Gritty and glamorous at once, Buenos Aires is a thrill for tango enthusiasts and carnivores — and for fútbol fans, wine drinkers, literary types, urban cyclists, and architecture aficionados, to name just a few. There’s so much to see and do in the Argentinian capital, but you can’t go wrong with this classic list of cultural and gastronomic highlights.

Overview

Buenos Aires is one of the largest cities in South America. Many of the key attractions are spread out on the map, and traffic can be tricky (and congestion on the subway is a problem around rush hour) so be sure to plan accordingly.

Travelers interested in history and tango culture are usually happiest staying in San Telmo, near the city’s downtown, where the cobblestoned streets are lined with classic cafes and antique shops, or in classy Recoleta with its Parisian-style architecture and high-end boutiques. Visitors more interested in street art, modern design, coffee shops, and cocktail bars should base themselves in hipster-friendly Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood.

Watch Tango at a Milonga

Close-up of a couple dancing tango.

Tango is the soundtrack of Buenos Aires. Most first-time visitors eager to experience it, but not sure how to access the scene.

It's important to understand that tango is not just about dancing. Tango is also a musical style, and the two forms are inextricably linked, born and developed together in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

If you want to watch or listen to tango, you have a few options. You could go to a tango show, a tourist-oriented spectacle that’s fun but not necessarily authentic. Or you could find your way to a milonga — something like a tango club. It’s there, on the crowded dance floor, that you’ll see locals dancing real tango. If you’re lucky, there’ll be an orquesta típica (a traditional tango orchestra) playing. If not, you’ll hear old Carlos Gardel records playing over the sound system.

At a milonga, you’re not obligated to dance. You can sit on the sidelines and order a glass of wine and just watch the action on the dance floor. (But if someone asks you to dance, it would be rude to decline — consider it an adventure!)

Sip Coffee in a Historic Café

Cafe Tortoni, with over 150 years of history, is the most famous of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is filled with wonderful old cafés and bars. The city, in fact, has an official register of 92 historic cafés (called “Bares Notables”) and many others that aren’t on the official list. Most of the city’s old-fashioned cafés and bars stay open all day, so they’re perfect places to stop in for a morning coffee, an afternoon tea or vermouth, and in the evening, a glass of wine with a picada (a tray of cheeses and cold cuts.)

Go Out For Steak

Steak and chorizo and other meats on the parrilla (grill)

It’s a rite of passage for any traveler to Argentina: a feast of grilled steak paired with a bottle of Malbec and an array of traditional side dishes. Whether you make reservations at one of the city’s finest steakhouses or sit down for an impromptu meal at any number of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, you’ll be ordering a variation on the same thing.

First, choose a few appetizers, ranging from empanadas to provoleta (a slab of provolone cheese topped with spices and seared on the grill.) Next, choose your cut of beef. The options can be mind-boggling, but you can’t go wrong with classic cuts like bife de chorizo (strip steak) or ojo de bife (rib eye). A side salad and an order of crispy French fries are practically mandatory, as is sparkling water and a bottle of wine.

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Rent a Bicycle and Explore the City

A bicycle parked in the San Telmo neighborhood

Buenos Aires has become increasingly bike-friendly in recent years, with the government investing in new infrastructure. Bike lanes crisscross the city, and there’s a great bike share program, but it’s a little difficult for tourists to access.

Your best bet is to rent a bicycle from the many outfitters around town. The first time you go out, it’s probably best to go on a tour to get an overview of the city’s layout.

Browse the Antiques in San Telmo

Antique soda siphons at the San Telmo antique market

One of the experiences you won’t want to miss in Buenos Aires is attending the San Telmo street fair on Sundays. The main street running through the neighborhood shuts down to traffic and antique vendors, artisans, and artists set up temporary shop to sell their wares. It’s a great place to pick up a unique souvenir or to catch a live tango performance in the street. The restaurants and bars surrounding the fair are an ideal spot for lunch or an afternoon coffee or ice cream.

If you can’t make it on a Sunday, the San Telmo market—a covered antiques and food market that doubles as an architectural landmark—is the perfect place to browse through old tango posters and antique glassware.

Explore the Boutiques and Cocktail Bars of Palermo

A porteño favorite, the Negroni

Palermo (generally divided into two sides, Soho and Hollywood) is one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city for shopping and dining. Take a short stroll around the neighborhood and you’ll be tempted into excellent coffee shops and heladerías (ice cream shops), charming bookstores, stores specializing in local art and design, and sunny terraces that invite you to relax over a gingery lemonade or a cold beer.

Visit Evita's Grave at Cementerio de la Recoleta

Eva Perón's gravesite in the Recoleta cemetery

Eva Perón is just one of the many famous Argentines laid to rest in the Cementerio de la Recoleta, a striking landmark that’s often cited as one of the world’s best cemeteries. Pass through the grand neoclassical gates and wander through aisles of elaborate marble mausoleums designed in Art Deco, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architectural styles.

Attend a Fútbol Match

View from the pitch at La Bombonera stadium. 

For sports enthusiasts, attending a fútbol (soccer) match in Argentina is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Buenos Aires, you can catch a game at one of two stadiums that represent two rival teams. River Plate, in the north of the city, is larger, while La Bombonera (the Candy Box) in the city's rough-around-the-edges southern neighborhood of La Boca, is more raucous.

Either way, it’s recommended to go with a group on an organized tour, as fútbol stadiums can be a bit difficult to navigate if you don’t know what you’re doing (or if you’re not attending with a local friend.)

Brave the Boliches

A nighttime panorama of the city.

Buenos Aires is famous for its up-all-night dancing and drinking scene. While it’s true that the nightclub circuit is mostly the territory of twentysomething porteños, all kinds of nightlife venues, including bars and tango clubs, stay open late.

If you're eager to check out the boliche (nightclub) scene, plan ahead: many of the most famous venues are located on the river, separated from most other attractions in the city. Luckily, Uber is up and running in Buenos Aires, and it makes a good alternative to a taxi.