Buenos Aires guide for creative travellers: top 8 things to do
Buenos Aires is one of the most vibrant cities that we’ve visited in South America. A lot can be found by simply walking around as live music spills onto the streets, the alleyways are filled with markets and urban art, and there are always buskers on the subway.
Many of its historical buildings have also been repurposed for the arts—old theatres were converted into libraries, neoclassical mansions into art galleries, cooking oil factories into live music venues, and pump houses and power plants into cultural centres.
We’ve included information about how to get around Buenos Aires, current prices in 2019, as well as the best neighbourhoods to stay in. This post will help you find the colour, culture and imagination that we loved so much in the city—here are the top 8 things to do.
Street art in Buenos Aires
There’s no need to actively seek out art in Buenos Aires—the streets are filled with creativity. While walking around, we were fascinated by the many public spaces for artists (both local and international) to collaborate.
The city is home to the world’s largest mural, ‘El Regreso de Quinquela’ by Alfredo ‘El Pelado’ Segatori. The piece is located in Barracas and covers 2000 square metres over three buildings.
HOW TO FIND STREET ART IN BUENOS AIRES
Some of the best urban art can be found in colourful alleyways in Colegiales and Palermo (which is arguably Buenos Aires’ trendiest neighbourhood). Among many other works in Palermo, there is a 9 metre tall painting of Frida Kahlo by Campos Jesses, and a delicate mural of a woman carrying a house by Australian artist, Magee.
We walked around and looked up many of the artists as we went, but an easy way to find the urban art around Buenos Aires is to take a guided tour. Graffitimundo run a number of different tours throughout the city ranging from $28 to $50 AUD ($20 USD to $35 USD) per person. Alternatively, Buenos Aires Free Walks offer a tour of Palermo for 400ARS ($13 AUD, $9 USD).
Otherwise if you’d like to find the best artworks on your own, the city’s tourism board, Travel Buenos Aires, has put together two self-guided circuits. You can also use the Street Art Factory’s interactive map to put together a route.
2. Latin American and Spanish Art Galleries
There are many impressive art collections in Buenos Aires.
LATIN AMERICAN ART
Our favourite is the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), which is the city’s Latin American art museum. It is dedicated to modern works, and follows artistic movements and cultural influences across the 20th century.
The collection includes Latin American surrealism of the 1920s, with works by Frida Kahlo, Antonio Beri and Maria Martins. It also tracks the ways that politics manifested in Social Realism, Nativism and critical art in murals and paintings by artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
MALBA is located in Palermo and is open from 12pm to 8pm, but closed on Tuesdays. Entry to the permanent exhibition is 200ARS ($6.70 AUD, $4.60 USD).
The Enrique Larreta Spanish Art Museum is a smaller gallery, but also hosts extremely well curated exhibitions. We visited a temporary exhibition which showcased the history of bull fighting in the the works of Salvador Dali, Picasso and Goya.
The permanent gallery operates out of a neo-colonial mansion, which has an Andalusian style garden and centuries’ old art and ceramics collection. The building was a wedding gift to Josefina Anchorena (who now rests in Recoleta) on her marriage to Enrique Larreta, a famous painter and writer.
In Recoleta, the city’s old water pump house has been converted into the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). It features a collection of some of Argentina’s most renowned artists, such as Antonio Berni and Eduardo Sívori, as well as European artists like van Gogh and Picasso.
3. Sculpture in Recoleta Cemetery
It’s a bit macabre, but Recoleta Cemetery is definitely worth visiting if you’re interested in sculpture or architecture. The huge site is the final resting place of many famous Argentinians, including presidents and Nobel Prize winners, one of Napoleon’s granddaughters, and, probably most famously, Eva Perón.
There are 6,400 graves in the cemetery, and each one has been ornately crafted. There is a huge assortment of designs and architectural styles, including neoclassical gates, Greek pillars, obelisks and ornate Baroque cathedrals.
HOW TO GET TO RECOLETA CEMETERY
To get there, take the metro to Recoleta and follow Las Heras Avenue until it meets Junin. Follow Junin for two blocks until you get to Vicente Lopez Street, where you’ll see the wall of the cemetery.
4. Colour in La Boca
La Boca may be one of the most touristy places to visit in Buenos Aires, but we would still recommend a trip to the barrio if you like art, history or photography. During the early 19th century, many settlers came to the port city from Genoa, Italy, and the area retains a strong European influence. It has a rich immigrant and working-class history, and has purposefully been revived as a cultural centre over time. A few tips for visiting are included below.
COLOURFUL BUILDINGS OF EL CAMINITO
El Caminito is the main colourful walkway, and one of the most iconic streets in Buenos Aires. The area has been brightly coloured since the turn of the 20th century, when the tenement housing was painted with the vibrant colours used on hulls of ships at the nearby port. The area was eventually abandoned by the elite with the onset of yellow fever, and many of the buildings were then converted into housing for immigrant populations.
In the 1960s, the abandoned strip was brightly painted again by local artist Beinto Quinela Martín, mimicking the early settlers. Caminito is the most popular place for tourists to visit in La Boca, and is now filled with buskers and restaurants.
THE ARTS IN LA BOCA
The arts are central to La Boca, which revolves around performance, and traditional and contemporary art. Teatre de la Ribera is the main theatre, and La Usina del Arte is a multidisciplinary cultural centre operating out of an old power plant.
