Buenos Aires is one of the largest and most tourist-ready capital cities in Latin America and, thanks to historic architecture and the attitude of many locals, can sometimes feel like a city in Europe. As New Yorkers, we love and recognize much about Buenos Aires (the walkability, the diversity, the flagrant artiness) and we’ve spent months in the city over multiple visits spanning many years. During that time we’ve explored much of the city both on the beaten path and off the beaten path. Here’s our deep dive into 29 things to do in Buenos Aires.You’ll notice that there are no traditional museums listed in this post. That’s because there are so many great museums in the capital that we’ve devoted an entire post to Museums in Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires on foot
By far, the number one thing to do in Buenos Aires is to simply walk around. The city is made up of distinct neighborhoods that are best explored on foot. And you won’t be alone. Porteños (as those who live in Buenos Aires are called) walk a lot and, unlike walkers in other parts of Latin America, they often do it at a New York City pace. We find ourselves getting lapped by people on the sidewalk here all the time and we love it.
As you wander around neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, you’ll notice many things including architecture, parks, tempting restaurants and bars, traditional shops, contemporary shops, small parks, and much more. You will also notice a lot of dog poop.Buenos Aires is a notoriously dog-loving city and many residents have pet dogs. It’s not uncommon to see professional dog walkers on the sidewalks leashed up to 10 or more dogs at a time. In 2016, the Argentine government banned dog racing which meant the city was flooded with hundreds of freshly-unemployed racing greyhounds that needed to be adopted. This helps explain why we saw a disproportionate number of greyhounds when we were in the city. The overall result is that there are a lot of dogs on the street in Buenos Aires and not enough owners (or dog walkers) picking up their poop.
What to do in Buenos Aires: the classics
Buenos Aires is a very large and very cosmopolitan city with attractions and activities galore. The following options are classic things to do in Buenos Aires. We have not listed prices or entry fees in this post. That’s because when we visited these attractions in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean economy was in freefall and prices (and exchange rates) were changing daily.
Obelisco de Buenos AiresThe Obelisco de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aire Obelisk) is an iconic fixture of the Buenos Aires skyline. The 221-foot (67.5 meter) structure was completed in 1936 to mark the quadricentennial anniversary of the founding of the city in 1536. The national historic monument is located on Avenida 9 de Julio (named for the date on which Argentina gained independence) which is up to 14 lanes wide and ranked as one of the widest avenues in the world. A lot of those rousing images you saw of Argentineans celebrating their country’s 2023 World Cup win showed huge crowds gathered around the obelisk completely filling the massive boulevard.
Plaza de MayoPlaza de Mayo is the most historic and most important square in Buenos Aire. It’s surrounded by some of the most important governmental and civic buildings in the city including the Casa Rosada (the pink building in the photo above) which is home to the Presidential office, the Cabildo (see below), the Metropolitan Cathedral (see below), and other important landmarks.
The CabildoIn 1580, the Museo Nacional del Cabildo de Buenos Aires y de la Revolucion de Mayo (usually simply called the Cabildo) was established as the city’s administrative center on what is now Plaza de Mayo. Over the years, the structure has been changed, expanded, and reduced (parts of the building were demolished to make way for city avenues). Today this historic structure is home to the Museo Nacional del Cabildo y la Revolución de Mayo (National Historical Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution) where you can see artifacts (including documents, paintings, clothing, and more) from Spanish colonial occupation and from the revolution against Spanish rule. Photographers: visit the balcony for a great perspective over Plaza de Mayo.
The Metropolitan CathedralYes, the Neoclassical facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires looks big and bland. However, inside you’ll find an elaborate sanctuary. What started out as a humble wooden church in the 16th century is now an imposing structure full of impressive touches including a Roccoco wooden altar covered in gold leaf, an organ with 3,500 pipes, and Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Classical elements. The cathedral is also home to the remains of beloved liberator Jose de San Martin (above right) and this is also where (now) Pope Francis used to lead mass.
