Recoleta (uptown and classic), Palermo-Hollywood (relaxed and hip), San Telmo (the oldest neighborhood), and Puerto Madero (the waterfront neighborhood and one of the newest in Buenos Aires).
Three days may sound like an eternity but it is the bare minimum stay that we recommend for first-timers in the Argentine capital. Why? Find our arguments below 😉
Wake up early and lace up a pair of comfortable shoes, its time to begin exploring Recoleta, one of the safest and cleanest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, known for its Paris-styled former palaces, posh boutiques, restaurants and landmarks. Within walking distance from anywhere in the neighborhood, you will be able to make your way to one of the most beautiful cemeteries in South America where the most famous attraction is without a doubt the tomb of Eva Peron (or as she is more famously known as, Evita).
Stop for a coffee or a beer at the nearby cafe La Biela, declared a Place of Cultural Interest by the city, a stylish historic cafe that looks like something straight out of the 1950’s and a once very popular hangout for politicians, writers, artists, actors and media celebrities, La Biela acquired its present name when it became a popular meeting place for racing car champions, including the five times Formula One world champion and Argentine, Juan Manuel Fangio.
A little further away from the cemetery (about 20-minute walk) will bring you to another incredible historic landmark, El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookshop, named the ‘World's most beautiful bookstore’ by the National Geographic, and aptly so, as this once theater turned bookstore has even been described as ‘the temple of books’.
We scheduled our visit to the traditional neighborhood in San Telmo on a Sunday so that we could visit San Telmo Sunday Fair. If you love flea markets this is the place for you!
Many of the 19th-century mansions around Dorrego Square have been recycled and transformed into cafes and restaurants and offer a great alternative if you are not a fan of vintage.
A tip if you are into history, just a five-minute walk from Dorrego Square you find 'El Zanjon de Granados' - internationally recognized as an archaeological wonder of the city.
The facade of this 19th-century mansion provides no inkling of the hidden wonders within. During the guided tour you'll catch a glimpse of colonial Buenos Aires' past as you descend through the beautifully illuminated network of underground tunnels and see objects found during the excavation.
In 2018 El Zanjon was chosen by the Norwegian Queen Sonja and King Harald as the venue to host a dinner during their official visit to Argentina.
Our next stop was at La Boca, the famous spot for that obligatory photo of the colorful houses built by the European immigrants that came to Buenos Aires.
Just a few minutes drive away from La Boca you will find yourself in ‘Barracas’, if you are into urban street art this will be the perfect ‘detour’ through the city for you. You will notice that there are no tourists here, only very colorful and expressive houses and walls painted by urban artists from across the globe. Make sure not to miss the 2000-square meter work of street art, ‘El Regreso de Quinquela’, which was the biggest street mural in the world before 2016, created by the artist Alfredo Segatori.
If you're a football fan, then take a turn past La Bombonera football stadium, home of the world-famous Boca Juniors football club, and a pitch which has been graced by the presence of legendary players such as Maradona.
Once back at La Boca, head to the Cafe at the Proa Museum for a snack or cold beer on their top floor which features incredible views of the port from the terrace. A set menu is served daily here with fresh and homey food in a relaxing atmosphere and surrounded by art. Best of all, you don't have to pay the admission fee to the museum in order to access it (although we would definitely recommend taking a look while you're there).
In the evening, head to Puerto Madero where you will be able to behold one of its most iconic landmarks, the Woman’s Bridge, beautifully illuminated in a variety of colors and always ready for a photo opportunity. It is hard to believe that the three-story red bricks buildings alongside the river that are home to some of the city’s most upmarket restaurants were once warehouses.
Although I typically consume meat sparingly, I couldn't resist the opportunity to indulge in a steak while visiting the steak capital, and thus decided to dine at Don Julio. Interestingly, at the time of our visit, the restaurant hadn't yet made it onto the prestigious list of the 50 Best Restaraunts worldwide. Despite that, we were fortunate enough to secure a table for a birthday celebration (1 month in advance).
Today booking a table at Don Julio requires a minimum of three months' notice. However, one of our colleagues decided to test their luck and simply show up. Patient patrons awaiting last-minute availability were generously treated to complimentary sparkling wine and 'empanadas' while comfortably seated at the outdoor tables. They got a table at 1:00 am.
