10 Free Things to Do in Buenos Aires; Argentina’s City of Passion
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Buenos Aires is a beautiful modern city full of intrigue and activity. However, it is also one of South America’s most expensive spots, as I discovered during a month-long visit. Thankfully, I found that there are plenty of free things to do in Buenos Aires if you know where to look.
Few countries are as full of character as Argentina, known for its vast dramatic landscapes and vibrant cities. Nowhere embodies the Argentinian spirit better than Buenos Aires, the colourful capital on Río de la Plata.
With its lively outdoor markets, colonial architecture, sprawling parks, tango shows, amazing steakhouses and animated nightlife scene, Buenos Aires has something for every kind of traveller.
10 Compelling Free Things to Do in Buenos Aires
Without the funds to indulge in fine dining and expensive shows, I sought out ways to explore this fascinating city without spending a small fortune. I compiled this list of free things to do in Buenos Aires so you can be engulfed in BA’s passion too!
Take a Free Walking Tour
There’s no better way to begin a visit to a South American city than to take a free walking tour. Following the successful European tours-for-tips model, there are several tours to choose from in Buenos Aires that explore some of the iconic sights and hidden backstreet gems. These tours are also great for getting your bearings and recommendations on places to eat and drink.
We took our free walking tour with bafreetour.com. This team of local-born-and-bred friendly experts run two tours every day, one in the morning around the city centre, and another in the afternoon exploring the Recoleta district.
We went for the traditional city centre tour, which began at the Palace of the Argentine National Congress and weaved through to Plaza de Mayo, a historic square entwined in the city’s political history. On the way, we stopped off at the towering Obelisk monument, and Café Tortoni, a legendary old coffee house.
While these tours are technically free, it’s good form to tip the guides for their time and knowledge if you can afford to. Somewhere between 100 and 200 pesos is standard.
Check out San Telmo Market on a Sunday
San Telmo is my absolute favourite neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. A few blocks south of Plaza de Mayo, it’s one of the oldest parts of the city, oozing with the personality and charm that some of the more touristy districts lack.
Every Sunday morning its cobbled streets spring to life as the weekly market takes centre stage. The neighbourhood’s dozens of shops and bars disappear behind art and craft stalls, while street chefs sizzle choripan on pop-up barbecues in the courtyards. Even if you don’t want to buy anything it’s an experience in itself to meander through the mayhem to the tune of local buskers.
San Telmo is a great area to stay (we did and loved it), or otherwise, it’s easy to get to by bus or underground from Palermo or Recoleta.
Explore the 100-Year-Old Theatre Converted into a Library
The gridded layout of Buenos Aires means that some of the city’s streets are several miles long, one of the most famous of which is Avenida Santa Fe. While this is mainly a haven for high-street shoppers, there is a hidden gem in its midst that you would almost certainly miss if you didn’t know it was there.
I am speaking of El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a library like quite no other. Converted from a century-old theatre, its bookshelves are scattered around the original boxes and balconies, with the original elaborate trimmings and classy red curtains still in place.
Once the stage for Argentina’s tango legends, today El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a treasure trove for bookworms and, well, anyone who likes cool old buildings. Best of all for the budget traveller, it’s totally free to enter.
Visit Evita’s resting place at La Recoleta Cemetery
No face of Argentina’s past is more familiar than Eva Perón, or Evita as she is better known to the outside world. Her legacy is celebrated all over Buenos Aires, with the many statues and murals in her honour hard to miss.
The city is also her final resting place; she is interred in a crypt at La Recoleta, one of the world’s most famous cemeteries. The grounds of this Argentine celebrity graveyard tell a decadent story of the country’s past, with huge, ostentatious shrines holding the remains of presidents, generals and high-society families.
Naturally, there is no entry fee – it would be a bit weird to charge people to visit a cemetery, right? Inside it’s a bit of a maze, and it took us quite a while to locate Evita. She rests in the tomb of the Duarte family, so keep an eye out for that, or simply follow the crowds of people.
