10 BEST FREE THINGS TO DO & SEE IN BUENOS AIRES!
.......and ‘getting around’ instructions so that you can find them easily.
In Buenos Aires, you will be spoilt for choice for things to do and places to go. Here is our list of places, in no particular order, that ‘knocked our socks off’ and will hopefully impress you too.
1. The World's Most Beautiful Bookshop-
EL ATENEO GRAND SPLENDID BOOKSHOP
National Geographic Magazine in 2019 named it ‘the world’s most beautiful bookshop” and they weren’t exaggerating. The El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookshop is situated in an early 1900s, elegant, antique theatre and was converted into a bookshop in 2000.
Many of the features of the theatre have been untouched including the balconies, the ceiling frescoes, and the stage curtains, and the stage area is now a very popular coffee bar. Over a million people a year wander through, browsing the books, sipping their coffee and enjoying the ambiance as we did.
It was also great to see so many thriving bookshops, of all shapes and sizes, throughout Buenos Aires, as they have become fewer and fewer in our home city, because of online competition with companies like Amazon.
Subway station is Callao
Street address- 1860 Santa Fe Ave (on the south side of the avenue, 50 meters from Ave Callao) The building is not very obvious from the street.
STAY SAFE: It's always important to keep safe in any large city. Here are some tips you might want to check about keeping safe in Buenos Aires.
2.Stunning murals on the ceiling & torture in the basement -GALERIAS PACIFICO
So there we were, a couple of curious tourists wandering along the well-known tourist shopping area called Florida Street, checking out the shop windows and wondering about the huge number of money changers along the street constantly calling out and desperately wanting to change our money.
It was definitely time for coffee so we just strolled nonchalantly on into this upmarket looking shopping galleria entrance. We ambled along the arcade admiring the shops until we came to a large circular dome area in the center of the building. We looked up and couldn’t believe our eyes! On the ceiling above us were a series of absolutely stunning murals.
Apparently, the building was built in the 1890s for the French Le Bon Marche Department Stores and designed along the lines of the very famous arcade in Milan called Galleria Vittoria Emanuele 11. The department store never occupied the whole building and shared it at times with a Museum of Fine Arts, a luxurious hotel and the British owned Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway offices.
During the late 1970s and 80s, the last military dictatorship took over the building and sadly the basement was used as a torture chamber. It’s hard to believe that acts of torture could take place in such a beautiful environment.
In 1947 five of Argentina's best artists were commissioned to design and paint the murals on the central dome ceilings and they are most impressive. In the 1990s the building was converted into an upmarket shopping mall with a large popular food court.
Subway Station: Lavalle and about 6 minutes walk from here.
Street Address: The distinguished looking building at the intersection of Florida Street and Córdoba Avenue.
3. 4691 vaults here and 4691 fascinating stories-
No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without a trip to the Recoleta Cemetery where most of the military and political leaders and the very wealthy are buried. It covers 14 acres with 4691 vaults in all shapes and sizes and every architectural style, from marble mausoleums to Greek temples and miniature cathedrals all laid out in rows like a small town. It is a pleasant peaceful place with tree-lined avenues.
The most well known is the black marble crypt of Eva Peron but there are many stunning sites with fascinating stories. One site is the attractive tomb of 26-year-old Liliana Crociatei de Szaszaki and her dog. Her story has become an urban legend because it seems no-one has been able to verify all the details. It is said she was killed on her honeymoon in an avalanche that swept through her hotel in Austria. There a number of different stories about the significance of the dog. Some say her dog died in Argentina at the same time as she died in Austria. However, the dog has a very shiny nose because it is considered good luck to rub its nose.
Then there is the story about the Rufina Cambaceros mausoleum. In 1902 she is said to have gone into a coma and appeared dead and was buried. Apparently, the cemetery workers heard noises coming from her mausoleum and opened her coffin to find her with a scratched face and torn nails having tried to escape.
You may come across statues of a man and a woman with their backs to each other. It is said that the wealthy husband was not happy with his wife spending money irresponsibly and getting into debt. The husband stated that he would no longer pay the debts and they fought one another about it right up to their deaths. The husband died first and the wife insisted that instead of their statues being alongside each other, which would normally be the case, that they should face opposite directions.
