7 free things to do in Buenos Aires you can’t miss!

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you’ll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet.

Whether you’re a budget traveller or have deep pockets, you’ll really enjoy these free things to do in Buenos Aires. You’ll see different aspects of this wonderful, if at times chaotic, capital city. Art, music and dance, nature, culture and history at your fingertips.

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetery

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you'll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet.

This famous cemetery opened in 1822 and was the first proper cemetery of Buenos Aires. It looks like a city with its grid layout and mausoleums that look like buildings. Go past the ick factor and appreciate the beautiful angel sculptures and the design of the mausoleums. They reflect the architectural trends of their time, like the Art Nouveau mausoleum of Rufina Cambacérès.

Recoleta is the final resting place of many Argentinean personalities. Former presidents, Independence heroes, tragic romantic heroines, war veterans, all share real estate space here. However, the most visited mausoleum is that of Eva Perón. Find out more about Recoleta cemetery here.

Ecoparque

The historic zoo of Buenos Aires suffered a wonderful transformation. After many problems with the welfare of animals and run-down buildings, the local government stepped in. Most animals were either released into the wild or taken to animal sanctuaries elsewhere. A few were too old to be moved safely, so they stayed.

The Victorian-era buildings, the zoo opened in 1888, are in different stages of conservation. Many reflect the culture where the animals they housed came from, like India or China. The buildings are certainly beautiful.

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you'll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet.

The idea is to recreate ecoregions that are native to Argentina. At the moment, you can see native flora and some native fauna, like maras (Andean hares) or lagartos overos (Argentine giant tegu, a giant lizard) roaming free. Also peacocks, not native to Argentina but who cares, they’re beautiful!

Entrance is free but there is a limited number of visitors allowed at a time. Opens Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Access via Plaza Italia (Avenida Sarmiento 2601)

Librería El Ateneo, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world

This spectacular bookshop occupies the space of the former Grand Splendid theatre from 1919. Come in, admire the beautiful frescoes, have a coffee on the former stage, pick up a book or two. And Instagram it to death, it’s well worth it!

Here’s a compilation of other bookshops in Buenos Aires that you must visit.

Av. Santa Fe 1860. Opens Monday through Friday from 9 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 12 am, Sunday from 12 pm to 10 pm.

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you'll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet.

Feria de Mataderos

Every Sunday from April to December, the countryside comes to the city. The “Feria de las Artesanías y Tradiciones Populares Argentinas” -Traditional Crafts and Argentinean Traditions Fair- takes place outside the old stockyards. You’ll find all kinds of arts and crafts like hand-made knives or ponchos. As well as traditional food like empanadas or pastelitos. Real gauchos demonstrate their skills and traditions, and music and dance ensembles play tango and Argentinian folk music.

Avenida Lisandro de la Torre and Avenida de los Corrales.

Jardín Botánico – Botanical Gardens

The Botánico, as is popularly called, is the proverbial oasis in the middle of the city. Its 17 acres are divided into several gardens with different characteristics” roman, French, Oriental, etc. Art is also present. Sculptures are dotted about the place. Use this map to discover them. Renowned French architect and landscape artist Carlos Thays designed the Jardín Botánico, which opened in 1898 and bears his name. If you like cats, you’ll be happy to know that they roam free here and is one of the things the place is famous for.

The garden has a triangular shape formed by Avenida Santa Fe, Avenida Las Heras and calle República Arabe Siria.

Milonga in Barrancas de Belgrano

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you'll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet.

Barrancas de Belgrano is a lovely park that slopes down to the river, or to where the river was in the 19th century. The city has claimed a lot of land from the river since then. Ancient trees provide welcome shade and oxygen. Like the Botanical Gardens and many other parks, Barrancas was also designed by Carlos Thays.

Back in the day, music ensembles payed in the bandstand, or glorieta, also used for political rallies. Nowadays, there is a milonga every day. A tango lesson kick starts the evening (it’s optional and it carries a fee), and then people dance afterwards. There is no set fee for the milonga, but the musicians pass the hat round for voluntary contributions.

Caballito historic tram

This is a fun ride for the family. The historic tram runs every 30 minutes and does a 25-minute loop in the neighbourhood of Caballito. You’ll find the stop at Emilio Mitre 500. No need to make a reservation, just show up.

April-November: Saturdays and national holidays from 4 pm to 7:30 pm, Sundays 10 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 7:30 pm. December-March: Saturday and national holidays 5 pm to 8:30 pm, Sundays 10 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 8:30 pm.

I hope you add these 7 free things to in Buenos Aires to your itinerary. Pin and share this post for future reference.

