Buenos Aires, The Paris of the South
Buenos Aires (or Capital Federal/C.F.) is the capital city of Argentina and is one of the largest cities in South America. The city has a long seafaring history and was influenced by Spanish colonisers, British capitalists and Italian immigrants, creating a vibrant mix of architecture, food and culture.
BA (one of its many nicknames) contains 48 barrios or neighbourhoods offering a variety of experiences from the colourful ship-workers’ district of La Boca to the more upmarket Palermo.
Locals (called Porteños) like to claim that their city really is the ‘Paris of the South’ and to be fair it’s easy to see where they’re coming from; cafés on every street corner, beautiful tree-lined avenidas, cool boutique shops and a very relaxed and varied nightlife, but it is the city’s Tango clubs that are the envy of the rest of the world and are an absolute must for every traveller. All this, a great climate, friendly people, tasty food and for a very reasonable price. Buenos Aires is truly a world-class city.
Further reading: Backpacking Argentina – Our in-depth guide!
Where to Stay in Buenos Aires
Most backpacker accommodation is centred around the San Telmo and Palermo districts of town. San Telmo is an easy 5 to 10-minute walk from the city centre and is full of backpacker haunts like arty shops and cheap cafes. Palermo is slightly further out of town but still has loads to offer travellers. It’s the main expat haunt which means there are many European and North American style shops to satisfy your home comforts.
5 of The Best Hostels in Buenos Aires
Waikiki Hostel – With dorm beds starting at around $6 USD, Waikiki is one of the best budget options in the city. It’s quite straight-forward but has some nice tasteful touches in the way of decor. The staff are extremely helpful and it’s nice and clean.
Malala Hostel has chosen some really quirky touches, creating an odd contrast between the old colonial style of the building and their in-house artist. Beds are simple but comfortable. A good breakfast is included. Prices start at $7 USD.
San Carlos Hotel is a much more standard-looking affair. An uninspiring entrance way and some slightly questionable pieces of furniture may lead you to the wrong conclusion that you are in for a dodgy stay. You’re not! A private room costs only $20 USD. It’ll be spotless, staff will be great and all in all, you’ll be happy!
Milhouse Hostel Avenue is a very popular choice! A great place to make friends, the beds are very comfy, the staff are great and the rooms are stylish. Beds start at $12 USD.
Ideal Social Hostel – The owners of Ideal Social seem to have identified the desire to make friends as the primary factor that draws backpackers to a hostel. They’re probably right! However, this hostel’s strong points are not limited to the world of socialising. They’ve designed a trendy, comfy, friendly, clean place to stay and chosen an excellent location for it! Really, a great place to stay! Private rooms start at $25 USD.
Things to Do in Buenos Aires
1. Explore the Barrios:
One of the best things about Buenos Aires is its many neighbourhoods where you can relax, explore the old streets and watch the world go by. The best place to watch the world is from all the cafés and bars that Buenos Aires has to offer, and the best part it won’t cost an arm and a leg!
The most upmarket area of Buenos Aires is a great place to chill and explore after a heavy previous day/night. Palermo is a very Italian area and it’s worth grabbing a slice of authentic pizza, a bottle of Quilmes (the local beer) and chilling in the many parks around Palermo, like the Botanical Gardens. Palermo Viejo (the oldest part of the neighbourhood)is full of chic bars, restaurants, designer shops and a buzzing nightlife.
The centre of B.A.’s artisan movement. The shops are full of quirky things to take back home for mates/family, the cobbled streets and old buildings make it a great place to hang out- especially on market days.
Buenos Aires’ historic docklands have been transformed over the past few years to create a modern area for eating and shopping and relaxing complete with a smattering of European and American restaurant chains. It’s the place to chill away from the rest of hectic B.A.
Historically a shipbuilding neighbourhood it’s now the city’s most colourful district (literally); it’s buzzing with tourists exploring its brightly painted buildings but often they come to visit Argentina’s most famous football club: Boca Juniors. Even if you don’t see a match it’s well worth taking a guided tour around La Bombonera stadium.
