Travel Itinerary: Buenos Aires Beginner's GuideJanuary 29, 2016
Buenos Aires was a lovely city that I spent 8 days in, and within that long period of time I managed to cover quite a lot of places, so here's a guide which I hope will be helpful for you guys! Credit to both Kiezin and Fabian who helped to co-author this when they visited it before me, after which I followed it and then further refined it.
Buy a Sube card but not from the metro, but from kiosks on the streets. It can be topped up at the stations - each trip is about 3+ pesos for bus and 4.50 pesos for the metro (click to view/download metro map).
When you board the bus, tell the driver where you want to alight and tap your card. Buses run perpendicular to the metro and Google maps recently integrated its data into their route plans. Buses run 24/7 but at lower frequency at night, while metros stop running by 11pm. Taxis start at 16+ pesos and jump 1.7 per 200m, relatively ok for short distances or at night (safer, less time).
WiFi is widely available so consider skipping the 3G card if you are here for a few days. Otherwise, get a 3G prepaid (prepago) from Claro - find an official Claro store to register with your passport. It's 4.40 pesos per 50mb per day (but you can allow for next 50mb when you are done with it), top up can be done in some supermarkets or shops.
The blue houses have collapsed after the new president made drawing money from ATM easier, with USD to ARS rates just about 5% difference from what you can get on the streets (Florida St., where people shout 'Cambio cambio' all day long). Just be sure to draw more to maximize the ATM transaction fee (or find a Citibank branch if you have a Citibank debit card to skip that fee).
Use Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor plus local hostel intel and blogs to triangulate your research. There are plenty of nice restaurants, bars, speakeasies and cafes in Palermo, Retiro and Recoleta districts. Word of warning - do not try Japanese food in Buenos Aires even if you have a craving to because you'll inevitably be disappointed by the overly vinegary rice and cream cheese stuffing in sushi.
Also remember to add 10% tip to your bill if it is not included - it is not compulsory but the norm (unless the service really sucked).
> Steak houses
La Cabrera on the corner of Thames and Cabrera at Palermo. Slightly more pricey (around 40 USD for mains only, and wine) but you get what you pay for. Order the 400g ribeye medium rare (smallest size) and the grilled provolone cheese to share as starter. Reserve ahead of time especially for Friday nights or you might not get a table. Saturday nights are strangely more quiet.
Parilla Penas (closed till end of Jan for holidays!) - a super old school establishment in Recoleta barrio, walk in only no reservations, but we liked the steak here. It looks like Bar Nacional!
At both places do order the ribeye, ojo de bife, and skip the sirloin (bife de chorizo) as they tend to be tougher. Servings are huge so try to go for half servings if they have. Provolone, grilled goat cheese is a popular local starter but depends on your preference. Do try the tomatoes though and blood sausages if you so incline.
Don Julio is another institution but was not as good value or taste.
Le Pain Quotidien is a great place for brunch. It's a chain concept so there are about 4 branches in the city and the one in Palermo is the best.
Negro cafe de cueva near Florida for a really solid cup of java. They also do almuerzo set of $80 for a lemonade, coffee and savoury tart.
Sasha near the cemetery/museum is a good place for some croissants and pastries in the afternoon or morning. The Le Pain Quotidien branch there is not as good.
In Palermo there's a famous bakery restaurant called Ninina Bakery, great interior decor and atmosphere but I wasn't impressed with their pain au chocolate/tart tartin. Hop over across the street to COCU boulangerie to get a set of croissant, pain au chocolate, hot drink, fresh orange juice and bread with cream cheese for just ARS98 instead.
> Other places to eat (note that Argentineans eat late - around 9pm!)
Cafe Puerto Rico for lunch. A classic institution that has been classified as a "Bar Notable" by the government. Old world charm, famous for pastries. We loved the coffee and gnocchi. Just south of Plaza de Mayo.
London City cafe for tea. At the junction of AV. De mayo and Peru Street (the same street that continues at the end of Florida street). Chic place for coffee, good for coffee and pastries and desserts. Loved the flan here (with cream and dulce de leche!). Wanted to try the tiramisu but didn't have stomach space for it!
Cafe Tortoni on AV. De Mayo is very famous and popular, but can get crowded because it is so touristy. There are tango dance performances in evenings.
Cumana - this is at Recoleta district, a wallet friendly cafe with decent empanadas and cazuela, eat the one with meat! I quite enjoyed this meal
If you're going to San Telmo, a barrio (neighbourhood) south of Microcentro (the main city area where Plaza de Mayo is), there is another old bar called Bar el Federal worth checking out for some drinks.
Check out the market at San Telmo on Sundays by walking from Plaza de Mayo down Defensa Street (only!) to reach Plaza Dorrego as it will be filled with handicraft stalls, leather goods, etc. The plaza will also be transformed with vintage stuff and curios. Along the way, go into the Mercado at the side for some shade and more vintage stalls and old record stores. Have a coffee at Coffee Town inside the mercado to take a break.
