I’m going to level with you. Four days in Buenos Aires are not enough.
This is a sprawling city, covering 78 square miles and made up of 48 neighbourhoods, or barrios. To do Buenos Aires justice, you would need to spend at least five to seven days there.
But what should you do if your time in Buenos Aires is limited?
Due to the city’s size, deciding what to see can be overwhelming.
To help you make the most of your time there, here’s my four-day Buenos Aires itinerary, which formed part of a two-week visit to Argentina. This includes tips on how to get from the airport, where to stay and how to get around this enormous city.
It will be a busy four days, but this itinerary will allow you to experience the best of the history, culture and diversity of this vibrant city.
Where to stay in Buenos Aires
First, let’s consider where to stay in Buenos Aires.
As each of the city’s many barrios has its pros and cons, and its distinct identity, choosing where to stay can feel like a Herculean task. I recommend staying in the trendy barrio of Palermo.
Within Palermo, you have a choice of Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood.
Both of these sub-barrios have more than enough bars and restaurants to satisfy your culinary and drinking needs. However, Palermo Soho has more of a focus on shopping; Palermo Hollywood is livelier, with a greater concentration of bars and restaurants.
As a solo traveller, safety is important to me and walking around Palermo at night always felt safe.
Duque Boutique Hotel – I stayed at this charming boutique hotel in Palermo Soho. It has a tiny spa, a delightful small garden and terrace and exceptionally friendly staff. There are many great bars and restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.
Duque Boutique Hotel is on Guatemala 4364 and costs from 93 USD for a single room (2020 prices).
Here are some other hotels that I have found in Palermo that may suit different budgets:
Caravan BA Hostel Boutique – Dorm beds in this air-conditioned hostel in the thick of things next to Plaza Serrano. Lots of excellent reviews online and it has a small seasonal swimming pool.
The Glu Boutique Hotel – This is where I would have stayed if my budget had stretched a little further. Discerning friends stayed here and highly rated this all-suite Palermo Soho hotel located three blocks from Plaza Serrano. All suites have either a private balcony or a terrace.
Getting from the airport to downtown Buenos Aires (Day 0)
Now, let’s take a look at how to get from Buenos Aires airport to your accommodation downtown.
Buenos Aires has two airports: Ezezia (EZE), handling mostly international flights, and Aeroparque (AEP), which is the domestic hub in addition to handling some flights to other South American countries. As public or shared transport options from both airports are few to non-existent, your best bet is a taxi.
Getting from Ezezia (Ministro Pistarini International Airport)
Ezezia Airport is 33km south-west of Buenos Aires city. In order of descending cost, your options for getting to the downtown area of the city are a taxi, shared shuttle service or public bus.
Taking a taxi from Ezezia (EZE) Airport
I arranged a taxi through my hotel in Palermo Soho which cost 50 USD; the return journey was ARS 750 pesos (39 USD). The journey takes around 45 minutes in good traffic.
I don’t know about you, but when I step off a 13-hour flight, a little disoriented, it is good to know that I will be whisked off to my hotel by someone holding my name up on a board.
Alternatively, there is a taxi booth in the arrivals hall, providing a transfer for a similar cost. US dollars are widely accepted.
Hailing a taxi at the airport is not recommended.
Using a shared shuttle service from Ezezia (EZE) Airport
There is also a shared shuttle service from EZE operated by Manuel Tienda Leon. You can book online or they have a counter just after you exit Customs.
It is cheaper but a bit of a faff as it is a transfer in two parts: firstly via bus to their main terminal in Puerto Madero, and then via shared taxi to your hotel.
Catching a public bus from Ezezia (EZE) Airport
There is a bus (number 8) which is very cheap and operates every 30 minutes. However, the trip takes about two hours and the bus makes multiple stops en route. Also, you will need a pre-loaded SUBE card to pay the fare, which you are unlikely to have unless you are a return visitor to Argentina
Getting from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport
In terms of location, AEP is far more convenient for most travellers, located downtown in the Palermo neighbourhood. Choose between taking a taxi or catching a shuttle bus or bus to reach your accommodation in Buenos Aires.