There is a gallery entirely dedicated to Benito Quinqeula Martín, who lived in La Boca and is one of Argentina’s most famous artists. Through his work, the Museo Bellas Artes de La Boca depicts daily life around La Boca in the early 20th century.
There is also a modern and contemporary art museum, Fundacíon Proa, by the river. It is a private museum showcasing both Latin American and international vanguard artists, and includes installations and performance art. In 2017, it exhibited works by Ai Weiwei, and in 2017, it hosted the Getty Museum’s curation of Argentine Photography from 1850 to 2010.
TIPS FOR VISITING LA BOCA
the easiest way to get to La Boca is by taxi, which takes around 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre, or 30 minutes’ drive from Palermo;
the restaurants in the main tourist area are pretty over-priced;
whatever you do, don’t exchange money there, as the foreign exchange rate is extremely high; and
there are a lot of articles about taking extra safety precautions in La Boca. It is usually packed with tourists so may naturally be a prime place for petty theft, but we honestly wouldn’t think twice about it.
Buenos Aires is packed with artisanal markets.
During the week, you can find a small market in Plaza Serrano, Palermo. If you’re in Recoleta on a weekend, head to Plaza Francia for handcrafts—particularly jewellery, ceramics and textiles.
The largest markets are set up on Sundays in San Telmo, filling dozens of streets towards the Plaza de Mayo. The San Telmo markets are the best place to pick up art nouveau posters of the city and vintage records. We picked up some beautiful jewellery made from the Inca Rose stone (rhodochrosite), which is Argentina’s national gem.
6. El Anteneo Grand Splendid
For book lovers, there are many libraries around Buenos Aires. El Anteneo Grand Splendid is the most impressive that we visited. It is an elaborate century-old theatre which has been converted into one of the most ornate bookstores. It’s considered by National Geographic as the world’s most beautiful bookstore, and ranked as the second-most beautiful by Guardian.
The theatre was originally built in 1919, and its splendour and architecture have been preserved. The store itself is framed by the theatre’s gold railings, the ceiling dome is enriched with the original Italian fresco painted by Nazareno Orlandi, and the stage—although it has since been converted into a café—retains the thick burgundy curtains.
It now contains over 120,000 titles, making it the largest variety of books in Buenos Aires, and it is visited by more than 3000 people per day.
HOW TO GET TO EL ANTENEO GRAND SPLENDID
The library can be reached within 20 minutes’ walk from the Recoleta Cemetery. Otherwise, the nearest Metro stations within walking distance are:
Callao (D line - 6 minute walk)
Estação Facultad de Medicina (D line - 10 minute walk)
Tango runs deep in Buenos Aires, originating in the working-class areas of the city during the late 19th century. Many neighbourhoods have a particular history of the dance, including La Boca, San Telmo and Boedo.
WHERE TO FIND BUSKERS
You can find buskers performing the tango in most popular tourist spots. In La Boca, there are dancers and buskers around the craft markets at Feria de Artesanos Caminito. If you’re in San Telmo on a Sunday, you’ll also be able to catch a tango in Plaza Dorrego.
WHERE TO FIND EVENING TANGOS
If you’re after a more romantic evening, there are also many performances in venues around the city, with most offering classes, dinner and a show. Piazzolla Tango is highly recommended, but will set you back 2900ARS ($97 AUD, $66 USD) for the full package (although you can save 10% through online bookings). Rojo Tango, Esquina Carlos Gardel, and El Viejo Almacen are all also highly recommended.
It is worthwhile having a look through sites like Viator for the best deals—some will also include pick up from your accommodation.
8. Live Music and LA BOMBA DE TIEMPO
Every Monday night, Buenos Aires hosts La Bomba de Tiempo (‘the Time Bomb’), which is a 17-piece drum group whose improvisational pieces combine Central American and African rhythm with samba and Argentine folk beats. The show is hosted at the Konex Cultural Centre (Cuidad Cultural Konex), an old cooking oil factory which has been converted into a performance centre.
The performance typically runs for around 2 hours, which is impressive considering the huge amount of energy that the drummers and singers put into it. At the end, the party inevitably spills out onto the street, and crates of beer are affectionately passed through crowds of people dancing between the traffic.
TICKETS TO LA BOMBA DE TIEMPO
You can buy tickets online for 210ARS ($7 AUD, $4.80 USD), or at the door for 270ARS if not sold out ($9 AUD, $6 USD). While in line, you’ll be able to buy beer and empanadas from locals, but won’t be able to bring them into the centre itself. The bar inside serves drinks and food, too.
Doors open at 7:00pm. The show starts at 8:00pm and finishes at 10:00pm.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Cuidad Cultural Konex can easily be reached by public transport. The nearest Metro stations within walking distance are:
Carlos Gardel (B line - 5 minute walk)
Plaza Miserere (A line - 8 minute walk)
Corrientes (H line - 9 minute walk)
Which neighbourhood to stay in Buenos Aires
Palermo was recommended to us by several friends, and we’d definitely like to pass that on to anyone visiting. The area is full of great steakhouses, restaurants and bars, as well as beautiful street art and galleries.
There is a wide range of hotels in the neighbourhood which cost from $50-200AUD per night. We stayed in two Airbnbs in Palermo during our trip that we’d highly recommend; one was this large studio, and the other was this beautiful apartment.
After Buenos Aires, you can fly up to Salta and travel through the Painter’s Palette. We’ve put up a post about the route here.
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