Manzana de las Luces
A block off of Plaza de Mayo, you’ll find the Complejo Histórico Cultural Manzana de las Luces (Block of Enlightenment Historical Complex). Built as a Jesuit monastery in the 17th century, this complex of brick buildings includes a church, a college, and other structures plus a network of underground tunnels that may have been used for smuggling goods. The space is now used as a cultural center hosting outdoor movies and live performances and is usually open to visitors as an al fresco museum. However, when we visited the structures were covered in scaffolding (hence, we have no photo) and the place was temporarily closed.
Teatro ColonThe Teatro Colon opera house is a source of cultural and architectural pride. After 20 years of construction, it originally opened in 1857. The theater was then rebuilt and re-opened in 1908 with a performance of Verdi’s Aïda. Today, it’s the largest auditorium in South America with a capacity of 2,500 seated and another 500 standing. Guided tours in English and Spanish reveal insights about materials (exotic woods and lots of marble), techniques (stained glass and mosaic floors), and architectural styles (at least three) and include a visit to the Officials’ Box, home to 36 exclusive seats which command the most expensive tickets in the house.
Colon FabricaThe Colon Theater is one of only three opera houses in the world (along with the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the National Opera House in Paris) that operates workshops and employs artisans (hundreds of them) to create all of the elements for its productions. In 2021, a warehouse in the La Boca neighborhood was transformed into a space where some of the 80,000 costumes, thousands of set pieces, countless props, and other elements that have been used to stage Teatro Colon productions can be displayed. It’s called Colon Fabrica and it’s a behind-the-scenes winner. Some items on display are more than 100 years old and, weirdly, you can touch whatever you want.
Recoleta CemeteryYes, the Recoleta Cemetery is a major tourist attraction and you certainly won’t have the place to yourself, but it’s famous for a reason. Here you’ll find nearly 4,700 mausoleums and vaults, many of them the final resting place of the most famous politicians, artists, actors, and Nobel Prize winners in the country. The mausoleums are designed in a range of styles and the park-like setting is a relaxing place to wander as you look for the bold names, including the boldest of them all: Evita (Eva) Perón, hallowed wife of President Juan Perón. If you want to be sure you see all of the highlights and hear all of the spooky legends, hire a guide at the gate, or download this in-depth PDF guide before you go so you can explore the cemetery armed with a map of the highlights. NOTE: during our most recent visit to this cemetery, they were not accepting cash (credit or debit card only).
Chacarita CemeteryBy contrast, the Chacarita Cemetery (free), in the Chacarita neighborhood, is a roomy and egalitarian resting place, home to the dead from many (though not all) levels of society. The most notable dearly departed here is Carlos Gardel, beloved Argentinean actor, singer, songwriter, and icon of tango.
See a tango show
Speaking of tango…Tango was born in Buenos Aires and it remains an important part of the culture of the city. You can see tango in different ways in Buenos Aires, including during milonga tango dancing events and flashy tourist-oriented tango shows. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to attend a tango show at Michelangelo where a historic warehouse has been converted into a restaurant, theater, and bar. Our dinner (expect Argentinean classics like beef, homemade pasta, etc.) in one of the two dining rooms (both located in barrel-like brick spaces that were once important storage facilities), was better than expected but you don’t come here for the food. After dinner, guests are ushered upstairs and into an intimate theater to watch lusty tango performances and demonstrations of other traditional skills accompanied by a live band and punctuated by singers of traditional songs. See for yourself in our Michelangelo tango show video, above.
La Glorieta tango night
For a more low-key and grassroots tango encounter, head to the gazebo in Parque Barrancas del Belgrano in the Belgrano neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday evenings around 7 pm. That’s when tango aficionados take over the gazebo (called a glorieta Spanish), set up a small sound system, and partner up. Dancers are old, young, skilled, novice, dressed to the nines, and decked out in sweatpants. What they all have in common is a love of tango. See the action in our Buenos Aires tango video, above.