2. Watch the Tango
Argentina’s signature dance is everywhere in Buenos Aires and you can’t avoid many of the Tango evenings (Milongas) happening all over the city. If you want to avoid the touristy ones skip the late afternoon shows that finish before midnight. Ideally get to a Milonga sometime after midnight as many of them don’t finish until 5 or 6 am.
3. Dance the Tango
Grab a partner and get into the spirit, ideally before you go to a Milonga (so you don’t realise how bad you were until later!) and have a couple of hours of lessons. They’re easy to find and are all over the city. Sometimes you may get a reduced price for having a lesson and then watching an evening performance at the same place.
It’s Argentina’s favourite sport by far and Argentineans are hugely proud of their clubs and country. The biggest teams in B.A. are River Plate and Boca Juniors and tickets for both are relatively easy to buy at the stadium. The matches can get particularly rowdy sometimes and the terrace seats (standing) aren’t for the faint at heart. However, it’s an experience not to be missed even if you’re not a massive footy fan.
5. Visit Eva Perón landmarks
The ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina’ is a national heroine and there are reminders of her all over the city. Visit her tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery, the Evita museum in Palermo or perhaps her balcony at the Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace.
Palermo Viejo (Monday-Saturday) offers handmade artisan products like candles and artwork as well as handmade clothes. San Telmo (Sunday) has a great market selling some beautiful (but sometimes slightly cliché) products. The street performers add to the buzzing atmosphere. Beware of pickpockets though.
7. A day trip to Uruguay
It may sound ridiculous but the fast ferry takes around an hour to the chilled town of Colonia de Sacramento across the Rio de la Plata. It’s a quiet town and doesn’t need more than an afternoon but it’s a great place to walk around the run-down colonial buildings, chill by the water for an afternoon and get a taste of Uruguay!
Some of South America’s best nightlife is in Buenos Aires. It’s mainly centred around the vibrant neighbourhoods of San Telmo and Palermo.
Beware: Don’t start drinking till at least 11 pm and have a nap before starting to drink as clubs only fill up after 2.30/3am and don’t close until at least 6; otherwise, the next day will be a complete write-off! Some of the more upmarket places in Palermo will be strict on dress codes, so don’t go out wearing flip flops!
Getting to Buenos Aires
By Train: Argentina’s British built rail network is a shadow of its former self and is hugely underfunded. There is still a bi-weekly skeleton service from B.A. to Córdoba and Tucamán from Retiro Station and a more regular service on local lines to Bahía Blanca and Mar del Plata from Plaza Constitucion. The main advantage is that trains in Argentina are extremely cheap (as little as £5 per ticket from B.A. to Córdoba). Check for the latest schedules at the station or on the organization’s website (in Spanish).
By Bus: The main bus station Retiro offers buses to the rest of Argentina and to neighbouring countries. Buses are quicker than trains (just 9 hours from B.A. to Cordoba compared to over 17 hours on the train); however bus tickets for that journey start at around £30 one way. Buy tickets can be found either online, from travel agents in the city or from the bus station. It’s advisable to book ahead during busier national holidays. Prices vary from Semi-Cama (semi bed) to a fully flat Cama Ejecutiva (executive bed).
By Plane: BA airport is about 45 minutes’ drive outside the city. It’s a regional hub that provides flights to and from the rest of the Americas and Europe. Various coaches operate a shuttle service to and from the airport.
Where to go next?
- Iguazu Falls: (20 hours bus journey North) The spectacular waterfall is one the world’s finest and is a must for any traveller in Argentina. Is a good stop off point en route to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
- Córdoba: (9 hours bus journey West) Argentina’s second largest city and vibrant university town. Great nightlife and beautiful colonial buildings make it one of the most exciting and dynamic cities in South America.
- Patagonia: (22 hours bus journey/2 hour flight South) Argentina’s untouched south offers Glaciers, Ice sheets, Mountains and Penguins. Take the bus or fly to Bariloche and use it as your springboard to Tierra del Fuego or maybe even Antarctica!
- Uruguay: The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, is three hours’ boat journey North East of Buenos Aires. Explore the ‘Switzerland of South America’ and visit Montevideo or just spend a few days chilling on the beautiful beaches of the Pacific coast.
Written by Harry Van Schaick