20 Reasons to Visit Buenos Aires Now
It’s impossible to capture the charm of Buenos Aires in one description. Its restaurant and art scene is vibrant as ever, with new venues opening nearly each day. And its historic cafes are always alluring — and ideal for some prime people-watching — while its speakeasy scene remains impossibly cool. It’s not an exaggeration to say Buenos Aires has something for everyone, that is, if you’re willing to look for it.
Buenos Aires is a dynamic place whose sophistication and fashionable locals echo Western capitals like Milan, and where reinvention is as valued as the past. Rollercoaster politics aside, Buenos Aires is proud of its literary heritage — heroes new and old like Silvina Ocampo, Jose Luis Borges and Samanta Schewblin — and it shows in its lively bookstores and historical landmarks. The city also it loves its steak — how can it not when you pair it with Malbec — which almost always guarantees a great meal.
If those aren’t enough reasons to entice you to go, here are 20 more to put on your radar.
Argentinians take their beef seriously, and for good reason: the parrillada, or mixed grill, is a longtime tradition and the prime cuts are plentiful (and exceptional). When ordering the latter, don’t expect the waiter to plunk down a steak knife and sauce and call it a day. Porteños smother their medium-cooked ojo de bife (rib eye) or vacÍo (flank steak) with colorful salsa criolla, a side dish of tomato, onion and parsley, or chimichurri, a tasty sauce made of olive oil, garlic and parsley.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Housed in a nearly century-old theatre in the Barrio Norte neighborhood, the Grand Splendid was converted into a bookshop at the turn of the millennium and now welcomes millions of visitors each year. Here you’ll find a standard selection of books, mostly in Spanish, along with a coffee shop and live piano music on the same stage where tango legend Carlos Gardel once performed.
A Strong Cafe Culture
It’s impossible to visit Buenos Aires without dropping into one of its old-school cafes, living embodiments of the city’s past as a literary hub. El Federal, which dates back to 1864, is a focal point of San Telmo, where the window seats beckon you to people-watch while sampling a tapas dish. In Palermo, the salmon-hued El Preferido De Palermo nods to its past life as a grocery store — and haunt of Jorge Luis Borges, who grew up on the same block — with hanging hams and stacks of canned pumpkins
A Speakeasy Culture
Most people equate Buenos Aires with Malbec, but there’s more to the city’s bar scene than wine. At Frank’s in Palmero Hollywood, eager guests must figure out a password in order to enter a smaller room. Then, a secret code entered in a phone booth grants them access to a swanky bar where the cocktails are artfully mixed, if a tad overpriced. At Bar Isabel in trendy Palmero Soho, a limited number of tables means you’d better sign up for the guest list.
Boutique Luxury Hotels
Stylish options abound for hip travelers in search of something better than what the chain hotels have to offer. In Villa Crespo, Pop Hotel serves breakfast in a retro-pop setting with 44 rooms, while Legado Mítico, in Palermo Soho, offers 11 rooms themed around distinctive personalities in Argentinian culture.
The sensual dance is as much a part of Argentina’s identity as goat intestines with chile (which are delicious, by the way). So don’t miss your chance to see the dance live in person. Milongas, or dance halls, are a good to way to go and you’ll want to book seats in advance. Our picks: La Catedral, a no-frills joint near Amalgro that’s great for beginners, and La Viruta in Palermo, where the party lasts all night.
Sure, most of the coffee you’ll find in the classic cafes appears stuck in the past. But if you’re willing to venture out, you’ll be well rewarded with creative coffee. In San Telmo’s market amid the vintage toys and spices, is Coffee Town — former journalist José Vales ode to Central American coffee — where beans from Colombia and Brazil, along with his country’s own output, are on offer. In upscale Belgrano, look for All Saints Cafe, where the Colombian espresso is deliciously bold.
It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when Argentina wasn’t on wine lovers' radars. But only in the past decade or so has it become one of the world’s fastest growing exporters of wines, especially Malbec. Mendoza, near the stunning Andes Mountains, is the hub of Argentinian wine regions and worth a two- or three-day visit if you go. In the meantime, match a glass of red with your grilled sausage — you won’t soon regret it.
