Buenos Aires is the capital and most populous city of Argentina. More than 15 million people live in Buenos Aires metropolitan area. “Buenos Aires” literally means “good airs” in Spanish. It was founded by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536 and destroyed by its own citizens in 1541. In 1580, Juan de Garay founded the city for the second time. The city's cosmopolitan, multicultural identity was shaped by different cultures, from Native American and Spanish colonial roots to the influences of immigrants from Italy, France, Great Britain, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. This eclectic mix of influences is visible in the city's architecture, food and the character of its people. Dining is essential in Buenos Aires, and you can enjoy the world's best steaks there. Check out my list of 12 things to do for a first-time visitor to Buenos Aires.
Visit Congress Building
Congress Square is one of the three most significant squares in Buenos Aires. It is located right in front of the Argentine Congress Building, covering an area of about ten blocks. The neoclassical Congress building is home to the two houses of the Argentine legislature – the senate and the chamber of deputies. Inaugurated in 1906, this Greco-Roman style palace is lined with tall pillars and crowned with a bright-green copper top. See the bronze figures depicting peace and victory situated on the building’s eaves.
If you visit the place on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, use the opportunity to explore the interior of the building on a free guided tour in English at 12:30 p.m. Make sure to bring photo identification, which is required to join a tour. The interior of the National Congress is furnished with sparkling chandeliers, Corinthian pillars and bronze statues. Tours cover several rooms, including the chambers of both houses and the library.
The Plaza del Congreso in front of the building features an enormous fountain graced with angel and animal statues. It is a monument to commemorate the legislative achievements of the two parliaments in the early 19th century. Its main body is a sculpture that symbolises the Argentine Republic: a slim woman holding a bunch of olive branches in front of a young man driving a group of horses.
Continue east to find the Plaza Mariano Moreno, where there is a large cast of August Rodin’s The Thinker.
Admire Rodin's Thinker statue
Rodin in Buenos Aires? Yes. This replica of August Rodin’s famous statue arrived in Buenos Aires in 1907. It was made from bronze using the mould of the original and bears the signature of the great French artist. Purchased by a museum director directly from August Rodin, the statue is one of the three sculptures cast in the original mould and signed by the artist.
Learn the story of Barolo Palace
The Barolo Palace is a tribute to the Divine Comedy, a poem by Dante Alighieri. It has a unique architectural style, a mixture of neo-romantic, neo-Gothic and even unique Indian styles reflected in its dome. Luis Barolo, a progressive and influential farmer, came to Argentina in 1890, where he became a textile magnate. He was also a mason. Desperate to preserve the ashes of the famous Dante Alighieri, he wanted to construct a building inspired by the poet’s work "The Divine Comedy", including nine circles of Hell, followed by Purgatory to Paradise with symbols related to the Divine Comedy and masonry. Construction of the 100-metre tall (328 ft.) building was completed in 1923. The building has a 90-metre-high dome (295 ft.) which also boasts an enormous rotating beacon of 300,000 sparks making it visible even from Uruguay. Today, the Barolo Palace is used as an office building.
If you want to see a bit of the interior of the Barolo Palace and views of Buenos Aires from the top, visit Salon 1923, a unique rooftop bar offering amazing sights. The interior of the building is impressive, while the outdoor terrace offers panoramic sights over many city's famous landmarks. You have to spend at least 450 pesos per person to enter Salon 1923, but it is well worth it to enjoy lunch in the sunshine or sip champagne at dusk while appreciating gorgeous views.
Make your opinion about Obelisk
The iconic Obelisco de Buenos Aires stands at the intersection of two of the city’s most important streets, Avenida 9 de Julio and Avenida Corrientes. Opened in 1936 to commemorate the fourth centenary of the first foundation of Buenos Aires, it is the work of modernist architect Alberto Prebisch. The 67.5-metre tall (221 ft.) monument is located in a place where the national flag was first hoisted in the city. The Obelisk was once decorated as a pencil (2006) and twice as a Christmas tree (1973 and 2010). It was attacked by vandals in 1987. In 2005, it was covered with a giant pink condom for World Aids Day. There is a ladder inside the structure with 206 steps and seven rest areas leading up to the viewing platform, which has windows on each of the four sides. Currently, access to the structure's interior is closed to the public. There is a lightning rod on the very top of the pyramid.