Subway station: Las Heras
Street Address: Junín 1760, C1113 CABA
4.Vibrant & colorful LA BOCA
Sure it's touristy but it's a lot of fun!
The colourful historic La Boca area is near the river entrance. Lots of street artists, steak houses and tourists are along Caminito, a very colourful pedestrian walkway with its vividly painted buildings and it is a very vibrant area. Once it was a busy shipyard. It has a strong Italian influence as the early residents were from Italy in the early 1900s and the area is said to be the birthplace of the tango. There are plenty of tango dancers entertaining the tourists outside the cafes in La Boca.
The famous Boca Juniors football club is in the area. This is one of the most successful clubs in the world and was started in 1905 by five Italian immigrants. The well-known footballer Diego Maradona played for Boca Juniors. The rivalry with neighbouring River Plate team is fierce and if you get the chance to see one of these games don’t miss it!
Subway Station: Constitucion
It is recommended to take a taxi or Uber into and out of La Boca as the area has a bad reputation for tourist robberies.
5. Where else can you see a 24-ton metallic flower open & shut each day? FLORALIS GENERICA
The 'Floralis Generica' is an intriguing gigantic metallic flower sculpture that opens and closes daily! The 20 meters high and 40 meters wide (when open) steel and aluminum flower sculpture, slowly opens out every morning and closes every evening. It weighs 24 tons and has six 13 meter long petals. It is said to represent ‘a hope reborn every day at opening.’ Each petal weighs a ton. It was a gift to the city in 2002 by an Argentinian architect, Eduardo Catalina, and is a popular tourist site in Buenos Aires. At night the petals glow red. It is indeed a very impressive sight.
And while you are in the area, for those interested in the arts, the Fine Arts Museum is just across the street.
Subway station. I’d suggest Facultad de Derecho station
Street Address: Plaza de Las Naciones Unidas
6. Which balcony did Eva Peron make her famous speech from? CASA ROSADA- The Pink Palace.
Casa Rosada is the pink Presidential Palace with its working presidential offices. It is also located in the Plaza de Mayo. It is here that Eva Peron made her famous speech from the balcony to thousands of her followers in the plaza square. Tours of the Casa Rosada can be made on Saturdays and Sundays but you need to book online first and ensure you take your passport with you to get entrance. Book at- http://visitas.casarosada.gob.ar/
And while you’re there you can wander around the Plaza de Mayo Square which has been the site of many protests and continues today.
Subway station: Plaza de Mayo Station will take you right there or Catedral Station with a short walk across the Square.
Street Address: Balcarce 50, C1064 CABA. All taxi drivers will know the Pink Palace or Casa Rosada.
7. Where else can you see a Catholic cathedral that looks like a greek or Roman temple?
THE BUENOS AIRES METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL
First of all answer this question. What type of building is in the photo above?
No! It’s not a Greek or Roman temple. It’s actually the exterior of the main Catholic Church in the city centre of Buenos Aires. Unlike the exterior, the interior is very much a traditional church, complete with beautiful stained glass windows, soaring ceilings, Venetian mosaics on the floor and marble columns.
The 12 exterior columns represent the twelve apostles and buried inside the cathedral is the Argentinian hero, General Jose de San Martin, who was one of the liberators of Spanish South America back in the early 1800s. An eternal flame in commemoration of the General, burns on the outside wall of the cathedral behind the columns.
The church is also known as the Pope’s Church, as the current Pope Francis was the Archbishop there from 1998 to 2013 when he became Pope.
Another interesting feature in the cathedral is the Image for the Christ of Footballers which was donated by two Argentinian National team players in 1979.
Subway station: Catedral.
Street Address: The corner of San Martín and Rivadavia Streets in Plaza de Mayo in the city center.
Very easy to find once you are in Plaza de Mayo.
8. Buenos Aires biggest Sunday market -SAN TELMO
We stayed in the San Telmo area, the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and loved being there. Around every corner of the cobbled streets, we found another surprise. On our first night, we were wandering around and ran into this impressive life-sized and lifelike Argentian manikin, (see photo) permanently seated in the window of the very European London City Cafe smoking his cigar and keeping a close eye on the patrons. Apparently, Julio Cortazar was a famous author and colorful character who fiercely opposed Juan Peron and spent a lot of his life in France.
