More insider guides for planning a trip to Buenos Aires
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
Argentina doesn’t go in for the kind of state subsidies you’d expect in, say, France, or even the UK. But a handful of cultural experiences and open-air events offer free entry, and the Centro Cultural Kirchner is a world-class arts space where all events are free of charge – though bagging a ticket for the hottest gigs may take some planning. BA is also full of green spaces, shady plazas and markets, and there’s some great architecture to see, with or without a guide. Plus the city boasts an ecological reserve within walking distance of the throbbing downtown.
Hike BA’s history on a self-guided walk
To get orientated, start at the Plaza Congreso, where a Washington-style congressional palace sits on a large square. Head east along Avenida de Mayo, the once grand, somewhat faded, Haussmann-esque avenue opened at the start of the 20th century to mark the centennial of Argentine Independence. Highlights along the way include the Dante’s Inferno-inspired Palacio Barolo, the Hotel Castelar, where Lorca stayed, and the Café Tortoni. When you get to the Plaza de Mayo, take in the old, whitewashed Cabildo (town hall), the salmon-hued Casa Rosada, the imposing HQ of the National Bank, and other civic and ministerial palaces. Then, go south along Defensa, to see the older, grungier side of the city, ending up at quaint Plaza Dorrego. Defensa has lots of cafés and restaurants to keep you going.
Nearest subte (start/finish): Congreso/San Juan
Roam Recoleta’s famous necropolis
The famous Recoleta Cemetery was opened on the site of a much older cemetery in 1822 and soon became the final resting place of presidents, military generals, beef magnates, artists and socialites. Eva Perón, who so disdained the upper classes, was buried alongside them with the rest of her family – the Duartes’ mausoleum is not far from the porticoed entrance. Maps of the labyrinthine layout are available at the entrance, but it’s stirring just to stroll around the miniature city of the dead, admiring the angels, cherubs, architectural follies and Graeco-Roman fancies carved from marble and granite. Free tours in English take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am.
Contact: 00 54 11 4803 1594
Opening times: Mon-Sun, 7am-5.30pm
Nearest subte: Las Heras
Experience Argentina’s fine art
At the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a handful of key works by European masters are on view. But the most fascinating rooms are dedicated to Argentine art. Immediately to the right of the entrance are paintings of battlefields and Indian raids. Go upstairs to see modernist representations of Buenos Aires. Post-Seventies works reflect the political infamy and protests of the era. Time your visit to enjoy a guided tour in English, which take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1pm for no charge.
Contact: 00 54 11 5288 9900, bellasartes.gob.ar
Opening times: Tue-Fri, 11am-8pm; Sat-Sun, 10am-8pm
Nearest subte: Las Heras
Act like a Porteño and enjoy a picnic in the park
At weekends local families and friends in need of a break from city stresses sit down on the lawns of the Parque Tres de Febrero – aka Parque de Palermo – and share a round of maté tea and a dozen facturas (sweet pastries sold in all bakeries). Do the same, or get some cured ham and cheeses from a deli and a bottle of wine and have a picnic beside the boating lake. There’s a small but interesting art gallery (the Sivori), with a café, and an impressive rose garden. Close by are the Japanese and Botanical gardens.
Nearest subte: Palermo
Go birding in the barrios
The 860-acre Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, hidden behind Puerto Madero’s glitzy skyscrapers, is an abandoned development that’s been left to rewild. The patch of pampas and coastal wetlands is home to native flora, 200-odd bird species (including ovenbirds, southern screamers and long-toed jacanas), turtles and coypu. It’s great for walks or cycling, though it gets hot and humid in the afternoon through spring, summer and early autumn.
See urban cowboys at country-style fête
Catch the no 55 bus to the Feria de Mataderos, a country-style fête, on a Sunday morning to see a bric-a-brac market, live folk music and dancing, and gaucho horsemanship. The area has historic associations with cattle and the meat industry – mataderos means ‘slaughterhouse’ – and the fair is a celebration of all things rural and rustic. Have a choripan (sausage sandwich) and a craft beer for lunch.
Contact: 00 54 11 4342 9629
Enjoy eight floors of art for all
The CCK (Centro Cultural Kirchner) is an extraordinary art space, built inside the Beaux Arts building of the former Correo Central (Central Post Office) – and it has transformed BA into one of the world’s hottest cities for the arts. Eight floors host art, sculpture, theatre, performance, poetry readings, sound-art and multi-media shows. The events are top class: one recent show, curated by local star Guillermo Kuitca, featured works by David Lynch, Nan Goldin and Patti Smith, the latter turning up for a live show. At the centre of the building is a 1,750-seater concert hall, La Sala Sinfonica, which hosts rock, classical, folk and jazz concerts. All activities in the CCK are free. Walk in, chat to the helpful aids at the desk and explore. To collect tickets for special events, you may have to queue.
Admire the city’s street art
Graffiti has long been a feature of Argentina’s walls, monuments, bridges, trains and toilet doors. But in the last decade a thriving street art scene has emerged, with well-executed works all over the city, ranging from lurid homages to tango singer Gardel to eco-minded motifs to surrealist cartoons. You can’t miss the phenomenon, but to see a good selection explore north and west of Palermo ‘Hollywood’, as well as calle Lanín, ‘the longest mural in the world’ on the corner of Lavadero and San Antonio in Barracas, and the Abasto area north of Avenida Corrientes.
Explore with a local
Recent years have seen a surge in young, entrepreneurial, multi-lingual porteños offering free guided tours to visitors on the basis that, if they enjoy it, they may offer a tip. There are many itineraries to choose from, including a stroll around the belle époque buildings of posh Recoleta, a survey of the Colón opera house and a thorough exploration of the Recoleta and Chacarita cemeteries. A tip of ARS 400 is recommended.