Sometimes called the "Paris of the South," Buenos Aires is renowned for its sophistication and culture. From European architecture and historic cafés to a fabulous food scene, the Argentine capital has plenty to offer visitors. Read on for an overview of the best sights, tips on where to stay, and key transportation information.

Discover Buenos Aires

Many visitors come to Buenos Aires on the way to other destinations: Argentina is a country famous for its wild landscapes, from the ice fields of Patagonia to the snow-capped mountains and wide-open spaces of Mendoza. But the capital city is noteworthy.

Residents of Buenos Aires are known as porteños (from the port) because the city is a major port on an island-speckled estuary of the Río de la Plata. One of the world's widest rivers, it's the natural border between Uruguay and Argentina: on both sides, the grassy plains are known for gaucho and cattle-ranching culture.

If you factor in the greater urban area, Buenos Aires is the continent's second-largest metropolis. The city was founded in 1536, though much of the most impressive architecture dates from the golden era of development between 1880 and 1920 when the young city benefited from thriving agricultural and railroad industries. Buildings such as the spectacular Teatro Colón, considered one of the world's most beautiful theaters, date from this period.

Today, porteño culture is still defined by Italian and French influences, as well as by tango music, antique cafés where famous writers, artists, and politicians met. There's so much to see here: Buenos Aires makes a striking first impression with a mix of towering skyscrapers, grand neoclassical architecture, and bustling city streets.

When's the best time to visit Argentina? Read this article to find out.

Planning Your Visit

Biking is a popular way to get around Buenos Aires  (Photo credit: Lars Curfs)

 

Many travelers arrive in Buenos Aires after a long-haul flight. For practical reasons—you'll need some time to adjust after the trip—it's best to spend at least three nights in the city. Of course, if you can extend your trip to four or five days, or better yet, a week or two, you'll have no shortage of things to do.

If you're looking to explore Argentina beyond the capital city, take a look at this family-friendly itinerary including Buenos Aires and Bariloche, and this week-long trip including Buenos Aires and the famous waterfalls at Iguazú. Have a couple of weeks to travel? Take a look at this 13-day Highlights of Argentina itinerary.

Neighborhoods

Puerto Madero is the port district, full of stylish hotels and restaurants located in revamped port buildings or in state-of-the-art futuristic-looking structures. Nearby San Telmo, the first part of the city to be settled in the 16th century, is famous for the open-air tango performances that happen on central Plaza Dorrego.

San Telmo is bordered to the north by the equally historic and much larger Monserrat neighborhood, home to some of the city's most important buildings, including the government house of Casa Rosada. North of Monserrat is the posh neighborhood of Recoleta, known for its tree-lined streets, elegant hotels and restaurants, and one of the city's main attractions, the Recoleta Cemetery.

West of Recoleta is trendy Palermo, full of cafés, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The neighborhood is divided into Palermo Viejo (the oldest section), Palermo Chico, Palermo Soho, and Palermo Hollywood. 

Another neighborhood of interest of visitors is La Boca, located south of San Telmo, a traditionally working-class area that's been beautified in recent years. The key attractions here are the street of brightly colored houses known as El Caminito, and the stadium of one of the world's most famous soccer teams, Boca Juniors.

Getting There & Away

Buenos Aires' main air hub is Ministro Pistarini International Airport, more commonly known as Ezeiza Airport. The vast majority of international flights arrive here. American destinations with direct flights here include New York-JFK, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth. Amsterdam, Paris, London, Rome, and Madrid also have direct flights. The airport is 20 miles southwest of central Buenos Aires, connected to the center by shuttle bus and taxi.

Some domestic flights also arrive at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, much closer to the center and just north of the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Domestic departures are mostly handled by Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral Lineas Aéreas, with Córdoba, Salta, Mendoza, San Carlos de Bariloche and Ushuaia among the destinations. 

Highlights & Activities

Houses of El Caminito in La Boca

El Caminito

In the southern neighborhood of La Boca, the main attraction (and one of the city's most photographed sights) is the street known as El Caminito. The result of a project to rejuvenate an area that had fallen into decline, the houses—many of which are tin shacks—are brightly painted and covered in street art. Much of the work was done by local artist Benito Quinquela Martín in the 1950s.

Plaza Dorrego

This open-air plaza in San Telmo, which frequently serves as a stage for tango dancers, is the city's second-oldest. It's the heart of the neighborhood's Sunday art and antiques market. It's best to visit on weekends, but it's also lovely to pass through at other times: several old-fashioned cafés are on or near the plaza, and they're atmospheric places to sit at and watch city life go by.

Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo

The rose-pink house of Argentina's government is a much-snapped landmark—and not just for its striking design and distinctive color. One-time political leader Eva Perón gave an impassioned address to the crowd from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, telling Argentine people not to mourn her after she was gone. (Already ill at the time, she died before she could rise to the country's top office, and she went down as one of the heroines of Argentine history. The song "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," popularized in the musical Evita, took inspiration from this event.)

The Casa Rosada sits at one end of the city's oldest and best-known parks, Plaza de Mayo. At the park's center, the Pirámide de Mayo monument marks Argentina's independence.