Don’t confuse the San Telmo Market with the San Telmo Fair. The covered San Telmo Market (Mercado de San Telmo) was built in 1897 as a large fruit and vegetable market. It has a wide range of antiques, second-hand clothes and excellent food options. It is open every day from 10 am to 8 pm.
The San Telmo Fair is Buenos Aires biggest Sunday market and stretches for block after block from Plaza de Mayo along the narrow cobble-stoned Calle Defensa (Defensa Street) to Plaza Dorrego. The 250+ stalls sell tourist souvenirs, antiques, furniture, clothes, paintings, books, coins, and collectibles. There are bars and cafes along the way where you can take a break and enjoy a spot of people watching.
Subway station: Station Catedral or Station Plaza de Mayo
The Sunday market goes along Defensa Street to Plaza Dorrego
The San Telmo covered Market is located between the streets of Defensa, Bolivar, Estados Unidos and Carlos Calvo and is open every day from 10am.
9. We just find it hard imagining this happening in our city! PROFESSIONAL DOG HANDLERS
Make yourself comfortable on a seat in one of the big parks and be entertained by the dog packs and their handlers. Lots and lots of these professional dog handlers (paseaperros), who are often university students, are out and about walking up to 20 dogs of all sorts and sizes and shapes with their leads al attached to a hook on the dog handler’s belt.
Apparently, one in four people in Buenos Aires have dogs and, especially those people who live in apartments, are willing to pay US$80 per month for a dog handler to collect their dogs and return them home again on either a morning or afternoon shift. There are also special ‘off-leash’ dog parks where the dogs can roam freely. The dog handlers are responsible for collecting and disposing of all the dogs' droppings. However, it seems that often this doesn’t happen. Just watch where you walk!
Dog handlers are a common sight in the parks in the wealthy areas of Palermo and Recoleta.
Listed below are a couple of parks you may want to visit.
Barrancas de Belgrano is on Av Juramento and 11 de Septiembre
Subway station: Jose Hernandez Station and an 11-minute walk from there
Tres de Febrero / Bosques de Palermo
Subway Station: Escalata Station
10. A city full of amazing artworks....out in the open ....STREET ART GALORE!
It never ceased to amaze us. We would just be wandering around and all of a sudden, out of the corner of our eye, we would spot an amazing painting up high on a building, or a mural on a wall as we walked by, or out of the bus window, or hanging from the ceiling of a subway station like the slices of David's face sculpture (see photo).
Street art began in the 1950s promoting political parties. However, all street art ceased from 1976 to 1983 during the military dictatorship. Then from 1998 to 2002, the devastating financial crisis took place, when the government froze bank accounts and many people became unemployed. Many buildings were abandoned or deserted and in the early 2000s, the abundance of empty buildings provided a multitude of blank canvases for street artists to create colorful designs to brighten up the lives of the badly affected and unemployed people of Buenos Aires and some emphasized political themes and propaganda.
Street art in Buenos Aires is not an illegal activity so artists can take their time in creating their artwork or murals. Generally, all that artists require is the consent of the building owner.
Although we just aimlessly wandered around enjoying the artwork we stumbled across, there are now many very popular organized tours and walks available for Buenos Aires Street Art. Some of the most popular areas are Palermo, La Boca, Colegiales, Villa Urquiza and Coghlan.
There are also International Art Festivals and Street Art Festivals that attract local and international artists. "Buenos Aires Street Art" has been responsible for sponsoring numerous mural projects in the Villa Urquiza and Coghlan and there are now 50 plus murals in the area by international and local street artists.
For more photos and information click here- https://www.somanyplacessolittletime.com/street-art-buenos-aires
Check out - https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attraction_Review-g312741-d2301509-Reviews-BA_Street_Art_Tours-Buenos_Aires_Capital_Federal_District.html for information about " Street Art Tours" or take the subway to Palermo, La Boca, Colegiales, Villa Urquiza or Coghlan.
Maureen is a travel writer lucky enough to be living in New Zealand and has a great passion for travel. Since she became "empty nested" in the late 1990s she has traveled and worked in over 70 countries!
Now she writes articles to share her amazing experiences with other travelers in the hope of providing practical information to help them to prepare and plan for their travel trips.