Buenos Aires is a magical city. The people are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the accents are seductive. I had the privilege of living there for about six months and it was one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had.
I had just graduated college with no clue what I wanted to do with my life and no true desire to join the real world just yet. The only thing that seemed right to me was to travel more and work on my Spanish language skills (Spanish had been one of my majors in college and after graduating I still wasn’t fluent), so naturally, I looked to South America. As I started doing some research, Buenos Aires immediately stuck out as the perfect choice. To me, it was a modern, westernized city with all the culture and spice of traditional Latin America.
I became certified as a TEFL English as a second language instructor and set off on my way, with no job, no place to live, no friends or family, and only a basic knowledge of Buenos Aires and Argentina as a whole. In the end, I was able to build a life there for myself and became immersed in everything that Buenos Aires has to offer. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever accomplished, and it wouldn't have been the same in any other city.
For other travelers planning to make a move to Buenos Aires, or even those just passing through, here are 10 things I wish would have known before visiting:
1. Argentinian Spanish is Different From Spanish in Other Latin American Countries
Argentinians are known for coming off as a bit snooty. This is largely due to the fact that Argentina differs greatly, both culturally and linguistically, from other countries in the region. In Buenos Aires, the Spanish is spoken with almost an Italian cadence, which makes sense as a good part of the population is descended from Italian immigrants. People from Buenos Aires are referred to as Porteños, and you can expect to hear a lot of slang words specific to Argentina, like “che” and “boludo/a”, thrown around regularly.
2. Buenos Aires is Pretty Far From Everything Else in Argentina
One important thing to note about Buenos Aires is that it is isolated from most of the other noteworthy places in Argentina. It’s easy to forget that Argentina alone covers the majority of the southern part of the continent, and as a result distances to get from place to place are very far and it can be quite expensive to travel between them. Most of the places that are worth a visit in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires, such as Mendoza, Patagonia, Iguazu, Bariloche, and Salta, are along the country’s borders, while the interior of the country is mostly farmland (hence the country’s capacity for amazing beef!).
3. Steak And Wine
That farmland we just talked about occupies the majority of central Argentina and is referred to as Las Pampas. This area is responsible for Argentina’s reputation for producing some of the best beef in the world. Argentinian steak and wine, particularly Argentinian Malbec, are absolute staples in Buenos Aires and in Argentina as a whole. One of the most popular dishes is the Bife de Chorizo steak, which often comes with a fried egg on top and is served with papas (french fries). Beef in Buenos Aires isn’t typically too expensive and is known for being some of the highest quality meat there is. If you’re looking for a great steak in Buenos Aires, definitely head to La Cabrera or Las Cabras, both in the Palermo neighborhood. Empanadas are also hugely popular in Buenos Aires and you can get them fast and served basically everywhere. The only food I would recommend avoiding while in Argentina is the pizza which is truly awful, ironic due to the majority of the population being Italian, go figure!
4. Café Culture
One of the best things about Buenos Aires is the café and coffee shop culture. If you want to feel like a true porteño, the most authentic thing you can do is go to a café with a friend and charlar over a cafecito (chat over a coffee)! Buenos Aires is made up of many barrios (neighborhoods), each with its own distinct flavor. One of my favorite barrios is the hip and trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood, which is characterized by cute cafes, boutiques, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, art galleries, and open-air markets. Cafés and coffee shops you can’t miss in Palermo are Ninina, La Panera Rosa, and Libros del Pasaje.
5. Buenos Aires Gets HOT!
It’s important to note that because Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are flipped, so their summer ranges from December to March. In the summer months, Buenos Aires is very hot and humid, and unless you know someone with a pool, there is no place to swim! Buenos Aires is situated on a river, but as it is a port city, you’ll have to drive a few hours outside the city to find the nearest beach. However, rooftop pools are not uncommon and gathering with friends and family for asados, or barbeques, is fun and very typical during these warm months.
6. La Bomba de Tiempo
If you’re looking to party like a true local, you won’t want to miss La Bomba de Tiempo. Monday nights the percussion group La Bomba de Tiempo puts on a huge improv concert at Ciudad Cultural Konex. It’s always packed with locals and travelers alike partying to the rhythm of the drums. Buy tickets ahead of time or at the door and enjoy a mix of drums, dancing, and culture.
7. Feria San Telmo
A can’t-miss activity when you’re visiting Buenos Aires is a stroll through the famous Feria San Telmo Sunday market in the San Telmo neighborhood. This seemingly endless market starts at Plaza Dorrego and extends for many blocks. It’s filled with traditional Argentinian food, art, music, antiques, and handicrafts being sold by local vendors. Popular among porteños and tourists alike, Feria San Telmo is full of free tango shows and live music, and is sure to give you a taste for the best of Buenos Aires.
8. PM Open Air Concerts
One of my favorite things to do while I was living in Buenos Aires was to go to the PM Open Air electronic music concerts on Saturday afternoons, just outside the city. Dress for a casual music festival and go with a group of friends to see new DJs perform in this chic open-air live music venue. The concerts have a very cool vibe and you’ll mix and mingle with young people from all over the world who are living or studying in Buenos Aires.
9. Bosques de Palermo
One of the best ways to escape the city is to delve deeper into it. The Bosques de Palermo is like Buenos Aires’ version of Central Park, right in the middle of the city. A massive, beautiful park oasis filled with lakes, rose gardens, and wide open spaces, the Bosques de Palermo is a welcome change from the bustling crowdedness of the rest of the city. The park also includes attractions like the Buenos Aires zoo and planetarium, and often houses food trucks and outdoor festivals.
10. Can’t Miss Things to Do and See in BA
Buenos Aires is an incredible city with a million things to do and see. If you’re only there for a short visit, some of the highlights include seeing a tango show, visiting Teatro Colon opera house, Puente de la Mujer bridge in the Puerto Madero neighborhood, the famous Floralis Genérica sculpture in the Recoleta neighborhood, and the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s version of the White House. If you have a bit more time, I would also recommend visiting the Recoleta Cemetery, where many notable Argentines such as Evita Perón, are buried. Finally, the neighborhood of La Boca is a can’t-miss destination if you’re traveling to Buenos Aires. On the main strip, Caminito, you will discover traditional Argentinian steakhouses, tango shows, and colorful houses and buildings that will give you a true feel for Buenos Aires.
Anyone who travels to Buenos Aires is sure to fall in love with it. Many people associate the city with steak, wine, and tango, and while those things certainly are incredible, Buenos Aires is truly much more than that alone. I hope these tips will help to guide you on your next adventure and that you enjoy everything that Buenos Aires has to offer.
My name is Sophie Mendel, and I’m an American wanderluster currently residing in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I have traveled to 42 countries and lived in 5, am fluent in English and Spanish (and always in the process of learning more languages), and love lugging my guitar around the world with me!