Taking a taxi from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport
I found that a metered taxi was the best option. I did this journey a few times to my Palermo hotel and the price was consistent – around 8 USD. The journey should take no more than 30 minutes.
Using a shared shuttle service from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport
As before, Manuel Tienda Leon offers a shuttle bus service.
Catching a public bus from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) Airport
Buses do serve AEP but for the increased journey time and hassle, a taxi is your best bet. The lines serving Aeroparque are 33, 37, 45 and 160.
How to get around Buenos Aires
Being a slight control-freak, when I arrive in a new city, I like to be armed with options to get from A to B.
Getting around Buenos Aires is relatively easy thanks to its extensive public transport system, comprising buses and the Subte (subway) network. To use this system you need to get your hands on a prepaid magnetic card, similar to the Oyster card used in London. This is your golden ticket!
This SUBE card is available at all subway stations. As of November 2019, this cost ARS 90 (5 USD), which you can then load with money. Charge the card at Subte stations, national lottery stores and kioscos.
As a guide, each subway journey costs ARS 19 pesos; bus journeys start at ARS 18 per journey (2019 prices).
Subway in Buenos Aires
Bearing in mind the congestion on the streets, the subway is the fastest way to get around in Buenos Aires.
There are five Subte lines crisscrossing the city and interchanges are clearly signposted. Although it may not be the most modern subway system, trains are frequent. However, carriages can be rammed at peak times (7 – 10 am and 6 – 8 pm). You have been warned!
Bus journeys in Buenos Aires
It took me slightly longer to get to grips with travelling by bus.
They are big, comfortable and frequent, though often crowded. You have to identify the correct stop to board the bus and where to get off, which can be challenging if you are not familiar with the city. If you’re not sure where to get off, ask the driver or a local for help. In my experience, both were very helpful.
Once you have identified your bus stop, wait for the bus under the sign. Like the British, Argentinians love an orderly queue and at bus stops, they will queue to the right. No milling around and swarming the bus when it arrives!
When you board the bus, tell the driver where you are going – writing this on a piece of paper helped me – so that he will charge you the correct fare. Then lay your card on the SUBE reader where you will see the price of the ride displayed. Then sit back and enjoy your ride!
Planning your journey around Buenos Aires
I downloaded the Como LLego app, which is your best weapon for getting around Buenos Aires. It is not only a sophisticated journey planner, but it also provides real-time information on departures. A web-based version of Como LLego is also available.
Getting around Buenos Aires by taxi
Compared with some other cities I have visited, getting around Buenos Aires by taxi was a breeze.
They were plentiful, relatively cheap and safe. Not once did a driver take a scenic route around the city or need to be encouraged to switch the meter on. Or perhaps I was just lucky!
Taxi drivers do not expect a tip but rounding up to the nearest convenient denomination is common and appreciated.
Four days in Buenos Aires: Itinerary
Let’s now take a look at a four-day Buenos Aires itinerary, day-by-day.
This itinerary is intended as a broad guide. You don’t need to visit these areas in any set order, and can mix and match as suits your schedule.
If you have just three days in Buenos Aires, you should still be able to cover these sights, compressing the itinerary into busier days. Conversely, if you spend longer in the city, you can take a more leisurely approach.
DAY 1: PLAZA DE MAYO & DOWNTOWN
The first item on our Buenos Aires itinerary is the city’s historic Plaza de Mayo and the busy downtown area.
PLAZA DE MAYO
Begin your day in Plaza de Mayo, the beating heart of Buenos Aires.
Surrounded on three sides by iconic buildings – the Catedral Metropolitana, the Cabildo and the Casa Rosada – this is a great place to start to get know the city and its history.
Finished in 1827, the solid Catedral Metropolitana is Buenos Aires’ main Catholic church. It is home to the mausoleum of General José de San Martín, a revered Argentinian hero, who led the country to independence in 1816.
Don’t be deceived by the cathedral’s sombre Neo-Classical exterior. Inside, it is a wonder of soaring ceilings, exquisite stained glass, marble columns and detailed frescoes.
