Buenos Aire’s Congress building
As soon as we arrived in Buenos Aires we understood why the city is often nicknamed “the Paris of South America”. The capital of Argentina – and Latin America’s third largest city – was everything we had hoped for and more. The city has a European atmosphere, helped no doubt by the architecture, the cold weather while we were there and a love of wine and cosy cafes.
We booked a small room in San Telmo, city neighbourhood close to the city centre, other popular barrios and the metro. Walking around we quickly realised how easy the city is to navigate: the streets are in a grid, with the names only changing from north to south when they cross the avenue connecting the Plaza de Mayo with the Plaza del Congreso; each block has one hundred street numbers, which makes finding your way very easy; and the names of the streets are named after cities, countries or historical figures. Clearly Buenos Aires wants its citizens to be well versed in history and geography!
The Thinker, Plaza Mariano Moreno
The beautiful Congress building
Plaza del Congreso
Every day, we spent hours walking around the streets of this large and beautiful city. After a couple of days we decided to go on a free walking tour, which allowed us to revisit a number of sites and get some background history. Our first stop on the tour was Plaza del Congreso, one of our favourite parts of the city due to the elegance of the Congress building – Palacio del Congreso de la Nación Argentina – and the plazas in front of it. Buenos Aires’ Congress building looks very similar to the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. In front of the Congress building are three plazas: Plaza del Congreso, with the beautiful Monumento de los dos Congresos (Monument of the Two Congresses) which includes a statue of horses that is reminiscent of the Monument aux Girondins in Bordeaux; Plaza Mariano Moreno named after an important figure of the 1810 May Revolution, which includes a statue of Rodin’s The Thinker; and Plaza Lorea.
Don Quixote statue with Evita Peron on the side of a building in the background
Next we walked towards the centre, where we stopped at Palacio Barolo, a building inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, which was meant to become the final resting place of Dante’s ashes. Our next stop was Café Tortoni, a famous café which was named one of the ten most beautiful cafes in the world; we had already visited the café for a coffee the previous day and would return another night to watch a tango show. We also walked along Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest avenues in the world, where you can see a well-known 67m obelisk, a statue of Don Quixote donated by the Queen of Spain, and a building with the face of Evita Perón on two sides.
Tango at Cafe Tortoni
We then arrived at Plaza de Mayo, the centre of the city and home to some gorgeous buildings. On our walking tour we learned about the Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo, a group of grandmothers whose goal it is to find children who were kidnapped or born in detention during the Argentine military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. These children were often adopted out to allies of the dictatorship and would not even know that they had been adopted. The grandmothers raise awareness on the issues and through DNA testing have been able to identify at least 120 of these “stolen children”.
Sarah in front of La Casa Rosada
The two most impressive buildings surrounding Plaza de Mayo are La Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral. La Casa Rosada – the Pink House – is where the office of the President is located and has a statue of José de San Martin in front of it. The Metropolitan Cathedral has a mix of architectural styles, the most prominent being the 19th Century columned façade. The 12 columns represent the Apostles, and an eternal flame outside honours José de San Martin. The cathedral is beautiful on the inside and contains the remains of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru in the Wars of Independence. His mausoleum inside the cathedral is really impressive and there is a constant guard protecting his remains. We were lucky to be there when the changing of the guard ceremony took place and were amazed that his remains are so well protected inside a cathedral.
Buenos Aires’ Metropolitan Cathedral
Changing of the guard for San Martin’s mausoleum
Guarding the mausoleum
Inside the cathedral
San Martin’s tomb
Protest in Plaza de Mayo
The city centre of Buenos Aires also provided some interesting experiences. Being the city of perpetual protest, we were not surprised to see protests almost every day during our time in the capital. We ignored the many foreign exchange peddlers in Calle Florida – a shopping street – who are known for slipping in fake notes when exchanging money. The newly elected government allowed the currency to float freely, negating the need to use these dodgy guys as there is now barely any difference between the official and black market rates.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore
During our stay in Buenos Aires, we visited a new barrio almost every day. Of course we checked out our own barrio of San Telmo, which boasts a large market that takes over several streets on Sundays, squares with tango dancers and lots of quaint cafes and restaurants, which we frequented with enthusiasm. We quickly found our local café, Café La Poesía, where we spent a lot of time reading throughout our stay. And it was clear that we were not the only ones in the city who love reading; never have we seen so many book stores as in Buenos Aires! Every block has at least one and some of them, including El Ateneo Grand Splendid which we visited on our first day, are in stunning buildings such as disused theatres. San Telmo is also home to the Iglesia de San Pedro Telmo, where we witnessed an animal blessing one Friday night; the parishioners brought their pets (mainly dogs) to the church and each one was blessed separately by the priest. Definitely one of the strangest things we did in Buenos Aires…
A dog in the arms of its human, waiting for a blessing
A dog receiving its blessing
Street art in San Telmo
Guard protecting San Martin’s sword at the Museo Historico Nacional
From San Telmo we walked to many different districts, including La Boca: a district famous for being the barrio where tango originated. On the way to La Boca we passed by La Bombonera, the famous football stadium home to the Boca Juniors, and Parque Lezama. Parque Lezama is home to a monument for Pedro de Mendoza, a Spanish conquistador and the founder of Buenos Aires. In this park we also visited to the Museo Histórico Nacional (the National History Museum), which explains the Argentine War of Independence and showcases artefacts from the main protagonists, including General San Martin’s sword, which also has a soldier from the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers protecting it. This prestigious regiment was created by General San Martin and acts in ceremonial functions and as the presidential guards. Once again we witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony for something associated with José de San Martin.
