There’s a place at the end of the world that everybody is talking about. They say it has gorgeous decadent architecture, lush green parks, cool coffee culture and beautiful temperamental people. Obviously we are talking about Buenos Aires. Although living in the shadow of a glorious past its citizens love to talk about, it is still a magnificent oasis in a world full of franchised cities. Completely outside of any world order, it has managed to build its identity as a true world metropolis. And while Latin Americans talk badly about it, they are in love with its avant-garde free spirit.
Buenos Aires lies on the River Plate, the world’s widest river separating Argentina from Uruguay. While the urban area stretches along the coast for more than 50 km, only 15 belong properly to the city. Unlike most important Latin American cities it doesn’t have an old colonial core, since it was founded later. It was only in the late XIX century that the city consolidated itself and started growing into a modern metropolis. Most of the urban grid is from that period. Streets are wide and long, making an orthogonal urban matrix. The main square Plaza de Mayo in Microcentro is the beginning of several important axes. The main traffic artery Av. 9 de Julio crosses the city from north to south. Parallel to it, Florida is the main pedestrian street. Industrial complexes and large traffic corridors occupy most of the coast, with the exception of the old port area, across the centre, now converted into the fashionable area of Puerto Madero. Three most atmospheric neighbourhoods are San Telmo, Palermo Soho and La Boca.
Buenos Aires is not only about the city centre, there are interesting places everywhere. If you love photography don’t miss the Obelisco and the Torre Monumental. The main square Plaza de Mayo houses Casa Rosada, the office of the Argentinean president, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the first catholic temple built in the city, and the Buenos Aires Cabildo, the old colonial Town Hall. If we go west through Av. De Mayo we will arrive to Congressional Plaza with the imposing Congress of the Argentine Nation as its main edifice. Few steps before the Palacio Barolo is an outstanding art nouveau office building. A few minutes north from there the Tribunales Plaza houses the Supreme Court of Argentina and the amazing Teatro Colón. If we continue westwards through Av. Cordoba we will arrive to the charismatic Water Company Palace built in a neo-renaissance manner. If we take the Av. Callao next to the palace and go up north we will arrive to Buenos Aires’ fanciest district, La Recoleta, with its famous Cemetery. Many politicians, presidents, scientists, and other famous people are buried here.
Buenos Aires is a very big city, with interesting neighbourhoods far from each other. Unlike most European cities, its downtown – Microcentro is bustling during the day, but quiet at night, which makes it great for theatres and nighclubs. There are cheap hostels around Av. De Mayo and Congreso. San Telmo is a good place to stay if you are into bohemian lifestyle, yet you don’t mind tourists. If you can afford luxury you should stay in la Recoleta, its location is perfect and it houses amazing buildings. The other high end location is Puerto Madero if you prefer a modern feel. If you want to stay in a chic area, where locals and tourists mix, Palemo is perhaps the best neighbourhood. All the cool bars and shops are there.
The city is completely flat, so walking around is easy. Distances are huge though, so you may need public transport to move around. Biking is increasingly popular, with an extensive network of bike lanes. There are even free bike stations all around the city. Both walking and biking require special attention since locals are crazy drivers. The public transport consists of metro, buses and metrobus. Buenos Aires Subte – the Metro consists of 6 lines and is the fastest way of moving around. It can be crowded and noisy, but is surprisingly cheap, and efficient. There are suburban trains with several lines that can be used inside the city too. Taxis are also very convenient, with incredibly low rates.
One thing can shock you on your first visit to Buenos Aires: the contrast between its decaying infrastructure and its wealth. On a first look it feels like a true capitalist city, with big differences between the rich and the poor, but then you realize everyone, including migrants and tourists, have free access to health and education. Somehow capitalism and socialism blend here in a strange way. Hard to understand as a foreigner. There are plenty of other things you won’t understand about Argentina, like its passion or total hatred towards the president, or why in such a sophisticated city people drive like crazy. But you don’t have to understand Buenos Aires in order to have a good time. Just order the best meal you can think of, visit the most authentic Tango show, find the craziest party ever, or take a closer look at some of the most spectacular graffiti in the world. You’ll find out why it’s easy to fall in love with Argentina.
Buenos Aires Travel Guide
- Stay in Palermo Soho, near Plaza Armenia. Happy Frog recommends Great Flat in Palermo
- Casa Rosada, Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Buenos Aires Cabildo;
- Congress of the Argentine Nation and Palacio Barolo;
- The Obelisco and the Torre Monumental;
- Water Company Palace and La Recoleta Cemetery;
- La Boca neighbourhood.
- Try quiche in Bartola or empanadas in Pekín, both in Palermo Soho.
- Have coffee and pastry in Nucha.
- On foot, by bike, metro, bus, metrobus or taxi.
- Go explore canals in el Tigre.
DO NOT MISS:
- Explore the monumental architecture of Microcentro;
- Discover the best graffiti in San Telmo, Palermo and Colegiales;
- Watch an opera in Teatro Colón and Tango in a cool Milonga;
- Shop at the Mercado de las pulgas or in the Sunday market in San Telmo;
- Spend a day in Bosques de Palermo.