7 free things to do in Buenos Aires: you'll see different aspects of this wonderful, if chaotic, city. Art, music, dance, nature, culture at your feet. #BuenosAires #traveltips #argentina

Guide to Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is a must-visit area of Buenos Aires

Cobbled streets, mature trees, shotgun-style houses with tall windows and wrought iron railings, old walls covered in vines: this is the Palermo Soho of the past.  The neighborhood, however, has managed to retain its spirit after it became immensely popular for its boutiques, bars, cafes, and restaurants. Palermo Soho represents the quirky, bohemian side of Buenos Aires.

Some of these lovely Spanish-style houses have been recycled into art galleries, independent and high-end boutiques, trendy restaurants, cool bars. Some are still family homes and some have given way to apartment buildings. Palermo is a highly desirable area to live and is well connected to the rest of the city by public transport.

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is must-visit area of Buenos Aires #buenosaires #argentina #travel

Palermo Soho has an artsy feel. And it is highly Instagrammable. Every street is a riot of colours, whether it’s because each house is painted a different colour or because it displays a mural.  The graffitied walls of Pasaje Santa Rosa, a two-block street between Gurruchaga and Thames, are a great example of local street art. And a fun place to pose in front of the camera as well.

Plaza Serrano (Serrano and Jorge Luis Borges Streets) is the epicenter of Palermo Soho. The vendors of the arts and crafts fair display a wide array of unique hand-made articles, from jewelry and clothes to ornaments. The thirsty and tired can choose one of the bars overlooking the plaza to sit, nibble, and sip. The place comes alive in the evenings, especially at the weekend. Bars stay open until late. Partying in Buenos Aires means staying up way past midnight into the small hours, even until sunrise. And it’s unusual for a restaurant to open before 8 pm, so plan to eat late.  

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is must-visit area of Buenos Aires #buenosaires #argentina #travel

Where to eat and drink in Palermo Soho

The list of cafes, restaurants, and bars is practically endless. They range from holes in the wall and affordable to high end and pricy. Choosing a place to go depends on one’s budget and preferences. Visitors can find anything from international cuisines to burgers to beef and pizza. And don’t forget the helado, Argentinean gelato made exactly the way Italian tradition dictates.

Freddo is an established chain of heladerías with a couple of outlets in this neighbourhood (Armenia 1618, Carranza 1869). Persicco, another established chain, makes, perhaps, the best gelato (Honduras 4900, Jerónimo Salguero 2591). Two up-and-coming gelaterias are Lucciano’s (Honduras 4881) and Guapaletas (Costa Rica 4675).

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is must-visit area of Buenos Aires #buenosaires #argentina #travel

Some of the most popular parrillas, as local steakhouses are called, made the 50 best Latin America’s restaurants. Don Julio (Guatemala 4691) received this honour in 2017. La Cabrera (José A. Cabrera 5099) came in 33rd place in 2016 and was 19th in 2015.  Expect slabs of beef cooked to perfection, tender and flavorful. La Cabrera is also known for the myriad little side dishes that come with the beef.  La Carnicería (Thames 2317) is also a trendy parrilla in the area.

Cafe culture is an essential part of life in Buenos Aires. Palermo Soho has its fair share of cafes and tea houses to while away a few hours. Some of the most popular are Nucha (Armenia 1610), Cocu Boulangerie (Malabia 1510), Mark’s Deli & Coffee House (El Salvador 4701), Le Pain Quotidien (Armenia 1641), and Ninina (Gorriti 4738).

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is must-visit area of Buenos Aires #buenosaires #argentina #travel

Craft beer is very popular in Argentina. Palermo Soho, as a trendy area, attracts new businesses and therefore offers a wide selection of cervecerías.  Some of the older, more established brew pubs are Jerome (Malabia 1401), Antares (Armenia 1447), Temple Palermo (Costa Rica 4677), and Cervelar (Cabrera 4399).

Many hip bars help make Palermo Soho nightlife vibrant and fun. Some of the places to see and be seen include Victoria Brown Bar (Costa Rica 4827), hidden behind a coffee shop and which has a steampunk vibe. TAZZ (Armenia 17440 is a local classic, with four bars, sofas, foosball and pool tables, and terraces for smokers distributed in its three stories. Bar Sheldon (Honduras 4969) serves up craft cocktails and live music every night.

