9 Cultural Things to Do in Buenos Aires City, Argentina
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 12 DEC 2020
Things to Do in Buenos Aires City, Argentina
A stroll in Puerto Madero with its Puente de la Mujer, watching tango performances in San Telmo and La Boca, chilling in impressive Plaza de Mayo and exploring chic Palermo are just a few of the fascinating things you can do in Buenos Aires, the enticing city and capital of Argentina.
Below, you will find some of the remarkable cultural gems in the city, that you absolutely have to include in your Buenos Aires – or maybe even Argentina itinerary!
Famous for its vibrant Sunday antiques fair in the Plaza Dorrego, as well as the numerous antique shops in the area, San Telmo is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. As a strikingly well-preserved colonial neighbourhood, the cobblestone streets are flanked with fabulous 19th-century architecture from the city’s heyday. Go for a stroll in San Telmo to soak up the unique atmosphere here!
Originally, San Telmo was the industrial area of Buenos Aires, first, in the 17th century, home to dockworkers and brick-makers, later, the district of wool, leather and other industry.
At the time the San Telmo barrio was poor. In 1806, the Parish of San Pedro González Telmo was established, giving name to the neighbourhood today.
San Telmo continued to develop and towards the end of the 1800s it had become an attractive part of the city with construction of imposing mansions and other extraordinary buildings.
However, an epidemic put in 1871 an end to the development, since people massively fled from the area. Instead, many European immigrants from Britain, Spain, Italy and Russia arrived to settle in the attractive Buenos Aires barrio in small communities. As a consequence the area became all multicultural, and this was in the 1900s the beginning of a new bohemian era in San Telmo, which now drew local artists and exciting cultural activities. Moreover, San Telmo now became a hotspot for tango in the Argentinian metropolis.
Visit the area around Plaza Dorrego, the old market for antiques sellers, on a Sunday morning, when the feria takes place. Calle Defensa is full of stalls brimming with antiques, handmade contemporary crafts and a wide range of souvenirs, as well as enticing restaurants. At the same time it is the scene of outstanding street performers and traditional tango.
Since the immigration population settled in San Telmo, tango became common in the district. The dance has its roots in dances such as the local Candombe traditions inherited from African slaves, the Spanish-Cuban music and dance Habanera, as well as Argentine Milonga music and dance. The tango partner dance flourished in the 1880s in Buenos Aires city and along the Río de la Plata, the river between Argentina and Uruguay. In particular, it developed in lower-class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
From Buenos Aires, the tango spread to Europe in the 20th century.
With a bit of luck you may be able to spot a couple of tango dancers in bohemian San Telmo, maybe at the Sunday feria around Calle Defensa! In Plaza Dorrego you will often see professional dancers perform for the crowds. It is really the perfect spot to come to get a glimpse of the unique Argentine dance. Alternatively, enter one of the bars and watch the remarkable 2-person tango show!
Another option is to book an evening show, which often includes a meal & wine – for instance at El Quenrandí or El Viejo Almacén, a former colonial-style grocery, which ended up being one of Buenos Aires’ most famous tango music halls, contributing to a cultural revival in the neighbourhood.
Other fascinating tango places to visit in Buenos Aires include La Catedral Club, where you may try your own dancing skills in one of the tango classes! It is a former dairy factory, and now a remarkable tango dancehall! The style is vintage and at first sight you may well believe that it is nothing but a conventional antiques shop!
While strolling around in San Telmo, why not enter one of the authentic parrilla restaurants to try genuine Argentine beef? These restaurants serve top quality Argentine beef from the ranches on the plains (las pampas) – and typically offer grilled meat (parrilla means ‘grilled’) with various steaks, sausages and maybe chicken. You will find a parrilla restaurant on every corner here – both upscale restaurants and more casual eateries.
Try a bife de lomo (tenderloin) or ojo de bife (ribeye). Another useful term to know is asado which is identical to ‘barbecue’ here! The meat is of course accompanied by the local red wine!
Eating beef in Buenos Aires is one of the things linked to the ‘gaucho’ tradition in Argentina – and a must-do while in Buenos Aires!
In 2011, on the 59th anniversary of her death, a huge eye-catching 9-storey portrait of popular Eva Perón was revealed on the Health Administration building near the Obelisk of Buenos Aires on Avenida 9 de Julio. It was greeted by wild jubilation in the streets of Buenos Aires! When passing the broad avenue, you just cannot help noticing it!
María Eva Duarte de Perón was an actress and the wife of the former Argentine President Juan Perón (1895–1974), hence the First Lady of Argentina (1946-1952). She was also known as Eva Perón or just Evita.
Fighting for labour rights and women’s right in Argentina, founding the Women’s Peronist Party, running the Ministries of Labour and Health, she was extremely popular among the Argentine people. Moreover, the Argentine Congress gave her the title ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’!
Tragically, she died from cancer at a very young age (33). Due to her enormous popularity and the results she had achieved, she received a state funeral.
Definitely one of the most unusual cemeteries in the world is the Buenos Aires cemetery Recoleta Cemetery, today containing 6,400 graves and marble mausoleums. Starting out in 1822, it was the Argentine capital’s first public burial place.
Once, the site was an orchard of the adjoining Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, owned by the Recollect monks. The place was then in the beginning of the 1800s redesigned to a cemetery by the engineer Próspero Catelin, who was also the architect behind the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral in the Plaza de Mayo.
As a wondrous place Recoleta Cemetery today features a large number of architectural styles – from ancient Greek temples, Art Deco mausoleums, Art Nouveau facades and eye-catching neogothic structures to tiny Baroque constructions. The best way to describe the cemetery is the ‘city of the dead’ – a unique cemetery in Argentina!
