19 Mar 2014

Big Eats And Cultural Delights In Buenos Aires

Our journey to Buenos Aires involved our first overnight bus journey and although we’d heard that the buses in Argentina were great we were a still a little apprehensive. There was only one bus company for our route but we opted to travel Cama class which meant an almost flat bed and all meals included, we paid 800 ARS (£62)each. Bus travel in Argentina is expensive but to be fair though we were travelling 1,350 kilometres! Once onboard our minds were put at ease, we had huge comfortable seats and within ten minutes we were eating cake and dulce de leche toffees. They even had a couple of films to entertain us so it was just like being on a long haul flight, we slept well and awoke at the massive three storey bus station in Buenos Aires.

tango buenos aires argentina

We had just six days and five nights to explore Buenos Aires and with Vicky attending Spanish school every weekday morning Steve was left to his own devices to explore the city solo and indulge his history passion. In the afternoon’s we’d meet to eat and explore a little more. There are tonnes to see and do in Buenos Aires as its so rich in culture, history and delicious food, it was a fascinating city to spend the best part of a week and below are our highlights...

Tour El Zanjon de Grandos

Steve’s first solo expedition was to the El Zanjon De Grandos, a restored 17th century mansion in San Telmo (our favourite neighbourhood in Buenos Aires). In its glory days the stunning property was owned by a very wealthy and revered family but after a break-out of yellow fever many of the rich in San Telmo moved away to Recoleta so this neighbourhood and its grand mansions fell into disrepair. The large influx of immigrant communities meant that many buildings including El Zanjon de Grandos became homes for over 20 families (100 people) who would share a maximum of two bathrooms and one kitchen, very cramped! Centuries later this area is a multicultural blend of ethnicities on which Buneos Aires now thrives.

El Zanjon de Grandos Buenos Aires Argentina

By 1985, El Zanjon de Grandos was almost completely dilapidated but was purchased by a passionate Hungarian gentleman whom Steve had the pleasure to meet. His parents were Hungarian immigrants that moved to San Telmo in the mid 20th century and he grew up not too far away from this building so jumped at the chance to restore something from the area of his youth.  He has spent the last 20 years lovingly restoring this building during which they've unearthed the original old waterway that runs underneath and restored all of the tunnels.

If you like history and restoration projects then this place is worth a look. They run English and Spanish one hour tours for 120ARS (£9).

Go On A Street Art Tour

Street Art Graffiti Buenos Aires Argentina

Its difficult not to notice the quirky street art around Buenos Aires and we were excited to discover a tour of the best bits in parts of BA that tourists would not normally look to visit. There are a couple of different tour operators but we chose Graffiti Mundo as it combined a bit of walking, a minibus and infortmation on the history behind the Street Art movement in Buenos Aires. After making it to rendezvous point in the Colegiales neighbourhood with a pastry in hand (the bakery round the corner was too much to resist!) we waited for the rest of our group to assemble, 10 minutes later it was just Steve and 15 women(!) lucky for him a couple of other guys joined soon after.

street art graffiti buenos aires argentina

Our local guide Ana was very enthusiastic, knowledgable and had been involved with the Graffiti Mundo tours for a few years. The first key fact that surprised us was that street art in BA is a movement from middle class kids. One of the main reasons for this is that decent spray paint in Argentina is expensive in comparison to wages so it is not the cheapest hobby. 

First we walked to a few of the older pieces, one interesting piece was called “El Eternauta”  and  it depicts an apocalyptic vision of Buenos Aires to openly criticise the military dictatorship. It has president Nestor Kirchner's face imposed on the image of a popular comic character, the stencil offered a tribute to the dead president and his work on human rights and was plastered all over the city.

street art buenos aires argentina
“El Eternauta”

Another piece we saw was on a school route where a father who was not allowed to see his son (for reasons unknown) had written a message of love to him on the wall. Then we hopped on the minibus to see some huge scale murals on the side of tower blocks, these were really impressive although the meaning was a little lost on us - the area was also covered in dog poo so you had to watch your step carefully. 

street art graffiti buenos aires argentina

Opposite here was a huge wall literally covered in street art and it showed of the different skills the artists use such as blending, stencilling, etc. Our penultimate stop was near a bus station and we saw the works of an artist who uses a lot of 3D cubes in his murals and amazingly does them all free hand. There was lots of information and artwork to take in on our tour which lasted about 3 hours and cost $22.50 (£13.70). We ended the afternoon in Post Street Bar in Palermo which is also decorated with more humorous streetart. 

street art buenos aires argentina
"Naughty Alice!"

We stayed couple of hours for a few drinks with some new friends we’d made on the tour, it was great little excursion that we really enjoyed.

