Two days in Argentina’s largest and most populous city – with so much to explore and discover in Buenos Aires’ 48 neighbourhoods (barrios), where best to start?
With two full days to spare, we decided to explore Buenos Aires almost entirely on foot. Keen to get a sense of the character of this huge city, we wandered from barrio to barrio, taking in the colours and sights as went along.
Here’s an overview of our two day itinerary of Buenos Aires’ highlights.
Getting to know Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is like no other city I’ve visited before. The streets are wide and the buildings grand, resembling Parisian boulevards. Generous green spaces are dotted around Argentina’s capital, children’s play grounds aplenty. Countless monuments mark the achievements of the great and important figures of the city’s short history. Any spare fleck of wall is someone’s concrete canvas, with colourful street art turning the whole city into one great outdoor gallery, often acting as reminders of a less romantic past.
But the inner city traffic, sometimes six lanes wide, is incessant, and the noise, dominated by the roaring of the vintage diesel buses, exhausting.
Thankfully the next cafe, bar or restaurant is never more than a few paces away. The Porteños love socialising over coffee, almost as much as maté, their national drink, taken everywhere.
Free walking tours of Buenos Aires
There are many professionally organised, free walking tours you can join in Buenos Aires, usually focused on a specific area or theme (for example, the street art of Buenos Aires). Although we had planned to join one of them we didn’t quite make it – the joys of travelling with a toddler! So instead, we made up our own!
Our two day walking tour of Buenos Aires
So armed with a little guide book, we embarked on a discovery tour of Buenos Aires.
For Rosie we brought both pushchair and baby carrier, to be able to offer her a little variety throughout the day.
Our apartment, and therefore our starting point, was located on Avenida Viamonte – one of the many endless arteries slicing through the city – between the barrios of Microcentro and Recoleta.
Day 1: La Boca, San Telmo, Microcentro
La Boca: Arts, tango and football
We start by taking the bus 29 from Avd. Viamonte to La Boca, one of Buenos Aires’ oldest and most colourful barrios. Tourists come to this neighbourhood mainly for two reasons: 1. To visit Caminito, a small cobble-stoned alley famous for brightly coloured buildings and lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. 2. To catch a match at La Bombonera, the La Boca Juniors’ football stadium, where Diego Maradonna played early in his career. He clearly remains an idol for the largely working class residents, his image is everywhere.
La Boca is a great introduction to Buenos Aires, for me this is the point where it sinks in that I am in Argentina. The slightly rugged tango dancers posing with tourists, the artists in tracksuit bottoms selling delightful paintings, the graffiti and street art adding a political message. I love it.
From La Boca, we head back towards the centre along Avenida Almte Brown, past the Torre del Fantasma (Ghost Tower), all the way to Parque Lezama.
One of several city parks in Buenos Aires, Parque Lezama is beautifully landscaped with shady pathways, lookout points, a playground and several statues and monuments. The grand Monumento Fuente a Don Pedro de Mendoza, the founder of Buenos Aires, marks the North-Western entrance to the park.
San Telmo: Cafes, artists and historic churches
From Parque Lezama we join Avenida Defensa, wondering northwards into the lively historic district of San Telmo. Defensa is lined with eclectic shops, quirky cafes and restaurants – the area is a popular hangout among artists.
We stop for pizza at corner Defensa / Chile, just opposite the Monumento a Mafalda – a charming tribute to the popular cartoon character and her creator, Quino, Barely noticeable at first, the little girls sits on a bench, smilingly observing the bustle of life in this busy corner of San Telmo.
We continue north, past the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the Basilica de San Francisco, which is currently being renovated.
Plaza de Mayo (under construction)
At the North end of Defensa, we finally reach Plaza de Mayo, the centre point of Buenos Aires and scene of many momentous events in Argentina’s history. It’s named after the May Revolution of 1810, which paved the way towards Argentina’s independence. The large square centres on the Pirámide de Mayo, erected in celebration of the one year anniversary of independence, and is lined by numerous Government buildings and banks. The focal point however is Casa Rosada, a pink palace which nowadays houses the president of Argentina.
At the time of our visit, Plaza Mayo is entirely taken over by building works and closed to the public. Unfortunately, due to the noise, dust and crowds pushing along the temporary footpaths, it isn’t a nice place to hang out. We rush past as quickly as possible, only stopping to take a picture of Casa Rosada.
Having said that, once finished, I imagine it will be a wonderfully grand meeting point for Porteños and once again become the focal point of the city.
Microcentro: The business centre
From Plaza Mayo, we follow Avenida Rivadavia north before turning left into Juan Domingo Peron. Now we’ve reached Microcentro, the heart of the city, with mainly shops, banks and restaurants crammed into a relatively small space. This is clearly a business area, judging by the hordes of workers in office attire rushing around.