San Telmo MarketThe San Telmo neighborhood is one of the oldest in Buenos Aires. Originally inhabited by members of the upper classes, the area is now an appealing combination of bohemian and old-school with art galleries rubbing shoulders with hundred-year-old bars and Plaza Dorego hosting flea markets and live tango demonstrations. Wander the ‘hood, but leave time to visit the historic San Telmo Market where you can shop for antiques and get some of the best empanadas in the city (head straight for a stand called El Hornero) along with a long list of other foods from notable vendors. Come hungry.
Puerto MaderoThe Puerto Madero area of the city is home to modern highrise apartment buildings, restaurants, bars, and cafes recently created in a historic port area. It’s worth a stroll through Puerto Madero to admire the Puente de la Mujer (Women’s Bridge). Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the soaring and sparkling white bridge is lovely. For those who want to walk more, you can access the Reserva Ecologico Costanera Sur (Coastal Ecological Reserve) from Puerto Madero. This 865-acre (350-hectare) reserve is home to miles of trails through wetlands, woodlands, and along the Rio Plata.
The Botanical GardenBuenos Aires is a remarkably green city with little parks all over the place and plenty of trees that bring some peace to the metropolis. If you’re craving a larger and more organized park experience, head to the city’s Botanical Garden (free). Formally proposed in 1892 and ultimately designed by French landscape architect Julio Carlos Thays, this is a planned space created to showcase specific species from specific spots on the map. Here you’ll find stands of more than 40 species of palms, enormous cacti, forested areas, waterways, and birds and butterflies attracted to it all. Toss in inviting pathways, a few outdoor sculptures, some fountains, and plenty of benches and you’ve got an urban oasis.
Parque Tres de FebreroParque Tres de Febrero, also sometimes called Bosques del Palermo, is a 1,000-acre (400-hectare) city park in the Palermo neighborhood. The park is home to a running/walking/biking loop, paddle boats, busts of dozens of famous writers, and the Paso El Rosedal rose garden. During South American spring and summer, the more than 18,000 rose bushes that are planted in El Rosedal, which dates back more than 100 years, bloom beautifully.
The Japanese GardenFor a more formal garden experience, check out the 5-acre (2-hectare) Jardín Japonés (Japanese Garden) in Palermo. Here you can enjoy manicured gardens, gurgling waterways, and attractive footbridges. Private tea ceremonies are also with prior reservations. Be prepared to share the park with flocks of field-tripping school groups at times.
City polo matchArgentina did not invent polo, but it has perfected it. There are only nine polo players in the world who have achieved a 10 handicap (the highest possible ranking). Eight of them are from Argentina (the ninth is from Uruguay). Argentina is also producing some of the best polo ponies in the world. So we should not have been surprised to discover a full-fledged polo ground smack in the middle of Buenos Aires, nor did we miss the chance to catch a match there. The venue, called Campo Argentino de Polo and considered one of the most modern and comfortable polo stadiums in the world, also hosts concerts (Metalica, Shakira, Oasis, Paul McCartney, Santana, and Dua Lipa have all performed here). If you’re in Buenos Aires in November you have the chance to see the annual Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo (Argentine Open Polo Championship) which showcases the very best riders and horses.
Plaza San Martin and Torre MonumentalPlaza San Martin, in the Retiro neighborhood, is named for Jose de San Martin, an Argentinean general widely credited with liberating Argentina, Peru, and Chile from Spanish rule. In addition to the large and very dramatic statue of San Martin, other notable features of this green plaza, which was inaugurated in 1862 and is now a National Monument, include the Torre Monumental clock tower and the Monumento a los Caídos en Malvinas (Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas) which features black marble plaques commemorating the 649 Argentineans who died during the 1982 conflict with England over the Malvinas (aka Falkland) Islands.
ChinatownMany great metropolises have a Chinatown and Buenos Aires is no different. Walking through the city’s Barrio Chino, home to Chinese markets, Chinese restaurants, and a large population of Chinese/Argentineans, feels like entering a different city. For a legit taste of China, head for Royal Mansion, a cavernous 2-story restaurant that attracts members of the city’s Chinese community with a large menu of traditional dishes and dim sum.
