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last updated to ensure up-to-date information: April 2018

Complete Buenos Aires Travel Guide: Tips & Advice from a Local

Well, an almost local. I’ve lived in this ciudad de la furia for eight years now, for most of my adult life. We have a love/hate relationship with each other, the kind most passionate people, uh, I mean cities, can often illicit. Below I’ve written out all of the information I always give to my friends, and their friends and friends of friends (and on it goes) when they plan their vacations to Buenos Aires.  If you have any questions about planning your own trip, just ask in the comments! I’d love to help anyone enjoy their time in my adopted hometown.

First & Foremost, Forget about “Paris of South America”

First off, I apologize if I’m offending any porteños reading this. But Buenos Aires is absolutely nothing like Paris. It’s true that Buenos Aires is far more European than the rest of its neighbors in South America, and the locals take great pride in this. French, Spanish, and mainly Italian immigrants flooded Buenos Aires at the beginning of the 20th Century and there is no denying the impact all of this had on the local culture.

However. Big BUT. Buenos Aires is not Paris. And that’s not a bad thing! Buenos Aires is vibrant, lively, and also a little grungy. It’s a hodgepodge. Right next to a building that would fit right in in Paris you’ll find a rundown abandoned 1990’s office building. This is what I love and hate about this city. But isn’t that contradiction in feelings perfect for a city full of contrasts?

So my advice to anyone planning a visit to Buenos Aires, let go of any expectations and you’ll be open to love Buenos Aires exactly for what it is. 

La Boca Buenos Aires

Language

Like most of South America, Spanish is the mother tongue here. But unlike most of South America, locals of Buenos Aires speak with a unique accent and vocabulary to the rest of the continent. Castellano Rioplatense, or River Plate Spanish, or even more simply Argentine Spanish, refers to the Spanish spoken around the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) here in Buenos Aires. The “ll” and “y” is pronounced with a “sh” sound. Calle becomes cashe, pollo sounds like posho. Buenos Aires is also home to its own  slang, called lunfardo. If you’re interested in Spanish and want to sound like a local check out the books below (Che, Boludo is a great and fun resource).


How to Get Here

EZE – Ezeiza, Ministro Pistarini International Airport

The international airport is located 22 kilometers outside town but feels much further. If you read something about a reciprocity fee required for citizens of the US, Canada or Australia, FEAR NOT. This has gone by the wayside for all three countries. How to get into town from here?

Manuel Tienda Leon

Manuel Tienda Leon is a trusty classic. You can get your ticket for their bus from their booth located just after you exit customs. They have two stops: their station in Puerto Madero and the Aeroparque airport. It currently costs $260-275 pesos, for current prices check here.  They also offer a Remis service for $995 pesos if you’d prefer a taxi.

Remis/Taxis

For a taxi, book one of the remis services you’ll see just as you leave customs. After customs but before you’re out in the public area there’s a tiny room with booths offering taxi services. Prices differ on what area of the city you’re going to. You can pay with a credit card. Do not hail a taxi outside. They will charge you whatever they feel you’ll pay. It is safest to arrange for a taxi/remis at one of the booths inside.  

Reserve Your Airport Transfer

While you can absolutely get a taxi or remis at the airport upon arrival, sometimes there are waits if a lot of flights have arrived at the same time. If you want to avoid a wait or just feel more comfortable knowing the set price ahead of time, check out some of these transfer options below. You can reserve your airport transfer before your trip and have someone waiting for you.

To UBER or not to UBER

While Uber isn’t an option FROM the airport, it’s ideal for getting there. Uber and its competitors will be much more comfortable and significantly cheaper than any taxi or remis. Take this with a grain of salt, uber did not make any friends when setting up shop here in Buenos Aires. They followed their usual bull in a china shop policy and are often taken offline.

I suggest also considering their competitors that have taken a more legal approach. Cabify is a great option (if you use my code, ERINM7, you’ll receive a credit to use towards your first ride). Cabify is from Spain and internationally recognized, with friendlier business practices than uber. Easy Taxi is another option that is getting a strong foothold here. You can download these apps to your phone ahead of time to make things easier. 

But don’t use these services from the airport. They’re not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, but they are good options to consider within the city and on your return trip back to Ezeiza.

