If you’re travelling around South America, a visit to Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires is a must. With its stately architecture and jacaranda-lined boulevards, backpacking in Buenos Aires is a joy. Reasons to visit include its legendary steaks, seductive tango and late-night parties. Here is the best guide to backpacking Buenos Aires, including locals’ tips, what to do and the most stylish and affordable places to stay.
When I visited Buenos Aires, after stopping at the incredible Iguazu Falls, my intentions were to learn to dance tango, taste Argentina’s legendary steak, discover the city’s history and try a local yoga class.
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This is the coolest area to stay in Buenos Aires
I was lucky enough to be given a number of tips from people who have lived in and loved this city. The first was the best area to stay in Buenos Aires.
I was advised to head straight for Palermo Soho. It’s a joy to walk around the streets of this charming neighbourhood, with its lively cafés and restaurants, with music and tables spilling outside.
Alongside are immaculately stylish glass-fronted fashion stores from every brand and label imaginable. These windows are so tempting, if I were to live and work in this city, I’d spend all my money on clothes.
Don’t forget to pack your copy of Lonely Planet’s essential Buenos Aires guide book.
These are the hippest hostels in Buenos Aires
If you are looking for a stylish hostel in Palermo Soho, check out the Selina Palermo which has a cool rooftop bar and an on-site restaurant. As well as large and small dorms, there are affordable private rooms, each with their own balcony and seating area.
The beautiful Meridiano Hostel Boutique has a cool bar and terrace, and its dorm beds come with useful personal fittings and curtains for privacy.
The super clean and friendly Caravan BA boutique hostel is loved by guests for its seasonal outdoor swimming pool, sports facilities and activities that help you meet other travellers easily.
Finally, the fabulous Malevo Murana Hostel is perfectly located in Palermo and offers a tasty breakfast and great outdoor areas.
Take a walking tour of the city
I recommend taking a walking tour in English on your first day to get your bearings and learn about this fascinating city.
My tour guide arrived in Buenos Aires from the UK years ago. He loved it so much he stayed. It’s a dream job to now spend his days sharing his insights about the city, including its history, culture and essential tips for first-time visitors.
Visit the home of Carlos Gardel, Argentina’s father of tango
Sights include the home of Argentina’s most prominent figure in the history of tango, Carlos Gardel. This fedora-wearing crooner transformed this notorious street dance into a mainstream cultural phenomenon in the 1920s and 30s, thanks to his popular songs. In the Balvanera neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, you will see Pedro’s handsome face painted in colourful murals displaying some of his most famous song lyrics.
Book your place on a popular full-day walking tour of Buenos Aires in English.
See the pink presidential mansion, Casa Rosada
My walking tour took us through Buenos Aires’s jacaranda-lined streets, flowering bright with their blue blossom. It concluded in Plaza de Mayo, where we stood outside the pink Presidential mansion, Casa Rosada.
On this building’s balcony in October 1945, Juan Perón and his First Lady Eva famously made their impassioned speeches to tens of thousands of Argentines squeezed into this square.
Visit the inspiring Museo Evita
President Juan Perón’s wife Eva became famous around the world thanks to the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical that bears her nickname: Evita. In Buenos Aires, I visited Museo Evita to learn all about the acting ambitions and political career of ‘that woman’ – as her detractors labelled her.
This museum tells her story through proud quotes from her autobiography, her stylish designer outfits and her work to improve the rights and lifestyles of women, children and the poorest communities in Argentina.
The museum was built on the site of a women’s refuge established by Evita and now features a lovely al fresco cafe.
Explore the famous Recoleta Cemetery
Eva Perón’s body is buried in the city’s Recoleta cemetery. You can walk along avenues of grand Gothic tombs or take an organised walking tour in English. Some of these tombs contain more than a dozen caskets in their eerie, cobwebbed depths.
Intricate, symbolic stone-masonry and wrought ironwork decorate these mausoleums, which belong to some of Buenos Aires’ most wealthy and accomplished families. If you choose to go on a walking tour of Recoleta, you will learn the fascinating and tragic tales about its recumbent residents.
Don’t miss out – book your place on a guided walking tour of Recoleta cemetery in English.
You can also spot Recoleta’s feline tenants. Despite their macabre home, this collection of crypt-rambling cats look well-fed and seem to love all the attention they get from the attraction’s visitors.
Take a tango class
One of my intentions for my visit to Buenos Aires was to try to learn tango. With a friend from my hostel dorm room, I visited La Catédral Club, recommended by a friend who used to live in the city for its lively tango lessons.
This atmospheric venue reminded me of Baz Luhrmann’s vision of Moulin Rouge. A huge, red, artistically-rendered heart suspended from the wooden vaulted ceiling, symbolised Buenos Aires’s constantly beating passion for this dance. Watching the people twirling with their partners, I was seduced by this place before it was our turn to take to the floor.
A couple of guys asked us to partner with them. We took their hands and tentatively learned to lean our weight against them, balancing together. It was a exercise in trust for me after almost a year of travelling alone and being self-sufficient. Then we swapped partners for our next challenge, which was to learn the eight steps of the tango dance.
Gabriel introduced himself with a smile. In the few minutes we had to chat, I learned that I had something in common with this Argentine. He had recently lived for a year in Kensal Green, a London neighbourhood close to the home I had left behind to embark on this round the world trip. The two of us quickly mastered (in our opinion at least) the tango steps. Gabriel shot me a proud smile whenever we successfully completed our routine.
Soon we were tangoing across the floor like pros, being careful not to bump into the other couples. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did Gabriel, who asked afterwards if I wanted to join him in some more tango classes that week.
Enjoy an authentic tango experience with a tango night with the locals.
Tuck into happy hour steak
Buenos Aires is famous for its top quality beef steak, but food in general seems to be a passion here.
With shiny fruit and vegetables on display in grocery stores, as well as vegan restaurants, Italian eateries and specialist cheese and wine delicatessens, this is one of South America’s best cities for foodies.
A local friend’s tip took me to La Cabrera for its steak happy hour. I love this concept: at this notable restaurant you get to sample the top notch steak, accompaniments and Malbec wine for around 40% less than patrons normally pay – as long as you arrive promptly and leave the restaurant by 8pm. Perfect for backpackers on a budget.
Why not tuck into a special Buenos Aires gastronomical dinner experience.
Indulge in a yoga class
In the Palermo Soho neighbourhood is a stylish and welcoming yoga studio called Valletierra.
It runs yoga and meditation classes six days a week, as well as massages and 5Rhythms flow dance. They are able to easily accommodate English speakers, so you can simply relax and focus on the present moment.
Read my full review of Valletierra and why it’s the best yoga place in Buenos Aires.
Final thoughts on Buenos Aires backpacking
Compared with Santiago in Chile and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires feels more familiar to a European like me, a bit like being somewhere like Madrid. I can see how it’s temptingly easy for travellers to stop here for a while and make this city their new home.
Buenos Aires is the ideal city to fall in love in. I can imagine wandering the sun-drenched streets, arm in arm with your new beau. Sharing rich red wine, you gaze into each other’s eyes and dance the tango late into the night.
But even if you are there alone like me, you will undoubtedly fall in love with the city.
Now, read more about my backpacking adventures across South America.