Eat Like A Local

From freshly baked empanadas to perfectly grilled steak, in Buenos Aires you are never far from a delicious meal or tasty snack! MEAT. This was that was on our minds when heading to Gran Parilla Del Plato in San Telmo, Steve had walked past this little Parilla (PA-REE-SHA) a couple of times on his rambles but it had been closed. We were very eager to try Argentinian steak and turned up as soon as they opened at 8pm, by Argentinian standards this is ridiculous early as they never eat dinner (aka meal number five of the day) before 10pm. 

street art graffiti buenos aires argentina
"Amazing Street Art opposite our favourite Parilla!"

After perusing the steak options we opted for a sharing hunk of sirloin steak (800grams) cooked 'rare-medium' with sides of creamed spinach and mashed potato, not forgetting a bottle of Argentinian Malbec to complete our deliciously unhealthily meal. The food was fantastic and the steak just melted in our mouths living up to our high expectations, the crazy part is that this meal cost less than 350 ASR(£27). The restaurant soon filled up with other carnivores and by 9pm it was packed, mainly with Western tourists but a few locals too. We enjoyed our first authentic Argentinian steak house meal so much it was the main topic of our conversation over the next couple of days.

homemade pasta buenos aires argentina
"Delicious homemade ricotta ravaoli and pesto!"

There is a big Italian influence on cuisine in Buenos Aires with many restaurants serving up homemade pasta and pizza. For pasta you choose the type and then your favourite sauce, the best we had was also in San Telmo (a great foodie neighbourhood) at La Poesia where Steve also tackled a mammoth sized burger.

Pizzas in Buenos Aires are definitely filling but not necessary our favourite style, you get a thick crust literally layered with toppings - its not bitesize chunks of ingredients like you get in Italy or the UK. If you order ham the entire pizza will be covered in ham, then a crust to crust layer of artichokes, olives etc so once the chef has finished layering the ‘pie’ it's a couple of inches tall. That's a BIG pizza pie!

restaurant buenos aires argentina
"When in Argentina..."

Every ten steps in Buenos Aires there is a bakery of some sorts usually with steaming trays of freshly baked empanadas (a lot like pasties but with a really tasty stewed filling) inviting you nose first inside, in the afternoons we would usually sample a couple as we casually passed by. The best we found were carne (beef) mixed with chopped onion, olive and potato - so delicious! And from the dulce (sweet) section we could never resist a dulce de leche or custard filled doughnut. The only thing you might want to avoid is a cheese or ham filled Medialuna (croissant) as the pastry is covered in sugar, not such a great taste sensation.

We also discovered a great Middle Eastern restaurant in Palermo called Sarkis, luckily we bagged a table at this busy haunt before they ended their lunch service. Portions sizes were huge but extremely tasty and the staff were great - try the lamb and falafel, plus don’t forget a bottle of Finca Flinchman Malbec. Again it was a great value two course meal for two at just 200 ASR (£15). After just eight days in Argentina we could feel the waistband on our clothes tightening but we knew we were fighting a losing battle, we just can’t say no too great food and wine! 

Watch The Classic Tango

tango buenos aires argentina
"Let's Tango!"

Head to Plaza Dorrego square in San Telmo and if you're lucky like us you might see buskers dancing the tango. We were enjoying a glass of red and a beer when the music started and a smartly dressed couple began warming up for the small crowd. It was very cool to watch them do their thing and tango in the authentic Argentinian way.

Get To Know Evita 

Many tourists make a beeline to this museum in order to learn about the most famous lady in Argentina’s history who shaped their social support system to be what it is today. There is still quite a big split in public opinion on Evita, some people blame the Peron's spending for the economic problems in the country today. Neither of us knew too much about Evita so the museum was informative and interesting even though it could be classed a little biased towards to the Peron family. There are a few videos and lots of her belongings including iconic outfits from her wardrobe. As the museum is situated a 5 minute walk from Plaza Italia Subte we also visited the Japanese garden which is just 10-15 minute walk away.

Stroll Around The Japanese Garden

japanese garden buenos aires argentina

We were intrigued to discover Buenos Aires had a Japanese Garden and that it was popular. Its in an affluent area of the city and brings a little bit of Japanese culture into South America with a tranquil zen garden comprising of lots of little arched bridges, small concrete pagodas and a lot of humongous hungry carp. It’s a very pleasant way to spend 30 minutes or so in the sunshine, but probably only worth heading to if you are in the area. It’s a great place to people watch, one couple with the help of a professional photographer were creating some sexy shots together at 3pm in the afternoon. So far on our travels we've noticed many people want provocative photographs in odd places. WHY?!