Pay attention to images of Eva Peron
Pay attention to two huge images located on the south and north facades of the Ministry of Public Works Building. One of them is visible from the square next to the Obelisk. The reason for placing Eva Peron’s portraits on this building is not an accident since she gave her famous 1951 speech from a balcony on the eastern side of the building announcing that she would step down from her candidacy for the vice presidency because of illness.
These iron artworks are 31 metres high, 24 metres wide (79 ft. by 102 ft.) and weigh 15 tonnes (33,000 lb.). At night, they are illuminated, with the national flag placed at the bottom.
Watch a performance at Tango Porteno
Tango Porteno is located in a luxurious building that once housed Buenos Aires’ Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie theatre. The theatre was restored to the smallest detail in pure art-deco style. Tango Porteno performances recreate the golden age of the forties, known as the reign of the tango. You will travel through time in the glory days of Buenos Aires when tango was enjoyed and breathed in every corner of the city. With the most extensive chorus line and the largest tango orchestra in town, Tango Porteno's intense show, with touches of fine humour, is building small stories in each play showing us human feelings, passion, jealousy, rivalry and, of course, love.
Buy the tickets at the ticket counter near the entrance. There are three kinds of tickets available: 1) just for the show, 2) for the show and drinks, 3) show and dinner.
Address: Cerrito 570, C1010 CABA
Read books at El Ateneo Bookshop
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a magnificent bookshop set in a former theatre and cinema. The building was built to host a theatre in 1919. Later, it was refurbished and used as a cinema. And finally, the building was renovated and converted into a bookshop in 2000, beautifully preserving the original decoration, including the dome, painted with frescoes by Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi. Today, the shop stocks around 120,000 books and the old stage hosts a lovely cafe where you can relax and have a cup while reading a book. Note how the lighting of the auditorium is set to mimic that of a theatre performance. Enjoy a fabulous view of the auditorium, ceiling and stage from the upper balcony. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the second best bookshop in the world. National Geographic considered it the most beautiful bookshop in the world.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid is open daily. It is located in the Recoleta neighbourhood. You can get there by taking a short walk either from the Callao or Pueyrredón metro station.
Find Eva's grave at Recoleta cemetery
The most visited attraction in Buenos Aires is actually a graveyard. Owned by the Recollect monks from whom the neighbourhood took its name, the land became the city’s first public cemetery in 1822. Over 6,400 statues, sarcophagi, coffins and crypts commemorate Argentina’s most celebrated sons and daughters in this labyrinthine city of the dead. Over 90 of its tombs are listed as national historic monuments. The most visited tombs are those of Eva Peron and former Argentina presidents Sarmiento and Raúl Alfonsín.
Also, look out for the mausoleum of Liliana Crociati, who died on her honeymoon in Austria in the 1970s. Her parents reconstructed her bedroom within her tomb, and at the entrance placed a bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress, with her beloved pet dog at her side.
And finally, the tomb of Eva Peron, born Duarte. Although she died in 1952, her body was not placed in the Duarte family mausoleum for 20 years. To protect her remains, Eva lies in a heavily fortified crypt, some five metres (16.4 ft.) underground.
The cemetery is open daily. There is an entrance fee that must be paid only by credit card. Seniors over 65 can visit for free. Do not forget to pick up a map at the entrance.
Take a picture of Floralis Generica
Walking away from Recoleta along Figuero Alcorta Avenue, you will find a gigantic flower-like structure made of stainless steel and aluminium. This monument was designed by the local architect Eduardo Catalano using parts of old planes. This impressive structure is an engineering masterpiece that unfolds every morning and closes at sunset. There is a pool at the base, creating beautiful reflections. Today, this giant metal flower-like structure is one of the most famous monuments in Buenos Aires.
