Looking for the best things to do in Buenos Aires, Argentina? Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is a vibrant and beautiful city. However, I must admit that Argentina was never on my travel bucket list. I visited the country because my dream expedition to Antarctica was sandwiched between two 24-hour layovers in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, Argentina. I was initially surprised not to see myself reflected in the faces of the people of the city the way I had during my sojourn in Brazil. But I was giddy with excitement to explore the country known as the home of my favorite wine (Argentina Malbec), exercise my rusty Spanish-speaking skills, and compare the famous Argentine empanada to the meat-filled pastries I enjoyed while growing up in Miami, Florida.
Here’s a list of the best things to do in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
TAKE A TANGO LESSON
The tango is known as the world’s most romantic dance. The dance with influences from African, Native American, and European cultures emerged in the mid-19th century in Buenos Aires and grew in international popularity rather quickly. There are several companies that offer tango lessons. But if you don’t have time for a lesson, there are quite a few dinner shows that feature tango dance performances. Additionally, visitors might be treated to a tango dance show on the street; oftentimes professional tango dancers perform at open-air plazas.
CHECK OUT LA BOCA NEIGHBORHOOD
La Boca is easily considered the most beautiful neighborhood in Buenos Aires. This area’s vibrantly colored buildings draw thousands of visitors each year. La Boca, which means “the mouth” in Spanish, was once was the biggest port in the city. It was home to many immigrants who would use scrap materials from shipbuilding to create houses made from a mix of sheet metal and wooden planks. These makeshift houses still line the streets in the neighborhood. A local artist in the 1960s decided to start painting the buildings in various bright shades. Many artists followed suit, and it became a major attraction for the area.
EXPLORE PUERTO MADERO
Part of the iconic Buenos Aires cityscape includes the Puerto Madero area. The area includes both modern and historical features… so it has an impressive confluence of both. Walk along Puente de la Mujer or Woman’s Bridge, which was created to look like a couple intertwined amid a tango dance. It’s a rotating pedestrian bridge. You can also visit the Reserva Ecológica Park, which is right on the edge of the ocean. It’s full of forests, lagoons, and marshes and is a great place to hike and bike. There is a lot to see and do in this area of Buenos Aires, and it’s the perfect place to stroll around for an afternoon.
VISIT LA CASA ROSADA
Named after the building’s hue, Casa Rosada is a pink structure and the office of the President of Argentina. It is not the primary residence of the president but is a significant government building. The rose-colored building sits on the Plaza de Mayo and has a museum with artifacts of former presidents that can be toured.
The iconic building was seared into my memory from the 1996 musical, Evita which chronicled the life and death of Argentina’s most famous first-lady Eva Peron, affectionately Evita. In the movie, Madonna, who played Evita, addressed throngs of supporters gathered from the balcony of this building. While looking up at the façade of the building, the movie geek in me couldn’t resist the urge to sing, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, a ballad from the musical.
Across from the Plaza de Mayo is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the home church of current Pope Francis.
EXPLORE SAN TELMO MARKET
San Telmo is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. It’s known for its markets, ancient architecture, cobbled streets, and plazas. The San Telmo Market is an indoor market where various vendors sell fresh produce and even small goods. The market was built in the late 19th century, is now a national monument. The original structure has been well-preserved, and from the inside, visitors can see its beautiful metal arches and glass dome at the center of the roof. The market is an exciting place to shop and try different Argentinian food, but the building itself is also a significant sight.
There are also artisans and merchants selling all types of wares outside the market. I purchased a beautiful leather bracelet as a souvenir for my best friend.
EAT AN EMPANADA OR TWO
Empanadas are very popular in Argentina. The croissant-shaped baked dough is filled with various things before being folded or sealed. The type of fold used on the empanada indicates which flavor or filling is inside it. While visiting the San Telmo Market, I sampled some empanadas. I stumbled upon a crowded stall in the market with a long line of people waiting to place their empanada orders. I filed in line and waited patiently as I watched the merchants create empanadas in the back while the cooks shoveled handfuls of them into a brick oven. When they emerged only a few minutes later, they were a golden color.
I tried two variations of the many empanadas on the menu. Each one was scrumptious. They were rich but light, well-seasoned but lacked the spicy kick of the Jamaican beef patties and Dominican empanadas of my childhood. The fillings reminded me of homemade meat pie.
ENJOY A STEAK AND MALBEC WINE
Argentina is world-renowned for its delicious food. It’s known for having some of the world’s best steak, and there are many options for cuts and types to order. A parrilla is a type of restaurant where the meat is grilled, and many locals highly recommend them as the best place to try an Argentine steak. Order a glass of Argentinian Malbec which is fantastic coupled with steak as they both work in concert to complement each other’s flavors.
On the very last night of my last layover in Buenos Aires, I enjoyed a steak and Quilmes (an Argentinian beer) while watching a game of fútbol at a parrilla near my hotel. Although the surroundings weren’t posh, the meal was divine, and for a moment, I didn’t feel like a tourist and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
WALK AROUND AND EXPLORE THE CITY
I explored the city mostly at night during both of my layovers. The city is bright and vibrant at night. It was really lovely to see how Argentinians enjoy the city at night.
While meandering around the San Telmo neighborhood, I stumbled upon a gelato shop and these cool street art of American Hip-Hop royalty. Brightly colored images of Biggie Smalls, 2Pac, and EZE were spray-painted on garage doors in a busy neighborhood near the San Telmo Market.
OTHER FOODS TO TRY WHILE IN BUENOS AIRES
When in Argentina, have a maté. This traditional South American caffeine-infused drink is made when the dried and ground leaves from the Yerba maté plant is soaked in hot water. The drink is then served hot with a metal straw (that has a built-in filter) in a container made from the calabash gourd. The drink originated with the native Guarani people, a group of indigenous peoples of South America.
Fernet and Coke
I also enjoyed Fernet con Coca as a nightcap in my hotel. This drink is so popular that its considered unofficial drink of the Argentina. The two-ingredient cocktail is delicious yet simple.
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de leche is a popular dessert that originated in Buenos Aires and is now a special treat around the world. It’s made from heating cow’s milk until it caramelizes into a thick consistency which can then be used as a spread, filling, or topping. You can find dulce de leche almost anywhere in Buenos Aires. I opted to try Argentine gelato since I am not a fan of dulce de leche. It was delish!
Although this city was not on my radar, it was a joy to explore. It’s a lively city with so much to see and do that you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised. It’s still ever-growing, with new venues popping up constantly, which makes it a great city to visit. I hope to return to explore more of the country with my family.
- Argentinian’s pronounce certain Spanish words differently. Case in point, the ll alphabet where I’m from is pronounced “eh-ye” however, in Argentina the ll is pronounced with the “sh” sound. I learned this little tidbit of information, after getting lost in the city. I asked multiple people for directions in Spanish their response was always, “Que Cashe?” which I did not understand. Had I been armed with this information before I left, I would’ve known it meant, “Que Calle?” or “What street?” No worries though, I eventually figured it out and found my destination.
- Ride-share companies are illegal in Argentina. Despite this face, ride-share drivers are aplenty in Buenos Aires. The only place that is not true is at the international airport (EZE), where the apps are blocked. Otherwise, visitors can book rides the same way they do at home, using the ride-share app of choice. However, drivers often ask passengers to sit in the front so as not to alert authorities and avoid fines. Ride-share apps are blocked at the international airport (EZE).