If You Only Have Three Days in Buenos Aires

Well, three days are better than one. You won’t be sorry if you spend a few of your 72 hours in Buenos Aires exploring by bicycle, observing (and joining) the locals over brunch, going for an elegant afternoon tea at a historic hotel, or sleeping in an Art Deco landmark or a small, chic boutique hotel. Just follow these instructions for a few suggestions on how to make three days in Buenos Aires memorable.

Av. Rivadavia 3899, C1204AAD C1204AAD, Buenos Aires, Argentina
On weekends, the line to get into Las Violetas stretches halfway around the block. (A little much, you say, in a city that’s filled with lovely cafes?) No, in fact, the locals know what they’re doing. This gem of a corner cafe may be the most beautiful in the entire city, and coming here for weekend breakfast or afternoon tea is a proud tradition. Once you do have a seat—it’s much easier to pull off on a weekday—admire the stained-glass windows and old brass fixtures, and the prim and proper porteño couples of a certain age, out for their daily merienda. You’re off the tourist track here, in a barrio with few other attractions for travelers, so catching a glimpse of the neighborhood’s residents is part of the fun. On the way out, stop in the chocolate shop, located in one corner of the huge cafe, for a little souvenir to take home. But who are we kidding, those chocolates aren’t going to make it much further than your hotel room.
Calle Rivadavia s/n, C1004 CABA, Argentina
Up until recently, the Catedral Metropolitana was famous for a few things - the rococo altar, the Christ statue carved from algarrobo (carob) wood, the fact that it’s the final resting place of the great South American liberator General Jose de San Martin. Lately the city cathedral has made headlines for something bigger - it’s the parish of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope in history. Stop in to admire the beautiful baroque interior - and while you’re here, picture the throngs of proud Argentinians who crowded into the nave on the day Bergoglio was chosen as the next pope.
New York has Ellis Island; Buenos Aires has the Hotel de Inmigrantes. The huge waterfront building, located near the old port docks in what’s today known as Puerto Madero, served as the temporary home for waves of European immigrants arriving to Argentina between 1911-53. Today, the Hotel de Inmigrantes is an intriguing (and free) museum that few tourists see: come to see photos and memorabilia representing the many immigrant groups who came through the port of Buenos Aires, plus colorful advertisements for trans-Atlantic passages and model boats.
Av. Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415, C1425 CLA, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Like any great city, Buenos Aires has its Museum Mile. For art, standouts include the National Fine Arts Museum (MNBA), with its mix of Argentine and European pieces, as well as the Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum (MALBA), highlighting the works of Latin American artists. Walk the boulevard between the MNBA and MALBA to see some of the city’s most luxurious real estate. From the MNBA, cross Figueroa Alcorta and swing by the University of Buenos Aires Law School and Floralis Genérica, a 65-foot, stainless-steel kinetic sculpture representing a massive flower. Follow Figueroa Alcorta to Castilla, then turn left into Grand Bourg Park, a stately, if petite, plaza surrounded by imposing palaces, or take a right into Palermo Chico with its circular streets, grand mansions, and palaces.
Defensa 755, C1065AAM CABA, Argentina
Touring this one-of-a-kind urban villa and archaeological site allows a unique insight into the city’s history. The beautifully restored urban mansion was once the residence of a wealthy Spanish family; they fled for higher ground when yellow fever struck San Telmo, and the abandoned building later served as tenement housing for countless immigrant families. When a new buyer purchased the property in 1985, he discovered layers of historical objects in the subterranean tunnels. Today, knowledgeable local guides take small groups through the grand villa and its underground maze, pointing out the old water cistern and display cases filled with antique children’s toys, old hairbrushes and beautifully painted dishes, reminders of an era gone by.
