“I spent a very interesting afternoon of morbid fascination at Recoleta Cemetary seeing how the Argentinian aristocrats celebrate life & death.”
Buenos Aires (BA), Argentina
Probably the first place you stop on a trip to Argentina & well worth a few days to see the capital
What do you need to know?
This is the list of my favourite activities in BA
There are several free walking tours operating in BA. The reason they are free is that they are based on tips & I have to say this tour was excellent. Unfortunately, this was the only 1 I was able to join but talking to others who had done more, they were all of equal quality.
The tour starts from Plaza Estado del Vaticano (Corner of Libertad and Viamonte), next to Teatro Colón every day at 10.30am. The guides wear orange t-shirts so are easy to spot & there is no requirement to book.
The group was split into Spanish & English speakers right at the start. Our guide was Mariano who had a cheeky side to him, was thoroughly entertaining & spoke amazing English.
The Recoleta tour started at the Teatro Colón & finished at the cemetery, took 3 ½ hours & covered 25 blocks, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes. We had a break at 12.30 in a café where we could get drinks, snacks & use the bathroom before commencing again. I believe this is the longest tour they do.
What was great was finishing at the cemetery which is a fascinating place to spend the afternoon after the tour is completed (see below).
As stated before, the tour is free but at the end, you tip what you believe it’s worth. We opted for AR$300 for two of us which seemed to be the going rate for others too.
“The tour gave us a real perspective on the history of the city & Argentina generally and was a great way to start our 2 weeks in Argentina – thoroughly recommended.”
They also run a City Centre Tour which is supposed to be great & starts at the gate of The National Congress (Av. Entre Rios 51), meets at 3pm
In addition, there are a couple of pay & book tours:
Recoleta Cemetery (AR$150), Mon – Fri 3pm (meet at the Gate to Recoleta Cemetery)
La Boca (AR$200), Mon – Fri 11am (meet at the corner of Magallanes & Caminito, outside the Havanna shop on colourful corner). We were keen to do this one but unfortunately, it didn’t fit with my BA schedule (as everywhere says it is dangerous to go around the area outside the specific tourist parts, it could be a good option).
2. Recoleta Cemetery
Unsurprisingly, the cemetery was next on our list & after a brief introduction on the tour, I spent a very interesting afternoon of morbid fascination here seeing how the Argentinian aristocrats celebrate life & death. The cemetery is full of “streets” of mausoleums and be warned it can be quite confronting when you see coffins in full view, especially in some of the more neglected sites. Evita (Eva Peron) has her grave here which is a pilgrimage site for the Argentinians & all other visitors (you can look at the map at the gate to locate it (under her maiden name Duarte).
“You can easily spend an afternoon walking around the cemetery – it’s equally awe inspiring, beautiful & gruesome all rolled into one.”
There are several options to eat outside the cemetery if you need refreshments – I opted for La Biela which is a nice big café with outdoor seating to watch the world go by. Be warned though it is pricey & a sandwich & a beer cost more than our dinner the night before with wine!
3. Eat Steak at a Parrilla
You can’t come to Argentina & not have steak…unless, of course, you are not a fan of red meat (like my friend). The good news is that if you don’t eat beef, there are always options (although don’t expect a lot of choice & vegetarians could find it much more limited). The restaurant we chose was Don Julio in Palermo & I’m pleased to report both the steak & the grilled prawns were delicious.
“Having read excellent reviews we realised that without a booking we would need to turn up early so arrived at 7.30pm & got a seat easily outside. We were glad we did as by the time 8pm arrived there was a queue forming.”
We also tried a return visit when we were back in BA, turned up at 8.30pm & were told it would be a 1 ¼ hour wait for a table so be warned (although they do have sparkling wine to serve while queuing so it’s not all bad!).
I ordered Ojo de Bife – which was massive & delicious! They also offered carafes of wine which was a great option for us as one wanted white & the other red. These, in theory, were 2 glasses but they easily lasted us for dinner (& I like my wine!)
The restaurant is very traditional in décor with smartly dressed waiters, walls lined with wine bottles & light fittings made from wagon wheels. If you sit inside you can see the beef being prepared & cooked on the grill behind the counter & apparently, the waiters will be able to give you a full rundown on the different cuts to help you make your choice. Enjoy!
