Experience Buenos Aires like a local

Experience Buenos Aires like a local

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Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina, a country I visited very briefly during my 10-month trip in South America, and I didn’t even make it to the incredible capital city.  I am fascinated by Argentina, and for my future travel to Buenos Aires, I asked Bernard from GuruWalk to share his tips for the best things to do in Buenos Aires, to experience this fabulous Argentinian city like a local.

Buenos Aires Argentina is one of the most vibrant cities I’ve known in Latin America, especially because of its characteristic bohemian aura and for being one of the cities with the most important cultural offering in the continent.

Things to do in Buenos Aires

After a month traveling through Bolivia, Buenos Aires reminded me of Europe and, in a way, I felt at home.  Here you can find some of the most authentic but also the most interesting activities for travelers visiting the beautiful city of Buenos Aires for 2 days.

Take a free walking tour

The city is huge, but it is easy to see its most emblematic places on foot or by metro. In my case, I had my first overview of the city with a free walking tour of Buenos Aires, allowing me to learn more about the history of the city. It was done on a very fun way during a two-hour tour. What is a free walking tour? It is a guided tour by a local person in exchange for a voluntary price, according to your degree of satisfaction.

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Experience Buenos Aires Like a Local

Learn tango and dance (or at least try) in a milonga

El Caminito area of Buenos Aires Argentina - Tango in Buenos Aires like a local
El Caminito area of Buenos Aires Argentina – Tango in Buenos Aires like a local

Tango is present in every street of Buenos Aires. There is more than only the dancers who perform in Caminito or Plaza San Telmo and that are a pure tourist attraction. In contrast, authentic milongas are held in the city every day.  And what is a milonga, I hear you ask? The milonga, in addition to being a variant of the tango, is the place to dance it. There are milongas in bars, parks or even in clandestine flats. Many of them are free but sometimes there is an entrance fee to pay. On this website, you can find all the milongas that are organized in the city and their prices.

I recommend you take some classes before going to a milonga, because Argentines go there to dance and don’t want to teach you tango. Not in a milonga. One of the most enjoyable milonga is the one taking place in the Plaza San Telmo. You’ll have a lot of fun there for sure and see one of the best tango shows in Buenos Aires!

Eat ice cream in Palermo

Palermo is the hipster and trendy neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It is really a charming place to spend the afternoon, as there are plenty of things to do in Palermo. In this peaceful neighborhood, you will find many colorful houses, bars, art galleries and designer shops at exorbitant prices, see people walking around and if you’re broke, you can always go for an ice cream. Seriously, the ice creams of Buenos Aires are almost as good as the Italian ones. And, if you like dulce de leche, you know what to do.

In addition, one of the best things to do in Palermo is the Sunday craft market at Plaza Cortázar, which buzzes in the noisy terraces and is a fascinating market to explore.

The Bookstore El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Another one of the essential things to do in Buenos Aires is this huge bookstore in an old theatre, El Ateneo Grand Splendid, now converted into one of the biggest bookstores in Buenos Aires. I can personally spend hours at the bookstore of my city, so I just loved this place. That said, not only because it is a beautiful building, with three floors of rococo architecture, you should definitely go there to find everything at affordable prices, to have an (expensive) coffee or just to sit and read for a while in one of the numerous sofas dotted everywhere around the bookstore.

A huge Buenos Aires bookstore in an old theatre, El Ateneo Grand Splendid - Things to do in Buenos Aires Like a local
A huge Buenos Aires bookstore in an old theatre, El Ateneo Grand Splendid

The flea market of San Telmo

This is another unavoidable event offered by the city of Buenos Aires. If you are a lover of vintage stuff and junk, you’ll be more than happy strolling through this flea market that is held every Sunday in the main streets of the neighborhood. There is everything from crafts to food, but the most precious are the antique stalls that are in the main square of San Telmo with old sofas, 1920s clothes 20s, photographs, and much more.  Wonderful but sadly, nothing is cheap!

Afro-cultural movement of San Telmo

In one of the main streets of San Telmo, on Defensa Street (where you will also find the famous sculpture of Mafalda, a symbol of the city), there is a building with a patio where this cultural association is located. It’s a place full of good vibes, with good empanadas and drinks at reasonable prices and with live Caribbean music. It is curious because for the first time since I arrived in Buenos Aires I felt that Latin “atmosphere” that is not so perceptible in the rest of the city.

Besides music, of course, there is dancing, so if you want to move for a vallenato or an improvised bachata, that’s the place to be!

Recoleta Cemetery

Recolecta Cementery Buenos Aires Argentina - Things to do in Buenos Aires like a local
Recolecta Cementery Buenos Aires Argentina – Things to do in Buenos Aires like a local

The Recoleta Cemetery is quite a typical touristic attraction, and one of the most popular things to do in Buenos Aires, although for some it may be a bit creepy. The truth is that the Recoleta Cemetery is gorgeous and can be compared with the famous Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. It’s a huge maze, so if you prefer to go for a walk round it could be interesting to join a free tour. In my case I was lucky enough to meet a Venezuelan at the hostel that knew the cemetery, and for an hour we toured the most interesting architectural areas and of course, the tombs of illustrious figures such as Eva Perón, which was completely crowded of course!

In fact, the cemetery is not the only activity in the neighborhood of Recoleta. This neighborhood of high purchasing power is also famous for its beautiful parks.

