How to Experience Buenos Aires Like a Local

If there’s anything Buenos Aires has to spare, it’s character. Emblematic spots like San Telmo (famous for tango) and La Boca (known for its colorful buildings) are just the beginning – behind all 48 Porteñian neighborhoods, there’s the passion and tradition of its people.

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Photo © Sean O'Reilly

Getting Around Buenos Aires

The public transport network will take you anywhere you wish to go in the city. There are seven metro lines, countless buses, and intercity trains. Prepaid SUBE Cards, available in authorized Tourist Centres and subway stations, can be used for all public transit and topped up at kiosks around the city.

Taxis can get expensive, and traffic is mayhem  but taxis are the safest way to get around at night. You can hail one (look for the lit Libre sign in the windshield), but it’s best to call a Radio taxi or an Uber.

The subway. Photo credit: Martina Grossi

Where to Stay in Buenos Aires

This depends on how long you’ll stay, but the closer to the subway, the better. There’s a huge variety of accommodation available, so I recommend using a map of the city as a reference and choosing a spot close to your main interests.

Even though most visitors stay in areas like San Telmo, 9 de Julio Avenue, or Palermo, I also recommend giving Almagro or Villa Crespo a try. These are very traditional but central and well-connected neighborhoods.

If your focus will be on the historic areas of Buenos Aires, you may want to consider the areas of Congreso, Monserrat, or San Cristóbal.

City Layout

You’ll never run out of interesting things to do or places to see in Buenos Aires. Most of the main attractions are geographically located in the western strip of the city, which faces the Rio de la Plata and is where it all started: the Port. That’s why we are called porteños.

Historic Districts

The Monserrat district is Buenos Aires’ historic heart, filled with iconic government buildings and French-style architecture. Plaza de Mayo is the main square of the city, where most political life takes place.

If you have time to spare, check out San Cristóbal. Next to San Telmo, this district is less famous but just as interesting, with busy avenues and old houses filled with character. Here you’ll find the quirky Mercado San Cristóbal, selling food and antiques – you can buy fresh fish and vintage magazines.

Casa Rosado, in the Plaza de Mayo. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Puerto Madero, Retiro, and Recoleta

A few minutes’ walk from Plaza de Mayo is the Obelisk, Buenos Aires’ most famous monument. Cross the famously wide 9 de Julio Avenue, and head to Puerto Madero, a modern, stylish district and a great sunset spot: grab a drink and enjoy the views of the river.

Or walk north along Florida Street, with its elegant Galerías Pacífico mall, and then through Retiro; you’ll end up in Recoleta, famous for its cemetery, where you can visit the graves of Eva Peron and other important figures. Go on a Sunday when nearby Plaza Francia bustles with musicians and an artisans’ market.

Palermo and Belgrano

Palermo is so big that it’s subdivided into several districts: the Soho, Palermo Chico, Palermo Viejo, Palermo Hollywood, and Las Cañitas. It’s best explored on foot, so wear comfy shoes.

The Bosques of Palermo is Buenos Aires’ main park, with lakes, a planetarium, and a rose garden. Porteños head here every weekend for outdoor activities.

If you like horse racing, check out the Palermo Hipódromo, a lavish French-styled building with outdoor areas that visitors can enjoy for free.

Locals particularly love the up-and-coming sub-district of Las Cañitas. Elegant, trendy, and compact, Cañitas is full of restaurants and charming boulevards.

Las Canitas. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

In Belgrano, you’ll find Chinatown, packed with markets, spices, and quirky gift shops. Around the corner is the Museo Larreta, housing a hidden gem: the Spanish-style Andaluz Garden. Spend the afternoon listening to acoustic concerts or join a nighttime guided tour.

Traditional Districts: Tango, Football, and Cafes

Don’t miss the local Friday night ritual: go to one of Corrientes Avenue’s theatres – the blocks between Florida and Callao have options for any budget – then, eat in a classic pizzeria like Los Inmortales, Guerrín, or El Cuartito.

Visiting one of the cafetines (small, classic cafés) is also a must-do. The oldest and most famous is the Tortoni, but El Gato Negro is arguably more interesting, with a wide variety of cafés, chocolates, and teas you can buy by weight.

Towards the geographic center of the city is Almagro, a lively but very traditional district usually overlooked by visitors. Famous tango singer Carlos Gardel grew up here, near the streets of the Abasto Market. Be sure to try El Molino Dorado – only open for dinner, this tiny Russian restaurant is a well-kept secret.

Between Almagro and Palermo Soho is the culturally diverse Villa Crespo district. For an experience to brag about back home, get a haircut at Julio Pan’s salon, aka “the Craa.” Julio is the football figures’ coiffeur. He opens after 6pm every night, and just going to see his place is worth it.

Another Villa Crespo tradition is Cafe San Bernardo. Here you can play billiards, ping pong, and Metegol (table football).

If you’d rather shop, Serrano and Malabia streets between Corrientes and Córdoba are the fashion outlet area and one of the funkiest parts of town. Go for merienda (afternoon tea) in Malvón – you can thank me later.

Julio's, aka "Craa" Salon. Photo credit: Martina Grossi

Cultural Buenos Aires: Markets, Museums, and Music

Some of the insider gems tucked away in the city are the markets. Check out Mercado el Progreso in Caballito, focused on gastronomy, and Mercado de Pulgas, in Chacarita, selling antiques, arts, and handicrafts.

The arts scene is quite intense in Buenos Aires. Beyond the famous MALBA and la Usina del Arte, I would add the Centro Cultural Kirchner, a huge exhibitions hub just a few blocks from Puerto Madero.

If you’re into architecture, the Teatro Colon is an absolute must, rivaling La Scala opera house in Milan. Guided tours are available in English and Spanish. Highly recommended.

Teatro Colon. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Intrepid art explorers should venture out of the city to Museo de Soldi, 21 mi (34km) away in the town of Glew. Raúl Soldi is most famous for the so-called “Rural Sistine Chapel” – the elaborate frescoes in Glew’s Church of Santa Ana.

If you enjoy dancing and drums, head to the Centro Cultural Konex, in Almagro, on a Monday evening and dance to the rhythm of La Bomba del Tiempo.

Festivals and Events

Before you head to Buenos Aires, check the events calendars as there’s always something cool going on. Besides international concerts and festivals, there are local events for every type of visitor – maybe the Tango Festival and World Cup, held in August, or the Festival Ciudad Emergente if you enjoy rock music. Check out the BAFICI film festival for independent cinema, or the Contemporary Dance Festival, held at venues around the city.

A tango show. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Want to know more about Argentina? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. How drinking mate defines Argentinians, how to kiss properly when you greet someone, and meet Popi, the scientist who's saving penguins.

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