Plaza Dorrego

Palacio Barolo

Once the tallest building in South America, and still one of the most distinctive, Palacio Barolo is the best representation of the bombastic neoclassical style of architecture which swept through the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The basis for the design is Dante's Divine Comedy, with the arrangement of floors — from the mosaic-laid central lobby with statues of monsters and the beacon at the top representing the nine choirs of angels — symbolizing purgatory and heaven. The building was originally designed to house Dante's ashes.

Teatro Colón

This theater is the city's main performing arts venues and one of the defining landmarks of the city, showing up in almost every list of the best opera venues in the world. Taking up an entire city block and with the capacity to seat 2500, it's an impressive place to catch a performance. The lavish building was built in 1908 and recently underwent a five-year refurbishment. The season runs from March to October, and begins every year by hosting a much-loved festival of opera. Behind-the-scenes tours are available if you're unable to make it to a performance. 

Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires

The city's main cathedral, begun in the late 18th century but only completed in 1863, draws on inspirations from Paris' Palais Bourbon, with the colonnaded facade bearing many similarities. Inside rests the remains of freedom fighter General José de San Martín, placed in a mausoleum here in the 1880s. The cathedral also features an impressive wooden Rococo altar, 20th-century Venetian-style mosaics, and a statue of the crucified Christ said by some to have saved the city from a severe flood in the 18th century.

Teatro Colón

Recoleta Cemetery

South America has many grand cemeteries, but few are as impressive as the Recoleta Cemetery. A miniature city of towering, ostentatious tombs that contain the remains of many of Buenos Aires' most notable residents, it's the final resting place of Eva Perón. One of the grandest tombs is that of the Paz family, decorated with Masonic iconography and huge angels.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

For fine art, this is the city's (and arguably the country's most important) museum. This colonnaded building housing the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum),  a former city pumphouse, contains works by Argentine artists such as Benito Quinquela Martín, Xul Solar, and Antonio Berni, alongside important works by Degas, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh.

Bosques de Palermo

The Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods) are part of a series of parks that run along the edge of the city from Recoleta up to Belgrano. This section, in Palermo, is particularly beautiful, featuring a gorgeous rose garden, a lake, and plenty of outdoor space for picnics and relaxing. 

Recoleta Cemetary

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)

Since its opening in 2001, MALBA has displayed one of the world's foremost collections of Latin American modern art. It also has a cultural center that hosts regular exhibitions and performances. In its permanent collection, Argentine artists like Antonio Berni are represented alongside works by household names like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Festivals & Events 

Apertura de la Opera (March). Celebrates contemporary and classic opera as part of the season opening of the grand Teatro Colón.

Feria de Libros (April/May). An International Book Festival that celebrates the city's literary pedigree.

Anniversary of the May Revolution (May 25th). A celebration of the events that helped Argentina gain its independence.

TangoBA (August). The world's principal tango festival enlivens the streets with performances and tango-related events.

Lodging & Restaurants

A standard Argentine parrilla (steakhouse)

Where to Stay

The most popular neighborhoods to stay in are San Telmo, Recoleta, and Palermo. There are also plenty of luxury hotels and apartment rental options, plus a particularly high concentration of boutique hotels.

The minimalist, eco-friendly retreat of Casa Calma is unbelievably serene given its bang-in-the-center location. Meanwhile, the Faena Hotel is a sumptuous red-brick edifice in waterfront Puerto Madero—overlooking the beautiful Parque Micaela Bastidas, it has voluminous sofas, intimate El Cabaret bar, and swimming pool. See more in this guide to the Best Boutique Hotels in Buenos Aires.

Where to Eat

In historic San Telmo, begin your foodie foray at Pulpería Quilapan, serving typical dishes from the Argentine pampas. Try El Desnivel for a steak lunch. Saigón, on the edge of the San Telmo market, serves the city's best Vietnamese food. 

Two parrillas of choice in hip Palermo are well-known La Cabrera and local favorite Lo de Jesús. Nearby Las Pizarras is a bistro melding French and Argentine cuisine. Round off an evening at Nicky's New York, where you'll eat the city's best sushi and get a password for special entry into the adjacent Harrison speakeasy.

There's nowhere better to sample the city's Italian food than in La Boca—Il Matarello is a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best tagliatelle around. Café Tortoni, on the elegant Avenida de Mayo in Monserrat, is the city's most famous café: a historic meeting place of many artists and writers, and a bastion of classic porteño café culture.

In Recoleta, spoil yourself with afternoon tea at L'Orangerie inside the Alvear Palace Hotel, feast on empanadas at Cumaná, or splurge on high-end steak and seafood at Fervor. If you're interested in wine, consider this itinerary that takes travelers to Buenos Aires and Mendoza, the Argentine capital of wine production.

Tips for Travelers

When exploring the city, remember that Buenos Aires is big. Don't try to do too much on a single outing. It's best to stick to adjoining neighborhoods in a given day, such as San Telmo and La Boca, or Recoleta and Monserrat. Set aside an entire day (or ideally a few days) for Palermo, which is the largest neighborhood—and the furthest away from the rest of the city's most tourist-popular neighborhoods.

When it comes to planning your time, be aware that Argentine people eat dinner late. Join the local custom of enjoying an afternoon merienda (snack) of coffee and pastries, but don't plan on having dinner until after 8 pm: most restaurants aren't open before that, anyway. 

Find out more about planning a trip to Buenos Aires with our helpful Argentina FAQ.