There are hundreds of things to do in Buenos Aires, but we’ve selected some of our favourites — from the popular to the edgy.
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Buenos Aires is a city that loves books… and if you do too, you’re likely to love the place. There’s a concentration of books stores leading up from the Obelisk on Corrientes: the further you get, the more specialist stores and second hard stores you find. Whether you’re after the lastest Argentine political commentary or manga for ARG$1 per book, you’ll find it. But if you’re after a more dramatic bookstore experience, check out the Ateneo on Callao.
El Ateneo “Grand Splendid” bookstore
Ateneo is an Argentinean chain, with bookstores throughout the country. The store on Callao, housed in an old threatre, is no ordinary bookstore. Baroque angels look over your shoulder, great characters of tragedy and comedy congregate on the ceiling. You just have to hope they’re not commenting on your book selection, but with four floors of books, there’s certainly a good selection to pick from.
The cafe, housed on the theatre stage is pedestrian and heavily overpriced. Support this business by buying a book, not a coffee.
This amazing theatre costs a bit to visit, but if you’re into epic architecture, then it’s worth the ARS$60 (just ARS$20 for Argentine nationals). Tours change slightly depending on current show preparation, but runs twice an hour in English and every 15 minutes in Spanish.
You’ll be guided through the lobby, parlour and into the main theatre by an informative guide who’ll drop some names and tell some great stories, including some special quirks of the theatre … like where they stored the widows. For tickets, enter through the side road on Tucuman.
It seems odd to be listing a cemetery, but the colossal work that’s gone into creating the hundreds of mausoleums makes this a fascinating place to visit. It’ll be a special favourite of photographers and those who love Eva Peron, one of the many important or rich Argentinians buried here.
Entry to the cemetery is free, but beware of touts. At the start of one visit, a overly-convincing man tried to have us donate to a charity, but when we returned he had been replaced by a security guard. There are often tour guides offering their services near the entrance, which are good value if you want to get some background.
If you’re not interested in visiting the Recoleta cemetery, but your travel companions are, the modern (air-conditioned!) Recoleta mall is just over the road, or the Claustros del Pilar next door. A visit to Recoleta Cemetery forms part of one of these Buenos Aires tours.
Claustros del Pilar
Right next to the Recoleta cemetery, the Claustros del Pilar is a lovely little complex, with a small museum within the cloisters. There are three levels of cloisters with religious and colonial art, a potted history of Recoleta with amazing contrast from 1820’s 1900s and now. Cost is ARS$5, and entry is after 10:30am — so it can be a good way to end an early visit to the cemetery. The church itself is beautiful – stark white walls are complemented with intricate niches in a decadent style.
Possibly the best art gallery in the country, MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) focuses on modern Latin American art in an airey, modern building. There is a good mix of temporary and permanent exhibitions, which show amazing depth and scope. It’s worth the ARS$22 entry price, but entry is just ARS$10 on Wednesdays. There are occaisional poetry or music events on too, check here for upcoming gigs.
The café on the ground floor is certainly aimed at the socialite rather than a family or the independent traveller, but there are cafes up the many side-streets opposite, including one of the Freddo chain of ice-cream and coffee bars.
The Xul Solar gallery — or Pan Klub, as it’s also known — is an amazing building with multilevel concrete floors joined by marble stairs. It celebrates the art, music and even the chess game of this early 20th century Argentine artist. Solar was into theosophy, Kabbalah, i-Ching and other mystical philosophies which are all represented in his work. Definitely worth an hour and the ARS$10 entry fee if you are in Palermo, although some of Solar’s work can also be found at MALBA.
Looking for street art
But you don’t need to visit a gallery to see some of the best in Porteño (Buenos Aires) art: it’s quite literally on the streets and on the walls. Unlike most cities, street art in Buenos Aires has flourished under a liberal policing strategy — and there is some fantastic work up in Villa Crespo, San Telmo, Palermo and other suburbs. We’re not talking about the political scrawls that cover much of Plaza de Mayo, we’re talking about huge murals, sometimes several stories high created by individuals or crews of artists.
See tours in Buenos Aires for the Graffitimundo tour.
Plaza de Mayo
Plaza de Mayo is the historic heart of civil power in Argentina: home to the President’s offices, the city’s largest cathedral, and crowds of protestors … whenever the mood strikes them.
In Plaza de Mayo:
The offices of President of Argentina, which also includes a small museum. There are many theories on the origins of the pink colour … up to and including the use of animal blood in the original building blocks!
Regardless of local legend, the place does have an interesting history, and dominates the Plaza and the area behind it — if you like to walk you can head down to Puerto Madero from there. Just follow your nose.
Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral
The Cathedral is a large, grey monolith from the outside, but is full of colour within. In a traditional cross-shape, each of the niches house interesting art and sculpture: one piece in particular sacred to the Argentinian football team … The nearest thing to God for many Argentinians!
The Mausoleum of freedom fighter, General San Martin is on the right hand side, about half-way down the Cathedral. Step past the two guards on the door to see the crypt flanked by statues representing Argentina, Chile and Peru. This area is often crowded.
The “Eternal Flame of San Martin” burns outside the Cathedral, on the front-right if you are looking towards it from the square. This is a good place to orientate yourself from if meeting people in the Plaza de Mayo.
San Telmo markets
Sundays are market days in San Telmo, and the antiques are out in force while people sing tango or milonga in the Plaza Dorego. In fact, the best way to explore is starting in the streets around the Plaza, walking through the stalls in the plaza itself, then making your way down Defensa — which is pedestrianised for the day — towards Plaza de Mayo.
There’s no better place to hunt for souvenirs, as many local artists and collectable sellers are lining the streets, as well as those selling more conventional souvenirs, like coasters and t-shirts. Definitely best to start early- to mid-morning, as you don’t want to be caught in the central city in the afternoon heat. You’d be better served jumping in the subway and heading to Palermo.
Parks in Palermo
There are several parks that make up the northern edge of Palermo, and they are all pleasant places to walk, ride or skate.
The most impressive (and busy!) is the park on the corner of Sarmiento and del Liberdator, with rose gardens, sculpture, a small island in the middle of the lake and beautiful bridges over it. This is great to visit at the same time as the Botanical Gardens.
The Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens are petite, but a quiet escape from the noise of the city. Located right on the Plaza Italia metro station, it’s a nice place to wander, sit with a book, or explore the hothouse flowers and various trees, bushes and public art planted there over the years.