Often described as seductive, romantic and vibrant, Buenos Aires is a place you can’t help but fall in love with. It draws you in with its big personality, rich culture and promise of foodie delights, and entices you to stay. I planned to spend 2 weeks there – I ended up staying for two months.
At first, I was quite confused when people were using 'ciao' to say goodbye. My basic Spanish was telling me that this wasn't quite right, but when you consider that an estimated 62% of Argentines have Italian heritage, it makes more sense. Beyond everyday language, the Italian influence can also be seen in popular foods found everywhere, such as Milanesa, pasta, pizza and helado (ice-cream) that you can even order for home delivery like a Chinese takeaway.
Getting around Buenos Aires
I was struck by the well organised and reliable transport system - it made it really easy to get around the city. I was even more impressed with some enterprising activity on the metro. People handed out various things like packets of tissues, chewing gum and hand held fans (things you actually might want). If you wanted them, you gave them some money – if not , they politely took the item back from you. All very efficient and useful.
Things to see in Buenos Aires
If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires, no doubt you’ve already got a list of fabulous galleries, museums, tango spots and mouth-watering steak restaurants. But, during my time in Buenos Aires, it was often the lesser-known sights and unassuming places that I stumbled upon that made me love this city even more. Here are a few of my favourites.
Check out the ferias
The Sunday San Telmo Feria (feria is Spanish for fair or market) was one of my favourite things to do. I’d spend hours exploring the market set up on the streets of San Telmo, where you could find all sorts of nik naks, antiques and art, lots of music, entertainment and food. I worked out at which times various samba and drumming bands would be in different parts of the market route and passed the time listening and people watching.
Another highlight for me was going to the Feria de Mataderos (Matador Fair) on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. It's a folkloric festival that takes place on Sundays and national holidays. Again, there are stalls selling local goods, food and wine, and lots of entertainment, such as folk singers, dancers and gauchos on horseback.
After lots of wine, several locals took on the challenge of teaching us some traditional folk dancing. There was a lot of clapping, feet stomping and waving of skirts. If you ever go there, get up and have a go – it's a lot of fun, and locals will helpfully show you the steps.
Visit Buenos Aires’ most beautiful bookshop
Consistently talked about as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, make sure you go and visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid. It’s in an old palatial theatre from the early 1900's that has been masterfully restored and turned into a fabulous bookshop. They have a fantastic coffee shop set up on what was previously the stage and it’s a great place to relax, read a book or do a bit of writing.
Watch a football match
If you get a chance, go and see a football match – Boca vs River Plate if possible. The two teams are world famous bitter rivals, always fighting for the top spot in the league. Their matches are always eventful, in fact so eventful that their fans are not allowed to go to each other’s away games in Buenos Aires. I did manage to get to a pre-season superclassico where both sets of fans were allowed into the match – 3 hours away in Plata del Mar.
Catch live music at La Bomba de Tiempo
This is a must! Every Monday you will find La Bomba de Tiempo, a long running 17 piece drum group, giving an electric performance at Ciudada Cultural Knoex. The band raises the roof every time and I am told it never gets old, no matter how many times you have been before. At the end of the night, the band turns into a kind of pied piper leading the ensuing group of revellers to the after party, about 15 minutes away, drumming the whole way with people dancing in toe.
Wander around Recoleta Cemetery
I've never come across a cemetery like this before and was memorised by the quirky and elaborate structures all around me. It’s like a mini estate in its own right with around 6,400 graves made up of statues, sarcophagi, coffins and crypts. Apparently more than 90 of its tombs are listed as national historical monuments. You can find everything from the classic religious iconography to art deco and Masonic symbols.
It’s easy to get lost so make sure you get a map when you enter. It’ll also help you find some of the graves of famous people such as Evita.
Explore the Christian-themed park
Now, I wouldn’t recommend coming here if you only have limited time in Buenos Aires, but it will certainly entertain you if you do go there. I don't think I laughed so much in all my time in Argentina…
Let's be clear. This is a 'themed' park, not a 'theme' park, so don’t be expecting roller coasters and other rides. In fact, it is the world's largest religious themed park. You’ll get to see a recreation of a biblical village, scenes from the old testament, a few live shows telling various biblical stories, but the jewel in this crown is the hourly resurrection of Christ. The 18-metre high statue rises from within a mountain while ‘Hallelujah’ is played loudly via speakers. Simply bonkers!
Hopefully this gave you a few ideas for getting off the tourist track when you visit the gorgeous city of Buenos Aires. If you have any more questions or are interested in booking in your trip, I’d love to help. As an accredited Travel Counsellor, I can help you every step of the way, or take the reins completely so you only have to worry about packing your salsa shoes and bringing your appetite! Let's chat...