Exploring Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is one of the largest cities in South America, stretching for miles along the coast of the Río de la Plata. Any of the city's central neighborhoods could keep travelers occupied for a day or two—and some areas of the city could keep you busy for weeks.
With just 24 hours in the city, therefore, you need to choose your sightseeing priorities and carefully consider where you base yourself. Palermo is one of Buenos Aires' liveliest barrios (neighborhoods), and it's hugely popular with tourists thanks to its excellent museums, restaurants, bars, and cafés. But it's relatively far away from many of the city's main historic sights, closer to the center, which can be problematic—especially given rush hour traffic. Basing yourself in one of the city's more central neighborhoods, San Telmo, is a more logical choice for visitors who have just a day to spend.
For insight into the city's best accommodations, read this roundup of the Best Boutique Hotels in Buenos Aires. And for more tips on how to spend your time here, check out How Many Days to Spend in Argentina.
Planning Your Perfect Day
For the following itinerary, you'll get around on foot, using the subway or a taxi to cover longer distances. If opting for a cab, look for an official taxi (the words 'Radio Taxi' should appear on the side of the vehicle) or ask your hotel or restaurant to call one for you.
Start your day with an appetite—a day in Buenos Aires should include plenty of eating and drinking—and be prepared to stay out late. You only have 24 hours here, and important elements of the city's culture happen after dark. Going out for dinner around 9-10 pm is the norm, and afterward, there are countless stylish bars and clubs where you'll discover how Buenos Aires nightlife got its reputation.
If you're interested in working a visit to Buenos Aires into a longer itinerary, consider this 15-day trip that covers many of the country's highlights.
7 am: Stroll South to a Local Café
The day gets started relatively late in Buenos Aires: most cafés don't open until 8 or 9 am. Still, you can get a jump start on the day by having an early breakfast at your hotel. Then hit the streets to start sightseeing before the crowds show up at major attractions.
San Telmo is appealing for a morning wander (and you might find a place to grab a coffee in the neighborhood) before taking a taxi south to the traditional working-class neighborhood of La Boca to view one of Buenos Aires' most photographed sights, Caminito. This street of colorfully painted houses was decorated by the late, great local artist Benito Quinquela Martín. Later in the day, it's packed with camera-snapping tourists, so take advantage of the peace and quiet.
Another great option for an early morning walk is the waterfront neighborhood of Puerto Madero, where old dock buildings have been transformed into cool warehouse hotels and restaurants. Smell the roses in the pretty park called Parque Micaela Bastidas, then venture farther east to the riverside nature reserve of Reserva Ecológica Costanera Súr, where you can walk, run, or cycle along forested paths—and look back toward the city for iconic views of Buenos Aires.
Great cafés in this part of the city include Hierbabuena, a modern bakery and coffee shop on elegant Avenida Caseros, located midway between San Telmo and La Boca. One of the best coffee options in the area is Coffee Town in the historic Mercado San Telmo (San Telmo Market). Nearby, the old-fashioned café called Bar Plaza Dorrego, located on Plaza Dorrego, is perfect for people-watching. Even if you've already had breakfast, it's a good time to break for a coffee and medialunas, the Argentine version of croissants.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
10 am: History Around Plaza de Mayo
San Telmo is the oldest part of Buenos Aires, and the neighborhood, with its antique shops, cobblestoned streets, and Parisian-style architecture, is charming to explore on foot. Key sights include the Museo Histórico Nacional (National History Museum), located in a grand 19th-century mansion in leafy Parque Lezama: with exhibits relating to the history of Argentina, it's useful for an overview of the country's past. Nearby, find the recently renovated Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) and the unique archaeological site and museum at El Zanjón, where guided tours take visitors underground through a labyrinth of tunnels, passageways, and courtyards hidden below a historic townhouse.