AEP – Aeroparque Jorge Newberry Airport

Aeroparque is the smaller airport reserved mainly for domestic travel. If you’re flying into AEP, count yourself lucky. Aeroparque is in Palermo on the Costanera Norte (on the river). Transportation is much cheaper than from Ezeiza, you’re already in town! There’s an official taxi line out front where you can grab a taxi straight to your hotel/Airbnb.

Already being within the city center makes a taxi very affordable and the most convenient option. However if interested, Manuel Tienda Leon is also an option here. You can take their bus to their Puerto Madero terminal or connect to the international airport.

Best Time to Visit Buenos Aires

Spring & Fall

Like in most places, spring and fall offer the best weather. Spring (mid-September through November) is ideal, and November is the best month to visit (in my personal opinion). The purple jacaranda flowers begin to bloom throughout the city, lining the streets and parks with tones of lavender. Fall is another great time to visit, with mild weather in March and April. 

Jacarandas in Plaza San Martin in Retiro

Summer

Summer (December-February)  is a BEAST in Buenos Aires. It is hot as hades and humid as hell, very similar to Houston in July. Visiting during the holidays? Christmas Eve is the big holiday here, not the 25th. Argentines get together for family dinners and shoot off fireworks at midnight. Find a terrace to enjoy the show. New Year’s Eve may sound tempting, but beware that NYE is a family-centered holiday here, just like Christmas Eve. Don’t expect a massive Times Square-style party in the streets. Locals will be counting down the clock with their families. In January the city empties when the locals leave to spend their summer vacations in Mar del Plata, Punta del Este or Miami.

Winter

Winter (June-August) is dreary in Buenos Aires. While the weather never drops to insufferable lows, it is a wet, humid cold. And what fun is the cold without any Christmas cheer? When you’re cold in Europe or NYC, at least you have the contagious holiday cheer to keep you going! But if you can only visit in Winter, fear not, it’s not insufferable.

A man peruses a newspaper stand in Buenos Aires

Dining Hours & Norms in Buenos Aires

The daily schedule in Buenos Aires runs a few hours later than the average American’s daily routine.

  • Mornings are sleepy with light breakfasts of pastry, toast, and coffee.
  • Lunch is available from noon until around 2 or 3.
  • Dinners are late. Restaurants open at 8 but most don’t fill up until around 10 pm. But don’t worry if you’re hungry early, I go out to eat at 8 pm all the time, ain’t no shame in my game.
  • Happy Hours, when offered, are usually between 7-9pm, sometimes starting earlier but not usually ending any later than 9.
  • Boliches (dance clubs/discos) don’t start to get wild until after 2 or 3 am. But I have no further tips for that, I’m far past that life stage haha.
Tipping in Buenos Aires

Tipping is the norm in Buenos Aires, around 10% is acceptable. You can definitely leave more if you feel the service was spectacular, but don’t feel like you need to follow US standards. If you’re tipping on a credit card, you’ll have to ask them to add it to the bill when you give them the card. You cannot add the tip afterward like you can in the US. But only do this if you really don’t have the cash on hand. Cash tips are clearly the only way to ensure the server ends up with his or her tip.

What’s a “cubierto” and why is it on my dinner bill?

You also may see a charge called “cubierto” on your bill at the end of a meal. What’s cubierto? It’s an obnoxious fee that technically should include a glass of water and bread. It’s a thing of the past and a lot of new restaurants no longer charge cubierto, (which translates to “cover charge”).  But for those that do, most include nothing at all, bread if you’re lucky. This doesn’t count as your tip. The cubierto fee goes to the restaurant, not the server.

Bridge over Libertador in Recoleta, overlooking Facultad de Derechos

Currency of Argentina

The official currency is the peso. To check the day’s exchange rate click here (with the way it fluctuates I’d prefer not to put any set rate in print). In the not so distant past, there existed a black market to exchange your dollars at a more advantageous rate than you’d receive from a bank. The government had banned currency exchange in what was referred to as the “cepo” (translates to “clamp”, I don’t think I like that translation haha).  The new government has opened up the market and this black market (referred to as the “dolar blue”), no longer exists. You can now exchange your money at any ATM without being ripped off (aside from the ATM fee that is). 

You will also hear cries of “cambio cambio cambio cambio” as you walk down Florida street downtown. These people are referred to as arbolitos, or “little trees,” in reference to their green “leaves” of dollars. I don’t recommend exchanging money with them. It’s always possible you’ll be slipped a few fake bills (or all fakes). With the exhange rate as it is today, just use an ATM.

