1. Don’t…go to a tango show.
Tango shows are the lazy and overpriced way to see this important part of Buenos Aires culture. Catering to tourists, these shows are grand theatrical spectacles watched while having dinner and guzzling never-ending wine.
Do…go to a milonga.
This is where tango really comes alive. Milongas are dancehalls where lifelong tangueros and novices alike take to the floor with a partner and breathe life into those old, sad, and sexy songs. There are hundreds of milongas in Buenos Aires, some more serious than others. If you want a more relaxed, less pressured ambiance, go to La Catedral — a cavernous, rustic space where just observing is as rewarding as participating. If you’re more confident in your tango skin, La Viruta or Salon Canning are two Villa Crespo institutions, but they’re definitely not for wallflowers.
2. Don’t…do a bus tour.
Word to the wise, Buenos Aires is not a great city for seeing things from a bus. It’s big and sprawling and there’s not much that is interesting to see from afar. Porteños will laud the Obelisco (a large, boring monument on Avenida 9 de Julio) and the Floralis Genérica (a giant metal flower that is supposed to open and close with the sun, but it’s been broken for years), but trust me, these sights look cooler in pictures than they do in real life.
Do…explore the different neighborhoods on foot or by bike.
Walking or cycling around Buenos Aires is the best way to get to know the city. All the different barrios are distinctive — Recoleta is why Buenos Aires is known as the “Paris of the South,” Palermo is the Argentine equivalent of Shoreditch or Williamsburg, San Telmo has an old-worldly European feel, and Almagro is gritty and urban. Buenos Aires is also incredibly flat and cycle friendly, with over 120 km of bike lanes throughout the city and loads of places to rent bikes cheaply. The capital is best experienced like a local, so get out there and pound that pavement like one.
3. Don’t…go to a Starbucks.
This should probably go without saying, but very often people opt for the familiar over the unknown, even if it’s total shit. Why do you think McDonald’s is still so popular?! Argentina is not Colombia, and it can be tricky to get a decent cup o’ joe. More often than not you will be served a weak stew of burnt beans with way too much milk. And it’s fucking expensive in Starbucks. Regret is certain. You heard it here first.
Do…take advantage of Buenos Aires’ unique and long-standing cafe culture.
Ok, so the coffee might be terrible, but the atmosphere and ritual in certain city cafes is unrivaled. Buenos Aires has 73 Bares Notables (typical porteño cafes that are under a national protection order) and they have been the social haunts of famous Argentine writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar. Go for merienda (high tea) at about 4pm.
4. Don’t…go clothes shopping.
Ugh. Clothes shopping in Buenos Aires. Don’t even try it. There are too many shops filled with terrible quality clothes at ridiculous prices. Also, Argentine sizes only really cater for Argentines, so if you don’t have a body like Adonis, save the retail therapy for the US. Or Uruguay. Or anywhere that isn’t Argentina. No size 6 woman should ever have to endure being handed an XXL size by the shopkeeper.
Do…buy leather goods.
Leather, on the other hand, is a gift sent from the fashion gods. Cheap, great quality and with loads of options for bespoke tailors, leather in Argentina is proof that cows are not just for meat. Villa Crespo is leather heaven and you can find everything from leather mate gourds to leather trench coats favored by flashers. The San Telmo fair on Sundays is also great for jackets and bags.
5. Don’t…go to any old parilla.
You may think that going to any parilla or grill means that you are guaranteed great meat. Wrong. While the quality of meat in Buenos Aires is still awesome on average, you are doing yourself a severe disservice by just choosing any old neighborhood dive. Parillas, like bars serving Guinness in Ireland, are known for the quality of their product, and to the untrained palate, a huge hunk of meat may just be a huge hunk of meat. Quality over quantity, people, quality over quantity.
Do…use Buenos Aires’ best food blog to find the best spots to eat.
The online site Pick Up The Fork is considered the Buenos Aires food bible and the best way to evade a sucky parilla / empanada / pizza experience. It has all you need to know about everything ‘foody’ in Buenos Aires and is the go-to source for restaurant reviews, recommendations, and tons more for locals and foreigners alike. You’re welcome.
6. Don’t…be punctual.
Being on time is a rookie mistake. Everything in Buenos Aires starts…well, when it starts. Expect unexpected delays on transport, to be waiting at least 20 minutes to meet someone, and if it’s raining, forget about doing anything. Argentines are particularly flaky when it comes to rain and pretty much everything will get cancelled. Things will happen eventually, so just relax. Ahi va.
Do…prepare yourself to live on Argentine time.
This takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you are only in Buenos Aires for a few days. Everything starts late. No shops open until 10am, they often close from 2pm – 5pm (depending on the area), dinner is definitely not acceptable before 9.30pm, and the best time to arrive at a bar or club is after 1.30am. Also, prepare to stay out late. Like 7am late. The key to staying out this late and surviving? Not getting wasted. Argentines go out midweek until 4 or 5am, get a few hours of shuteye and start the next day early, minus a hangover. THIS is how to party like a porteño.
7. Don’t…be lazy.
Argentines are lovers of life. Everyone you meet will be juggling a million things — studying, working, and playing in a band / acting in a play / running a ceramics workshop, etc. Argentines invest in their hobbies and this means there is a plethora of things to do in the city. Be lazy and you’re going to miss out on a helluva lot of porteño culture. Planning on spending the afternoon sitting in your flat and playing the Xbox? Que verguenza.
Do…get active, get outside, and get out of the city.
People in Buenos Aires are really active and constantly out playing futbol, rollerblading, and jogging. Hit any park at any time during the day and you’ll see people taking full advantage of the sun and vast green spaces like the Bosques de Palermo.
And if the city doesn’t do it for you, head for the outskirts. In Tigre, 45 minutes north on the train, is an idyllic delta with a quaint town center and beautiful islands accessible by water taxi or kayak. San Antonio de Areco is famous for its gaucho festival held every November, and the riverside parks in Zona Norte are perfect for a mellow spring bike ride. Buenos Aires is much more than just the city, so get out and explore!