The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, is a massive city of nearly 3 million inhabitants, and contains several different and unique neighborhoods within its city limits. If you’re coming to Buenos Aires for the first time you might feel a bit overwhelmed with where to start, and what to see and do. So why not start with what’s free and go from there? In this post, I have compiled 15 free activities, which will surely inspire you to do and see more!
- SUNDAY IN SAN TELMO
Plaza Dorrego & Calle Defensa
Market time: 9am- 6pm
I will start with my favorite! I love San Telmo with all my heart. It’s known as the Bohemian area of the city, with some of the older, and certainly more unique architecture. Wandering around San Telmo during weekdays, you might ask yourself where everyone is at. But this neighborhood comes alive in the evenings and weekends, most notably Sundays!
San Telmo is known for its antiques and the Sunday Feria de San Telmo, the heart of which takes place in Plaza Dorrego, where you’ll find live tango, vintage glassware, and several tables of mate cups and straws (bombillas). The market also extends all the way down La Calle Defensa from Plaza Dorrego, for a dozen blocks or so, with a few other side-street off shoots. Along Calle Defensa, you’ll find more of the same from Plaza Dorrego, in addition to knives, concert T-shirts, vintage clothing, paintings, etc.
The streets are full of people wandering, shopping, having coffee at small cafes, drinking beer, having a merienda, and an all-around good ambiance.
While you’re already in San Telmo, why not make a couple quick stops to see La Casa Minima, which is the thinnest apartment in the city, at 380 San Lorenzo, and Argentina’s favorite comic strip character, Mafalda, who you’ll find along Calle Defensa. For lunch, I recommend Hierro Parrilla inside the San Telmo Market.
You can even check out what I ate when I spent an entire day in San Telmo:
2. EL ATENEO GRAND SPLENDID
Av. Santa Fe 1860, Capital Federal
Monday- Thursday: 9am- 10pm
Friday & Saturday: 9am- midnight
Shockingly, I only came to this incredible bookstore, El Ateneo Grand Splendid, on my second time in Buenos Aires. Somehow I completely missed it the first time around, but so glad life offered me a second chance. What is now a massive multi-level bookstore, was once a grand theatre that opened in Buenos Aires in 1919. The spot of the current cafe in the back of the bookstore is where the stage once was. Travel, health, and young adult fiction books stretch around the walls of what was once a balcony overlooking the stage. This bookstore truly is splendid. You’re welcome to wander around, just make sure to keep your mask on at all times.
3. RIVADAVIA BOOK FAIR
Rivadavia Av. 4800
Everyday: 9am – 8pm
On the east side of Parque Rivadavia, you’ll find several green kiosks marking the Rivadavia book fair. Though it’s not just books you’ll find, but also records, magazines, and even some video games. Each kiosk is maintained by an individual owner, which means not all kiosks will be open during the official hours, but more at the whim of the owner. You will likely find the best prices on books here rather than standard brick and mortar bookstores. Bargaining is not common practice. If you do buy a book, I suggest taking it next door to Parque Rivadavia, along with a blanket and mate to spend the afternoon.
4. CABILDO DE BUENOS AIRES
Bolívar 65 (in the Plaza de Mayo)
Wednesday- Sunday: 10:30am – 6pm
Closed on Monday & Tuesday
Here is another example of something I somehow missed my first time around in the city, despite its very central location, staring straight at La Casa Rosada across the Plaza de Mayo. El Cabildo was once governmental offices, but today serves as a free museum, open to the public, with several rooms in the main building, as well as a great view of the Plaza de Mayo from the second floor. Behind the main building, you can find an artisan fair, as well as several other rooms showing the history of the place.
This building took a couple hundred years to complete as it was continually started and then stopped due to funding issues. Then throughout the late 1800’s and the first half of the 1900’s, the building underwent further changes and renovations, as pieces, such as a dome, were removed to make way for the avenues that now run on either side of it, connecting them to Plaza de Mayo. You can find out more inside the museum!
5. LA CASA ROSADA
Balcarce 50 (Plaza de Mayo)
La Casa Rosada (“The Pink House”) is the center for the offices of the president of Argentina, much like the White House in the United States, although the Argentine president does not actually live at the Pink House, but rather in Olivos, outside the city. The Casa Rosada was originally built as a fort by the Spanish, but converted into a governmental building after Argentina gained independence in 1810. One claim states that the building was painted pink in the late 1800’s to show compromise between the two main ruling parties, red for Federals, and white for Unitarians.
Juan and Evita Peron famously gave speeches from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, overlooking the Plaza de Mayo.
There are free tours of La Casa Rosada, but you’ll need to make an appointment, and bring photo identification with you. Tours are only available on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays between 10am-6pm. Try emailing here for a tour: email@example.com as the site for making an appointment seems to not be working at the time of writing this.
6. PALACIO DEL CONGRESO DE LA NACIÓN
Av. Entre Ríos (Plaza del Congreso)
This large, imposing building sits on the west end of the Plaza del Congreso. It is a monument building, which is the seat of the Argentine National Congress, which is composed of two branches – senate, and chamber of deputies. This palace was completed in the year 1906, though several details were not completed until 40 years later. The plaza in front of the palace is often a stage for protests due to its proximity to Congress.
Though I haven’t done a tour, they are apparently offered for free by the senate on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in English (12.30pm) and Spanish (5.00pm).
The plaza in front of the congress building is quite large, and is often used as a space for running, outdoor exercise classes, and teens hanging with friends.