Where to Stay: Barrios of Buenos Aires

In The Heart of the Action

Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood

This is the go-to neighborhood for most expats and tourists for where to stay and live in Buenos Aires. Soho and Hollywood are two sub-barrios within the enormous umbrella neighborhood that is Palermo. They border each other, separated by Avenida Juan B Justo. They’re both full of sidewalk cafes, bars, restaurants of all types and offers the best nightlife in the city. They’re hip and beautiful. Enjoy the street art and picturesque streets covered with canopies from the trees lining the streets.
Stay here if being close to the best restaurants and nightlife is what you’re after.

READ MORE: Guide to Palermo Soho
Recoleta

Recoleta is full of beautiful mansions, luxury hotels, and stunning architecture. You may see Barrio Norte also appear as an option. Barrio Norte is technically part of Recoleta but consists more of large apartment towers rather than historic mansions (and it is intersected by commercial Avenida Santa Fe). For that old-school Recoleta vibe, try to find a place near Plaza Francia.
Stay here if you booked your ticket with your heart set on seeing the infamous “Paris of the South.”

READ MORE: Guide to Recoleta
A busy street market in San Telmo in Buenos Aires
Defensa Street in San Telmo, during the weekly Sunday market
San Telmo

San Telmo lies towards the south of downtown, sitting between Plaza de Mayo and La Boca further to the south. This was my first home in Buenos Aires and will always hold a special place in my heart. With cobblestoned streets and historic buildings, it has a certain charm. However, don’t come with any illusions of grandeur. Many of these old buildings are crumbling and decaying. However, I think this creates its own sort of unpolished beauty. San Telmo is full of historic cafes, bars, and parillas where you can find some of the best beef in town. It’s centrally located to plenty of tourist attractions to make your daily explorations easy.
Stay here if you appreciate a bit of history. Try to stay on or near Defensa or Balcarce streets.

puerto madero

Puerto Madero

Crossing Avenida Paseo Colon from San Telmo, you’ll find Buenos Aires’ youngest neighborhood. It feels polished and modern, with new luxury apartment towers lining the docks. It can feel a bit isolated from the rest of the city as it isn’t very easily connected with public transportation and you can only get in and out via certain streets.
Stay here if you prefer things clean and modern. However, I find it a bit sterile. I don’t personally recommend staying here but definitely come for a stroll.

Palermo Soho

Live Like A Local

Villa Crespo

Villa Crespo borders Palermo, separated by Avenida Cordoba. Despite being home to some great restaurants and bars of its own, Villa Crespo is much quieter than its popular neighbor. The neighborhood is also home to some of the city’s best street art, outlet shopping (if that’s your thing) and its own futbol team (Atlanta).
Stay here if you want to stay within walking distance of Palermo’s nightlife but enjoy a more residential feel.

Colegiales

Moving northwards past Palermo Hollywood you’ll find Colegiales. Colegiales is a residential neighborhood with smaller houses and apartment buildings. It’s getting more lively with new restaurants opening up every year but it’s still full of young families and cute homes. You’ll require taxis or public transportation to get to the heart of things, but it’s not far.
Stay here if you like to live like a local when you travel.

Avenida Melian in Belgrano R is my favorite street in all of Buenos Aires
Belgrano

Even further north, after Colegiales, you’ll find a behemoth of a neighborhood, Belgrano. Belgrano is enormous, just like Palermo. Avenida Cabildo is its commercial center, full of shops and chain restaurants. Closer towards Libertador Avenue you’ll find Chinatown and large apartment buildings near Barrancas de Belgrano. Or stay near Plaza Castelli to experience the posh Belgrano R area, with historic old homes and tree-lined cobblestoned avenues. Subte line D on Cabildo will have you in Palermo, Recoleta or downtown in a flash. If you stay near Plaza Castelli the train at Belgrano R Station will have you in Palermo in 5 minutes or downtown in 20.
Stay here if you’re looking a quiet, residential feel that’s family friendly.

Almagro

While in Belgrano you can live like a quiet, relaxed local, in Almagro you’re in the middle of it all. This is a bustling commercial neighborhood and is a more middle-class barrio in comparison to Recoleta’s very upper class demographic. To continue the needless Recoleta comparisons, it’s also less easy on the eyes. Almagro is grungy and busy. It’s not the Paris of the South, it’s pure Buenos Aires, you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. Random fact: Almagro is home to Pope Francis’ favorite football team!
Stay here if you want to live like a local but not lose the big city hustle and bustle.

