Buenos Aires, Argentina is known as the “Paris of South America” and lives up to its nickname with an overwhelming café culture to rival its European counterpart. The city is the second largest in South America (after Rio de Janeiro) and is a hot spot for those who love music, food, dancing, and just all-around beautiful people. The nightlife is fantastic, particularly if you like clubs that open at 2am (I don’t, so I can’t comment on their quality!). Buenos Aires has a very distinct European feel to it and a growing international expat community in the Palermo district. The quality of life is very high here and during my stay, I just floated from cafe to cafe, park to park, and wine bar to wine bar! Explore the markets, the many bookshops and cafes, and just relax!
Hostel prices — Hostels start at about 100 ARS (7 USD) range for a large 10-person dorm room. The more popular hostels are around 200 ARS (13 USD) for a 6-8 bed dorm. Private rooms with a shared bath start at around 450 ARS (30 USD) a night. While expensive, Milhouse Hostel is really popular with backpackers looking to party. For more quiet hostels, check out the ones in San Telmo or Palermo.
Budget hotel prices — Centrally-located hotels start around 420 ARS (28 USD) for a twin/single room and 500 ARS (33 USD) for a double room. Most include breakfast, free WiFi, and many include air-conditioning. There’s a good number of Airbnb hosts here and you can get a shared room (i.e. couch) for as low as 150 ARS (10 USD), while prices for a private room start around 270 ARS (18 USD).
Average cost of food — In most of the cafes around the city, you’re looking at 80-100 ARS (6-7 USD) per dish, though you can find lunch specials at the cafes downtown for 60 ARS (4 USD). Pizza is really popular in the city and cost 120 ARS (8 USD). Steaks begin at 150 ARS (10 USD), bottles of wine at 120 ARS (8 USD), and pastas at 100 ARS (7 USD). If you are looking for a really nice sit down meal with good steak and wine, expect to pay around 320 ARS (21 USD). You can buy a week’s worth of groceries (including bottles of wine) for around 500 ARS (33 USD). For super cheap food, be sure to eat at the choripan (sausage and bread sandwiches) stalls for 25 ARS (less than 1 USD). Empenadas, the staple of to-go food in the country, cost between 8-15 ARS (less than 1 USD). Some good restaurants to eat at: Don Julio, The Burger Joint, Origen cafe, La Cabrera, and Freddo for ice cream.
Transportation costs — The bus and subway are still the best way to go at 5 ARS (less than 1 USD) for a one-way ticket. You can can multi-pass books for cheaper but the savings aren’t great and, for a short trip, you’ll never use them all. You can buy your single-journey tickets any time you enter a subway station (expect lines!) or pay with coins on the bus (they don’t take bills). The SUBE card is also an option if you’re staying longer in Buenos Aires. It’s a plastic transportation card that subsidizes public transportation and can be reloaded at convenience stores, grocery stores or kiosks throughout the city. The card has an upfront cost of 25 ARS (less than 1 USD) and can be obtained at a SUBE office. Taxis around the city will range between 75-100 ARS (5-7 USD).
Suggested daily budget — 480-640 ARS / 30-40 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Learn to tango for free — Instead of forking over cash for tango lessons, be bold and head to a Milonga where there will be plenty of locals keen to show you the ropes for free. On Sundays, the San Telmo market has free tango lessons at 8pm. Many of the hostels also offer free tango lessons too!
- Discounts on attractions — Most museums and attractions offer either discounts or free entrance to students, teachers, and seniors.
- Discounted fútbol tickets — If you’re going to a fútbol (American soccer) match, choose tickets in the standing room lower level terrace, called “las populares” seating. These are half the price of the standard seats, and the casual fan atmosphere is much better.
- Specialty discount cards — La Nacion Club and La Nacion Premium Club Cards are associated with the La Nacion Newspaper, one of the biggest newspaper publications in Argentina (written in Spanish). Every week La Nacion Club Card website lists participating establishments who give discounts to card members. Although many of the restaurants offer the deals on Tuesday or Wednesday only, the discounts can range from 5-50% off and are definitely worth it.
- Join a free walking tour — There are a number of companies that offer free walking tours throughout the city. They are very comprehensive and the best way to get a history of the city! You can also take free walking tours of the Congress during the week. Two companies to try out are Buenos Aires Free Tour and Free Walks Buenos Aires.
- Eat at restaurants for lunch — Most of the cafes (especially those downtown) offer a set lunch menu for around 100 ARS (often times including steak). If you want to eat at the city’s many restaurants, it’s best to do it during lunch!
- Refill your water bottle — The tap water in Buenos Aires is safe to drink. Save money on lots of bottles of water and refill from the tap!
- Couchsurf — Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay, but also a local tour guide who can introduce you to all the great places to see.
Top Things to See and Do in Buenos Aires
- Tango — The tango is Argentina’s national dance, and you wouldn’t leave with the true local flavor without hitting the dance floor while in Buenos Aires. There are plenty of places offering lessons, and you can even chase down a Milonga, or tango event, that begins in the afternoon and carries into the wee hours of the night.
- San Telmo Market — For the best cultural and shopping experiences, make your way to San Telmo and the Sunday antiques fair at Plaza Dorrego. Artisans, musicians, stilt walkers, and other street performers line the streets. Souvenirs such as silver, paintings, and sculptures can be picked up for reasonable prices—sharpen your elbows! This is a great place to test out your bargaining skills.
- Fútbol — Fútbol (what Americans call soccer) is big business in Argentina, and aside from having a fantastic national team, the country also has plenty of top class league teams. There are two great stadiums in the city, La Bombonera and El Monumuenta. For the best experience, try to catch a match between the city’s two rival teams, River Plate and Boca, but plan ahead because tickets can be hard to come by.
- Recoleta Cemetery — It might seem a bit morbid to visit a cemetery for pleasure, but Recoleta is one of the city’s most visited attractions. The cemetery is the final resting place of many of the city’s most notable citizens, including Eva Perón and the Paz family. Also worth seeing is the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres, who was tragically buried alive according to legends. It’s open daily from 7am-5:30pm.
- Museo Evita — Argentina is known as the home of Eva Perón or Evita, and this museum explores Evita’s life from childhood through her career as an actress, onto her role as the First Lady and ultimately, ending with her death. This museum will leave you with an appreciation and understanding as to why she is such a significant figure to the Argentine people. Admission is 40 ARS (3 USD). It’s open 11am-7pm daily except for on Mondays.
- Zoological Gardens — A perfect way to while away an afternoon and get some priceless pictures of the country’s indigenous animals is by visiting the Gardens. Polar bears, flamingos, pandas, and tigers, oh my, are residents of this 45-acre city zoo. Admission is 7 ARS (less than 1 USD). It’s open daily, 10am until dusk, except for on Mondays.
- National History Museum — Formerly the Lezama family home, this palatial building encapsulates Argentina’s history from the 1500s to the early 1900s. Most of the exhibits focus on the Argentine War of Independence fought against Spain from 1810-1818 and the May Revolution which also took place in 1810. It’s open from 11am-6pm and closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
- Círculo Militar — This is the former home of the Paz family, the wealthy owners of the La Prensa newspaper. Built by a French architect, the building has more than a subtle French influence, but strangely, a few rooms are also in the Tudor style. As one of Argentina’s most beautiful buildings, this is definitely an essential stop on your city tour.
- Falkland Islands War Memorial — Under the military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri, Argentina declared war on Great Britain in 1982. The museum contains a monument inscribed with the names of all the Argentines killed in the four months of conflict over the Falkland Islands (or “Islas Malvinas,” as they’re known in Argentina).
- Casa Rosada — Dominating the city’s Plaza de Mayo is Casa Rosada, arguably the city’s most notable landmark. The building has played a starring role in the country’s history, quite literally. It was where Madonna re-enacted Eva Perón’s addressing of the crowds of workers in Evita. Open weekends from 10am-6pm.
- La Fería Mataderos — The Mataderos fair is an interesting alternative to the other Sunday markets. Located on the southwestern edge of Capital Federal, Mataderos offers a less touristy atmosphere. Simply put, the tango dancers there are not doing it for show — they are dancing because it’s their pastime and passion. The fair also offers live music, great food, and plenty of handmade crafts to browse and purchase.
- Palacio Barolo — Tour this landmark building of Argentina (themed around Dante’s Inferno) and take in the amazing history and panoramic views of Buenos Aires. This building has fascinating architecture and offers the best viewpoint of the city. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm-8pm. A guided tour costs 200 ARS (13 USD).
- Temaiken Park — This Zoological park offers a huge variety of animal exhibits, with African, Asian, and South Americas zones. Just a short drive outside of the city, it is considered to be one of the major attractions of the area.
- Recolleta — This is a high-class, fashionable neighborhood, lined with various boutiques, cafes, and galleries. There is also a street fair every weekend. As a central location in the city, it’s a great area to check out and explore while catching your breath.
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes — This fine art museum is host to many significant works, from European masters to pre-Renaissance days. Additionally, there is an expansive collection of 19th and 20th century Argentinian paintings and sculptures that make up one of the most impressive collections in the country. It’s open 11am-8pm daily but closed on Mondays.
- Jardin Botanico Carlos Thais — This garden is full of winding paths, statues, creeks, flora, and fauna from all over the world. Take a stroll alongside the resident cats for an enjoyable, relaxing afternoon outside—or stop by for a quick picnic to get out of the hustle and bustle.
- Reserva Ecologica — Trash turns into treasure at this former dump site turned oasis in the middle of the city. This ecological reserve is made up of nearly 900 acres of green area and lagoons and is perfect for birdwatching, jogging, biking, or simply walking. The reserve is free and takes over an hour to get around the reserve on one of the well-trodden paths, but it’s tranquil and a great escape from the noise of the city. Be sure to bring water. Guided tours are available on weekends and the reserve is closed on Mondays.
- La Bomba de Tiempo — This must-see captivating 17-person percussion group provides 3-hours of lively, wild, pulsing entertainment in the form of music. Nearly 1,500 people pack into the Konex Cultural Center each Monday as the group performs improvisational music with African and South American rhythms. Doors open at 7 with an opening act playing until 8. You don’t need to buy tickets in advance but get there early to avoid standing in long lines and possibly missing the beginning of La Bomba’s set.
- Jardin Japones — In a city as noisy as Buenos Aires, the Japanese gardens provide a beautiful, calm retreat. Open daily year-round, the gardens have peaceful lagoons adorned with bright red bridges. For a small fee, you can buy food to feed the koi fish.
- Tigre — Dubbed “The Undeveloped Venice” with its plentiful canals, this city is only 45 minutes away from central Buenos Aires. It’s green and lush and seemingly a world away from the chaos of the city — which is likely the reason why it’s a common retreat for Buenos Aires’ more affluent residents. Tigre makes for a great day trip and has museums, a market, artist workshops, restaurants, and even an amusement park to explore. Getting there is cheap, too: the train is less than 2 ARS (less than 0.15 USD) and the ferry is about 75 ARS (5 USD).
- Uruguay — Country-hop over to Uruguay by going to Colonia del Sacramento, which is just one hour from Buenos Aires via ferry. The historic quarter, rife with Portuguese influence, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a big change of pace from Buenos Aires. It’s the perfect town to meander about as you’ll find tons of quaint houses, plazas, and cobblestone roads. Make sure to see the lighthouse while you’re here. The ferry cost can seem steep at more than 2,000 ARS (130 USD) round-trip, but you can save money by taking the slower one that gets you there in three hours.
- El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore — El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the biggest bookstores on the continent and built in an old theater. It’s beautiful, there’s a huge English language section, and the old stage is now a cafe. Definitely don’t miss it.