From street art to shopping, to craft cocktails, and from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is must-visit area of Buenos Aires #buenosaires #argentina #travel

International cuisines in Palermo Soho are well represented. Taj Mahal (Nicaragua 4345) serves spicy Indian food in a country where food is normally very mild. Las Pizarras (Thames 2296) offers French food with Argentinean flair. Chori (Thames 1653) makes gourmet choripán (Argentinean sausage sandwich). Gran Dabbang (Av. Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz 1543) dishes up Indian and Southeast Asian fare. NOLA Gastropub (Gorriti 4389) serves homemade Cajun food, an unusual cuisine in these parts. Chinese cuisine is represented by The Shanghai Dragon (Aráoz 1197).

Where to stay

Accommodation ranges from budget-friendly, 1-star Palermo Soho Hostel (Nicaragua 4728) to chic boutique hotels like Legado Mítico Buenos Aires (Gurruchaga 1484), Home (Honduras 5860) or Duque (Guatemala 4364).

From street art to shopping, from coffee to craft cocktails, from empanadas to spicy curry, Palermo Soho is a destination in itself with something for everyone.

Lovely Nordic church in Buenos Aires

The influx of European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries has left an enduring legacy in Argentina. Our language, food, literature, and architecture would be vastly different without that influence. Not better nor worse, just different. One of those national groups that came and enriched our culture were the Scandinavians. Today, we can appreciate their legacy in the Nordic Church of Buenos Aires, which serves the Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish and all Lutheran communities. Nowadays, most services are held in Spanish.

Nordic church, Buenos Aires

The church was built in the mid-1940s, although the Swedish congregation had been active since 1918 in rented halls. The main aim of this church was to provide pastoral care to Swedish sailors in Buenos Aires. Initially, the church was Swedish, but later it included other dwindling Scandinavian congregations. The image behind the simple altar, Jesus calling the fishermen, represents that nautical motif. It was painted in Stockholm in the 1980s by Swedish artist Kuno Haglund.

Nordic church, Buenos Aires

The Nordic church is not as touristy as other temples, so you may want to give them a call ahead of your visit and make sure that there will be someone to open the door and show you around. I didn’t call ahead but I was lucky that the secretary, Ms. Eva Jeppsson was available. She very kindly showed me the chapel and explained its history. Ms. Jeppsson was also very patient and agreed to read out verses from the Bible in Swedish for me. I loved its stark, simple beauty. The multi-coloured light coming in through the stained-glass windows made a pleasant contrast to the white walls and dark wood. The pulpit was beautifully carved in light wood.

Nordic church, Buenos Aires

The Club Sueco restaurant rents a space within the church hall. They serve Smorgasbords, lunch, and brunch. It’s advisable to make reservations.

I didn’t know about this church until very recently. I love discovering unknown-to-me places in my hometown. Do you also love to explore your home turf as well?


Tuesdays to Fridays 11 am to 3 pm. 

Eva Jeppsson, Karin Hatzenbuhler 

Email: nordiskakyrkan@gmail.com

Phone (+54 11) 4361-7304

Address: Azopardo 1428, Buenos Aires.

Club Sueco restaurant: (+54 11) 4307-3849

The Nordic Church in Buenos Aires is a little known Lutheran temple where the Nordic community and its descendants meet to worship and socialise. #buenosaires #nordicchurch #Argentina

Distrito Arcos: shop in a beautiful converted railway yard

There are many options to shop in Buenos Aires Continue reading “Distrito Arcos: shop in a beautiful converted railway yard”

Abasto, an area steeped in tango

Although Abasto is referred to as a neighbourhood, it isn’t officially one but an area of Balvanera neighbourhood. Continue reading “Abasto, an area steeped in tango”

Galería Güemes and the observation deck

Anyone walking down Florida Street in a relative hurry might miss the entrance to Galería Güemes Continue reading “Galería Güemes and the observation deck”

Kentucky, a traditional pizzeria of Buenos Aires

Kentucky is the unlikely name of a traditional pizzeria of Buenos Aires founded in 1942. An investment fund bought the brand in 2001 and opened a couple dozen franchises. However, I prefer the original location on the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Godoy Cruz Street, a block from the iron railway bridge. The bridge –Puente Pacífico-, built in 1914 by the British-owned Buenos Aires al Pacífico railway company, lends its name to this area.