4. Eat dinner in a ‘Puertas Cerradas’ (closed-door) restaurant
During the economic crash in 2001, these types of restaurants apparently took hold across the city to make the most of the tourism industry. Basically, there are no signs outside or any indication that it is any more than a house… until you go in.
I booked this before I left as I had read a write up for the restaurant & Casa Felix specialises in fish & vegetarian dishes which was perfect for my friend. The concept is that everyone eats the same 5-course tasting menu, at the same time on a big communal table. For Casa Felix, they open bookings 1 month ahead via email & are open Thurs – Sat for dinner. Everyone is told to arrive no earlier than 9.30pm.
Being British we were there early, first & had to hang around on a street corner to ensure we didn’t break the 9.30pm rule! When we did go in it felt like we were entering a magical world with a candle lit patio set up for dinner.
This led to a small garden area where we were served cocktails and where they grow many of the herbs & vegetables used to prepare the food.
We were there on Saturday night & it wasn’t full but it was great to sit on the communal table & get to know our fellow diners during the exceptional, beautifully presented & inventive meal. The menu changes with the seasons but when we went it included ‘Passionfruit tiradito over yellow corn & chamomile cream, fresh tomato & pineapple salsa’ as one of the starters and the main course of ‘Fish of the day over tamal salsa pipian, fennel, kale & lavender chimichurri’. I have no idea what most of the menu was but can vouch for the fact it was all delicious! Our hosts, Barbara, in particular, were amazing – explaining each of the dishes as we went.
The meal was AR$680 per head with extra for wine (bottles cost between AR$150 – AR$650). The welcome cocktails are included in the meal price. You can also opt for the ‘wine flight’ where you get a matched wine for each course for AR$270.
PLEASE NOTE THEY ONLY ACCEPT CASH PAYMENT
An unforgettable & unique experience!
5. See a Tango
I have it on good authority (I went on a walking tour!) that Tango was invented in BA (in the immigrant area in La Boca), so if you’re planning to see Tango while you’re in Argentina, it must be in Buenos Aires.
- You can go to a show & these often include dinner & can be quite pricey (but you see the experts at their best).
- You can have lessons (I met 1 girl during the trip who specifically came to Argentina to learn the Tango) either on a course or as a stand-alone
- You can attend a Milonga to watch the locals dance the Tango & join in if you’re confident in your skills (I also met a guy who was in Argentina purely to dance the tango after taking lessons at home in Germany)
- You can do what I did & watch a free show in either La Boca (several restaurants put on shows for their diners) or San Telmo (my favourite).
“I went to San Telmo where they have “dancefloors” laid over the main square & the dancers perform at regular intervals & collect tips. And I have to say, they were way better than I was expecting for what is effectively a “free” show.”
I would recommend Bar Dorrego as a great vantage point
What not to do…1 to Avoid
Open Top Bus Tour of the city
I like an open top bus tour occasionally as a good way to get a full overview of a city & hop on & off as you want. On my last day, I thought this would be a good way to spend a couple of hours to get a different perspective. It did give me this, however, I would NOT recommend this as the best way to see the city. The bus has 3 lines which interconnect, I rode on 2 of them (blue & red) to kill time before my flight & can honestly say it was so much less informative, slower paced & way more boring than the walking tour.
The whole tour – starting & finishing in Palermo Soho took 3 ½ hours which I will never get back. I’m normally enthusiastic about most things but I found the tour uninspiring, slow, if the bus was full they wouldn’t allow any more people on (no matter how long you could have waited for), it stopped a couple of times for what seemed like forever, the earphones weren’t brilliant so I couldn’t hear it well (despite moving seats a number of times) & it was WAY more expensive than the walking tour (free remember!!) AR$490 for 24 hours. It may be an option if you take advantage of the hop on hop off service but in all honesty, you’re better off with public transport.
Where else would I recommend?
- La Boca
- Evita Museum
- Plaza de Mayo & the “Pink House”
- Sunday market at San Telmo – fantastic for souvenirs & presents
- Obelisk to get photos with the big BA sign
Where next time?
- Sample the other walking tours – particularly La Boca
- Take a Tango lesson
- Drink in a “secret” bar – Franks is on my list…
What do you think?
Where are your Must See places in BA?
What else do you recommend during a trip to Buenos Aires & Argentina?