Mataderos, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It’s not rocket science to make dinner reservations at one of Buenos Aires’ hot-right-now restaurants - but what about finding your way to the city’s hole-in-the-wall empanada shops, the roadside parrilla (grill) stands, the mom-and-pop delis with only three tables and a takeaway counter? If you’re a serious foodie who’s looking to explore the city’s food scene a la Anthony Bourdain, you don’t have time to waste - you need to contact Allie Lazar, a.k.a. Pick Up the Fork, an American expat who’s quickly become one of the city’s most respected food writers. Depending on the interests of her clients, who range from restaurateurs and industry types to journalists and traveling foodies, Lazar organizes private, tailor-made food tours. She’ll get you to that roadside stand, to the regional festival, to the marketplace - and help you get your hands on whatever you’re hungry for. Check out the Pick Up the Fork blog for an overview of her favorites: it doubles as an excellent dining and drinking resource for anyone visiting Buenos Aires.
Av. Santa Fe 1860, C1124 CABA, Argentina
Buenos Aires is a city of readers—it supports more bookstores per capita than any other place in the world. The crown jewel of the librerías here is the Ateneo Grand Splendid. Housed in a theater where music legends such as Carlos Gardel once attracted vast crowds, the store features shelf after shelf of tempting volumes on its rounded balconies. Italian frescoes on the domed ceiling and plush red-velvet curtains are from the theater’s original 1919 design. The four-story space carries over 120,000 books and a local-music selection, and there’s a café on the erstwhile stage.
1072 Avenida Lisandro de la Torre
Argentina is too vast a country to see on just one trip. But there’s a taste of real gaucho (i.e., Argentine cowboy) culture at the Mataderos Fair on the edge of town. For many, the main attraction is the various food stalls that hawk yummy, traditional comfort food. Try different versions of the ubiquitous empanada alongside delicacies from the provinces you won’t see on many in-town menus, like locro, a hearty stew with beans, corn, squash, and meat; or humita, a kind of Argentine corn-and-cheese tamale steamed in a corn husk; or the more familiar tamal, with meat instead of cheese. The fair runs on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. most of the year, or on Saturday nights starting at 6 p.m. in hot, sunny January and February.
302 Estados Unidos
Behind a massive bougainvillea vine that covers a century-old mansion on the corner of a quiet, cobbled street, San Telmo’s Café Rivas evinces an elegant, 1920s vibe—but the food is decidedly contemporary. The menu is short and to the point. Three prix-fixe options are posted for lunch and change daily to delight a claque of assiduous regulars. Standout items at dinner include a nightly ceviche special and the dry-aged beef. There’s also a Sunday brunch with traditional favorites like eggs Benedict. In the evening, a bartender arrives to serve up cocktails, and there’s live piano on weekends.
Chile 502, C1098 AAL, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Founded in 1982 by local poet Rubén Derlis, this café once served as a meeting place for writers, artists, and left-leaning thinkers anxious to speak freely after years of fear and oppression under Argentina’s late-’70s military dictatorships. Order the picada, a charcuterie and cheese sampler; lubricate with a traditional local-favorite drink like a Fernet-and-Coke or a Cynar, the tangy artichoke liqueur mixed with pomelo, a sour, grapefruit-flavored soda. Wood paneling and exposed brick, walls covered in photographs, and shelves packed with antique objets make La Poesía an inviting space to linger over a book from the lending library or listen to the live tango music played on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Honduras 5860, C1414 CABA, Argentina
This small, chic hotel came into being after an Argentine PR director and her English record producer husband couldn’t find the perfect place for their visiting guests to stay during their Buenos Aires wedding. They needed a place with a bar, a spa, a nice pool, good cocktails in a friendly environment—and so in 2005 they opened Home, one of the pioneer boutique properties in Palermo Hollywood. Strategically located within blocks of much of the city’s nightlife, Home has become something of a base for those coming to the city looking to indulge in it.

Generally though, Home’s reputation is quite positive. Few modern design elements have been left out, from Knoll furniture and vintage wallpaper to the Chilean wool rugs and tech-friendly amenities like iPod-ready stereos and LCD TVs. A spacious walled garden area is the focal point of the property, holding the heated swimming pool plus deck chairs and ferns, alongside a bar and restaurant.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks