The All Things Culture Guide to Buenos Aires

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Empanadas. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Thompson.

Interested in visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina? I caught up with city expert and the blogger behind Indecisive Traveler, Rease Kirchner — who lived in Buenos Aires for two years — to get the scoop on the local culture, food, nightlife and lesser-known experiences — not to mention essential solo travel tips. Continue reading for everything you need to plan the ultimate trip itinerary to Buenos Aires.

1. For those wanting to experience local culture in Buenos Aires, you should have a two-hour lunch. Meet up with friends over medialunas (crescent-shaped croissants) and café con leche (coffee with milk). Have dinner at 11pm and go dancing until 5am. Ride the subte (subway/metro) from one side of the city to another. Have picadas (cured meats and cheeses) in the park. Go to an all you can eat parrilla and try meats you’ve never heard of then drink Malbec until your teeth turn purple. I don’t really think that there are specific places or activities that give you the “Buenos Aires experience.” To me, Buenos Aires is a feeling. I often compared Buenos Aires to a boyfriend that I loved deeply, but one that I had all out scream-fests with every so often. The city is amazing and frustrating all at once.

2. No trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without savoring the local food culture. For someone wanting a traditional meal, they should have ice cream. Everyone always talks about Argentine steak, but no one ever talks about the incredible ice cream. The artisan ice cream in Argentina rivals the frozen treats of Italy and Spain. There are incredible heladerias (ice cream shops) on every block. The most popular flavor is dulce de leche, but I was also a huge fan of Banana Split – which includes a swirl of the dulce de leche that Argentina is famous for. You can even order ice cream to be delivered to your home. Amazing. I seriously could ramble on for days about Argentina’s delectable ice cream. Here’s a list of my favorite ice cream places in Buenos Aires. I challenge you to try them all!


Alfajores, a traditional dulce de leche-filled Argentine snack. Photo courtesy of jamieanne.

3. For backpackers and extreme budget travelers heading to Buenos Aires, a good idea is to buy lunch from panaderias (bakeries). Eating out in Buenos Aires can be very pricey, but pretty much all bakeries have a variety of empanadas, tarts, sandwiches and other tasty savory items prepped for purchase. You can just pop in, have them heat it up for you and then eat in a park. You’ll save a lot of money on the food itself, but you also will save on the annoying cubierto fee restaurants in Buenos Aires will charge you just for sitting down, not to mention the tip.

4. For those wanting to assimilate into local culture, avoid offending locals in Argentina by not touching the bombilla! A bombilla is the metal straw used to drink mate, which is an herbal tea and favorite local drink. Mate is served in a gourd with a metal straw and passed between friends. It’s very rude to wipe off the bombilla or stir the mate. If you are worried about germs, it’s best to abstain from mate all together, because messing with the bombilla is bad manners.

5. To party like a local in Buenos Aires, the best spots are a secret. I’d love to tell you where my favorite club is, but I have sworn to my local friends that I wouldn’t! That being said – if you really want to party like a local, get away from Plaza Serrano and head to the less touristy areas like San Telmo. You’ll find plenty of clubs packed with locals well into the wee hours of the morning. Remember, in Buenos Aires going home before 4am is considered early.


Malbec, the wine of Argentina. Photo courtesy of Vina Caliterra.

6. To sip a glass of wine paired with a beautiful view in Buenos Aires, you can go everywhere. Seriously, Argentines are all about their wine. Every restaurant has some good local wines. But if you are looking for a really nice view, Puerto Madero overlooks the river, which shines beautifully at night. I also really enjoyed having drinks in Palermo Hollywood where the people watching is excellent.

7. A must-experience day trip from Buenos Aires is Mar de Plata. The beach is not the most beautiful and certainly not the most peaceful — nearly every inch of the sand is occupied by a sun bather — but the city itself is really fun. I went for the annual film festival so I got to see the city in a unique light.

8. For solo travelers heading to Buenos Aires, remember that pickpockets are really clever in Buenos Aires and the city can sometimes lull you into a sense of security. It’s important to maintain constant vigilance. My biggest travel tip for visitors is to never pull out a map on the streets.

If you are lost, either use a phone or a GuiaTe, which is a pocket guide of all the bus routes that you can buy at any newspaper kiosk in Buenos Aires. Thieves will sometimes watch for people who check maps or look lost and follow them until they can rob them. Also, always protect your belongings, especially if someone approaches you, even if it’s just for what seems like a friendly conversation. Thieves in Buenos Aires often work in teams, so while you are having what you believe to be a cordial conversation with one person, their accomplices might be rooting through your backpack.

I lived in Buenos Aires alone for two years and I was never robbed. While I have to give luck some credit for that, I never let my belongings out of my sight, even in nice restaurants. I also made sure to hop into a cab if I ended up in an area that gave me the creeps. More than once I had cabs take me to a safer bus stop so I could stay safe but not have to pay a fortune in cab fare.

Contributed by freelancer Rease Kirchner, a Spanish interpreter and preschool tutor.

Do you have any Buenos Aires travel tips or favorite experiences to add? Please share in the comments below.


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