This day is completely dedicated to exploring the city center, the Pink House in Plaza de Mayo, the Town Hall, the Obelisk as well as a visit to the impressive Colon Theater, with its flawless acoustics and countless hostings of world-class operas, ballets, and classical music acts for just over a hundred years, some of which include Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti and Maria Callas to name a few from the countless famous acts that have graced the worlds’ most incredible stage with their presence.
If you are in town during the weekend book a guided visit for 'Colon Fabrica' for a look behind the scenes. At Colon everything what is needed for a production as scenery, costumes, special effects, etc come from its own workshops.
If you are looking for a snack and are still in the city center, then it is most definitely ‘empanada’ time! Empanadas are the quintessential fast-food staple in Argentinean and are baked pastries that are stuffed with a wide selection of savory (and incredibly delicious) fillings and if you're looking to taste one of the most amazing empanadas, then the restaurant called 1810 Cocina Regional is where you will want to go.
Get back to your hotel for a well-deserved break and shower before a tango show. There is a large number of tango shows in town. Our favorite one is the Rojo Tango at the Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero, a uniquely beautiful hotel with signature splashes of crimson from the hotels designer, Philippe Starck, which can be found tastefully placed everywhere.
You can either attend only the show or book the a-la-carte dinner that precedes the show. From the moment you enter the Faena Hotel, you feel like a VIP guest as you walk along the red carpet an make your way towards the show’s venue (the same place where the dinner is served before).
Pictures are not allowed during the show. The exception the night we attended was made for the British boy group One Direction. They could have a short shooting session with the dancers at the end of the show ;-).
If you prefer something a little bit more ‘local’ or down-to-earth, then a ‘milonga’ is what you are looking for. 'Milongas' are organized events where people gather to socialize and dance the tango and they are held throughout Buenos Aires almost every day. Check ‘Hoy Milonga’ for an updated schedule.
More often than not, the milongas will start after dinner, so you will still have plenty of time for an evening stroll through Palermo, littered with cafés, restaurants and boutiques, it is trendy, creative, young and chic - a destination for foodies, art lovers and shopaholics alike.
A great dining option in Palermo is ‘Niño Gordo’ (Fat Boy), its quirky and fun interior has catapulted this creative Asian-style steakhouse into the limelight by being one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in town. Japanese, Korean, and Chinese flavors meet Argentine traditions and are served in an intimate dining area.
Fancy a coffee and a sweet treat in an intimate and unique setting? Then head to the ‘MALBA’, located on the tranquil and historic Avenida Figueroa Alcorta in Palermo. The ‘MALBA’ houses both historical and contemporary collections of art by Latin American artists, including the famous Frida Kahlo.
MALBA’s cafe, ‘Ninina Malba’ overlooks the green ‘Republica del Peru Park’ where you can enjoy a brunch together with mild weather and some toasty sunshine, as we did when we visited in April. The cafe is a lovely place to slow down and relax before heading back to the hotel for some packing in the evening.
For those eager to take home a souvenir, there is an onsite museum store that has some really amazing notebooks, jewelry and other knick-knacks. If you are an art-lover, then you should take a stroll through some of the permanent and ongoing temporary collections and also enjoy the overwhelming contemporary architecture.
Before you make your way out of the city and onto your next destination, or home, do not leave the city without having tried ‘mate’ (a caffeine-enriched yerba mate leave tea that is slightly bitter, yet absolutely delicious), if you ask at your hotel reception desk, they will be able to suggest some restaurants and mate bars for a final deep dive into the ‘mate’ culture.
Serena ($$) In contemporary style and with a superb location in Recoleta this 34-room hotel offers great value.
Four Seasons Buenos Aires ($$$) Another 20th-century mansion converted in a property offering the best in modern comfort with European-style glamour and a uniquely Argentine twist. Subtle nods to the polo culture in Argentina. Well-located in Recoleta.
Faena + Universe ($$$$) The converted granary in the new ‘barrio’ and upmarket neighborhood of Puerto Madero. Designed by Philippe Starck it became an instant hit and a magnet for celebrities.