We went to Buenos Aires on a whim. I desperately wanted to use our Thanksgiving vacation to go to South America again. Days of agonizing over the perfect destination followed. Finally, one cozy evening with a glass of Malbec and Google Flights got us a round trip to Buenos Aires.
If I had to describe Buenos Aires in one word, I would say, elegant. If I had to describe her in three, I would say Paris + Madrid. But Buenos Aires is so much more than that! We visited at the best time, when the Jacaranda was in bloom and the air smelled delicious. The weather was perfect, inviting us to explore but also to slow down and appreciate the moment. The dappled sun on our skin, the sweet smell of springtime, the enticing discovery of a city that felt at once familiar and foreign – Buenos Aires was serving up magic.
Where to Stay
First things first, lets tackle the question of where to sleep in Buenos Aires. Although it might seem like no one sleeps in Buenos Aires (dinner time is 10 pm), it is an important question to answer, because where you stay might end up dictating a lot about what you do.
Buenos Aires is a sprawling city, so I suggest exploring neighborhoods. We stayed in Palermo and San Telmo, both very different, but very lovely.
Palermo (Soho and Hollywood) is cool, with hip restaurants and bars, cute boutiques and coffee shops. It is full of flowers and pretty houses, walking around is a pleasure. If you want to stay in Palermo, I highly recommend Home Hotel. It is gorgeous, the rooms are large and comfortable, the service is excellent. Breakfast is included, and takes place in a gorgeous space.
San Telmo, meanwhile, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. Expect it to be a little grittier than Palermo, but still nice! I loved the old apartments, they felt so Parisian. It is also great to walk around here and soak in the history. We stayed at this Airbnb in San Telmo for only $50/night! It is one of my favorite Airbnbs ever for the value for money – absolutely gorgeous, with a balcony, in a great location and really nice hosts. The only gotcha is that it gets a bit loud at night, so bring earplugs!
8 Things to Do
Dinner at Casa Coupage
Living in New York, we are no strangers to speakeasies. A hidden bar with no sign and perhaps a secret password? Been there, done that. However, Buenos Aires takes it up a notch with closed door (private) restaurants. Yes, Buenos Aires has a speakeasy restaurant scene, and if you hadn’t read this blog post, you would probably totally miss it. Don’t worry, I got you.
As soon as (or maybe even before) you book your flights to Buenos Aires, make a reservation at Casa Coupage. I communicated with Santiago, the sommelier and host, through Whatsapp (their number is on their website).
Dining at Casa Coupage is like attending a private dinner party. We were greeted at the door by our hosts, and led into their beautiful terrace garden. A lovely, floral glass of white wine and some delicious empanadas later, all the dinner guests (10 of us in total) were chattering away like old friends. We then went to the main dining room, which was gorgeous, with the large open Parisian style windows I so loved in Buenos Aires.
The dining experience is focused on wine. Santiago explained the different Argentinian wines to us, based on their regions. We also did some fun exercises in identifying smells. The idea of the wine pairings was to try the same dish with a couple of wines and figure out which ones we thought paired better. It was a very personal exercise, but surprisingly most guests agreed on a particular wine for a dish. My favorite dish was one of the starters – the most delicious fried egg I have ever tasted (pictured below).
I caution you to keep track of how much wine you are drinking, because the wine is free flowing. So if you don’t take care, you might not be able to enjoy the later courses or even the next day – so beware!
Casa Coupage was one of my favorite dining experiences ever. As an introvert, I didn’t realize I would enjoy dining with strangers so much! But everyone was so interesting, and Santiago and his lovely wife made sure the conversation (like the wine!) always flowed gracefully.
Glass of Wine at Falena
I am a sucker for bookstores. I try to visit one in every city I go to, and Buenos Aires had two of the most gorgeous bookstores I have ever seen. Sadly (but naturally) most of the books were in Spanish. That just makes me more determined to get better at Spanish!
Falena is pretty unimposing from the outside. In fact, it is easy to totally walk past it and never realize it existed. However, if you do open the door, you enter into a magical secret courtyard. The space is absolutely stunning, a photographers dream. It does not end though, because a staircase takes you up to a lovely rooftop garden, where you can bring a glass of wine ($3 / glass) and some snacks to watch the sun go down.
We visited Falena on our first evening in Buenos Aires, and it set the tone for how the city will forever live in my memory. Sipping a beautiful Argentine rosé, a gentle breeze bringing with it the sweet smell of the jacaranda, surrounded by books and trees and whispers of sweet nothings. Buenos Aires is a city that makes you fall in love.
Visit the stunning El Ateno Grand Splendid bookstore
Bookstore Number 2 in Buenos Aires is a popular one, you might have seen pictures of it floating around on the internet. Named one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, it is one you definitely must visit.
El Ateno Grand Splendid is set in a converted theater. The stage is now a cafe, and book shelves line every floor. The theater itself is gorgeous, and look even more beautiful when covered in books! Again, I wish I knew Spanish because it looked like they had a great selection of books.
Tour the Palacio Barolo
The Palacio Barolo is one of the most interesting and surprising office buildings I’ve seen. It was designed by two Italians inspired by the Divine Comedy. Built between 1919-1923, it was the tallest building in South America till 1936. Sadly, Barolo, the man who envisioned and paid for the building died before it was completed. You can visit his grave at the Recoleta Cemetery (see below).
