"The Paris of South America", Buenos Aires definitely stands out and gives you that feeling of being in a European capital. In between the grandeur of a big city and the charming decadence of Latin America, the Argentinian capital is well worth a visit.
Even though there's plenty to do in Buenos Aires and endless options for day trips nearby (such as Tigre or Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay), the historic centre is quite compact and most landmarks are located within walking distance, which makes it a very easy city to navigate in spite of its size. Here's the 3-day itinerary that I followed on my recent visit, I hope you enjoy!
DAY 1: SAN TELMO, PLAZA DE MAYO & MICROCENTRO
I thought there was no better way to get to know Buenos Aires than starting the day visiting its oldest barrio (neighbourhood). Characterised by its colonial buildings, in San Telmo you won't really find any well-known monuments, but I'm sure you'll enjoy its cafes and local ambience.
If you're lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, there is an antique fair that goes from Plaza Dorrego along Calle La Defensa. Here, you'll be able to buy pretty much anything you can imagine, a good option if you're looking for some peculiar souvenirs.
Plaza Dorrego is also well-known for its musicians and tango dancers, especially on Saturday after the fair is over. A great alternative to the sometimes prohibitive tango shows if you're on a budget.
As you walk along La Defensa, don't miss out Mafalda's statue, a monument to the main character of the most famous Argentine comic strip. On the way to Plaza de Mayo, you will also find the Santo Domingo Convent, built by the Dominicans in 1751 and declared a National Historic Monument. The Church is free to visit and worth spending a few minutes inside.
I next headed to Plaza de Mayo, the heart of the city and surrounded by all main landmarks of Buenos Aires and were the main historical events of Argentina have taken place. Named after the revolution of 25 May 1810 that led to independence from the Spanish Empire, nowadays the square is the hub of political life in the country.
In the middle of Plaza de Mayo stands the May Pyramid, constructed to celebrate the anniversary of the May Revolution and crowned with an allegory of Liberty at the very top.
Here's where the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have congregated since 1977 in protest for the forced disappearance of their sons during the Argentine military dictatorship, walking in circles along the pyramid wearing their traditional white shawls.
The first building that stands out is the Casa Rosada (the Pink House), office of the President that receives its name from its pink façade.
There are 1h free guided visits every weekend, although recently they have been suspended for individual visitors after the last change of government. You might want to double check with the guards at the door in case this changes, but a big disappointment in the meanwhile!
However, you can still visit the Bicentenary Museum, just on the right-hand side of the Casa Rosada. This modern museum commemorates the 200 years since the start of the revolution that led to Argentina's independent.
On the north end of Plaza de Mayo you'll find the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral.
Built on the site of a colonial church, the cathedral holds the tomb of General José de San Martín, leader in South America's struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. You can enjoy the (rather modest) changing of the guard every two hours.
In recent years, the cathedral has become well-known worldwide as Jorge Mario Bergoglio used to be the Metropolitan Archbishop here before becoming Pope Francis and leader of the Catholic Church.
Right next to the cathedral is the Cabildo of Buenos Aires, a town hall from the 18th century now converted into a museum with colonial and independence-style paintings, as well as mementoes of the 19th century British invasions.
Leaving Plaza de Mayo behind, you can then continue through Avenida de Mayo, a 1.5km long avenue that connects Plaza de Mayo with Congressional Plaza and where you'll have endless options for lunch.
Midway you'll find Cafe Tortoni, a coffeehouse dating back to 1858 and inaugurated by a French immigrant who named it after a Parisian cafe with the same name. The inside is just gorgeous and still preserves the atmosphere of a Parisian cafe. Take a peek inside if you need a coffee stop!
At the end of Avenida de Mayo, you'll finally arrive at the Argentine National Congress, in my opinion, the most impressive monumental building that I saw during my stay in Argentina.
The plaza also marks the kilometre zero of the Argentine National Highways. Although there are some very dodgy people around, I found this area safer than it feels.
You will now have covered all the area known as Microcentro, or downtown. If you still have time and energy you can reach Calle Florida in a 15-20 minute walk, a pedestrian shopping street and one of its main tourist attractions, with street performers, living statues, tango dancers and an infinite option of shops and restaurants.
Don't forget to stop by the Havanna store to buy some alfajores and dulce the leche, the perfect way to finish off a busy day!
DAY 2: AV. 9 DE JULIO, RETIRO & PUERTO MADERO
I started my second day in Buenos Aires in Avenida 9 de Julio, which hosts the record of being the largest avenue in the world.
