Every traveler has a unique style they employ when exploring a new part of the world. There are the DIY travelers–the ones who prefer getting to know a city without the help of guided tours or activities–perhaps on foot, local public transportation, or rented bicycle. They may enjoy searching for bargains on hotels or hostels or opt for a self-prepared picnic lunch in the park over an opulent meal out. There are the luxury travelers, the ones who search for the best of everything a city has to offer–the best restaurants with high-class ambiance and gorgeous city views, the best of local entertainment, the most accommodating and luxurious hotels. There are the tourists...the people who find the most comfort in group tours that allow them to take photos of all the top attractions with little effort on their part aside from purchasing a travel package. There are also, of course, the backpackers–we’re the ones who look for centrally-located budget accommodation, good food at reasonable prices, and the best places to party.
You may fall into one of these highly generalized categories, but much more likely you’re an eclectic mix of styles that makes you a unique traveler in your own right. I like to consider myself a DIY backpacker with the occasional taste for luxury, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, in my humble opinion, Argentina’s capital city has something for just about everyone and can most likely satisfy even the most persnickety of world explorers. Below, a list of highlights from this DIY-backpacker-with-a-taste-for-luxury’s whirlwind romance with the city that aims to please.
I figured I’d start with the important stuff! Argentina is known world-wide for its amazing beef, and Buenos Aires offers it in spades; every cut, any way you like it cooked, grass-fed and juicy on your plate, accompanied by a local Malbec. ¡Qué rrriiiiicooooo! I sampled the goods at three restaurants which all came highly recommended to me:
- Siga La Vaca: An all-you-can-eat parrilla (grill) located in the Puerto Madero area which offers an unbelievable selection of beef, pork, and chicken (or innards, if that’s your thing)–just walk up to the grill and point at what looks good, then try not to let your jaw hit the floor when you see the portion size they serve you–also included is an extensive cold salad bar, bread on your table, a bottle of wine per person (I kid you not) and dessert. They EVEN zip-tie your purse to your chair so you needn’t worry about someone snatching it on one of your many trips back for more (a nice little touch, I thought). It’s an enormous restaurant so reservations are not necessary, and the ambiance is classy enough to distract from the fact that you’re essentially eating meat by the shovel-full. An overall excellent experience. Price: 170 Argentine pesos.
- Desnivel: Located in the adorable neighborhood of San Telmo, Desnivel is a highly-popular parrilla for reasons I personally failed to discover. The white flourescent lighting, sparse decor, cramped tables and cacophony of noise rendering conversation nearly impossible left much to be desired. I went with one other friend and we ended up ordering a carafe of house wine (easily the best value, the bottles were all very expensive) and a portion of stuffed steak to share. It came served on a heaping platter surrounded by rather average french fries. Considering that we paid more per person and got significantly less (and worse quality) food than Siga La Vaca, I was pretty disappointed. Perhaps if I ever visit Buenos Aires again I’ll give this place another try, but this time around it was my least favorite dining experience.
- La Cabrera: You won’t find a ‘Best of Buenos Aires’ list anywhere that doesn’t include La Cabrera, and for good reason. If this Palermo Soho restaurant is packed when you arrive (as it usually is) they provide you with complimentary meats, cheeses and champagne while you wait. The portions are enormous and perfectly cooked; the rib-eye I ordered was easily the best (albeit most expensive) steak I had in Argentina. The smorgasbord of sides and sauces that are served alongside your main dish is a delightful addition. Wine is not included here, but they offer a few affordable bottles so naturally we indulged (not to mention it was my last night in the city and, ya know, had to spend those pesos! 😉 ). The complimentary glass of champagne provided at the end was the cherry on top of a perfect evening. We each spent well over 200 pesos but it was well worth it–I’d recommend La Cabrera to anyone.
But you don’t need to splurge at a fancy parrilla to get a great meal. Many open-air markets serve up another local favorite, choripan (grilled sausage on a roll, kind of like a classier version of a hotdog). We snagged a few of these bad boys and a cheeky glass of midday wine while wandering an antiques fair in San Telmo and were even treated to live music while we ate–all for 45 pesos.
Buenos Aires’s many unique neighborhoods are attractions in and of themselves. San Telmo charms with a colonial feel, kitschy shops and pretty plazas; Puerto Madero is a great place to take a walk, do some quality people watching (apparently rollerblading is still a thing) and enjoy a glass of wine with a nice view of the port; Palermo has it all–coffee shops, bookstores, shopping, restaurants and nightlife; La Boca is colorful (literally) and always buzzing with tourists looking for a tango show; and El Microcentro is a great jumping off point for first-timers to the city–many neighborhoods are walkable from here or easily accessible by subway or bus. Here is a more specific list of some of my favorite things:
- El Cementerio de la Recoleta: This haunting city of the dead is far and away the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen- it contains the graves–incredibly elaborate mausoleums, rather–of the Buenos Aires elite, including former presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and Eva Peron.
- The Puerto Madero Waterfront: A beautiful place for an afternoon or evening stroll (on your way to Siga La Vaca, perhaps?).
- Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art: Not so big that you’ll feel overwhelmed trying to see it all; houses a wide array of artistic mediums (sculpture, film, photography, etc).
- Calle Defensa, San Telmo: On Sundays, this street is converted into a massive outdoor market. Other days, you can enjoy the boutique shops, antiques malls and pubs without wading through thick crowds.
- La Casa Rosada: In the US, we have the White House…in Argentina, they have the Pink House. La Casa Rosada is the executive mansion and office of the president of Argentina. Open to the public, this is an essential stop for a dose of Argentinian history.
- The parks of La Recoleta: Beautiful, sprawling expanses of greenery that are seriously under-utilized for picnic lunches.
These lists don’t even begin to scratch the surface of things to do and see in Buenos Aires, but sadly, as with all good things, my travels had to come to an end. My only hope is that I’ve started to convince you, regardless of your tastes in travel, that this people-pleaser of a city is definitely worth getting to know.