What to do in Buenos Aires: the quirky
Knocked off the classics? Now make time for these quirky things to do in Buenos Aires.
Palacio Barolo tourWhen work was completed on the Palacio Barolo in 1923, it was the tallest building in Latin America and the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. Today, this building is home to one of the most unusual tours in Buenos Aires. The building was conceived by Luis Barolo who hired architect Mario Palanti to bring Dante Alighieri’s poem “The Divine Comedy” to life in architectural form. Heaven, hell, and purgatory are all represented in the structure and the interior spaces of the building which is now full of offices.
Rodin and Botero sculpturesBuenos Aires is an art-loving town and many parks have sculptures in them and it’s fun to stumble upon them. Two notable pieces of outdoor art include a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero which stands in Parque Thays. And seek out a relatively diminutive sculpture of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, the second President of Argentina, which is in a corner of Parque Tres de Febrero across Avenida Sarmiento. Created by Auguste Rodin and sent to Buenos Aires from France, this depiction of Sarmiento was reviled by many porteños at the time because they didn’t think it looked like the influential politician and writer. The sculpture had to be guarded against vandals for a period of time.
Palacio de Aguas CorrientesWe jokingly refer to this as the toilet museum–and there are a lot of toilets to be seen–but this is really a public works facility full of history and artifacts that celebrate progress in the form of mass sanitation. The arrival of clean water for drinking, bathing, washing, and, yes, toileting improved the health and happiness of communities everywhere. At the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (Palace of Running Water, free) on the fringe of the Recoleta neighborhood, visitors can enter the 19th-century city waterworks building to see sanitation artifacts including pipe fixtures, water taps (some helpfully cut in half so you can see how they work), massive water tanks, and (of course) toilets. The building itself, which occupies an entire block, is a marvel as well with a tin roof, landscaped grounds, busts made by European masters, and a facade decorated with more than 300,000 glazed tiles and enameled bricks imported from Daulton in London (at the time of construction, that was more than the number of people living in Buenos Aires). The lobby of the building is still used by the city water department of Buenos Aires and citizens buzz in and out to pay their water bills.
Caminata La BocaThe La Boca area of the city, once a no-go zone for travelers, is experiencing a revitalization. One reason to visit is the Caminata La Boca self-guided walking tour through a handful of streets on which residents have painted their simple homes in vibrant primary colors. Over time, a flea market (mostly selling tourist junk), some overpriced restaurants, and tango couples charging for photos have sprung up as well. The streets can get pretty packed with visitors and it can feel a bit like a tourist trap, so focus on the determined hopefulness of the painted houses.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid BookstoreBookstores are alive and well in Buenos Aires and the grandest one of them all is El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Opened as a theater in 1919, this multi-level ode to reading has been ranked among the most beautiful bookstores in the world thanks to theatrical touches like ceiling frescoes, theater boxes, stage curtains, and other details. Renovated into a bookstore in 2000, the 22,000 square foot (2,000 square meter) space holds thousands of titles.
La Bomba de Tiempo
Every Monday night for more than a decade, a phalanx of drummers has taken the outdoor stage in the courtyard of the Konex Cultural Center to be led by a rotating cast of “maestros” who employ a complicated system of hand and body signals to conduct the percussionists. It’s called La Bomba de Tiempo and it’s two hours of rhythmic joy that’s like a guided drum circle. The performance we saw, which attracted all types from tattooed hipsters to old couples to expats to travelers, also featured a female singer who joined for a few songs including a very good cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” performed with just her voice and the drums. Check it out in our La Bomba de Tiempo video, above.
A day at the trackNot every city has a racetrack within city limits, but Buenos Aires does. Hipodromo Argentina de Palermo, in the Palermo neighborhood, was founded in 1876 and has been expanded and changed over the years. Considered one of the most modern racetracks in the world, the racetrack in Buenos Aires now has an attached casino and sprawling grounds with food stands and beer vendors. Visit the paddock to observe horses and jockeys before they hit the sand race track for the next race. And, of course, you can bet on the races. Overall, the track has a state fair-like atmosphere with families and kids milling around with old track dogs arguing and betting.