We follow Peron all the way to the top until we reach Avenida Presidente Roque Saenz Pena. This is one of the main arteries cutting through Microcentro leading straight to the Obelisco, the popular landmark towering over Avenida 9 de Julio. The 67m high iconic monument has been soaring over the Plaza de la República since 1937, when it was erected to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city. Today it remains a popular meeting place, with views over Avenida 9 de Julio stretching out either side.
Avenida 9 Julio
From here you get a great view of the Ministery of Health, which has been turned into a monument to Eva Peron. Two 10-story steel images of the former First Lady decorate the North and South facades of the main tower, overlooking Avenida 9 de Julio.
We continue north along Avenida 9 de Julio, where we quickly reach Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires’ Grand Theatre. Opened in 1908, the Teatro Colón is considered one of the best opera and concert houses in the world.
We dive back down into Microcentro, heading eastwards on Avenida Viamonte, until we reach the pedestrianised Florida. We wonder north along this busy shopping mile, where you find the usual selection of high street brands and souvenir shops. Street performers make the most of the crowds and we stop along the way to watch one of the numerous tango performances – some better than others, although I’m no expert!
Florida finishes at Plaza General San Martin, a landmark park behind which lies the upmarket district of Retiro. We wonder past the Monumento del Libertador Jose de San Martin and turn back westwards on Avenida Santa Fe.
We follow Santa Fe back towards our apartment in Recoleta, where we finish the day with some well-deserved Asado and beers.
Day 2: Recoleta and Palermo
Our first destination of the day is Recoleta, the grand district west of Avenida 9 de Julio. After the working classes in La Boca, the artists in San Telmo and the business people in Microcentro, Recoleta is where the money lives. Large boulevards, fancy shops and concierge-fronted townhouses.
We wander Avenida Callao northwards, until we reach Avenida Alvear – a posh thoroughfare linking Recoleta with Retiro, famous for haute-couture shops and some of Buenos Aires’ grandest properties. We turn left until we reach Recoleta cemetery, the barrio’s most renowned sight. We find a collection of mausoleums and tombs, each grander and more expensive than the next, in an attempt to find an eternal home majestic enough to contain the deceaseds’ humongous egos.
Most visitors wander the maze in search for the cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva Peron. Evita’s body, after years of travelling around the world, was finally put to rest in the Duarte family tomb here, which seems almost modest in comparison to its neighbours.
Heading further west, we follow Avenida de Libertador, towards the barrio of Palermo. We pass the impressive monument at Plaza Alemania, a gift by Germany to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the revolution. After a few moments shade under the blossoming trees, we head towards Jardin Japones, the Japanese Garden. We feel tight and don’t pay the entrance fee to the garden (given we have not long been in real Japan), but from what we can see through the fence, it’s a wonderfully tranquil inner-city garden.
Palermo Soho and Palermo Viejo
From the catchy Monumento a La Carta Magna y las Cuatro Regiones Argentina, we head south into Palermo, via Plaza Italia. Palermo is a sprawling neighbourhood and made up of several smaller enclaves, such as Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood.
Gone are the multi-carriageway roads and glass facades, instead we find busy street cafes, chic boutiques, colourful buildings, cobbled streets and city parks. The atmosphere is arty, relaxed and neighbourly.
From Plaza Italia we head straight into Palermo Soho. We stop for a couple of beers and empanadas on Jorge Louis Borges, where the legendary Argentine writer spent his youth. Borges family homes used to be at number 2135, which is now remembered by a plaque.
We turn left into Costa Rica towards Palermo Viejo, where we take a quick playground pit stop at Plaza Armenia. Ironically, despite its historic, cobble-stoned feel Palermo Viejo (Old Palermo) is where some of the newest eateries, shops and business can be found.
Plaza Serrano and Palermo Hollywood
Following Armenia south we then turn right into Honduras until we hit Plaza Serrano, a lively square surrounded by bars, nightclubs and relaxed atmosphere.
Continuing on Honduras, we pass some of Buenos Aires famous street artworks, many of which can be found in the Palermo neighbourhood.
We cross over the train tracks into what is known as Palermo Hollywood, thanks to the large number of film production businesses in this area. Despite its initially quiet feel, this is one of the clubbing hotspots of Palermo – it being during the day it is hard to imagine the area around Avenidas Homboldt and Fitz Roy being rammed with partying Porteños until the early mornings.
After crossing back over the train tracks we head south on Avenida Cordoba. Our long walk back towards our apartment in Recoleta takes us past the commercial centre of the Villa Crespo barrio, the city hospital and the truly impressive Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (Palace of Flowing Waters) – it is hard to believe that a palace like this houses a water company!
We return to our apartment via Avenida Cordoba.
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