7. LA RECOLETA CEMETERY
This is certainly the most well known cemetery in Buenos Aires, in large part due to the fact that Evita Peron’s grave is there, and visited by several tourists every single day. You’ll often find flowers marking this spot (#37, Eva Duarte de Peron). This massive cemetery spreads out over 14 acres, and contains 4691 above-ground vaults, 94 of them being recognized as national historic monuments by the Argentine government.
I suggest arriving a bit early in the morning before the massive wave of tourists arrive. This will allow you to walk around in total silence, and take in the eerie, yet beautiful feeling of the cemetery. Take your time and admire the construction, and intricate details of each vault and mausoleum, from the carved sculptures to stained glass.
8. LA CHACARITA CEMETERY
Av. Guzmán 680
This cemetery may be lesser known, but it is actually larger than La Recoleta Cemetery, and is in fact the largest in all of Argentina. This cemetery was actually created in the late 1800’s due to a yellow fever epidemic in the country.
The fancier cemetery, La Recoleta was refusing to bury those who died from the fever in their space, therefore students from the College of San Carlos created this space as a place to bury those dying from yellow fever. There are now several well-known Argentine writers, actors, composers, comedians, and boxers buried here. I even saw a mausoleum dedicated to all of the fallen players of Boca Jr.
The cemetery is divided almost in half by a tree lined center street that extends from the main entrance. Then diagonal rows jut off from the center to create what feels like a small city maze of roads lined with vaults and mausoleums. As with La Recoleta, I suggest going early in the morning to beat the crowds and the direct sunlight.
9. FLORALIS GENÉRICA
Av. Pres. Figueroa Alcorta (Plaza Naciones Unidas)
This steel and aluminum flower sculpture was gifted to the city of Buenos Aires by the architect, Eduardo Catalano, in 2002. Surrounded by a reflecting pool, the floralis contains 6 petals, which are connected electrically, and open in the morning (at 8am), and close in the evening (at sunset). According to Catalano, ‘Floralis‘ signifies the belonging to the flowers, and ‘Genérica‘ comes from’gender’ to indicate that it represents all the flowers in the world.
This giant flower is surrounded by a park where Porteños drink mate, have picnics, meet with friends, or take a rest after a bike ride. I suggest bringing a book and a blanket and hanging out for a few hours.
Av. 9 de Julio s/n (Plaza de la República)
Monday- Saturday: 8am – 6pm
The Obelisco de Buenos Aires sits in the center of the Avenida 9 de Julio, which is the city’s largest avenue (about 14 lanes wide). Once you get to this avenue, it will be obvious which direction to go as it can be seen from quite a distance. According to Google, there are opening and closing times, however I really don’t see how something like this can actually close. It’s a giant obelisk in open air.
The obelisk was created in 1936 to celebrate the anniversary of 400 years of the existence of Buenos Aires. On one side of the obelisk, you’ll see an inscription announcing that in this exact spot is where the Argentine flag flew for the first time in 1812. It is not referring to the flag flying on the obelisk, but rather the church that was in this location previously, San Nicolas de Bari.
The best spot to get a photo is on the north side, where you can find the letters “BA” made from plants. Though you may have to wait in line for your turn!
11. TRES DE FEBRERO PARK
Av. Infanta Isabel 110
8am – 6pm (winter)/8pm (summer)
I personally think this is one of the best parks in the city. It’s large, and well-maintained. If you’re staying in Palermo, you will be lucky to be able to hop over any time you want for a picnic, or a walk through the rose garden. There is also an Andalucian patio donated by the city of Sevilla, Spain, which very much reminded me of my time there, with its beautiful blue tiles and fountain. According to my friend you can even see beavers in the lakes, though I did not see any personally!
12. BARRIO CHINO
This is a great neighborhood to walk around in, get boba tea, a delicious lunch, and even find all your favorite Asian cooking ingredients, as there are several Asian supermarkets in this neighborhood.
You can find Barrio Chino in Belgrano, starting with the Chinese arch on Calle Juramento and Calle Arribeños.
The arch was actually assembled in China, and then brought over to Argentina piece by piece.
Av. del Libertador 4101
This hipodromo, or horse racing track, opened in 1876 to much fanfare. It is free to enter the property 24 hours a day. There are also public restrooms here, free to use. There are three races per week, and generally 9 races on each of those days. There are also concerts held at this event space from time to time. I went on a Saturday evening in the summer; there were food trucks and beer stalls available on the grounds. You can find the racing schedule here.
14. CAMINITO IN LA BOCA
Caminito (it’s the name of the street
Admittedly, this is one of the most touristy areas of the city, but it’s still a great place to visit for an afternoon. The streets are colorful and full of life. What was once an immigrant neighborhood in Buenos Aires, is now full of tourists, markets, and tango. There is tango on the street, tango in restaurants, tango painted on the walls, and you can even pay to take a photo with a tango dancer if you’re so inclined.
The restaurants on the main strip of the Caminito will be a bit higher than regular Argentine prices, so wander around the colorful neighborhood, which is home to the Boca Juniors, and try out one of the parrillas or cafes on a side street.
15. CENTRO CULTURAL RECOLETA
Tuesday – Friday: 1:30pm – 10pm
Saturday – Sunday: 11:15am – 10pm
This cultural center is home to concerts, classes, and art exhibitions. It’s even home to a Covid vaccination center at the moment. Most of the events are free, and the art exhibitions are on rotation, and free to enter, however you do need to book an appointment for each room.
You can book a ‘turno’ here for the art exhibitions. You can also just go there and speak to the person working at the front desk. They can help you to book appointments online for the same day, which is what I did. You shouldn’t have a problem getting a turn to enter.
There is also a market outside on the lawn on Saturdays.