Definitely have ice cream (helados)! Plenty of nice ones around - look for "artesanal" in the name if you want handmade ice cream. Suggest going to the one in Palermo Soho on Jorge Luis Borges street with a moustache logo called Nicolo, or any of the Freddo or Volta chains. In Microcentro try old-school Heladaria Cadore. Definitely order the Dulce de Leche flavor (normally you get 2 flavours in 1 vaso/cup).
Argentineans claim to have the best pizzas in the world, even better than Italy! Pizzas here are modified to have a thick crust with plenty of cheese and ingredients as they have it as a main course instead of a starter. Try Pizzeria Guerrin, an age-old institution that gets super crowded with locals after 9pm, or La Americana, a chain restaurant that has good and cheap empanadas and thick pizzas.
Areas to visit/things to see
It is recommended to plan your tour of Buenos Aires by districts, as it is a rather large city! It can be divided into 4 parts or days:
Recoleta is a wealthy, nice area to walk around with shops, bars and restaurants. The world-famous bookstore El Ateneo is here, occupying a former theatre. Absolutely gorgeous but no English books. There's a cafe on the stage of the theatre if you want to take a break.
Retiro area (east of Recoleta and north of Microcentro-Florida St takes you up here from Plaza de Mayo area), also a chic area. Plaza San Martin is here, with a mini Big Ben (Torre monument) donated by UK to Argentina, and a shopping mall called Gallerias Pacifico which is in a beautiful building with expensive shops.
When you are in Recolata, visit the Recoleta Cemetery! Possibly the top (offbeat) attraction in Buenos Aires. This is where Evita Peron is buried (her grave is rather underwhelming). It can be REALLY hot before 4pm, so bring a bag and umbrella if you don't want to get even darker. You can buy a map of the graves for 20 pesos at the door or just download before/take a pic of it. Try identifying some key tombs to visit as the cemetery can be a maze. There's a free English guided tour every Tues/Thu at 11am.
Also nearby, check out the Fine arts museum (Museo de Bella Artes) - to escape the heat visit the museum for free. It has quite a decent collection, with European modern masters like Monet as well as a chronology of Argentinean art. It's in the same district as the cemetery, slightly north. Closed on Mondays. The metal flower structure that opens and closes daily (spoilt now) is in the park just behind the museum, called Floralis Generica.
Walk around in Palermo Soho (metro stop Plaza Italia or Palermo) - a gorgeous hipster neighbourhood filled with shops, little bars and cafes, and well-known restaurants. A chic area to hang out and shop that isn't as pricey as Recoleta might be. The heart of the area is this little roundabout at the junction of Honduras and Serrano street, and down Jorge Luis Borges street. You need an entire day there, really.
Florida is the main pedestrian street in Microcentro that runs north to south, and you can exchange US dollars at a slightly better rate (5%) than drawing from the AT via those men shouting "cambio".
You can also go to tango shows (street sellers for that on Florida and Lavalle). Book via your hostel for a better rate - I booked at Complejo Tango for only 590 ARS for tango class (you get a certificate!), 3-course dinner and show. Piazolla Tango was supposedly really good too and the theatre is right on Florida!
To the east from Florida you will find Puerto Madero, the port/riverside lined with fancy restaurants and steak buffet places as well as a couple of clubs. Visit the ship museum for 5 pesos, a fun little excursion.
The centre of the city is Plaza de Mayo (metro stop Cathedral) with quite a lot of historical buildings - including the presidential palace Casada Rosa where Evita (Madonna) spoke from. The metropolitan cathedral is gorgeous too.
Walk around De Mayo Avenida, starting from Plaza de Mayo. You will find lots of cafes here. Turn down to Peru St in front of London City cafe and there will be people selling handicrafts, mate cups and leather goods on mats on the street.
San Telmo area. It was historically a nice neighbourhood until a yellow fever outbreak drove the rich to Recoleta. The San Telmo Mercado is here and it is nicer on weekends, and not forgetting the Sunday market at the Plaza. There's a used English bookstore called Walrus books nearby and down south, two museums including the modern art museum (free on Tuesdays).
Visit the modern art (free on Tues) and contemporary art museum just beside modern art at San Telmo (closed on Tues) if you have time. There's currently an experiential exhibition that was originally showned in 1965 by Marta Minujin going on now in the modern art museum worth a trip!
Further down south you will find La Boca neighbourhood, separated from San Telmo by Av. San Juan (take a quick cab from San Telmo). It is a small touristy neighbourhood with colourful buildings that people love photographing. The La Boca stadium is also there. A much rougher neighbourhood with more pickpockets. Do not walk here after 6pm.
Getting to Montevideo
You can go to Colonia first (then buy only for Colonia) or go to Montevideo via Colonia (only 15 min stopover). Go to the Seacat Colonia office near Puerto Madero on Av. Cordoba to book your ferry/bus tickets in advance. Tickets (1h ferry to Colonia and 3.5h bus to Montevideo) are 448 pesos one way during week days and goes up almost twice the price on weekends. For two way it is around 768 pesos. I've also heard that you can buy tickets from BA to Montevideo from the Uruguay Seacat Colonia website, for cheaper (but I did not try).
Well that's it! Hope you find this useful!