the Plaza Fuerza Aerea Argentina (Air Force Square) which is home to a kind of mini Big-Ben replica called the Torre Monumental. It was originally called the Torre de los Ingleses and the square was originally called the Plaza Britannica but all that changed after... well, we don’t need to go into that, do we...?
However, if you don’t have time for the park, you can take a left turn off Florida down Avenida Tucuman (after 5 blocks) which will lead you to the enormous Avenida 9 de Julio. As you cross this huge avenue, if you look to your left you’ll see one of the city’s most emblematic locations, the 68-metre high Obelisk. Once you’ve crossed over, you’ll find yourself outside the famous Teatro Colon. Generally held to be one of the world’s best opera houses, even if you don’t take in a performance here, it’s worth taking a guided tour (available every 15 minutes during the day) to see the stupendous interior of this grand 1908 building. From here, you can either walk back to the Avenida 9 de Julio to get your bearings, or end your walking tour at the Tribunales underground station (diagonally across from the Teatro Colon, in the Plaza Lavalle) and get back to your hotel.
Recoleta and Palermo
In the north of Buenos Aires, the Recoleta cemetery is one of the most popular tours in Buenos Aires: among many others, Evita is buried here. Backing onto the cemetery is also one of Buenos Aires’ nicest parks, with the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes or MBNA) beautifully situated in the middle of it. The MBNA is one of the continent’s best galleries, and well worth a visit, although it’s closed on Mondays. The park (usually known as Plaza Francia) is also home to a handicrafts market known as the feria hippie – it’s actually really hard to get certified to have a stall here, and the quality is very good. To get here you might need to take a taxi, as the nearest subté station is nearly a mile away.
Palermo lies to the south and west of Recoleta, and is well-served by Metro Line D. The Botanical Gardens and Zoo are located here (Station Plaza Italia) but the attraction of Palermo is much more just about wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere, particularly in the evening, when the area is home to the city’s best nightlife and many of its most fashionable restaurants. The streets around Plaza Serrano (Line D Plaza Italia or Line B Malabia Osvaldo Pugliese) are known as Palermo Hollywood, and you’ll find lots of cafes, restaurants and nightclubs here. For something more alternative, try the streets south of Avenida Santa Fe and north of Avenida Juan B Justo (Line D Palermo or Ministro Caranza). Known as Soho, this area is the place to be in Buenos Aires for fashion, art, design and music.
San Telmo and La Boca
South from Centro, and offering a very different experience, is the ‘tango district’ of San Telmo. One of the oldest parts of Buenos Aires, it’s still many visitors’ favourite for its authenticity, its cobbled streets and – of course – the tango... San Telmo was originally an industrial area of tenement housing, and it was here in the immigrant community of dockworkers and factory hands that the Argentine tango was born in the small neighbourhood bars that you still see dotted around the area. You’ll also see lots of ‘buskers’ doing impromptu tango performances, particularly in and around Plaza Dorrego, and San Telmo is all about this kind of street life, from street-side tango to pavement cafes and antique stalls. For many people, it’s a much more authentically bohemian experience than Palermo, and in many ways San Telmo encapsulates everything that makes holidays in Buenos Aires so great.
Further south again, the dockside district of La Boca is also a traditional working-class district, and although it attracts tourists to see the famous brightly-painted houses and restaurants of the Caminito area, it has maintained its gritty credentials through to the present day. Especially if the area’s famous Boca Juniors team are playing at home, it can be a little more edgy than most areas of Buenos Aires, so many people choose to visit as part of an organised tour. Although both San Telmo and La Boca are served by public transport, in both cases the metro/train stops are a bit of a walk away from where you want to be, so if you’re getting to either by yourself then a taxi is probably the best way to go.
Eating Out and Nightlife in Buenos Aires
Eating out in Buenos Aires is one of life's great pleasures, and the quality of the food in even the most inauspicious-looking cafe will have you grinning from ear to ear. You can eat just about any sort of food in Buenos Aires but it will come as no surprise that the Italian food and the steaks here are both some of the best on the planet...
In Centro Los Remolinos (at 957 Suipacha) and El Establo (at 489 Paraguay) are both classic old-school parilla grill houses where you can enjoy some of the best steaks on the planet. Both are fairly meat-heavy, however, so if you'd prefer something lighter or with more vegetarian options, have a look at D'Oro (159 Peru) for some of Buenos Aires' best Italian food.