The best starting point is the intersection of Plaza de Mayo, where the statue of Don Quixote is located, and then keep walking all the way up north. If you look in the opposite direction, you will come into view with the building of the Ministry of Health and a gigantic image on its wall of Eva Perón.
Walking north you'll find the Obelisk, icon of Buenos Aires and a national historic monument. It was constructed back in 1936 as a commemoration of the fourth centenary of the foundation of the city.
A few meters further you can visit the Teatro Colón, the main opera house in Buenos Aires and one of its most beautiful buildings, with nothing to envy the Opera of Vienna or the Opera Garnier in Paris. You can take a guided tour inside daily from 9 a.m to 5 p.m starting every 15 minutes in multiple languages.
Just behind you can't miss out Plaza Tribunales, surrounded by the neoclassical Palace of Justice and multiple modernist buildings in a surprising contrast.
From high-end stores and restaurants to typical Argentinian food, Galerías Pacífico is one of the best options in Buenos Aires for lunch and some shopping.
As a tip, the currency exchange office located on the ground floor offers one of the best rates I found during my visit. Much safer than people offering you to exchange money on the streets (illegally) at very similar rates.
Inside the gallery look up to the frescos in the cupola, well worth the visit!
Walking east towards Mar de la Plata and the port, you can stop by Plaza San Martín, a park locating in the Retiro neighbourhood. Here you can find the Monument for the fallen in the Falklands War.
Facing Retiro Station, one of the main transportation hubs of the city, stands the Torre Monumental, a clock tower commemorating the centenary of the May Revolution. It was previously known as Torre de los Ingleses (Tower of the English) but was renamed after the Falklands War for obvious reasons.
A few meters from Retiro begins Puerto Madero, a barrio right next to the Rio de la Plata riverbank and one of the most modern areas of the city.
From skyscrapers to 200 years old ships, Puerto Madero makes for a great walk. The views at sunset with the sun reflecting on the glass buildings and the sea are just breathtaking!
This neighbourhood is filled with high-quality restaurants, some of the best parrilla houses of the city and the trendiest nightclubs. I couldn't have found a better place to finish the day!
DAY 3: LA BOCA, CAMINITO & LA RECOLETA
In my last day, I took a bus from Microcentro to La Boca. The fare is incredibly cheap, less than €0.50 per person at the time I visited.
I felt comfortable enough going by bus as I spoke the language and had GPS on my phones so I knew where we get off. However, La Boca didn't look like the safest neighbourhood (at least outside of the tourist area), so you might want to consider taking a taxi instead. Fares should be cheap enough, so it might be a better option if you're feeling less adventurous.
Caminito was hands down my favourite part of Buenos Aires. This street is an open-air museum famous for its colourful houses made of painted tinplate that was taken from ship material found in the port.
This neighbourhood originally attracted settlers from Italy and Spain that used to work in the port just next to the mouth of the River Riachuelo. This is where the name La Boca (Spanish for the mouth) comes from.
Although La Boca only has a few streets and is much smaller than you might expect, you will find plenty of hidden alleys full of souvenir stores at very good prices.
You can easily spend at least a couple of hours walking around, and if you're still there at lunchtime, you'll find restaurants serving all kinds of international and local food.
La Boca is also home to the most famous football team in Buenos Aires, the Boca Juniors. Its stadium La Bombonera is only a few minutes away from Caminito and open for visits. I didn't visit myself as I wasn't particularly interested, but it's worth to consider if you're into football.
After Caminito I took the bus back to the city centre and headed north towards El Ateneo.
El Ateneo is a beautiful bookstore and former theatre. Where the stage was located you will now find a pricey cafe. I sat down for a small break while enjoying the surroundings before continuing to La Recoleta.
Recoleta is one of the most elegant neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. Here, you will be able to find multiple city parks and Parisian style mansions, but its most famous attraction would be the Recoleta Cemetery. Macabre as it might sound, this is one of the must-do visits if you go to Buenos Aires.
Full of amazing statues and mausoleums, the architecture is just impressive and makes you forget where you actually are. Its most famous resident is Eva Perón, former First Lady of Argentina and still one of the most loved political figures in the country.
The cemetery offers free tours in English at 11 a.m Tuesday and Thursday, and Spanish tours Tuesday to Friday at 11 p.m. and 3 p.m. I joined the 3 p.m tour that was starting just as we arrived, and it was well worth it.
My experience wouldn't have been the same if I had just wandered around without learning about the history of all the historical figures that were buried in there. If your Spanish is not good enough, you can try taking the 11 a.m tour in English and then visit Caminito, following an inverse itinerary.
All opinions are my own.