Hotel or Airbnb?

Airbnb in Buenos Aires is very affordable. You can get cozy studios or homes big enough for a large family at just $50 a night. Airbnb has really taken off here and there are stunning properties. You can rent a historical home in San Telmo or a high rise with a roof-top pool in Palermo. Whatever suits your fancy, you’re sure to find it.

If you’re more of a hotel person, I’d be wary of the hotels that are on Avenida 9 de Julio or in Microcentro downtown. Most hotels are located in this area and while they’re nice, and yes, central, I don’t find the area to be too beautiful or as safe when the sun sets. 9 de Julio (especially near the Corrientes Avenue crossing at the obelisc) will be very lively at night. Corrientes is Buenos Aires’ answer to Times Square. There are pizzerias and theaters and it can be very lively at night. But the restaurants, bars, and tango shows that you’ll actually want to try aren’t here. They’re in Palermo, Recoleta or San Telmo most likely. Also, the small streets within Microcentro (downtown) are completely dead at night.

I’d look for boutique hotels in Palermo or San Telmo instead. Home Hotel in Palermo Hollywood is a great small hotel. It has a gorgeous green interior patio, pool and a spa to use a refuge from the city streets. Or if luxury hotels are your more your style, the Hyatt Palacio Duhau or Four Seasons in Recoleta.

Public Transportation

SUBE

The SUBE is the travel card you’ll need if you want to take any form of public transportation. Buses don’t accept cash, and subway stations no longer sell tickets. If you want a SUBE, check this map here for an official selling point. Under the Provincia drop down, select CABA, and then under Localidad, select your neighborhood of choice. But it will be easiest to either purchase one in a Subte station ticket window or by asking around in any kiosko (convenience store) that has the SUBE logo on the door until you find one that sells them. The cost should be 25 pesos each. In the subway stations they’ll only sell you one per person. You can also load money onto them in kioskos or in the subway stations.

These blue signs are in the window of any kiosko that will load money on your SUBE for you. This store REALLY wants you to know they offer the service.
How to Navigate Buenos Aires

The city government has their own answer to Google Maps called “Como Llego.” Visit the website here to map out your route, or download the free app from the iTunes store here. It offers public transportation options as well as walking and biking directions. This app is a great resource, I use it over Google Maps 10 times out of 10.


Los Colectivos

In Buenos Aires, the bus is king. There is absolutely nowhere that a colectivo (bus) won’t take you. There are so many it can be very intimidating to try. If you’re brave, start with the 152. The 152 line will take you anywhere a tourist could possibly want to go. Starting at its terminal in La Boca, it passes through San Telmo, snakes behind the Casa Rosada on it’s way to Plaza San Martin in Retiro where it hangs a left up Avenida Santa Fe. It crawls northwards along Santa Fe, crossing 9 de Julio into Recoleta, then into Palermo, and continuing northwards to Belgrano and the northern suburbs.

To take the bus, tell the driver where you’re going (the price depends on distance traveled), then pay by placing your SUBE card on the little machine. Respect the line, porteños aren’t messing around, they respect the order of the line when boarding the bus. The elderly, pregnant women and children have priority to a seat, so don’t pretend to not see them unless you want a tongue lashing from everyone on the bus, including the driver.

A map of the Buenos Aires subway system
map courtesy of http://www.buenosaires.gob.ar/subte/mapa-y-combinaciones
El Subte

The subte (short for subterraneo, or the underground) lines in Buenos Aires are in the shape of your hand. The lines all originate downtown (or in your palm) and branch out, never to meet again. The government has ramped up construction on the H line (the yellow line above) in recent years, which has made connecting lines a bit easier.

Train

The train station you’ll most likely visit is Estacion Mitre in Retiro. There are three lines that leave this station. The Tigre Line takes you to, you guessed it, TIGRE (to visit the river delta). The station has been recently remodeled and is in impeccable condition. It is worth a visit whether or not you plan to take the train.

Is Buenos Aires Safe?

Just like you would in any large city, exercise caution. But don’t stress, overall Buenos Aires is a safe city. You don’t need to worry about violent crimes or kidnappings or anything of the sort. However, you do need to be careful with your belongings as there is a lot of petty theft. Your pockets or purses can be picked on a busy subway so keep your valuables in a closed bag in front of you. The most common occurrence is the motochorro (moto-thief), where someone on a moto will just grab your bag or phone while they speed past you.