Echoes of the Industrial Revolution
Echoes of the Industrial Revolution

Stepping inside Pizzeria Kentucky feels like talking a step back time. The walls are covered with posters, photos and framed newspapers articles and ads: football and boxing stars, tango singers, and TV celebrities of yore happily share wall space. Vintage bottles of vermouth, liqueurs, gin and other beverages decorate the shelves.

pizzeria Buenos Aires

I sit in a corner next to the dessert counter. It’s early for the lunch crowd. One man is getting stuck in and a couple is chatting over coffee. I order a slice of pizza. It’s media masa, the house specialty, a spongy base less thick than deep dish. The crust is smeared with tomato sauce and covered in abundant mozzarella cheese sprinkled with oregano and the mandatory green olive. Every pizza comes with unpitted olives in Buenos Aires. The pizza is not too greasy, not too heavy and it tastes like pizza porteña. It captures the essence of the city. Buenos Aires on a plate.

pizzeria

Kentucky’s slogan is moscato, pizza y fainá. Moscato is a sweetish red wine that was popular in the first half of the 20th century. I, however, drink mineral water. Fainá is the local version of an Italian flatbread made with chickpea flour and olive oil. Each slice of fainá fits a slice of pizza perfectly. Some people like to eat them together. I’m totally indifferent.

Although I have hardly any room left, I’m tempted to order dessert, a postre tipo Balcarce. Fresh whipped cream, dulce de leche, pieces of crunchy meringue and dried fruit piled on top of a slice of thin sponge cake called pionono and sprinkled with coconut flakes. This is a rather old-fashioned dessert; it is not served in trendy restaurants, only in traditional establishments like Kentucky.

 

Address: Av. Santa Fé 4602

Mon – Thu 6:00 am – 2:00 am

Fri-Sat open round the clock

Sun 6:00 am – 2:00 am

They don’t deliver. Come in, sit at one of the Formica tables and experience Buenos Aires

Read about another traditional pizzeria here

10 things to do in Buenos Aires

You’re in Buenos Aires now. Linger over coffee after your meal. There’s no rush. The waiter is not going to slap the check on the table while you’re still chewing on your food. This is also part of the meal and we call it sobremesa. Relax. Enjoy. Bond with your companions.

Don’t fret over tips. Tips are expected in the service industry, of course. Tips are about 10 to 15% of the total charge. If you make a small purchase, like a cup of coffee, round it up and leave the change. The same goes for taxis; drivers don’t expect tips. If you’re feeling generous, round it up and tell them to keep the change, “Quédese con el vuelto”.

Crossing the streets of Buenos Aires can be daunting. Pedestrians need to be aware of vehicular and bicycle traffic. Make sure you look both ways and don’t expect drivers to give way. They may not, especially going round the corner. Be brave yet cautious.

Buenos Aires
Watch out

Take a crash course on Argentinean history. Visit the Recoleta cemetery, where everyone from Independence heroes to former presidents is buried.

Live and breathe tango in San Telmo. Catch a tango show or simply sit under the trees in Plaza Dorrego (on the corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo Streets) and enjoy the street performances. Tip the dancers.

Buenos Aires
Street dancers in San Telmo

Drown your sorrows in a bucket of helado. Porteños, as Buenos Aires inhabitants are known, love their ice-cream. Italian immigrants brought gelato making techniques with them and later generations experimented with new flavours. Any heladeria artesanal will do, but among the best are Volta, Persicco, Freddo, Juauja, and Chungo.

Go back in time at one of the Cafes Notables (historic cafes). Enjoy the quintessentially porteño combo of café con leche con medialunas in an old world atmosphere. The croissants are smaller, denser and sweeter than their French counterparts but delicious nonetheless.

Buenos Aires

Experience the traditional atmosphere and old-fashioned pizza at one of the pizzerias notables (historic pizzerias): Banchero, Los Inmortales, Las Curtetas, El Cuartito, Kentucky, to name a few.

Get to know famous cartoon characters at Paseo de la Historieta (Cartoon Walk) in Montserrat, San Telmo and Puerto Madero. This walk pays homage to those characters beloved by generations of Argentineans.

Go cycling or power walking in Costanera Sur, and enjoy great views of Buenso Aires. Reward yourself with a choripán (sausage sandwich) or a bondiola (grilled pork) sandwich at one of the parrilla stands.

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Guided visit to the Colón Opera House in Buenos Aires

What do vanilla wafers and the Colón Opera House have in common?

Opera!

Teatro Colón (Colón Opera Hoouse) is Argentina’s leading opera house, opened in 1908. Opera is also a popular brand of vanilla wafers made by a company called Bagley. They were launched in 1906 under a different name but the manufacturer decided to change it to Opera to honor the magnificent new opera house. Both have delighted generations of Argentineans to this day.

