Travel Club: Buenos Aires
The Gateway to Latin America with something for everyone
Busy and energetic.
A refuge or hiding place.
To show great admiration for something.
Slightly strange and possibly frightening.
In bad conditions or neglected.
Describes a street surface made of stones.
An exciting place where there is lots of activity.
By Jamie Wright
There is no shortage of things to do in Argentina’s cultural capital: Buenos Aires is a bustling, intense, colourful, exciting and occasionally chaotic city. It’s been called the ‘Paris of South America’, but I don’t think that does the city’s uniqueness justice, even if there is a strong European influence in both architecture and culture. I spent my year abroad in this city (a few years ago…) and I loved it, so here’s my own guide to this fascinating city that is constantly changing.
San Telmo is Buenos Aires’ oldest neighbourhood. It was once an area where the well-to-do built their homes, but a cholera epidemic in the 1800s led the rich to flee for the north and the area became more diverse. As such, the barrio is an interesting mix of older architecture, tourist attractions and bohemian hideouts. Sunday is when the neighbourhood really comes to life for the Feria de San Telmo, centred on Plaza Dorrego and extending along Defensa Street. It is a bustling street market with people selling antiques, crafts, collectables and curiosities of every type you could imagine, along with street performers and plenty of music. You can also get your picture taken with Mafalda along the Paseo de la Historieta, home to several sculptures of classic Argentine comic strip characters.
Buenos Aires was famously home to many greats of 20th Century literature such as Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar, but did you know that it is also home to one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops? El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a bookshop housed in a palatial old building that was founded as a theatre in 1919 and later became a cinema. You can marvel at the architecture, browse a large selection of books and have coffee on the very stage where Tango stars like Carlos Gardel once performed.
Another of Buenos Aires’ historic attractions is the Recoleta Cemetery, a mini-village of statues, gravestones and mausoleums in a vast range of styles and states of repair. It has a slightly eerie vibe but is really interesting, as you can find the grave of Eva Peron and other famous Argentines here. It is still a place where people go to visit their loved ones, so remember where you are before you start taking a bunch of photos. Not too far from there you can also find the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) whose permanent collection hosts some greats of 20th century Latin American art and is absolutely worth a visit.
La Boca is home to two of the city’s most famous tourist attractions: Caminito and La Bombonera. Caminito is a brightly painted street museum and traditional ally, created in part by the artist Benito Quinquela Martín 1960s as a project which aimed at uplifting the somewhat downtrodden barrio and creating a space for culture. However, it has now become a bit of a tourist trap, where tourists are shipped in and out by bus and hawkers, hustlers and touts try to extract money from them. It is still worth a visit to see its iconic cobbled streets, colourful houses and tango performances. La Bombonera is the infamous home to the Boca Juniors football team known for its atmosphere and intensity, particularly if you get the chance to attend a ‘superclásico’ (the match between city rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate). La Boca is a bit odd in that it is a stridently working class neighbourhood, one where tourists wouldn’t normally go, with some famous tourist attractions right in the middle, but it is still absolutely worth a visit.
The ever-expanding Palermo is a popular spot for tourists, expats and porteños. No matter where you stay in Buenos Aires, you will end up spending a decent amount of time in Palermo, whether it is meeting up with a friend for a coffee, going to a concert, eating at a restaurant or looking for some boutique shops, so much of the city’s life happens here. The Bosques de Palermo are located here too: a great place to spend a sunny afternoon and share a mate with some friends.
Buenos Aires is also, undoubtedly, a hot-spot for all things to do with eating and drinking. The culinary and nightlife scenes are vibrant and constantly changing, so it’s important to have your ear to the ground to find the best places to go while you are there. The country is famous for its beef of course, and you can’t visit Buenos Aires without eating at one of its many great parrillas. But that’s not he only food the city has to offer: the Italian influence is strong in the great pizza and ice cream, while their alfajores and empanadas are twists on the original Spanish foods.
The city has also made waves with the phenomenon of puertas cerradas eating experiences, where you turn up to a private, secret location (sometimes even a chef’s house) and enjoy a unique and creative menu tailored for that special night. If you like a drink with style then there are plenty of trendy cocktail bars in the city too, you could have an old-fashioned at Döppelganger (San Telmo) or a negroni at the chic Presidente (Recoleta). You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have fun either, there are plenty of popular and affordable bars in every neighbourhood, there’s always chances to see live music or go dancing long into the night – and the nights there are long!