A number of famous people rest in Recoleta Cemetery. One of these is precisely Eva Perón – Evita! She had to wait all 20 years after her death to be buried here in the Duarte family mausoleum in a crypt five metres underground!
Among the 90 national historic monuments here, some of the more renowned tombs are, besides Evita’s, the tombs of the former Argentine presidents Sarmiento and Raúl Alfonsín.
The cemetery is usually open during day hours, and free guided tours are organised on a daily basis. If you would like to visit one of the more quirky things in Buenos Aires, this is unquestionably the site to go to!
It is also in Recoleta that you will find the fabulous steel and aluminium sculpture Floralis Genérica, just a stone’s throat from Palermo. The artwork, which is designed to open its petals in the morning, and close them again in the evening, was a gift to the city from the Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, created in 2002.
The sprawling and popular neighbourhood of Palermo can be subdivided into three parts: Alto Palermo, Palermo Chico, and Palermo Viejo. There is a wide variety of things to see and do in this hip Buenos Aires district!
In Alto Palermo you will find great museums and large green spaces such as the Botanical Garden.
Palermo Chico is known for its magnificent mansions and the awesome Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires.
Finally, Palermo Viejo is the vibrant, local and casual part, where you will be able to indulge in tiny boutiques, cosy cafés along the cobbled streets, authentic and lively markets, and even a film studio or two.
One of the must-do things in Buenos Aires is to visit the colourful neighbourhood La Boca with the renowned Caminito cobblestone lane flanked by spectacular painted artworks, murals and stalls. It is an open-air street museum displaying the most vivid sides of the city.
The vibrant La Boca district is another spot in Buenos Aires for tango beats and other art performers. Talented tango dancers may well turn up here to perform, maybe inspiring tourists to give the dance a whirl as well! Come here to try it yourself!
The district has a background of Italian influence, since, in the past, many of the immigrants came from the Italian city Genoa. The Italian settlers found work in the warehouses and meatpacking industry here. Still today, there is an Italian dominance with Italian taverns dotting the lanes in the artists’ colony.
Another noteworthy place in La Boca is the kaleidoscopic-looking Teatro de la Ribera, donated to the city in 1971 by a local artist, the painter Benito Quinquela Martín. The venue offers absolutely reasonably priced tango shows.
Outside the tourist areas La Boca is a relatively poor working-class neighbourhood with many social challenges.
La Boca is also known for its stadium La Bombonera from 1940, which is the home stadium of the football club Boca Juniors (that the world-famous Diego Maradona also played for).
Don’t miss the Teatro Colón in eclectic style (also known as the Columbus Theatre), the main opera house in Buenos Aires – and one of the finest opera houses in the world!
The original theatre in front of Plaza de Mayo, designed by Charles Pellegrini, dated back to 1857, when it opened with Verdi’s La Traviata. Soon it became one of the very popular things to do – to get tickets to enjoy an opera at the 2,500-seat venue in Buenos Aires city. Due to lack of amenities this first theatre closed again already in 1888.
After a 20-year period of theatre performances taking place at other theatres in the city, it was replaced by the current Teatro Colón in 1908, featuring a rich interior scarlet and gold decor and a sumptuous cupola, originally painted by Marcel Jambon. The inauguration performance was Verdi’s Aida, and the theatre soon became one of the leading theatres in the world with top-class acoustics, drawing the very best conductors and opera singers to Buenos Aires.
With the political and economic situation in recent years in Argentina, the Teatro Cólon has been poorly maintained, and so there was an urgent need for a refurbishment. The theatre closed for five years (2005-2010) while remodelling and renovation took place.
Now, the Teatro Colón is again a magnificent top-notch venue in the heart of Buenos Aires featuring world-class performances – absolutely worthy of a visit!
The neoclassical Palace of the Argentine National Congress (Palacio del Congreso Nacional in Spanish), designed by Vittorio Meano, is the seat of the Argentine National Congress, or more accurately, the senate and the chamber of deputies.
Work began already in 1898, and the Palace was inaugurated 8 years later, in 1906. However, work continued, and not until 1946 were the last architectural details completed. The architect changed during the construction period, since Meano was brutally murdered. Therefore, the new architect Julio Dormal left his mark on the project in the last years.
The architectural design is stylish with white marble giving the building a unique character. Also inside it features a remarkable design, not least the Blue Room and the Lost Steps Hall. The huge bronze-plated dome is amazing – and one of most characteristic features of this iconic landmark in the Argentine capital.
Usually, there are free guided tours of the senate on most weekdays!
As a curiosity you will find the Kilometre Zero for Argentine national highways on a milestone all near the Congress Palace. Close to the Palacio del Congreso, another outstanding palace can be found: the impressive Palacio Barolo, which is an awesome blend of every major architectural style you can imagine!
The Plaza de Mayo is one of the most iconic things in the city of Buenos Aires – and one of the most famous squares in all Argentina. As the oldest public square in the city, it has been the scene of both significant historic events and bull running!
The square is named after the revolution, which was initiated on May 25, 1810. Not surprisingly, it has been a focal point for political demonstrations, protests and other gatherings, speeches such as Eva Perón’s from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, and marches such as the weekly ‘Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo’ marches with participating ‘mothers’ of people who ‘disappeared’ in the 1970s.
Surrounding the square are a number of famous buildings: the Casa Rosada, which is the ‘office’ of the Argentine president, the Metropolitan Cathedral, which has repeatedly been used by Pope Francis, the national bank and several other impressive buildings of a certain importance.
Today, it is the perfect site for people-watching in Buenos Aires!
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