I had no idea what to expect from Buenos Aires; even though it was our first base in South America, the months before I had been researching Peru, Colombia, Mexico… basically every country except Argentina. I entered the country with absolutely no expectations and this beautiful, crazy city was ours for just over two weeks.
For me, its a city that runs too fast for itself – alive with passion – and everyone tries to keep up. When you think of Buenos Aires, most people think of steak, red wine and tango – and there was an abundance. The city has deep European roots, the vibe is like Italy meets Berlin, meets New York, all rolled into one, injected with some big, hot South American flavour.
Buenos Aires is the city of immigrants and the Italian influence here is obvious. After steak, empanadas and choripan, Italian food is the most popular. You can get pizza and pasta everywhere, and it is D-R-I-P-P-I-N-G with cheese; enough queso to make a lover into a hater. Our local friend even told us, when he visited Napoli, he didn’t think there was nearly enough cheese on the European pizzas (I will dive into more detail of food in Buenos Aires in my next post!)
Instead of the Spanish ‘Adios’ used to say goodbye, the locals (Porteños) here say; ‘Ciao’, which I quickly adopted after getting multiple blank stares. Furthermore, here in Argentina the pronunciation of the letters ‘ll’, for example, in ‘llamas’ or ‘calle’ is a ‘sh’ sound, opposed to the Spanish ‘y’ sound. This is only found in Argentina; its Latin American Spanish but with a transposed Italian accent, which was hard to get to grips with in the first week!
I visited 5 different neighbourhoods in the city during my stay, and found them all to be enormously different:
This was our first port of call, and was without a doubt, the trendiest part of the city. The streets here are adorned with giant gratified murals, and large pieces of art from local artists. These paintings and designs decorated the walls of Palermo in the most unique ways, and local graffiti tours are offered around the roads.
Its a hipster haven of doughnut shops, tattoo shops, Scandinavian chic ice cream parlours, independent coffee shops, edgy bars and minimalist boutiques. Do it like an Argentinian and coffee shop hop during the day, transition to night time and go dancing until 4am and repeat. Towards the edge of Palermo there is a stunning Botanical Gardens which is a mini oasis from the city, easy to get to, as the Subté (subway) Plaza Italia station is right around the corner.
Recommendations – Gimme Gimme clothing store, The Botanic Gardens, La Chopperia, Padre, The Creme Lab
If you have seen pictures of Buenos Aires, it is most likely you have seen a picture of La Boca. Brightly coloured buildings and shanty houses are the main attraction of this neighbourhood, which used to be made out of old ship parts, and today the locals continue painting their houses in the colourful tradition.
We booked onto a tour of the area, which we missed due to midday traffic (the uber app said it would take 30 minutes…. It ended up being about an hour and twenty). There is no subté station here, so the easiest way would to be either a taxi or the bus; make a note that buses only accept coins and subte cards, not notes, so hold on to your peso coins as they are rare! The famous La Bomba stadium is in La Boca, home of the Boca Junior football team, and I would advise not visiting on a match day, as the Porteños can become super passionate.
The area is very iconic and on every South American bucket list, be aware it is slight tourist trap however, this is not necessarily a bad thing as they have attractions such as live tango in the streets. Lastly, be cautious with what belongings you bring to La Boca (especially at night), as the tour guides advise you not to bring anything of value.
Recommendations – Bright houses, Street tango, La Bomba, Market stalls, Walking tour
The place is the centre of Buenos Aires, with lots of grand historical buildings, national banks, cobbled streets and Plaza de Mayo. The main attraction of San Telmo are the markets that are held every Sunday; all the stalls are quite craft based, and possibly things you wouldn’t want to buy, but great to experience all the same, for example the stalls selling gaucho (cowboy) knives.
San Telmo reminded me the most of downtown New York, but with a lot more greenery, and the odd tango show in the street. There are a lot of coffee shops, ice cream parlours and parillas but they are all slightly less independent – as is typical of most big cities. As it is rather bustling, I advise not trying to get the Subté at peak times, like 5pm as it is majorly busy from workers commuting home.
Recommendations – Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada, Evita Museum, Del Torro, and Bidou Diagonal
So this area is home to the famous Recoletta Cemetery. Named as one of the top attractions of Buenos Aires, don’t be fooled into thinking the cemetery will be the ultimate Gothic day out (or Morrisey’s dream), the architecture is stunning – its where the richest people in Argentina are buried, and their final resting places reflect their wealth. One thing that stood out to me, was the fact you can easily see the caskets inside the mausoleums for that added creepy effect. One of the most notable tombs was Buenos Aires’ sweetheart Eva Perón – a woman adored by many for her humanitarian and feminist work. Recoletta is where the affluent houses were built when the city was being established, and is now home to lots of boutiques, coffee shops and art galleries.
Recommendations – Recoletta cemetery, Freddo ice cream shop (situated right outside), coffee shops, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
This was the last area we stayed in, and it turned out to be my favourite, as it has a lot of character, isn’t as artsy as Palermo and is a lot less busy than San Telmo. Here you can see the influences of other immigrants who made their way to Buenos Aires; with the impressive Chinatown and dozens of German style cake shops. The architecture here is large, gorgeous colonial style buildings spilling out into lush green parks full of palm trees, parrots and dogs.
The Chinatown in Buenos Aires is one of the best I’ve ever visited, with rows of shops selling everything you could ever need. There are also Chinese restaurants that offer pay-by-weight, which is fantastic value AND you can pick everything you love. There are also many boutiques and clothes shops offering up to date fashion, which made me wish I hadn’t brought so many clothes with me, so I could buy them here!
Recommendations – Escandinavian Bar, Chinese restaurants, Parks, Shopping
In the first couple of days in the city, I found the Porteños to have a relaxed, almost nonchalant attitude, however since then, I have learnt if you need help they are kind, patient and will go above and beyond for you. I found it interesting that all the areas in my article are so different, looking into them further, I discovered that most of the areas were separate towns at one point in history and then all came together to create a magical, mega city. I didn’t manage to visit every neighbourhood (as the city is seriously HUGE) but Buenos Aires was my first stepping stone on my visit of South America, and it was definitely an amazing start to my ongoing Latin journey.