The 18th Century Cabildo, or town hall, sits on the southern end of the Plaza de Mayo. Once the seat of Spanish colonial rule, it also served as an important administrative building during the early years of Argentine independence.
It is now home to the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution.
However, the Casa Rosada is the star of the show. From the balcony of this pink government house building in 1951, Eva Perón (aka Evita) gave her final speech.
Visit Casa Rosada on one of the free guided tours in English. These take place every Saturday at 12.30 pm and must be reserved in advance.
Now, make your way along Av. De Mayo to the Obelisk at the intersection of Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes.
DOWNTOWN BUENOS AIRES
Av. 9 de Julio is the widest avenue in the world (although Brazil contends that the record belongs to the Eixo Monumental in Brasilia). Wider than a city block at 120 meters, it carries up to 16 lanes of traffic.
Jutting over the oval Plaza de la República like an exclamation mark is the Obelisk. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the fourth centenary of the first foundation of Buenos Aires, it has become a Buenos Aires icon.
DAY 2: LA BOCA WALKING TOUR & PUERTO MADERO
AM: A WALKING TOUR OF LA BOCA
The historic barrio of La Boca is a must-see in Buenos Aires. El Caminito with its brightly coloured buildings, live tango and flashy art galleries is its beating heart.
La Boca is a bit of a strange beast. For one or two blocks, it is super-touristy. However, stray off the well-trodden tourist path, and you hit the start of the slums.
As I found out on a walking tour of La Boca, there is more to this historic Buenos Aires barrio than its Instagrammable streets.
The history of La Boca
Immigration and isolation from the rest of the city have given La Boca’s its distinct identity.
The Spanish rocked up at its shores around 1536 and housed African slaves in the area. Fast-forward to 1816 when the Spanish were booted out, Argentina gained its independence and the slaves were freed.
Fourteen years later, there was an influx of immigrants from Genoa, Italy. As Genoa was a port city, they felt at home at Buenos Aires’ waterfront. These new arrivals needed a roof over their heads but could only afford to build houses from metal sheets liberated from the docks.
They painted their houses with whatever leftover paint they could lay their hands on. However, not having enough paint of the same colour to cover an entire house, a colourful patchwork evolved.
In the 1950s. the artist and philanthropist, Quinquela Martínwas painted the houses in the fashion of these poor immigrants in a bid to revive the area. The result is what we see today in all its multicolour glory.
Street art and politics of La Boca … and dogs dressed as footballers!
This barrio’s street art reflects its radical politics. This is demonstrated eloquently in the large mural paying tribute to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the ‘disappeared’.
Around 30,000 ‘leftist’ sons and daughters disappeared during the 1976-1983 ‘Dirty War’. These mothers conduct a peaceful protest in front of the Casa Rosado every Thursday, during which they wrap diapers around their heads as makeshift scarves.
Whilst the buildings were extremely photogenic and the history fascinating, perhaps my favourite sight of the morning was the dogs dressed up in football kit to raise money for dogs’ refuge. Deliciously bonkers!
PM: VISIT PUERTO MADERO’S ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
Located in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’s newest neighbourhood, the Ecological Reserve is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Walk or cycle along one of its trails leading to the waterfront promenade with its views over the Rio de la Plata. For the twitchers amongst you, there are reportedly more than 300 bird species that are fellow visitors. And if you’re lucky, you might also spot a river turtle or iguana.
DAY 3: SAN TELMO & EL ZANJON
San Telmo is what most people visualise when you mention Buenos Aires: the cobbled streets, the markets, the tango dancers in its main square. But don’t miss the opportunity to visit El Zanjón, a 19th-century mansion, which is a time-machine into San Telmo’s past.
A short history of San Telmo
The faded grandeur of San Telmo’s buildings bears witness to it once being the richest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires.
From its humble beginnings as home to the city’s dockworkers and brickmakers in the 17th century, it subsequently gained importance as Buenos Aires’s centre of industry and commerce. The barrio’s fortunes grew during the 19th century with the installation of lighting, sewers and running water, attracting more affluent residents who built opulent homes.
