By this point it has become quite cliché to say that Buenos Aires is a strong mix of South America and Europe, but after visiting I must admit that it is actually quite true. Walking down the large open streets with the detailed architecture and enjoying cups of coffee at small cafés on the street, felt just like exploring any major European city. Yet the culture, especially with the prevalence of tango through Buenos Aires, provided a clear reminder that this was still very much Argentina. While definitely a soft introduction to the continent, Buenos Aires is a truly lovely city that is well worth exploring.
What not to miss in Buenos Aires:
-Tango- the quintessential part of any visit to the city is experiencing the country's most famous dance, the tango. From the colorful neighborhoods like La Boca- where street tango reigns supreme, to the numerous lessons and shows available around the city, tango is an important part of the culture and society. The hostel I stayed in offered free tango lessons several nights a week which is where I picked up the basic steps and several of the distinct movements for the dance before attending a more professional lesson. The second class was an hour and a half long and came as a package deal with a full dinner and show following the tango lesson. Our Gal Gadot look-a-like instructor was extremely talented (and patient) as she quickly taught us a full basic tango routine. After spinning around the dance floor and working up an appetite, we were taken to our dining table by the main stage. As we started with our appetizers at the beginning of our three course meal, we had front row seats to watch the professionals spin across stage. As the dinner progressed, the performance incorporated the evolution of the tango over the years with the accompanying changes to costumes and get-ups for each era. I happened to be one of the lucky members of the audience that was pulled up to dance a number, making me extremely thankful for what little experience I had gained!
-La Recoleta Cemetery- not often is a cemetery frequently recommended by locals and fellow tourists, but after about the third person suggested visiting, I added it to my route around the city. The cemetery contains nearly 5,000 above ground vaults, many of which are elaborately decorated and several of which have been declared National Historic Monuments by the Argentinian government. The cemetery was designed by a French civil engineer and even the massive Greek pillars at the entrance are just a hint at the upscale and elaborate monuments held within the walls. La Recoleta contains the graves of numerous famous people including several Argentinian Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, military generals, and several national celebrities.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid Library- while exploring the streets in downtown Buenos Aires, I found this gem of an old theater that was converted into a bookstore. I had read about the El Ateneo on the flight into Argentina and was thrilled to explore the expansive and elegant old theatre, despite the limited selection of books in English. The theater opened in May of 1919 and staged a variety of performances over the years from tango artists to movies when it was temporarily used as a cinema. In early 2000 this ornate theater began its transformation into the grand bookstore that it currently is, but many of the characteristics including the theater boxes remain so that guests can sample the books in a comfortable nook before purchasing them. In the front of the theatre turned bookstore, the stage has even been converted into a little cafè.. books and coffee, what more can you ask for!
-Bicycle tour- Buenos Aires has put in extensive work to making the city open and easy to get around. However, due to how spread out the city is, bicycle tours are a popular option. There are organized bike tours that visit all the main spots with a guide providing information along the way or there are plenty of rental stores along the main roads. This made it easy to hit the highlight locations on the outskirts of town and also feel productive about getting in a work out while peddling around from the artsy Plaza Francia to explore the museums all the way over to the colorful Caminito in La Boca to watch the daily tango street performances.
-Café Tortoni- Located on the popular Avenida de Mayo, sits this historic and charming Parisian Café from 1858. Although there are numerous cafes throughout the city, Tortoni has remained one of the most popular meeting places over the years for artists and politicians alike. This is evidenced by the numerous pictures of the many celebrated visitors that have been added to the art decor lining the walls. The gorgeous Tiffany glass ceiling and marble-top tables made it feel like I was stepping back in time into one of the old photographs. Not only does Café Tortoni offer a mouth watering spread of deserts and coffee, but it still also has evening tango performances on their famous stage.
-Argentinean cuisine- From upscale multi-course steak dinners to small street restaurants with choripan sandwiches, the food in Buenos Aires is fantastic and very reasonably priced. European style cafes were on every corner making it easy to catch a morning latte and pastry. Small restaurants with street seating were also readily available for lunch to enjoy a salad and choripan with chimichurri sauce and a glass of wine, and of course there were endless options for steak dinners. Not to mention the delicious and enticing scents of street food and empandas cooking at local hole in the wall restaurants throughout the day!
-Plaza Misiones Province- Midway in between Plaza de Mayo with Casa Rosada to the east and Plaza del Congreso to the west, is Plaza Missions Province stretching across Avenida de Mayo. This wide open area holds numerous statues, monuments, and even a replica of Iguazu Falls, providing visitors a breath of fresh air in the bustling city. It also hosts numerous events throughout the year and I happened to have lucky timing to be in town for St. Martins Day. For this holiday, the entire square was filled starting at Plaza Missions Province and reaching all the way to the base of the Obelisk with several stages of entertainment, rows of food trucks, and thousands of people out celebrating in between. Unfortunately the festivities began only a few hours before my flight to Costa Rica, but I was able to get out to enjoy several of the energetic performances and get through two of the food lines before heading off to the airport.
Iguazu Falls- while not actually a part of Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls are the world's largest waterfalls system and is located only a quick two hour flight from the capital. They certainly earn their place on the Seven Natural Wonders of the World with their sheer magnitude and breathtaking beauty. Read more about visiting Iguazu Falls here.
Currency: Argentine Peso
Drink: Malbec wine. It is served everyone and the quality compared to price is outstanding!
Food: Steak Dinner at Café San Juan, Patagonia Sur, Dante Liporace’s Tarquino, or Chila. Also it is nearly impossible to explore the city and not get several delicious cheesy empanadas!
Electric Outlet: Mostly Type I (Australian) and some Type C (European)
Visa: Not Required.