My mother and I took three of my nieces on a guided visit of “el Colón,” as it’s affectionately known. Our guide, Javier, was a delight. The tour started at the main entrance hall, on Libertad Street. This is where the other half makes a grand entrance. The more humble ticket holders go in through the Tucumán and Viamonte side entrances. It’s been this way ever since the opera house was opened in 1908.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
Main entrance hall

The main focal point of the hall, the grand Carrara marble staircase, symbolizes the link between the mundane and the world of the arts. The columns that support the ceiling are covered in different kinds of marble: red from Verona, yellow from Siena and pink from Portugal. The stained glass window is from Paris. The building, eclectic in style, was inspired by the great opera houses of Europe.

We mounted the stairs, worthy of the scene where Cinderella loses her crystal slipper, towards the Hall of Busts. Theatre-goers use this area during the intermission to stretch their legs, have drinks, chat, while Bizet, Beethoven, Rossini, Gounod, Mozart, Bellini, Verdi and Wagner look down from high up.

Javier told us that, in the past, the season was very short; it lasted for the winter only. The reason was that only time the European companies were able to travel to South America was during their summer. When the season finished, the Teatro Colón was closed until the following year. All this changed in 1920, when the Colón’s orchestra and ballet company were created and the season lasted from March to December. However, the Teatro Colón hosted a number of internationally renowned artists like Luciano Pavarotti, Igor Stravinsky or Maya Plisetskaya.

The lavish Golden Room sparkles, glitters and glimmers. Every surface is covered with gold leaf, gold dust paint and big mirrors. The floor is Slavonian oak. Thanks to the restoration undertaken between 2001 and 2010, the name of the artist that painted the linen ceiling was discovered. It was a Monsieur Romieu, forgotten or unknown for decades. The Golden Room is used for master classes, auditions and more intimate concerts.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
All that glitters is gold

We then moved on to the splendid concert hall. Our guide asked us to be very quiet. There was an audition going on and we didn’t want to disturb the candidates. We silently filed into one of the boxes, sat down and enjoyed part the audition. It felt like a privilege.

We were in an official box used by various authorities on special occasions. The President and the Mayor have their own boxes at either side of the stage, in a location called avant-scène. In the past, the widows could not be seen in public, so if they wanted to enjoy the ballet or the opera, they had to sit behind black railings inside enclosed boxes. Of course, widowers had carte blanche to have a merry old time.

Guided visit to the magnificent Colón Opera House (1908) in Buenos Aires, Argentina #buenosaires #travel #argentina
A candidate belting out during the audition. The widows’ boxes can be barely seen in the bottom right-hand corner.

The hall can seat up to 2,400 people. 300 more people can stand in the upper levels. Its horseshoe shape and open boxes mean that the sound can travel freely, making for almost perfect acoustics. The giant chandelier weighs a ton, literally. The renowned Argentinean artist Raúl Soldi painted the inside of the dome. There is a narrow corridor around the dome, well hidden from view, where musicians and singers can create special effects, like a chorus of angels coming from above. I wouldn’t be able to climb up there, let alone carry an instrument!

And for good measure, an old Opera commercial. I shouldn’t say old because I can remember watching it! The quality isn’t very good, I’m afraid, but the sentimental value is there.

Barrancas de Belgrano park in Buenos Aires

Plaza Barrancas de Belgrano is a leafy public park located in the eponymous neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. Its downward slope (barranca) towards the river gave it its name and makes it unique in the city. Or rather, it slopes down to where the river Plate used to be before the wetlands were dredged and filled in.

The park was designed by French architect Charles Thays in 1892, who also designed  the Botanical Gardens, among others, and is located in a quite posh and tony area.

Let’s take a stroll together.

Barrancas de Belgrano07
The land belonged to Dr. Valentin Alsina (1802-1869,) an Argentinean lawyer and politician. His house (photo) was built in 1856 in the Italianate style popular at the time and nowadays is dwarfed by modern tall apartment buildings. It now houses a foundation.

Pergola

This band stand was built in time for the Centenary celebrations (1910.) Nowadays, a group of musicians organize milongas (tango dances) every evening and everyone is welcome to join.

This historic construction (1905) was once the park keeper's residence. In 2011 it was repurpused into a children's lending library called La Reina Batata after a nursery rhyme by singer, author and songwriter Maria Elena Walsh. Her music and books have influenced generations of Argentineans, including me.
This historic construction (1905) was once the park keeper’s residence. In 2011 it was purposed as a children’s lending library called La Reina Batata after a nursery rhyme by singer, author and songwriter Maria Elena Walsh. Her music and books have influenced generations of Argentineans, myself included.

One of the many paths that crisscross Plaza Barrancas
One of the many paths that crisscross Plaza Barrancas

Beautiful terrace overlooking the park
Beautiful terrace overlooking the park

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