One thing is certain, if anyone demands your belongings, don’t argue with them. Hand it over. An iPhone or a camera is never worth risking your life for. Also, keep in mind that while certain neighborhoods (La Boca for example) have bad reputations, you should be equally aware everywhere you go. Thieves follow the money and that is usually in the nicer neighborhoods.

Come Visit Buenos Aires!

If you’re planning your trip and have any questions at all, ask away in the comments! I want everyone who visits to have a great experience so don’t hesitate.

Tours of Buenos Aires

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24 Comments

  1. Wow! That sounds so amazing! I hope one day to visit Buenos Aires, thanks to your inspiring article! I love how colorful is this place! Your pictures are amazing! Thank you for providing all this helpful information about Buenos Aires! ❤

  2. i loved buenos aires when i was there in 2014! its an amazing city! your insider view is amazing! thanks for sharing ❤️

  3. Ive been wanting to visit Buenos AIres for a while now! Thank you for sharing your experience, now I can start planning! : )

    • Erin Reply

      I hope you make it down here! If you ever have any questions just let me know!

  4. Great post! I live in the US, but I’m getting married there on August 22, 2018. I know it’s winter, I hope it won’t be as dreary! I’m still really excited!

    • Erin Reply

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Argentine weddings are quite the party, are you marrying a local or just planning a destination wedding? Fingers crossed for some good weather for you!

  5. I think 8 years is long enough to call yourself a local! This is such a great, comprehensive guide. We haven’t been to Buenos Aires yet but it is definitely on our radar!

    • Erin Reply

      haha I definitely feel like a local at this point!! I hope you make it down here someday 🙂

  6. Ah this has been on my bucket list for so long and you have definitely sparked my wanderlust again! Great guide, don’t think you’ve missed a thing 😊

  7. What an informative article! I am planning to visiting quite a few South and Central American countries. And Argentina is definitely on the list. This post will come in handy

    • Erin Reply

      Sounds like a great trip, traveling across both Central and South America! Happy to help 🙂

  8. It’s been a while since I read a blog post with so many interesting and useful informations. Unfortunately I still don’t have plan to visit only big desire. But my friend is leaving in 3 weeks, I will share this with him. 🙂

  9. I have never been to Buenuos Aires, but I would def refer to this guide as you have everything covered. I have stayed in Airbnb in South America and enjoyed them. I would much rather hang out with the locals to get a feel for the places I am staying.

    • Erin Reply

      I agree, I love the connection with a place and the locals you get with Airbnbs

  10. Wow! I’m now dreaming about someday living here. This was such a well written guide

  11. I’d love to visit! The city looks so magical in your photos – your experience sounds amazing, will definitely be returning to read for inspiration when I finally visit myself 🙂

  12. This is such a comprehensive guide about Buenos Aires. It is always great to have advice from locals. The city looks so beautiful. I have never visited it, but I think it should be there in my list.

    • Erin Reply

      Thanks! I hope you can make it down here someday 🙂

  13. I really want to visit Buenos Aires. I didn’t realise it was so colourful and vibrant. I would love to check out Palmero and the tango shows. Thanks for the bit on safety too, I know it has a reputation as a city!

    • Erin Reply

      It definitely has a reputation. It’s getting a lot safer than it was but it’s still always good to be careful anywhere you visit somewhere unfamiliar.

  14. Loved this post! It was incredibly comprehensive and appreciate your humorous writing style. Buenos Aires is somewhere we’re considering for an extended visit in a year or so, and while we’re learning Spanish, the unique dialect has been intimidating. Thanks for providing resources and for breaking down the ins and outs of the city so fully. And also for suggesting an Uber alternative that isn’t terrible.

    It’s funny, I’ve heard the city referred to as the NY of Latin America. It always seems people are trying to promote places by ascribing some poorly-fitting comparison.

    • Erin Reply

      Thanks so much! It’s a very unique accent and they have so many words that don’t exist anywhere else! Sometimes it’s just best to jump in, immersion is the best way! You’ll pick it up faster than you’d expect once you’re here. That’s funny you’ve heard it referred to as the NY of Latin America, they LOVE NY so much. I don’t get it, they even have a bar that recently opened that is designed to make you feel like you’re in the NY Subway system…I’ll never understand why they look outwards so much when they have such a vibrant culture of their own.

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