The Palacio Barolo’s design is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. The building has 22 floors based on the Divine Comedy’s 22 stanzas. It starts in hell, goes through purgatory, and ends in an observation deck + lighthouse on top (heaven). I highly recommend checking out the Palacio Barolo while in Buenos Aires. It is a fully functioning office, with all the work happening in purgatory. The observation deck has amazing 360 degree views over Buenos Aires.
We booked a daytime tour of the building here, but we did see people walk in and purchase tickets at the booth in the lobby. However, you might have to wait for the next tour if you decide to walk in, since tours happen every hour and tend to sell out.
Sunday Morning Tango at Plaza Dorrego
Buenos Aires is synonymous with Tango, and it would be a shame if you didn’t catch a performance while there. However, if you, like me, don’t like spending money on overpriced touristy dance shows, head to Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday morning. This is where the San Telmo Antique Fair is held, and around midday, tango performers will set up stage. We got front row ‘seats’ for a couple of gorgeous dances! The atmosphere was lovely, and there was cheap, fresh orange juice to be had. I couldn’t have asked for more!
San Telmo Market after breakfast at La Poesia
San Telmo Market is literally on every list of things to do in Buenos Aires, and I’m here to tell you it is worth it. The antique market I mentioned above is only on Sundays, so every list tells you to visit San Telmo market on Sundays. However, the actual San Telmo market is open every day, so you might find it less crowded and more amenable on a day other than Sunday. It is full of good food and interesting goods. I loved the design and architecture of the old buildings even more than what was on offer!
Before heading to San Telmo market, I highly recommend eating breakfast at La Poesia. La Poesia is one of the old school Buenos Aires cafes, called Bares Notables. It was a literary cafe in the 1980s where the thinkers of Buenos Aires sat and contemplated democracy. Walking in to the cafe feels like walking in to the past, the old school wooden bar, the gorgeous checkered flooring, even the slightly outdated menu. However, we had an excellent breakfast there for just $9 (for two people). Order the croissants and the orange juice for sure, skip the coffee unless you like yours very milky.
Visit the Recoleta Cemetery
“It is amazing how much money people will spend to not be forgotten” – my husband when we went to the Recoleta cemetery. It is true, this is the most extra cemetery I’ve ever seen. But it makes for an interesting walk! It can get crowded, especially around Eva Peron’s grave (although it took us a while to find it!), but you can easily lose the crowds in the many little alleys.
You could easily spend a couple of hours just walking around the Recoleta Cemetery, so give yourself some time. Also, I recommend buying a guide book or taking a tour if you want to visit some notable graves. If not, just walk around and take in the opulence!
Walk & Shop in Palermo (+ coffee at Vive Cafe)
We loved walking around in Palermo. Trees line the streets, forming a gorgeous canopy of shade. Every new street leads to a discovery of a new boutique, or bakery, or restaurant or cafe. We loved visiting Casa Oz, a cute little store full of goods handcrafted in Argentina. If you are looking for gifts to bring back home, look no further.
My favorite (sadly the only favorite) coffee in Buenos Aires was at Vive Cafe. This is a cool Colombian cafe, serving amazing coffee (hot and cold), delicious sandwiches, and free water(!). Every cafe and restaurant has some kind of outdoor seating like in Paris, and hardly anyone smoking, unlike in Paris. We sat outside for a couple of hours, savoring our coffees and people watching.
Where to Eat & Drink
Other than Casa Coupage, which is a meal and an experience, here are some more places to dine in Buenos Aires.
- La Poesia – for breakfast if you stay in San Telmo (mentioned above)
- Caseros Restaurante – an elegant dinner spot, Andrew highly recommends their steak
- Gran Dabbang – an award winning Indian-Latin American fusion restaurant. I really wanted to try this, but sadly they are closed on Sundays.
- La Brigada – one of the most popular steaks in Buenos Aires, might be touristy.
- Siamo nel Forno – if you want to try Buenos Aires style pizza. More cheese, less sauce. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I live in New York City, so…
- Ser y Tiempo – excellent wine bar
- Facon – wine bar in a home goods store
- Floreria Atlantico – a cocktail bar in a flower shop
- Vive Cafe – the only good coffee I had in Buenos Aires (mentioned above)
General Tips for Buenos Aires
- Although Argentina is known for its steaks, I had no problems eating delicious vegetarian food there. Everyone was more than happy to accommodate me!
- Uber is illegal in Buenos Aires. You can still use the app, but know that it is illegal. Instead, use Radio Taxis. They are cheap, metered and safe. If you don’t know Spanish, just show the driver the address on Google maps. Worked for us every time.
- ATMs charge exorbitant fees in Buenos Aires (charged us $10 to take out cash!). Try to get some Argentine pesos before you enter the country, or withdraw the entire amount you need for your trip in one shot.
- Most restaurants, hotels, shops etc. accept cards. You might need to enter your passport number, but they don’t ask to see your passport. The only time we needed cash was for taxis and some shops.
- A lot of restaurants were closed on Sunday evening, so look up timings and plan ahead!
- Do NOT walk on Florida Street. It is full of hawkers trying to exchange dollars for fake pesos.
Honestly, our days in Buenos Aires were some of the most relaxing we’ve spent while traveling. We decided to just soak in the city instead of pushing ourselves, and that, for us was perfect. I recommend taking in Buenos Aires like you would take in Madrid – there’s nowhere you absolutely must see or be, so spend time savoring a bit of real life there. It is too beautiful to miss.