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Ten Things to Do in Buenos Aires

I’ve been living here for just over a year and have had lots of visitors of all sorts–those who love museums, those who love wine, those who just want to know what it’s like to live in Buenos Aires, those who want to shop, and those who love music. Here are ten things I would do with any of these visitors. There are, of course, hundreds of things to do in Buenos Aires, but these ten would give you a pretty good idea of the diversity of this amazing city.  

  1. San Telmo Antique Fair – On Sundays, San Telmo fills up with tourists and locals and vendors galore. The fair has grown in recent years so you’ll find much more than antiques, but in Plaza Dorrego it’s antiques only. The collections are fascinating. If the crowd starts to get to you, head off of Defensa (the main street through San Telmo) to Peru or Balcarce. Balcarce is a small street with some of the best preserved San Telmo architecture. Peru is more busy but there are several good cafes and bars where you can hide out until you’re ready to fight the crowds again. Whatever you do, don’t miss the old-fashioned market in San Telmo. it’s between Carlos Calvo and Estados Unidos just off of Defensa. Sifones 
  2. Tango at Confiteria Ideal (on Thursday for the orchestra) – My favorite tango experience because I don’t dance. If you’re a tango dancer, you’ll want to go elsewhere. But if you want to watch others dance and hear a live orchestra all set in a ballroom of faded decadence, Ideal is the place to go on a Thursday night when the live orchestra plays. Get there early enough to get a good seat (say 10:00 pm) or call to make a reservation. They’ll go all night. Tango Show 
  3. Cafe Tortoni (but not to eat) – Ok, so the food leaves a lot to be desired and in a city like Buenos Aires, there’s no sense eating mediocre food. But do go there for a coffee or a refreshing drink while you’re out and about in the downtown area. Cafe Tortoni takes you back in time. You’ll see tons of tourists taking pictures (inside and out), you may have to wait outside for table to free up (but not usually a long wait), and the wait staff is, well, rude. But once you get past that part, linger at your table as long as you like to watch the comings and goings and imagine you’re visiting Buenos Aires 100 years ago. Tortoni 
  4. Recoleta Cemetery and Avenida Alvear (visit the fancy hotels) – Obviously you have to visit the cemetery. It reminds me of cemeteries in New Orleans. Little cities of elegance and history. But you should also stroll down the street Alvear to see the mega-fashion houses (Gucci, Armani, the like), and to visit two hotels: Alvear Palace Hotel and the Park Hyatt. Alvear Palace Hotel is old-fashioned elegance while Park Hyatt is modern perfection.  Hyatt Entrance
  5. Milion (cocktails and appetizers with the hip crowd) – On Parana (1048 just off of Avenida Santa Fe), this is the place to go for cocktails. The attraction isn’t the cocktails themselves,  it’s the restored mansion that houses Milion. Sit down and imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place. Such elegance. The garden is stunning. The staircase to the garden is also, and it’s a good place to sit to have a drink if you happen to go when there are no tables available. Divine experience all around.
  6. Palermo Soho (shopping and eating) – On Saturdays and Sundays, there’s a fair in Plaza Serrano. It’s not a great fair, but it brings a lot of people to the area. Most of the restaurants here are exceptional so you’ll want to have lunch or dinner. This is the part of town that has the most interesting shops. Local clothes designers, fantastic paper stores, interesting home decor designs, unique and affordable jewelry and shoes. Any day of the week it’s interesting, but it’s most lively on weekends. Palermo Soho
  7. La Peña del Colorado (folclore and food) – I love Argentine folclore (a type of music more popular in the Interior than in Buenos Aires). It’s boisterous, rhythmic, and reminds me of bluegrass and country music from back home. Located in Barrio Norte on Guemes (3657), this place makes me feel like I’m in Cordoba or Santiago del Estero, eating meat and french fries on wooden tables surrounded by people I don’t know and listening to a live show of chacarera or zamba. The show at La Peña del Colorado starts early for Buenos Aires (9:30), so get there even earlier to be sure you get a seat. But stay later. Once the show is over, groups sitting at tables throughout the restaurant will start up their own juntadas (a gathering of people to drink and sing). While you’re there, you might want to try some mate (the haylike infusion Argentines drink out of a gourd). Add sugar if it’s too bitter for your taste. Folklore in the Capital 
  8. El Ateneo (most beautiful bookstore ever) –  On Avenida Santa Fe near Callao and Riobamba, this is the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen. El Ateneo is housed inside an old theater. There’s a cafe on what was the stage, you can sit in the balconies to read for a spell, or you can just wander around and look at the amazing lighting and architecture. 
  9. Tigre (a bit of nature and more shopping) – Go on a Saturday so that you can head to Mataderos, Soho or San Telmo on Sunday. Why I like this trip? The train ride is great. It takes you along the coast (although you don’t see the river) up through the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires. You might even want to get off the train and see San Isidro if you have time. It’s a gorgeous suburb, hilly, green and with spectacular views of the kite surfers down on the river. Tigre itself can take the full day, so head out early. Stop by the tourist information office near the McDonalds. They’ll give you information about boat rides you can take through the river and to visit the islands if you want to get off the boat and walk around. You can also rent bicycles or canoes. Then save enough time to head over to the port and the Fruit Market. There’s much more than fruit. See Gift-Buying in Tigre for more information. And if you do go on a Sunday, buy a roundtrip so you don’t have to wait in the lines to get your return ticket. Tigre  
  10. Mataderos (folclore, meat, gauchos, and shopping) – Mataderos is a barrio in the west of Buenos Aires. It’s a hike, but it’s worth it. In summer, they move the fair to Saturday evenings, but during the rest of the year it’s my favorite activity on a Sunday. The fair itself is interesting and prices are about 1/3 cheaper than in the center. But it’s the live music and dancing that I like. There’s a huge stage in the main square with one performance after another of Argentine folclore. Couples dressed in traditional clothes dance in front of the stage. Grills serving up choripan (Argentinean hotdogs that are way better than hotdogs) or grilled meat of just about any kind encircle the dancers and musicians.  And in the afternoon (usually at about 2:00 pm) there’s a gaucho show on the same street as the stage just after the last stands. Young and old gauchos ride their horses under an arch trying to pull off a ring with a small stick. Talk about horsemanship. Gaucho on the Run 

