A comprehensive guide to the best off-the-beaten-track things to do in Buenos Aires
Go to Tigre
Go to Tigre, but go to the real Tigre. As a tourist, you’re most likely to follow the tip to go to Tigre and end up going to the dreadful Mercado de Frutas on a Sunday and wander round stalls selling garden furniture with The Godfather printed on it and little leather trinkets of no use to mankind, and maybe take a forty-minute boat trip with a tour guide who tells you nothing of interest. Instead, get a bunch of friends together, rent a house, jump on a charming old wooden lancha colectiva, and get ready for a weekend of barbecuing, drinking and jumping in the river. There are people who claim the Tigre delta is their favourite place on Earth. This author is one of them.
Avoid Tourist Tango Traps
Avoid the hyper-touristy tango shows and take a guided tango trip with tangotrips.com for a more authentic experience at one of the city’s traditional milongas. You can go and watch or go and dance, and they’ll even provide you with lessons and a partner if you don’t have one. If you want to check out a milonga on your own, Maldita Milonga in Buenos Ayres Club, San Telmo comes highly recommended with live orchestra El Afronte playing every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday around 11pm. (Oh yeah, tango tends to start late, though there are earlier options.)
Check out the jazz
But Buenos Aires isn’t just about tango. As well as the ubiquitous folclore and rock nacional, there’s a great jazz scene – Thelonious would be a good place to start – and you can even listen to roda de chora on the first Sunday of every month at Café Rivas, which OK, it’s Brazilian music and you’re in Argentina, but it is awfully nice. Besides, Café Rivas is a wonderful art deco kind of place, gourmet but unassuming food, small wine list, you’ll love it.
You’ll be wanting to try the Malbec. But rather than staying at home glugging a bottle of Callia, you’ll be pleased to know that there are now many wine bars in Buenos Aires that serve wine by the sample glass so you can get a real feel for the country’s wines and look sophisticated at the same time. Shout Brasas & Drinks in Retiro is just across the road from the apartment where Paul Theroux read to Borges in The Old Patagonian Express.
Buenos Aires isn’t only about the Malbec. While maybe fifteen years ago you would have been lucky to get much more than a cold bottle of Quilmes, the city’s craft beer scene has exploded in the last couple of years, to the extent that they had to create a beer map to accommodate them all. On Tap and Blue Dog in Palermo are two of the hottest places to go, while Bierlife in San Telmo has more than forty beers on tap. That’s thirty-nine more than fifteen years ago.
Eat meat you grilled yourself
While the parrilla crown seems to be divided among the La Cabrera-Don Julio-Lo de Jesús beef triangle, do be sure to check out the newish kid on the block, La Carnicería. Or for even more beefy fun, do your own asado. AsadoAdventure takes you round the cobbled streets of Palermo Viejo shopping for your ingredients, then shows you how to cook it in the comfort of a big private house. You get to eat it as well, obviously.
There’s plenty of great non-Argentine food too: Try El Tejano for the most tender ribs this side of the Rio Grande, La Fábrica del Taco for probably the most authentic and unpretentious Mexican in town, Burger Joint for arguably the best burgers (a contentious issue among expats), and Venezuelan arepas at La Arepería de Buenos Aires.
Walk it off
Once you’ve wandered around the city centre and Palermo for a couple of days and got your bearings, be sure to take a walking tour with Buenos Tours. As well as the usual classic walks, they also offer an off-the-beaten-track tour of lesser known barrios and a Jewish history tour well worth looking into.
Take in some more bars
While you’re exploring the outer circle of barrios that Buenos Aires tourists tend to ignore, it’s a great opportunity to check out some of the city’s Bares Notables, old, classy bars staffed by old men in bow ties and/or comfortable cardigans. Café de García in Villa Devoto has everything you’d look for in such a place: black and white floor tiles, old men playing billiards, photos of Gardel and Maradona on the walls (Diego used to live round here), and their picada has the best charcuterie you’re likely to taste in this town. You might also want to make the trek out to Los Laureles in Barracas (live tango, old dudes), Tokio in Villa del Parque, or Don Juan in Villa Santa Rita, where Buenos Aires fanboy Robert Duvall filmed Assassination Tango.
There’s plenty of free open air stuff too. The Reserva Ecológica (nature reserve) round the back of Puerto Madero is a vast open space that makes you forget you’re in one of the most populous cities in the Americas, great for bird watching and other geeky chills. Further up the coast to the north is the Costanera Norte, with river views, the Palermo woods, opportunities for plane spotting at the Aeroparque if that’s your thing, and a great bondiola (pork shoulder) sandwich from any of the food carts along the way.
While you’re up on Costanera Norte, Tierra Santa, possibly the world’s only religious theme park, is gold for those with a heightened sense of irony. A plastic Jesus resurrects every hour and you can leave your prayers in a replica of the Wailing Wall. Live shows! Biblical food! And new: Noah’s Ark! You can’t have this much fun for 100 pesos anywhere else in town.
Go to an abandoned fun fair
Parque de la Ciudad, out in Villa Soldati (leave your valuables at home), is an abandoned (non-religious) amusement park where you can go up a space-age observation tower for a view of the city. Plus you also get to ride on possibly the world’s diddiest tram. the Premetro, as far as the Parque de la Ciudad stop.
Get tickets for the Colón. It doesn’t matter what for, the star of the show is the theatre itself. Thousands of tourists and expats spend years in Buenos Aires without ever visiting one of the best theaters in the world. Don’t do that to yourself. Book online (English option in top right corner) or in person at the theatre.
Go to an old cinema before they turn it into apartments
You’ve marveled at the Gran Splendid bookshop but imagine seeing a film there, like you could back in the last century. While the invasion of multiplexes and shopping centres has seen many of Buenos Aires’s best-loved cinemas turned into religious temples, car parks and touristy tango monstrosities, a handful of the city’s great old cinemas remain. Personal favorites are Lorca and Premier, both on Corrientes, while the Arte Plex in Belgrano and the renovated 25 de Mayo out in Villa Urquiza are well worth a visit. If you want to see old films projected, head to Cine Club Dynamo in San Telmo. There’s also BAMA Cine and the beautifully renovated Cine York out in Olivos.
Go to a mansion
Take the train out to Beccar and head for Villa Ocampo, the mansion of writer and general literary hobnobber Victoria Ocampo, where you can enjoy a guided tour of the house and take a dainty tea on the best china.
Get a bike
Last of all, and possibly best of all, get a bike. The city might look at times like the worst place to ride, but there is an increasing network of cycle paths and if you keep away from the main avenues and wear a helmet you’ll be fine. A bike gives you a totally different perspective of this city. You can borrow bikes for free from any of the City-run EcoBici stations around town.
Written by Daniel
Daniel Tunnard is the author of Colectivaizeishon, el inglés que tomó todos los colectivos de Buenos Aires. His book about trying to take all the trains in Argentina, Trainspotting en los ferrocarriles argentinos will be out later this year.