Walking north, San Telmo turns into the neighborhood of Monserrat, home to Plaza de Mayo and the iconic rose-pink government house of Casa Rosada. It was here, from one of the balconies facing the plaza, that Eva Perón famously addressed her supporters, a moment that was immortalized in the Broadway musical Evita. The offices of the President of Argentina are located here, and the complex also features a museum displaying presidential and historic artifacts.
In the plaza, note the obelisk marking Argentine independence, flanked on the north side by the neoclassical cathedral, Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires. Built in the 18th century, this important church contains the remains of General José de San Martín, the liberator of Argentina. Notably, it was also where Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) worked and lived during his many years as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
If you want a deeper dive into the history of Buenos Aires, take a look at this five-day itinerary full of the city's cultural highlights.
2 pm: Recoleta Lunch & Cemetery Tour
Continuing north from Monserrat, either on foot or by taxi, head to the affluent neighborhood of Recoleta. Break for lunch at Cumaná, specializing in regional Argentine foods like locro (a corn-based stew) and empanadas baked in a large clay oven, or have a classic steak lunch at a traditional parrilla (steakhouse) like Parrilla Peña. If you want to keep it quick, grab a slice of Argentine-style pizza at a vintage pizzeria like El Cuartito.
After lunch, stroll through streets lined by trees and mansions, making your way to one of the city's must-see sights: the huge and elaborately constructed city-within-a-city of Recoleta Cemetery. Here, within a maze of exquisite and sometimes ostentatious tombs, many of the most influential figures in Argentina's history have their final resting place. Of interest are the tomb of Eva Perón, the mausoleum of the Paz family (bedecked with huge stone angels, in grand tribute to one of the city's most famous families), and the tomb of Luis Ángel Firpo, a popular boxer in the 1920s, which features a life-size statue of the fist-fighter outside.
Need a break for tea? Try the glamorous afternoon tea at L'Orangerie in the grand, chandelier-hung salon of the Alvear Palace Hotel, a historic symbol of Argentine refinement.
6 pm: Modern Art & Culture at MALBA
Fortunately for the visitor with only a day to see the city, Buenos Aires stays open late—and that includes museums. Use the early evening to experience a slice of the edgy Argentinian art scene in hip and happening Palermo (arriving via taxi or metro). Pay a visit to one of Latin America's foremost museums of modern art, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA).
Opened in 2001, the museum houses an ever-expanding collection that offers a look at Argentina's creative output. Some of the country's most prominent artists, such as Xul Solar and Antonio Berni, are represented here, and you'll also see works on display here from internationally-known stars like Diego Rivera. Check the schedule: you may be able to catch a film at the adjacent museum cinema, too. MALBA stays open until 8 pm Thursday through Monday and until 9 pm on Wednesday.
9 pm: Dinner & Drinks in Palermo
Around 8 pm, the city's restaurants open for dinner. But if you want to fit in with the local crowd, wait until 9 pm to make your entrance—or your reservation. In Palermo Soho, the high-end steakhouse Don Julio is an excellent option for a classic steak dinner and an impressive wine list: book ahead or prepare to wait for a table, complimentary sparkling wine in hand. Alternatively, feast on thin-crust pizzas at Cosi Mi Piace or dine al fresco in the romantic courtyard at Museo Evita, part of the museum devoted to the legacy of Eva Perón.
Save room for dessert and cocktails. Locals often follow up a meal with a walk through the neighborhood for helado, Argentina's famously rich ice cream. Tufic and Scannapieco, both in Palermo Soho, are great choices: make sure to pay first at the cashier, then take the ticket to the ice cream scooper to choose your flavors.
Of course, no day in Buenos Aires would be complete if it ended early. Go out for drinks at a Palermo Soho institution like Rey de Copas, where creative cocktails are served in a beautiful old house with an eclectic art collection and a breezy terrace, or stroll over to nearby Palermo Hollywood, where the streets are lined with countless bars and clubs. Raise a glass to a perfect day out in Buenos Aires—and promise yourself that you'll stay longer next time.
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