The Floralis Generica sculptureThe Floralis Generica sculpture, in United Nations Park, near the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes, is hard to miss. Created by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, the 18-ton, 75-foot (23-meter) tall gleaming stainless steel sculpture of a flower was built to rotate, open, and close its petals to follow the sun. The first time we saw the sculpture in 2019 it was, indeed, moving. However, during our most recent visit in 2022, it seemed to have stopped moving. Fun fact: the materials for the sculpture were provided by Lockheed Martin.
NOTE: You may be tempted to schlep out to the weekly Feria Los Matadores. Sadly, this festival of traditional gaucho culture no longer includes shows of horsemanship. That most compelling element of the weekly event stopped when the abattoir moved to a new location, leaving this fair with just a sprawling street market with vendors selling mostly junk, a few random traditional dance performances, and some food vendors.
What to do in Buenos Aires: the serious side
From 1976 until 1983, a military dictatorship ruled Argentina using kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder to brutally suppress dissent. By the time the dictatorship ended, tens of thousands of people had been murdered or disappeared (many remains still have not been recovered or identified) and many more were abused. It’s a dark and recent history that is important for Argentineans to remember and for visitors to understand.
Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (ESMA)Hundreds of detention and torture centers existed around the country, including a military base in Buenos Aires where an estimated 5,000 people were detained, tortured, and even killed. This base has been converted into the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos (Memory and Human Rights Space) or ESMA for short. Here, visitors tour buildings used for detention and torture, read about what happened on the site and in the country as a whole, and watch videos of victim testimony during court trials—some of which are ongoing. It’s a hard visit, but one that sheds important light on a profoundly dark time in Argentinian history. In 2023, ESMA was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parque de la MemoriaParque de la Memoria (Memory Park), on the waterfront in the Ciudad Universitaria de Buenos Aires near Belgrano, takes memories of atrocities committed during the dictatorship outside with a wall inscribed with 30,000 names of known victims and large al fresco art installations and sculptures that reinterpret memories, emotions, and lessons from that time.
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
Since 1977, members of the Asociacion de Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo) have been demanding the live return of their children who disappeared during the military dictatorship. Among other activities, members march in front of the Casa Rosada (home to the Presidential office) in Plaza de Mayo every Thursday, many wearing their signature white headscarves and carrying photos of their lost loved ones. The group’s leader, a controversial powerhouse of a woman named Hebe, can be seen in a wheelchair at the demonstration we filmed in our video, above (Hebe passed away in November of 2022). Splinter groups include Abulelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) whose members demand the return of grandchildren born in captivity during the dictatorship.
Art, music, and more cultureCulture is a big deal in Buenos Aires. Many bands have noted their appreciation for Argentinean live music audiences including Coldplay which did an epic sold-out 10-show run in a 60,000-seat stadium in Buenos Aires in 2022. Lollapalooza happens in Buenos Aires each year as well (check out our experience at the festival in our Lollapalooza Buenos Aires posts). And Buenos Aires also gets major traveling art exhibits including the Banksy Genius or Vandal? show, which we attended during our most recent visit to the city, and the immersive Meet Vincent van Gough experience. Check to see what concerts, exhibits, and other cultural events are taking place in Buenos Aires when you’re in town.
Getting around Buenos AiresThe capital of Argentina is a sprawling city and you’ll likely need to do a bit of running around to see, do, and eat what you want (including the suggestions in this post). Luckily, Buenos Aires has very good and very economical public transportation systems including buses that travel practically everywhere, a subway system, and an above-ground train system. All operate using a SUBE card which you can purchase at many shops. Some shops can also put money onto your SUBE card and you can also do that at SUBTE subway stations (when there’s an attendant at the booth). When we were in the city, metered taxis were generally plentiful (and we only had one driver who was using a doctored meter). Uber was also available as was the Cabify app which taps into local taxis.
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