Vegetarians also might like to try Kensho (5783 El Salvador) in Palermo which is widely regarded as Buenos Aires' best vegetarian restaurant. As you'd expect, Palermo and Recoleta have some of the best - but more expensive - restaurants in the city, and we particularly like La Rosa Negra (1918 Dardo Rocha) for fine dining in Recoleta, although nearby Fervor (1519 Posadas) offers a more homely 'neighbourhood' option while still offering great food.
Meanwhile San Telmo offers some absolute classic traditional parillas such as El Desnivel (855 Defensa) and a great range of cafes and bars for post-dinner drinks which are open until the early hours. On that note, remember that Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) eat very late by British standards, so if you try and eat before around 8pm you'll get some very strange looks, and you'll find locals sitting down to eat at anything up to midnight.
As well as lots of bars, San Telmo has a decent range of places to go out dancing in and around Plaza Dorrego, but be warned that most places don't get busy until at least 1-2am. The real centre for nightlife, however, is Palermo, and you'll find the area around Plaza Serrano jammed with bars and clubs that are open all night.
Food and Wine Tours in Buenos Aires
We offer some great dedicated food and wine tours in Buenos Aires, and they can be a fantastic way to get to grips with this amazing city. To set your taste-buds tingling, why not try our tour of BA's best parilla steakhouses? Or maybe our Urban Wine Tours which take you to a selection of the city's coolest bars for you to try a tasting in each one? If you'd like something more participatory, we love organising cookery classes with local chefs, and if you'd like a trained sommelier to join the group - no problem!
Flights To and From Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires has two major airports, Ezeiza (aka Ministro Pistarini) and Aeroparque Jorge Newberry. To the south of the city, Ezeiza handles most international flights, while Aeroparque is handily located just to the north of Recoleta and mainly handles domestic duties, although it also has connections to some other South American destinations.
You can fly to Buenos Aires direct from the UK with BA, and you can also fly with several European airlines such as KLM, Air France and Iberia, connecting in Amsterdam, Paris or Madrid. If you live outside London, it can often be just as easy to start your holidays to Buenos Aires with a hop to one of these European cities and then continue on from there as it is to get to London in the first place, so it's definitely worth considering.
Road, Rail and River
Buenos Aires is at the centre of Argentina's excellent road network and the colossal Retiro Bus Station is a hive of surprisingly comfortable long-distance coaches, many of which offer full lay-flat beds, on-board entertainment systems and lots of other mod cons. Distances are massive, however, so we do generally recommend internal flights unless you're planning an extended tour of this part of South America.
The only trains currently running from Buenos Aires are commuter services to the surrounding areas, although there are plans for high-speed rail lines to Chile via Mendoza, and south to Puerto Madryn.
Buenos Aires is well-served, however, by river connections, both north and south along the Rio Plata, and across the estuary to Colonia and Montevideo in Uruguay. These are both fantastic places and the ferries and organised tours from Buenos Aires can be a great way to visit them and get another stamp in your passport!
Transport Within Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires' excellent Metro system (known as the subte) is a great and cheap way of getting around - particularly if you're based in Palermo or Centro. Outside of these areas there is an extensive bus system, but it can be hard to get to grips with and difficult to navigate if you don't have good Spanish. The only problem with the Metro is that the nearest stations are a bit of a walk from key areas like La Boca and Recoleta.
Both the latter are served by suburban trains which can also be a useful way of getting around, and are certainly easier than buses, although they still take a bit of figuring out. Finally, taxis are everywhere in Buenos Aires and are pleasingly cheap, so if you'd rather not get to grips with public transport, they're definitely a good way of getting around.
Tailor-made Tours of Buenos Aires
All our holidays in Buenos Aires are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the itineraries you see above to include more tours or day trips from Buenos Aires, or even if you'd like to start completely from scratch and plan a whole holiday in Argentina then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect trip to Buenos Aires!
Did you know?
Originally founded as a permanent settlement in 1580, Buenos Aires was established as the capital of the Viceroyalty of La Plata was in 1776, but little remains of the colonial city, and it wasn’t until the later decades of the 18th century that the city really began to grow as a result of large-scale immigration from Europe. Brits, Germans, Spanish, Croatians and many others came flocking to this land of opportunity but it was above all the large number of Italian migrants who gave the city its food and culture - that's why the ice cream is so, so good!