The other reality of Buenos Aires:

Civil Association “Vecinos Históricos de Villa 31”

Few tourists know about the other reality of Buenos Aires.  What many people call “villas” are the areas where the poorest people in the city live. From 1991 to the present time, these areas have increased their population fivefold: from the 52,000 people registered in 1991 to 250,000 this year, according to a study by the Catholic University of Buenos Aires.

Going into a shanty town is trying to get to know this other side of Buenos Aires, and is possible, if you are in contact with local organizations or associations that work for the community. In my case, I was able to visit one of the most famous villas, Villa 31, in the Retiro neighborhood, which is practically in the center of the city and next to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.

You may also like: A Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro – Interesting but Intrusive?

Casa Rosada in the City Center Plaza de Mayo Buenos Aires - Things to do in Buenos Aires
Casa Rosada in the City Center Plaza de Mayo Buenos Aires

These were some of my recommendations to enjoy the Argentine capital Buenos Aires like a local! Of course, there are many more things to do in Buenos Aires, from day to day living, strolling around the city to see the modernist cafés, visiting the natural reserve near Puerto Madero, and trying to learn more about the struggle of the grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo who continue day after day and year after year screaming loudly an injustice that remains unrepaired.

I recommend you visit Buenos Aires and to live its culture. For me, after months of traveling alone through Latin America in countries like Chile, Bolivia and northern Argentina, it was the perfect way to end my adventure.

About the Author:

Bernard Sury is an avid traveller, always planning his next trip and is now part of the collaborative travel movement at GuruWalk.  You can also find GuruWalk on Facebook.

Looking for a hostel or hotel in Buenos Aires?  Check prices & availability on booking.com or hostelworld.

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Have you been to Buenos Aires?  I would love to hear your stories, share them in the comments below.

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Buenos Aires Argentina is a fascinating city. I asked Bernard from GuruWalk to share his top tips of the best things to do in Buenos Aires so you can experience the city like a local. Do you tango? Now you can!  #BuenosAires #Argentina #SouthAmerica #Travel #Tango #TravelTips

Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker, and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you!

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Last updated: May 31, 2018

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13 thoughts on “Experience Buenos Aires like a local

  1. Love this post! Brought back so many great memories. We passed through Buenos Airies accidentally – it was a forced layover on our way home from South America to Australia so we randomly decided to stay a couple of days. It REALLY surprised us. We were blown away! El Ateneo Grand Splendid was one of my favorite stops (book nerd here!), and I found Recoleta Cemetery really really interesting. Definitely not your usual cemetery. So glad you had a fabulous time also!

  2. Been dying to go to Buenos Aires! I keep reading wonderful things about it. Thanks for all the tips, especially the free walking tour. It’s great to get the perspective from a local.

  3. I would have never guessed that the cemetery would be such a draw there. Although the statue is very intriguing. I had no idea what all there was to do there, but I would definitely love to visit. Palmero sounds pretty cool too.

  4. I’ve been wanting to get to Buenos Aires for a while and this makes me want to even more! Recoleta Cemetery looks so hauntingly beautiful. I also love when cities have free walking tours. I’d definitely check that out.

  5. Wonderful but lovely, I was almost convinced to buy some unique and antique stuff at the Flea Market San Telmo when I figured nothing is cheap! haha That was close! I’d also love a walking tour, I’ve been reading this kind of tour that is optional whenever you’re traveling in a certain country. I haven’t done it but will sure do try! Experiencing to be a local is fun to do, indeed in Buenos Aires!

  6. Buenos Aires never have been on our list but it looks like a cool place to explore. Learning Tango is something I would love doing. The image of Recoleta cemetery is a different one. We would love walking tour and try some local food too

  7. Some great advice from Bernard! Walking tours are such a fun way to get to know a city when you first arrive. I had never heard of a milonga before, but I love that they exist! Good to know that it is not a place to learn, so will be sure to take some classes before going. At the very least it would be so fun to watch the dancers at the Plaza San Telmo! The Recoleta Cemetery also sounds very interesting, and good to know there are other attractions in that neighborhood. Thanks for the great tips!

  8. Some great advice from Bernard! Walking tours are such a fun way to get to know a city when you first arrive. I had never heard of a milonga before, but I love that they exist! Good to know that it is not a place to learn, so will be sure to take some classes before going. At the very least it would be so fun to watch the dancers at the Plaza San Telmo! The Recoleta Cemetery also sounds very interesting, and good to know there are other attractions in that neighborhood. Thanks for the great tips!

  9. This is such a good mixed list, lets you enjoy all flavors possible of a city. The image of Recoleta cemetery is a haunting one. I definitely want to watch Tango and have good local food there.

  10. I was in Buenos Aires for two days and planned to do lots of things, but unfortunately it was new years and weekends and the whole city got shut down. It was really a disappointing trip but the free tour is amazing. I went to El Ateneo too and it is so interesting to view the store from the upper level. I wish my Spanish was at advanced level so I can devour in all the books with coffee.

  11. I love to explore new towns with a walking tour. Especially if it includes food! We often visit cemeteries. It is a good way to pick up some history. I would definitely want to try tango lessons. Certainly not dancing in public without them! Thanks for sharing this list of things to do in Buenos Aires!

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