Anyone who’s watched Chef’s Table knows Francis Mallman, the eccentric grill master from Patagonia, who may be the world’s most enigmatic chef. His Argentinean restaurant Patagonia Sur is in an unlikely location — the working class neighborhood of La Boca — but that doesn’t make its townhouse setting any less homey. Most of his signature dishes, like rib eye with chimichurri and potatoes, come from Patagonia, and the kitchen staff is one of the finest.
Mallman himself told Food & Wine this Palermo staple is “one of the most cozy and glamorous cafes in Buenos Aires.” Beyond the airy, all-white ambiance, you’ll enjoy the seasonal menu, which allows customers to assemble their dishes any way they want, like a picnic. Each day, a selection of sandwiches and healthy salads (think quinoa with cherry tomatoes) are up for grabs.
Brazilian Modern may get all the love, but Argentina is a force to reckon with in the contemporary design world. Feria Purio Diseño remains the city’s foremost design fair, uniting BA’s brightest talents, while curators worldwide have warmed up to its scene. The fair offers a prestigious showcase at outlets such as WantedDesign Manhattan (2016) and the Museum of Modern Art, which gathered 13 luminaries for its two-month-long Destination: Buenos Aires in 2007.
Each spring, fashion lovers flock to BA’s Fashion Week. Creativity is key, but each designer is distinct, proving the city has much to offer in the way of an international vision. Last year, Dubie’s “Mundo Ordinario” (Ordinary World) collection celebrated strong women with classic staples like trench coats while Marcelo Giacobbe’s collection of 10 looks, inspired by El Bosco’s The Garden of Delight, focused on garments floating over the body.
Bar de Cao
Avenida Independencia, a bustling street lined with shops and cafes in San Cristóbal, doesn’t look so attractive to tourists. But Bar de Cao, which dates back to 1915, is worth a visit. With its old-timey wooden fixtures, handwritten menu and spice cabinets, it feels of another time. The vibe is super laid-back, so make yourself comfortable with a café con leche and stay awhile.
The storied mansion on Plaza de Mayo, supposedly painted from cow’s blood in a hue that represents the red and white of Argentina’s two original political parties, is a treat for tourists. It's from the second-floor balcony that first lady Eva Perón rallied hundreds of thousands of workers and where curious visitors can catch a free guided tour today.
Opened in 1822, this labyrinth-like cemetery is a feast for the eyes, with over 6,400 dazzling statues, coffins and crypts. The tomb of Eva Perón is a popular tourist attraction, but look out for the art nouveau tomb of Rufina Cambaceres, built from Carrera marble. According to its site, over 90 of the tombs in Recoleta are listed as national historical monuments.
The graffiti in Buenos Aires says a lot about the city, and Graffiti Mundo, an organization supporting local street artists, brings you closer. Book a street tour of Colegiales and Palermo Hollywood, where you’ll get a sense of the movement as it’s happening now, along with an intro to the city’s history of “expression in the streets.” The company’s most popular tour, Street Art Origins, takes visitors through the barrios of Colegiales, Chacarita, Villa Crespo and Palermo, with stops in two urban art galleries. Be sure to book online in advance.
If tickets are sold out — not a surprise considering the likes of Pavarotti have performed here — then opt for a guided tour or sitting through a rehearsal. The century-old theater is an architectural gem with a horseshoe-shaped main hall that adheres to the strictest standards of Italian and French theater. The building’s construction took around 20 years, and it was recently re-opened after a lengthy renovation in 2010.
Landscape architect Carlos Hays designed this gem of a garden, opened in 1898. With over 3,000 tree and plant species, a collection of Roman-style sculptures and a central building that looks like an English castle, it’s a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle you’ll find around Plaza Italia.
Get your jazz, blues, funk and soul fix at this spare music space under a restaurant and wine bar. Just two blocks from Plaza de Mayo in the historic city center, the club serves a first-rate selection of cocktails and nibbles, not to mention some colorful programming. On Saturday, you may find singer Maria Cueto honoring Billie Holiday, while on Friday, swing duo Mel Muñiz and Rodrigo Nuñez belt out ballads by Hoagy Carmichael.
Latin American Art
Considered by many to be one of the best art museums on the continent, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba) is not to be missed. From exhibitions on Sara Facio’s documentary-style photos to seminal work by Spanish legends like Frida Kahlo, you’re guaranteed to be moved, or at least entertained.