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Visit Buenos Aires

How to Spend Your Downtime in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is, without a shadow of a doubt, pretty huge. This is probably one of the first thoughts that will enter your head or sentences that will come from your mouth upon arrival in this sprawling city to study a Spanish language course. But, this is no reason to worry, quite the opposite in fact. Why? Well, firstly because the transport system in Buenos Aires is second to none in terms of options. The rail network in the city stops at many of the main urban areas and there are quite literally thousands of buses called 'colectivos' which operate along nearly 150 different bus routes 24 hours a day. There is also an extensive underground metro system, just look out for the signs saying 'Subte' dotted throughout the city. On top of all this, taxis in the city are safe and cheap and above all abundant. Secondly, Buenos Aires may be big but it is far from monotonous and repetitive. Each neighbourhood or 'barrio' has its own distinct personality, just waiting to be discovered by you.

Buenos Aires Barrios

I think what is called for is a brief look at the main neighbourhoods that make up the city of Buenos Aires, to get a better idea of what each area is all about.

    Recoleta
  • Recoleta - This neighbourhood in the north of the city is considered the most affluent and luxurious. It is where you will find some of the city's grandest hotels, chicest boutiques and fanciest restaurants intermingling with leafy parks and plazas. It is a great spot for a pleasant walk and a bit of people watching even if you haven't quite got the bank balance for some of the restaurants. It is also home to Recoleta Cemetery which is a Buenos Aires must-see and contains the grave of Buenos Aires' iconic and much-loved former first lady, Eva Perón.
  • Palermo - Palermo is the largest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires and is sub-divided in to Palermo Soho, Palermo Viejo, Palermo Chico, Palermo Hollywood and Las Cañitas. The hip younger sibling of Recoleta, it has a distinctly European feel with elements of New York thrown in for good measure. It is an area of tree lined avenues that contain funky bars, artisan ice cream shops, bakeries and hipsters on bicycles in fashionable threads. You cannot be too cool for Palermo. It is also one of the greenest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires and you will find many parks, forest areas and lakes here, perfect for picnicking and outdoor activities. The polo field (known locally as the Cathedral of Polo) that is found here is one of the most important and prestigious in the world.
  • Belgrano - Belgrano is just north of Palermo and is the most densely populated neighbourhood in the city. It is mostly a residential area but with interesting shops, fine restaurants and large green areas and sporting centres which make for a pleasant afternoon walk.
  • Retiro - Retiro has grown up to be a bit of a mix of everything. It is where you will find the main bus and train stations of the city which make it a handy area for commuters, but it is also known for its electric nightlife and lavish restaurants.
  • Puerto Madero - This is a young neighbourhood in Buenos Aires terms following a huge regeneration project that began in the 1990s and transformed the area into a trendy wooden dock lined with terrace cafes and luxury hotels, upscale apartments, cinemas, theatres and offices. A nice spot to linger over a coffee or a glass of Argentine red and watch the people as they stroll along the boardwalk
  • San Telmo - Whilst close by to Puerto Madero, San Telmo couldn't be much more different. It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city and as you walk around it you get an authentic, rustic Buenos Aires vibe. It is lit up by old lamps that create the effect of bathing the streets in candlelight and every weekend its cobbled streets and central Plaza, Plaza Dorrego, fill up with market stalls, tango dancers and live music. It is also home to some terrific steak restaurants (although I am pretty sure you will find at least one of these in every Buenos Aires neighbourhood). A delightful glimpse at the Buenos Aires of old.
  • La Boca - This colourful neighbourhood was the first port of call for many immigrants to the city and nowadays it is where you can go to catch a tango show or to see the stadium of one of the city's two main football club, Boca Juniors (The other team is called River Plate).
  • Plaza
  • Downtown - In downtown Buenos Aires you will come across a lot of the main tourist and monumental sites that are on offer, such as the Casa Rosada, Plaza de Mayo and the impressive Obelisk, standing at nearly 70 metres tall in the intersection of Corrientes and Avenida 9 de Julio, the world's widest Avenue. The beautiful Colón Theatre is found here too, as is the city's first skyscraper, the Kavanagh Building.

Porteño Passions

Although your principal aim in coming to Buenos Aires may be to learn Spanish, that doesn't mean it is the only thing you should do, in fact far from it. Your time away from the classroom will without doubt be filled with unique and thoroughly enjoyable activities and experiences. This buzzing, modish city has plenty to offer one and all!

One of the first things to do, and also possibly one of the most enjoyable, is to explore the neighbourhood of your Spanish school or accommodation on foot and simply take in your surroundings and the atmosphere oozing from every crevice of this sprightly city. You should also venture into some of the other neighbourhoods to get a feel for them too, as no one neighbourhood in Buenos Aires is the same and each provides a new ambience and new delights to be explored.