The Pope overlooking La Boca
Colourful buildings of La Boca
Eventually we made it to La Boca. The colourful buildings draw tourists by the hundreds and an equal number of people posing as tango dancers and selling photos and other vendors catering towards tourists. The latter were quite insistent and a bit annoying, but there is no denying the beauty of the buildings. Some of the balconies boast papier-mâché figures of famous people, including the current Pope, who is from Argentina. Although it is worth a short visit, the vendors and posers and tourist shops made La Boca feel very fake in our opinion.
Evita Peron’s tomb
Buenos Aires has a really useful subway system, which we used to get to the Retiro and Recoleta neighbourhoods. At Retiro we saw the monuments at Plaza San Martin, including the Torre Monumental and the monument to the soldiers who died during the Falkland War (known in Spanish as the Guerra del Atlántico Sur) over the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. From Retiro we walked to Recoleta, famous for the cemetery that houses the remains of the most famous and richest Argentinians. Here we saw the tombs and mausoleums of Evita Perón, Admiral Guillermo Brown (the Irish-born Admiral who created Argentina’s navy), and many Presidents and Generals from the Wars of Independence. It was a really interesting site, especially as some of the stories of the people and their deaths are fascinating.
Tomb in Recoleta Cemetery
There are a number of art galleries in Buenos Aires and we visited two in Recoleta: MALBA (Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires) and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. MALBA was quite small and had more contemporary works, but we enjoyed their permanent collections and the works by Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera, and the Argentine artist Antonio Berni. More to our taste was the large collection in the Bellas Artes gallery, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It not only had many more Argentinian artists, whose work we were not familiar with, but it also featured many European artists whose paintings we enjoy. It was definitely one of the highlights of our time in the capital.
As we were eager to soak up the culture of Buenos Aires, we decided to see what was on at Teatro Colón, the main opera house and performance centre of the city. This theatre is one of the most famous in the world, and it is incredibly beautiful inside and outside. The Teatro Colón ballet company was performing Don Quixote and we were able to get cheap tickets in the “paradise” section: seats so high that you did feel among the clouds! We had a wonderful evening at Teatro Colón: the beautiful interior, the ballet production and the orchestra were all wonderful and next time we’re in Buenos Aires we will be seeing what’s on here again!
Inside Teatro Colon
Puente de la Mujer in Puerto Madero
We eventually got around to other neighbourhoods: Puerto Madero, the modern waterfront area of Buenos Aires with the Argentine Ministry of Defence building and the iconic Puente de la Mujer; the central districts of Monserrat and San Nicolas; Caballito (where we spent a couple of nights at our friend Laura’s place); and Palermo.
Palermo is the best place to eat and drink, and we had some excellent meals here. As Argentina is renowned for its steaks we lined up a number of steak restaurants to try. We soon found out that Argentinians can eat amazing amounts of meat! While we always shared one steak between the two of us, we saw some of the locals sharing various massive meat platters between the two of them! Our favourite (yet also most expensive) meal was at Don Julio in Palermo, our Bife de Chorizo was delicious and we had the best wine of our stay in Argentina here! We tried a variety of other steak restaurants in varying price ranges which were all excellent too: La Cabrera (which has a 40% discount on EVERYTHING on the menu between 7 and 8 pm), Parilla Peña (doesn’t look like much but excellent relatively cheap steak!), La Brigada (where they cut your steak with a spoon), Gran Parilla del Plata (a cosy San Telmo parilla), and Las Cabras (where we shared a parilla with Laura and her friends to change things up). While all the meat was absolutely delicious, we certainly needed a break from red meat after all that!
From the market in San Telmo
In every neighbourhood in Buenos Aires we found typical sights of life in Argentina. We saw the famous dog walkers of Buenos Aires, with up to 15 dogs strolling the leafy streets of the capital. Many of the dogs wore vests and outfits to protect them against the cold (and to be fashionable, of course). We saw large and small protests almost every day and taking up an entire neighbourhood or more. We saw people drinking mate – a type of infused caffeine drink that is by law Argentina’s ‘national infusion’ – everywhere: in the plazas and parks, walking their dogs, always in the company of friends as this is a very social drink that is usually shared. We even saw knife sharpeners in the streets or Caballito one weekend, blowing on some device that made an eerie, high pitched sound to let people inside know they could bring knives to the street to be sharpened. Buenos Aires was a great place to go and watch people living out their lives in such a different fashion to other countries.
Buenos Aires was without a doubt our favourite large city from our trip. We were kept constantly busy, all day and all night, admiring the buildings, plazas, art galleries, museums and cultural events. We look forward to returning another time, as there is plenty left to see and do in the capital of Argentina!
Statue of San Martin in front of La Casa Rosada
Street art of Eva Peron
Church at Recoleta
Cafe La Poesia, our regular