A Local’s Guide to Visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dubbed “the Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires is a world apart from most of South America. The multicultural, cosmopolitan city doesn’t fit into any particular box, which is why it’s a place no traveler should miss. To dive deeper into Argentina’s capital and largest city, I spoke with Buenos Aires transplant, Erin Mushaway of Sol Salute.
A Texan transplanted into Argentina, Erin has spent a decade living abroad in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, but mostly in Argentina. She has lived in Buenos Aires for the past eight years, perfecting her Spanish, drinking Malbec, and putting down roots with her husband and pets.
On a personal note: you may have noticed a recent increase in guest interviews here. Not to worry; I haven’t abandoned writing my own posts! This blog has had to take a temporary back seat to my day job and a few other ongoing responsibilities. I’m also rethinking my approach so I can make my posts more “me,” but you haven’t heard the last from me! Anyway, on to the interview.
Great speaking with you, Erin! What makes Buenos Aires special to you?
I love the contradictions of Buenos Aires. It claims to be the Paris of South America, and while there are buildings or even entire blocks that seem ripped from the streets of Europe, it’s actually a very gritty city. Which also means it’s filled with cool street art and a creative, artsy culture. There’s really something for everyone in Buenos Aires.
I haven’t spent a ton of time there, but from what I’ve seen, I definitely have to agree! What’s your all-time favorite sight, attraction, or spot in the Buenos Aires?
The neighborhood of San Telmo is my favorite place in the city. It’s where I lived when I first moved to Buenos Aires and it’s always held a special place in my heart. I love the cobblestone streets and old, colonial buildings. Parts of the neighborhood still seem frozen in time.
If a traveler only had 24 hours in the city, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?
If you only had a day in Buenos Aires, I’d recommend starting the day in Recoleta. You can’t miss the Recoleta Cemetery! Stroll through the mansions of Recoleta to get to the famous 9 de Julio Avenue to see the Obelisk and Colon Theater Opera House. And of course, Plaza de Mayo to see the government house and cathedral are all must-see sites in Buenos Aires.
Great tips! What should travelers know about the local culture of Buenos Aires?
You should prepare yourself for long meals. You’ll sit at the table for a while before you’re brought the menu, and there’s no rush to bring you the check at the end of the meal. Meals and social events are meant to be enjoyed, not rushed through!
I can get behind that! What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?
Everyone visits the weekend markets in Recoleta and San Telmo, but my favorite market isn’t as visited by foreigners. The Mataderos Market is a bit harder to get to, but I think it’s really special. The food stalls are spectacular, offering foods from different regions of the country (like tamales or humita from the Northwest). Matadero’s highlight is the music and folkloric dancing that takes place all afternoon. No tango here! You’ll see traditional dances from all across Argentina.
What’s a cool neighborhood you’d recommend to visitors looking for something a little different?
Chacarita is a very cool neighborhood not far from the action of popular Palermo. It’s home to the other cemetery in Buenos Aires. The wealthy and nobility of Buenos Aires are in Recoleta, but actors, tango stars and other notable characters are buried in Chacarita. As rents in Palermo skyrocket, new restaurants are opening in Chacarita, making it a great foodie destination as well. My favorite stops include vegetarian Roll’in Luí and Mexican-Venezuelan fusion at Elote.
While we’re on the subject, tell me about some of your other favorite Buenos Aires restaurants.
My two favorite places in Buenos Aires to get a good steak are Desnivel and Don Julio. Desnivel in San Telmo is hectic, brightly lit and the waiters aren’t always friendly, but their tenderloin is amazing! It’s been my favorite steak since I first tried it in 2009. Don Julio is completely different; the ambiance is beautiful and the service is impeccable. The steak and everything that comes out of their kitchen will be one of the best meals you ever eat.
You also can’t come to Buenos Aires without trying the wine. My two favorite wine bars at the moment are Facon and Hache. Both offer great wines (that you won’t see on the shelves of any supermarkets) at great prices. Facon also sells traditional handicrafts sourced from across the country. Drink wine and souvenir shop in one stop!
I love Argentinean wine! Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting?
I’d recommend staying in Recoleta if you want to stay somewhere quieter and near the highlights. Palermo is great for those looking to be near the best restaurants, bars, and shops. Palermo is also next to the subway line D that will get you to all the tourist highlights within 15 minutes.
What are the most photo-worthy or Instagrammable spots? Any fantastic lookouts or otherwise photogenic spots?
The street art in Palermo Soho is begging to be photographed. Also, La Boca is becoming a huge street art destination. The blocks surrounding La Usina del Arte cultural center are dotted with stunning murals. Of course, a visit to El Caminito open-air museum in La Boca is also very Instagrammable (and on the cover of every Buenos Aires guidebook).
Are there any must-see museums or monuments?
Buenos Aires is more a city to be explored outdoors, wandering its streets. But if you’re unlucky and it rains I’d recommend visiting MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art. The permanent exhibit is very good. The Ateneo Splendid bookstore is also a great place to visit. This theater-converted-bookstore is gorgeous. There’s a cafe on what was the stage, so sit with your cafe con leche and pretend to be part of the show.
That’s an amazing bookstore! What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?
I often eat early to avoid crowds. Restaurants can become very busy after 10 pm, so you’ll always find me at my table by 9 (if not at their 8 pm opening!).
What should visitors know about transportation around the city?
Public transportation is very prevalent in the city. To access it you’ll need to get a SUBE card (the transportation card required to be able to pay for your tickets). You can buy one at the subway ticket windows and load money onto your card at the same time. The subway is very easy to manage, but the buses are probably a bit too confusing for a first time visitor. The green line of the subway (Line D) is your friend and will get your nearly everywhere you need to go.
Uber is in Buenos Aires but isn’t technically legal, so there aren’t as many cars as you’d see in the U.S. or Europe. You can download apps like Cabify or Easy Taxi as well. They’re here legally and you won’t have any issues. Their apps function just like Uber.
Thank you for all the useful tips, Erin! Be sure to visit her blog, Sol Salute, for even more ideas for visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the rest of the world, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
During a recent trip to Argentina, on very short notice and with limited availability of time we were able to have a private half-day city tour of Buenos Aires. we visited La Boca, the Recoleta Cemetery. and the Plaza Mayor. I can’t wait to go back there to see more when i got more time.