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    Gift-Buying in Tigre

    Tigre So, you’re visiting Buenos Aires and need to take gifts back to friends and family. Normally I’d send you to the fair in Mataderos, but during summer they move it to Saturday nights instead of all-day Sunday, and there are other things to do on a Saturday night. 

    After all, it is summer (although the picture here was taken in winter), and getting out of the city to enjoy a bit of nature and sunshine is always a good idea. So I recommend a day-trip to Tigre (just north of Buenos Aires). Plus, you can literally buy every present you’ll need right there at about 1/3 the price in the city. 

     Take a 40-minute train ride from Retiro (the train station in the center of Buenos Aires) up to Tigre. Once there, you’ll probably want to head over to the tourist information office. It’s probably the most well-stocked one I’ve seen in Argentina. Head out the station and look for the McDonald’s arches. The tourism office is next door.Tigre is in the Delta. It was once the vacation spot of the elite. Now, it’s the weekend getaway for those who can’t spend the summer in Punta del Este. But I almost prefer it to Punta del Este. 

    Boat rides through the rivers. Walks or bike rides along the islands. Rowing through canals past beautiful homes and screened in porches (bring mosquito repellent). Delicious restaurants. And, the amazing fruit market at the port of Tigre. They sell much much more than fruit. 

    The market is huge. People from Buenos Aires often go there for furniture (particularly wicker furniture and hammocks). But you’ll also find great souvenirs.Here’s a list of presents I’ve taken back home that seemed a success. 

    For men: belts, knives, ponchos, gaucho hats, bolero tie clasps, wallets, or soccer shirts for sports fans.

    For women:jewelry, leather anything, or shawls made of wool or llama. 

    Standbys: dulce de leche (a type of caramel that’s fantastic on bread. It’s sort of the Argentine nutella), alfajores (cookies with dulce de leche inside… to die for), CDs (of tango or Argentinean folclore if you are buying for country music fans), mate and yerba (the haylike infusion you’ll see Argentines drinking EVERYWHERE).  

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