However, San Telmo’s fortunes went into decline in 1871 when a yellow fever epidemic struck. This claimed over 100,000 souls, and those who could afford it fled north in droves, establishing what is today Barrio Norte.
Many of their abandoned properties simply fell vacant. However, the larger homes were turned into tenements (conventillos) to accommodate the influx of European immigrants who arrived in Argentina between 1875 and 1930.
These immigrants also led to the rapid popularisation of tango in the neighbourhood. As they became more affluent, they moved out and local artists took their place, attracted by San Telmo’s bohemian vibe.
Visiting El Zanjón
In 1985, Jorge Eckstein, a long-time resident of San Telmo, bought an abandoned conventillo near his home with the intention of turning it into a restaurant. This conventillo was formerly El Zanjón, a mansion dating from 1830. Early in the renovations, he stumbled upon what would become Argentina’s largest private archaeological site.
Excavations unearthed all sorts of treasures: pottery, cutlery, jewellery. But the most exciting find was a network of tunnels, once used to channel water.
Following the yellow-fever outbreak, they were sealed off but have now been restored. A superb hour-long guided tour (in English and Spanish) transports you through this atmospheric labyrinth.
As excavation is ongoing, further treasures may be unearthed. What is clear that San Telmo’s dining scene’s loss has been archaeology’s gain.
Plaza Dorrego, San Telmo
No visit to San Telmo would be complete without a visit to Plaza Dorrego. I visited midweek to find a peaceful, picturesque square filled with people enjoying an afternoon drink in the autumn sunshine.
However, visit on a Sunday, and it is transformed with a craft market and live tango dancers. Arrive early to bag a prime position and sharpen those elbows!
DAY 4: LA RECOLETA CEMETERY & PALERMO STREET ART
AM: VISIT LA RECOLETA CEMETERY
Although Eva Perón is La Recoleta Cemetery’s most famous resident, the list of its other occupants reads like a Who’s Who of Argentinian history.
From presidents to poets, athletes to academics, explore its mausoleums and memorials to get a fascinating insight into the country’s past. Housing over 6,400 statues, sarcophagi, coffins and crypts over four city blocks, La Recoleta Cemetery is an eerily beautiful place.
With its wide alleys and shady streets, this labyrinthine city of the dead is a real mishmash of architectural styles. These include art deco, art nouveau, baroque and neo-gothic, adorned with angels, Madonnas, saviours, crosses and cathedral-like domes. The tombs themselves range from plain brick and mortar boxes to detailed works of art.
Many of these tombs have fallen into a state of disrepair, with broken glass and thick layers of cobwebs. Although I felt sad that there was no-one to look after these people after death, they add to the eerie beauty of La Recoleta Cemetery.
It also made me curious about the people laid to rest behind those rusted doors. They must have been important at their time of death. How could they be so forgotten in the ensuing years?
Behind every grave, in every graveyard, there is a story, and La Recoleta Cemetery is certainly no exception. Here are a few of them.
Rufina Cambacérès – the girl who died twice
The tale of Rufina Cambacérès death is the stuff of urban legends.
Rufina was born into money in 1883, thanks to her family’s large cattle fortune. Fast-forward to 1902 and it is Rufina’s 19th birthday. Whilst getting ready to go to the Teatro Colón to see a show, she collapses & doctors pronounce her dead. The next day they bury her in La Recoleta Cemetery.
Now, this is where it gets interesting, not to mention a little macabre. Cemetery workers later hear screaming from her grave. When they dig her up, there is evidence that she had unsuccessfully tried to claw her way out. There are scratch marks on her face and on the insides of the coffin.
Her mother, absolutely distraught that they have buried Rufina alive, has the tomb rebuilt in its Art Nouveau glory, complete with sculpted orchids and a soulful statue of her daughter aged 19. The statue is particularly striking, depicting Rufina with her hand on the door as if she is trying to escape her tragic fate.
Although this story has never been verified, and some dispute it, will you forget it?
Luis Ángel Firpo – the big fella
“Who’s the dude in the bathrobe?” I asked myself.
Luis Ángel Firpo was Argentina’s first world heavyweight boxer.