One thing that you will find unavoidable in Buenos Aires is the phenomenon that is Tango. The dance originates in Rio de la Plata so unsurprisingly the Porteños are immensely proud of its heritage and you will see advertisements aplenty for Tango shows throughout the city. The dance supposedly had its beginnings in the brothel houses of what is now the neighbourhood of La Boca and if you take a trip here you will indeed see tango dancers weaving through the tables as you eat your lunch and an abundance of Tango related bits and bobs on offer in the many souvenir shops of the area. Another likely spot to witness this fiery latin dance is during the weekly Sunday market in San Telmo, when dancers and accompanying musicians adorn the streets in the hope of making a quick bob or two. They are generally very good though and this is probably one of the cheaper ways to experience some Tango dancing as a lot of the tourist orientated 'Dinner and Tango Show' experiences can be expensive (albeit very good fun).

Maradona

If Tango is the dance of Buenos Aires then football is without doubt the sport. Football flows in the veins of the Porteños and their passion should be experienced if at all possible at one of the local football games, between the main city teams of River Plate, Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Vélez Sársfield. Care should be taken at any football matches and always be wary of your possessions, keep a close eye on your wallet! Choosing a ticket for the seated area rather than the terrace if possible is also a good idea.

Staying on a sporting theme, making a perhaps slightly unexpected appearance in Buenos Aires, most prominently in the Palermo area of Las Cañitas, is the game of Polo. A sport associated traditionally with the elite of society, it is right at home in Las Cañitas and the polo field found there, the Campo Argentino de Polo, has capacity for over 16,000 people and hosts one of the most prestigious polo competitions in the world every November. You can give it a try for yourself at one of the local Polo schools or simply get a ticket and, with your politest Spanish at the ready darling, hobnob with the local who's who and live a life of Buenos Aires luxury.... for a few hours at least.

Steaks and Sweets

One more thing that Porteños are truly impassioned by is, you guessed it, food. Some of the best steak houses in the land adorn the streets of Buenos Aires, with high quality and authentic Italian restaurants in between, not to mention any number of other International cuisines that have made their way to Buenos Aires and make the city one of the most cosmopolitan you are likely to find in South America. There are a number of companies offering tours of traditional 'Parrillas' combined with Argentinean wine tasting, but a good value option is to go in search of a succulent steak yourself. Some of the more well known and highly rated Parrillas include La Cabrera in Palermo, Desnivel in San Telmo and La Brigada, also in San Telmo. A good home cooked supermarket steak is also hard to beat and the price gives the word reasonable a new meaning so consider saving a few pennies and cooking up a culinary Argentinean delight in the comfort of your own kitchen...or maybe just drop a few hints in your home stay house and you could maybe return home from Spanish classes one day to a very nice surprise.

The Argentines don't forget about dessert either, if you have any room after the quarter of a cow you have just polished off that is. The Italian heritage comes up trumps when it comes to this course in your meal and you won't have to go far to find a Heladería with some of the most delicious ice cream you will try in your lifetime. Try the Dulce de Leche flavour, a caramel sauce that Argentineans are a bit obsessed with...for good reason, I think you will discover.

Buenos Aires Culture

Museum

If all the Spanish language you are learning has put you in the mood for all things Spanish and you fancy getting some culture round you, then you are definitely in the right city. Buenos Aires boasts a seemingly endless selection of Museums and Art Galleries and some must-sees include the the Evita Museum, Museum of Argentina Folk Art and MALBA (Museum of Modern Latin American Art) which has quite simply enormous collection of modern art and exhibitions and even a small Art House cinema.

As for some of the must-see sights in Buenos Aires, a lot are to be found in the Downtown area, including the seat of the Government in the Casa Rosada, the Plaza de Mayo, famous for being the setting for many of Argentina's political protests, the giant Obelisco monument, the widest avenue in the world (Avenida 9 de Julio) and the Colón Theatre. All of this sightseeing can be thirsty work so be sure to call in to Cafe Tortoni, the oldest Cafe in Argentina, established in 1858 and frequented in the past by intellectuals such as Frederico García Lorca and Albert Einstein. They serve up a range of treats such as Alfajores and Tiramisu with a backdrop of art nouveau decor, stained glass and chandeliers and a soundtrack of tango music and poetry recitals.

In the neighbourhood of Recoleta make sure and dedicate a morning or afternoon to the cemetery which houses the tomb of Evita Perón and in general makes for an interesting stroll. If you are feeling the saintly vibe after this then another option is to head out of town to Parque Tierra Santa, the world's first religious theme park for a surreal afternoon of resurrection reconstructions and attractions divided up into stories from the bible. Yes, it does exist.

Finally if you are sick of the city life and want to escape, you also have that option. Just a mere few minutes away from the Puerto Madero neighbourhood, this park is a haven of tranquility and wildlife pretty much within the city.

As you can hopefully see, if you decide to come and study Spanish in Buenos Aires there is little chance that you will be bored. This is a city with a lot to offer and any time spent there should hopefully leave you feeling fully satisfied, both in a steak and a Spanish learning sense.