When exploring a new city, it’s tempting to follow what the guidebooks tell us. We’re disoriented, out of our element, and want to make the most of our time abroad. We all know, deep down, that the tourist attractions aren’t representative of life in that destination. After living in Buenos Aires for several years and working as a South America Travel Consultant, I’ve become all too familiar with the city’s tourist circuit. I’ve also discovered alternatives to mainstream attractions that offer a greater insight into the culture and lifestyle of South America’s most vibrant city.
I challenge you to put your guidebook down and live like locals in Buenos Aires. Here’s how you can do just that…
Instead Of Seeing A Tango Show → Dance With Locals In A Milonga
I cannot emphasize this enough: do not go to a touristy tango show. Unless you are really into dancing and love those sort of cheesy environments…I won’t judge. The tango and dinner shows are run exclusively for tourists and don’t offer an authentic experience.
Instead, head over to a milonga (dance hall), where you can watch in awe as locals dance until sunrise. Don’t be ashamed to hit the dance floor yourself, all are welcome.
Skip The Casa Rosada Tour → Explore Palacio Barolo
La Casa Rosada is Argentina’s version of the White House, but much more flamboyant and vivacious. Fans of Evita will know it as the place where she gave her famous speech. Seeing La Casa Rosada from the outside is a must do.
Rather than going inside for the tour of the Casa Rosada, head about ten blocks east and sign up for a tour of Palacio Barolo. Far off the normal tourist circuit, Palacio Barolo is one of Buenos Aires’ best kept secrets. The building was constructed as an homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The tour finishes at the building’s cupula, which has stunning 360 degree views of the city.
Don’t Shell Out Pesos At An Instagramable Dive Bar → Sit In Plaza Serrano With A Bottle Of Malbec
The bar scene in Buenos Aires is suffering a terrible influenza. Every bar that has opened in the past year is developed with on thing in mind: Instagram. There’s a New York themed bar with a replica subway car, a prison themed bar with a scale model of a jail cell, I could go on and on.
Don’t fall victim to the fads. Grab a table in Plaza Serrano, a lively area full of no-nonsense bars and loads of outdoor seating. Order a bottle of Malbec or Quilmes and see where the night takes you.
Rather Than Dine In A Fancy Parrilla → Eat Choripan On The Costanera
Argentina is known for its beef, but finding a consistently good parrilla (barbeque restaurant) is not an easy task. Rather than spending a fortune on a fancy meal that may or may not meet your expectations, eat where locals eat. In general, the less pretentious a place looks, the better it will be.
Head over to food truck paradise, La Costanera. Order a choripan (bread + sausage + chimichurri), sit at one of the plastic tables, and prepare to have your mind blown. If you’re hungry on a Sunday, any of the stands in the San Telmo Fair serve up delicious choripan as well.
Rather Than Riding The Yellow Sightseeing Bus → Take Public Transportation
I have nothing against the yellow double decker sightseeing busses. They are a great way to effectively connect the city’s landmarks. However, the public transportation in Buenos Aires is far superior. I could probably write a sonnet about my love for the city buses. They offer an exclusive glimpse into the culture and lifestyle of Porteños. You’ll see strangers strike up lively conversations, loads of PDA, and bus drivers getting out of their seats to fist bump other drivers at red lights.
The buses are not only a cultural experience, but an efficient and cheap way to get around the city. Buy a SUBE card at any kiosco (convenience store) and load it with a hundred pesos or so. The Como Llego app will tell you which bus gets you where you need to go, and where to catch it.
Instead Of Touring Art Museums → Take A Walking Graffiti Tour
I’m cheating a bit with this one. Buenos Aires has some great art museums and you should go if you have the time. However, a walking graffiti tour will give you much more insight into the true culture and art scene in the city. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to enjoy Buenos Aires’ amazing weather.
Skip The Fancy Coffee Shops → Order A Cafe Con Leche In A Traditional Neighborhood Cafe
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but coffee is not good in Argentina. The beans grown in Peru and Colombia are exported to the Northern Hemisphere, leaving Argentina with sub-par brews.
The past few years have seen the growth of a few quality coffee shops in trendy areas of the city, but I suggest that you stay away. Instead, order a cafe con leche at the nearest dingy, neighborhood coffee shop. I suggest going around 3-6pm, when Porteños (native Buenos Aires residents) meet up with friends and overcrowd the city’s cafes.
Don’t Go To The Stadium For A Soccer Match → Watch The Game With Locals In A Bar
So many visitors have hopes of attending a soccer game while in Buenos Aires. They’re often disappointed to find that tickets are crazy expensive and often restricted to club members.
Luckily, there’s a great alternative. Set up shop in any bar with a TV, and watch the locals go insane during a match. It’s one of my favorite past times.
In Lieu Of Calling An Uber → Hail A taxi
I won’t take a side of the Uber vs. taxi debate. However, taxis are a crucial aspect of the true Buenos Aires experience. They are cheap, easy to hail, and always a good time. Porteño cab drivers are famously talkative, and they’ll try to strike up a conversation whether or not you speak the language. They’ll discuss all of the taboos: politics, conspiracy theories, and religion. There is no line Porteño taxistas won’t cross.
Rather Than Sunbathing On A Rooftop Hotel Pool → Catch Some Rays In The Parks Of Palermo
If you’re visiting in the warm summer months, I implore you to step away from your hotel pool. I know, it’s a lot to ask, but I promise it’s worth it.
Argentines take advantage of their public parks, which means that they’re great people watching spots. You’ll see families playing soccer, friends sharing mate (a classic Argentine beverage), and way too much PDA (are you sensing a trend?) Head over to the parks of Palermo; El Rosedal and Floralis Genérica are two of my favorite spots. Bring a picnic blanket, a book, and a soccer ball. Find a spot you like, enjoy the beautiful weather, and soak in the true Argentine experience.