His was a big fella, over 6.5 feet tall & 220 pounds, which earned him the nickname “El Toro Salvaje de las Pampas,” The Wild Bull of the Pampas. His most famous fight was in 1923 against Jack Dempsey in New York City, which resulted in Dempsey knocking out Firpo. This was despite Dempsey having been down for a count of 8, and having to be helped back into the ring. Some felt that the result had been rigged
On his retirement, Firpo held the record of 32 wins out of 38 fights. He died in 1960 & is still thought of as one of the greatest boxers in history.
Eva Perón aka Maria Maggi
Adored in death as in life, people flock to Eva Perón (Evita’s) final resting place in the Duarte family mausoleum.
The Duarte mausoleum is not remarkable. It is built in an art deco style with a bronze door inlaid with leaves and flowers. Perhaps more interesting is Evita’s journey there.
Evita died in 1952 during the presidency of her husband, Juan Perón. However, her body wasn’t buried in the Duarte family mausoleum for 35 years.
Juan Perón had his wife’s body embalmed whilst a mausoleum was built. But in a change of heart, her body went on display. In 1955, Juan Perón was ousted during a military coup and fled to exile in Spain.
Eva Perón’s body was brought to Milan and was buried under the alias of Maria Maggi. There she remained until 1971 when her body was exhumed, taken to Madrid (Juan Perón was still in exile there) and reburied.
Juan Perón returned to Argentina, and the presidency, in 1973 but Evita didn’t go with him. It wasn’t until after his death the following year that her remains were dug up once more. She was then reburied beside her husband’s grave in the presidential palace grounds.
But her story doesn’t finish there. In 1987, anti-Perónistas broke into the burial plot and chopped off Juan’s hands. Eva Perón was dug up yet again and interred in the Duarte family mausoleum in La Recoleta Cemetery.
La Recoleta Cemetery’s cats
Whilst not numbering amongst the dead, the cats of La Recoleta deserve a mention. Reportedly, there are around 75 of them and they are well-fed and well cared for.
One of the many feline occupants of Recoleta Cemetery
PM: PALERMO’S STREET ART
Thanks to its abundance of abandoned buildings and blank walls, creating perfect blank canvases, and the liberal attitude of the city’s authorities, Buenos Aires attracts local and international street artists.
Although you can see street art throughout the city, for a great collection in a compact area head to Palermo Soho. Although you can easily mooch around by yourself, the walking tour by Free Walks Buenos Aires is recommended.
And don’t forget to check out the neighbourhood’s many bars and restaurants whilst you are there.
If you have more than four days in Buenos Aires …
If you are lucky to have more than four days in Buenos Aires, consider taking a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay.
Colonia del Sacramento (to give it its full name) is just a short hop across the Rio de la Plata. With its cobbled streets, colonial buildings and a sprinkling of vintage cars it is a perfect day trip from Buenos Aires.
Is Buenos Aires a safe city for solo travellers in 2019?
For the most part, Buenos Aires is a safe city to explore, especially in relation to its South American neighbours. In my four days in Buenos Aires, on no occasion did I feel unsafe as a solo traveller.
That said, it is sensible to recognise potential threats and to mitigate these risks.
Be street smart. Like many big cities, petty theft is a problem, particularly in areas that are popular with tourists, such as La Boca and San Telmo. Walk confidently and with purpose, be careful with your belongings, especially smartphones and laptops, and leave your diamond necklace at home.
If possible, book taxis in advance. If you need to hail a taxi in the street, only use a ‘radio taxi’. These have a clearly visible company logo on the rear passenger doors.
Although uncommon, kidnappings and so-called ‘express kidnappings’ occur in Argentina. Victims are held and forced to empty their bank accounts in different ATMs after which they are normally quickly released.
Political demonstrations and picketing have become increasingly common in Argentina. Some demonstrations attract large numbers of people and there have been cases of violence. exercise normal caution at any large gathering, and be aware of your surroundings.
Buenos Aires: Suggested Reading
Finally, do you want to learn a little bit more about Buenos Aires? Here’s my pick of books to read either before travelling to Buenos Aires or whilst you are there.
Happy reading and happy times in Buenos Aires!