Walk In The City Of The Dead

recoleta cemetary buenos aires argentina

This is supposed to be one of BA’s top attractions and Steve was not disappointed. Even though it could be classed as slightly macabre the whole cemetery was stunning and the 15 minute walk from the Callao Subte station takes you through one of the most expensive and exclusive parts of central Buenos Aires. The cemetery contains over 6,400 tombs and walking amongst them feels like you’re in a deserted town.

recoleta cemetary buenos aires argentina

Many of these tombs originate from Buenos Aires's Golden Age (1880-1930) and are absolutely stunning, some are so big an entire family could inhabit them. It was great place to wander around and enjoy some tranquility in the city. The Recoleta Cemetery is well worth a visit so you can explore the city of the dead. The only thing that made the experience a little more frustrating was the complete ignorance of some of the visitors, there was one American couple standing on some of the stunning mausoleums in order to get a better photograph. 

recoleta cemetary buenos aires argentina

P.S. Evita's mausoleum is somewhere in the cemetery too but Steve completely forgot to check it out, to find it just follow the elderly crowds.

Visit The Modern Art Museum

modern art buenos aires argentina

Sat on the edge of San Telmo and Boca this former tobacco factory is a huge, airy space holding some interesting exhibits across a couple of floors and best of all it’s FREE entry! We headed upstairs to the first exhibition which was pretty spooky as it combined nightmares and fairytales, there were five videos of live action/puppetry style animation with haunting voices of whispering and shrieking children in the background. They were very surreal videos and made us jump in parts so all good fun.

modern art buenos aires argentina
"What this piano needs is more feathers!"

The next room was dedicated to the pop culture of the sixties featuring artwork from bands like The Rolling Stones and various comic strips and photographers, it was very colourful and the standout piece for us were some flamboyant feathered pianos that wouldn’t look out of place on Elton John’s stage. Unfortunately the gallery were not utilising all of their showspace during our visit but we’d still recommend it if you like modern art. 

Learn (Argentinian) Spanish

We had experienced a few language difficulties in Brazil due to our lack of Portugese. So, as we were about to spend three months travelling through Spanish speaking countries Vicky volunteered herself to be our Spanish spokesperson and enrolled herself on five day course in Buenos Aires. There were tonnes of schools to choose from and Vamos in the Palermo neighbourhood seemed like great value at just $195  for 20 hours of group classes. Vicky's class just had three students each at the same beginner level. Her teachers opening sentence was "Why do you want to learn Spanish in Argentina, we speak differently to all other Spanish speaking countries?". Aside from the unique pronunciation (eg. Ll being a Sh sound and not a Y) the course was really useful and gave Vicky a good grasp of the common verbs (to be, to have etc), how to conjugate them plus some useful vocab.

Vicky left with useful phrases such as "Como se llama tu perro?" (What’s the name of your dog?) and “El gato es arribe la mesa” (The cat is on the table.). If you have the time in your travels its definitely worth squeezing in some language lessons.

Spend Your Dollars & Euros

The Argentinian Peso is not very strong at the moment and there is a blatant black market for US Dollars and Euros so you can get much more for your money if you turn up with a few $ or  in your pocket. We don’t recommend swapping your cash with the guys on the street but in restaurants you can pay in foreign currency, as an example our steak dinner cost ARS 350(£27) and if we had paid with Euros it would have come in around £18. We really wished we hadn’t used up all of our dollars in Cambodia!

Where To Stay

If you’re staying longer than a few days in Buneos Aires consider renting an apartment through airbnb unfortunately we didn’t do this and first checked in to the rubbish Hostel Suites Florida - everything about it was awful. We stayed three nights before moving to a boutique hotel in San Telmo where the rooms were much nicer and only a little more expensive. Buenos Aires is very expensive for accommodation and private rooms in hostels are similarly priced to hotels so make sure you shop around.

dog walker buenos aires argentina
"Walking 10 dogs at a time. #Standard."

Please be aware that Buenos Aires is quite a dangerous city and muggings are very common in all neighbourhoods (even Palermo), the Subte is very safe and Vicky used this daily on her own to get to Spanish school. In the evenings we would take taxis or stick to busy streets if we were not walking far. Be very careful with your belongings and only carry with you what you need for that day.

We wish we could have had more time in Buenos Aires as there is so much more to this vibrant city. Have you been to BA before? What were your favourite things to do?


  1. I spent a week in Buenos Aires in January, and I can tell now that it wasn't nearly enough time. You did so many things that I didn't even have time to do! It's definitely a city I need to visit again in the future. I must say that the cemetery in Recoleta was one of the highlights of my trip, along with the Italian food of course!

    1. Hi Hannah. We feel the same and definitely hope to visit again to explore some more!