Take a walk in Puerto Madero
The ultra-modern Puerto Madero neighbourhood combines historic port buildings built of bricks and iron arches with modern and elegant restaurants and skyscrapers with glass walls. Gleaming skyscrapers house multinational corporations and luxury apartments. In addition, the neighbourhood boasts a huge Ecological Reserve, a 360-hectare (890 ac.) green area with access to the river. Divided into four docks and with minimal car traffic, the compact Puerto Madero is best explored on foot or by bike. It is within walking distance from the Plaza de Mayo, the city's main square, which is located to the west of the port.Take a walk around the Ecological Reserve. It spreads from the eastern side of Puerto Madero to the banks of the Rio de la Plata. Follow the trails that lead around its four lagoons and see if you can spot the birds, butterflies and reptiles that live there. The area is free to enter. For an unknown reason, it was closed on the day of my visit.
Participate in a street art tour
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 3 p.m. BA Street art tour runs from Villa Urquiza and goes through neighbourhoods in the northwest part of the city. Buenos Aires Street Art, founded in 2009, is an organisation that works with street artists. They have organised the creation and placement of more than 250 murals and graffiti in the city and other countries. Buenos Aires Street Art tours, led by professional guides, show you the artistic side of Buenos Aires and some of the most iconic murals by international street artists in areas that are not in the tourist guidebooks. Smaller in size and number than street art in Bogota or Medellin in Colombia, artworks in Buenos Aires attract with their details and perfect placement in the surrounding environment.
Stroll the La Boca neighbourhood in the daytime
La Boca has a meaningful place in the history of Argentina since it is where Tango was born and where the colourful houses create a perfect combination with the great passion for football. La Boca’s style dates back to the 19th century when working-class immigrants decorated their cramped dwelling houses using paints found at the docks. Caminito Street is a great example of this, with gorgeous colourful houses and dynamic statues. See large dolls representing the locals leaning over wrought-iron balconies. If you are not in a hurry, have a drink or meal in one of the nearby restaurants while watching a tango performance.
La Boca is located southeast of the city centre. Since there is no metro line in this area, you can go there by public bus or taxi. It is advisable to avoid the backstreets of La Boca. Do not stay there at night: observe all safety precautions and stick to where the crowds are to enjoy your visit.
Where to stay
While visiting Argentina and using Buenos Aires as the central hub of my travels, I stayed in three different four-star hotels in the city. All of them have their good and bad sides, but if you are looking for the best area to stay in the city, the location of the Pestana Hotel is hard to beat. Situated in the centre of the most important and busiest avenue of the city, Avenida 9 de Julio, the hotel provides a perfect starting point for city exploration. Also, the lively social life is close, led by the unforgettable Tango Porteno on the other side of the avenue. The friendliness of the staff is a bonus to this hotel. The room, however, was a bit plain for my liking, with no decorations, like paintings or pictures. I was short of time and therefore did not visit their modern renovated SPA. An additional bonus to the Pestana is its proximity to Calle Florida. Read further and you will learn why.
When arriving in Buenos Aires from abroad, you will most likely land at Ezeiza International Airport. Do not rush out of the airport just yet and settle a few things for your further Buenos Aires and Argentina trip. You can change dollars and euros to pesos at the airport but only at the official rate, so change just a small amount. You will need local currency to book a taxi from the airport to the city centre at the official Ezeiza taxi counter and buy your Buenos Aires public transport card Sube. It would be better to buy it directly at the newsstand in the airport arrivals hall because travellers complain about the difficulty of finding Sube sales points in the city. Top the card up with the money because it comes empty. Public transport in Buenos Aires is very cheap, but you must have a Sube card to take a ride. You can have one Sube card for more than one traveller, so you do not have to buy one card for each person. Google maps show public transport routes quite well. I used google maps to explore Buenos Aires. Also, I advise you to buy your local sim card for your phone on the upper floor near departures at the Personal Flow mobile phone operator office. Be prepared for a line and slow service. They only accept card payments, no cash. So once you are equipped with your Sube and sim card, buy your taxi voucher at the Ezeiza taxi counter, and you are ready to start your adventure. You can use public transport too, but you will need to change between the lines, and I do not recommend trying it directly after arrival.
At the time of writing this article, there were two exchange rates of Argentinian pesos: the official, roughly 150 pesos per dollar and the unofficial or blue rate, around 280 pesos per dollar. If you want to use your money wisely, i.e., take advantage of the blue rate, you have two options: send money to your account using Western Union and then get it at Argentina Western Union offices or go to Calle Florida and change your crisp 100 dollar or euro banknotes.
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About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.