Get your Yellow Fever Vaccination for Free!
Of all the free things to do in Buenos Aires, this one may be the least exciting, but it could be super useful if you’re heading to Paraguay afterwards or any other countries that require a yellow fever certificate.
Shortly after we arrived in the city, we were, unfortunately, the victims of a robbery (I should add here that Buenos Aires is not a dangerous city if you’re savvy to the tricks and scams). Among other things, we lost our yellow fever certificates, but luckily for us, the manager of our hostel knew a place on the outskirts of town that offers the jab for free. It’s called Sanidad de Fronteras, situated right next to a police station close to the Puerto Madero district.
In the UK, the yellow fever jab cost us 85 GBP each (about 110 USD), so this is quite a big potential saving if it fits with your travel route. All you need to do is fill out a simple form, wait for 45 minutes or so (bring a book) and then you’re done. While you’re in the area, take the chance to stroll around the regenerated docklands of Puerto Madero and grab a waterfront coffee – it’s one of the city’s prettiest and most relaxed areas.
Stroll Around the Colourful Streets of La Boca
Not far away from Puerto Madero, you will find the most colourful corner of Buenos Aires, the historic district of La Boca. Famed internationally as the home of Boca Juniors football club, it is a labyrinth of bright-coloured houses painted by an artist in the 1950s to bring a new lease of life.
La Boca has distinctively Italian origins, as the settlement site for immigrants from Genoa in the 1830s, and retains a European flavour today. Its spine is the street El Caminito, which is now an open-air museum daubed with local art and usually inhabited with lively street performers. As a public road, it’s free to take a stroll around.
If you do want to catch some tango in the city, La Boca may provide the cheapest option. You will see dancers meandering among diners seated outside restaurants (if you sit down for a coffee or a meal, expect to be asked for a small tip). Be careful about having your photo taken with costumed performers – they will want payment, and if you don’t agree with an amount beforehand it will be more than you’d expect.
To get to La Boca from central Buenos Aires you can take the 29 bus, which should cost no more than 10 pesos each way and passes some of the city’s iconic landmarks.
Try the Gaucho Market at Feria de Mataderos
For an altogether different flavour of Argentina, you can take a Sunday trip to the outskirts of Buenos Aires for the Mataderos Fair. In a display of the country’s rural customs, you will see horseback cowboys (‘gauchos’) on show, traditional games, folk singers and dancers, and authentic regional food stalls.
The market is open from mid-morning, but the real fun starts at about 2 pm when the Gauchos come out to play in full attire. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience well worth the journey if you’re in town at the weekend.
While it’s free to enter the market and see the shows, it is not walkable distance from the city centre, so you will need to fork out a bus or taxi fare. The cheapest option is a 45-minute ride on the 55 bus.
Visit the Museum of Fine Arts
Buenos Aires has many excellent museums and art galleries, but most require an entry fee. One notable exception is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), which showcases Argentina’s most exquisite artists and is completely free to enter.
Perhaps you already visited the La Boca district and liked the vibe of the painted houses around El Caminito? The artist behind their 1950s rejuvenation was Benito Quinquela Martín, and you can find a selection of his most important works in the museum.
In addition to Argentinian masterpieces, the museum also features works by some of the world’s most iconic artists, including Rembrandt, Picasso and Van Gogh. On the outer edges of the Recoleta district, it can be easily combined with a visit to La Recoleta Cemetery and the surrounding parks and plazas.
Get Outdoors in the Parks and Gardens of Palermo
The district of Palermo is the city’s most popular nightlife spot, teeming with trendy bars and cafés usually bustling with locals and travellers alike. With its green parks and waterways, it’s also a great place to get out and about when the weather’s good.
The parks of Palermo cover a large area, and could easily make for half a day’s walking around with a camera. The Monument to the Magna Carta by Plaza Sicilia is a good pivot point to start from.
The Rosedal, or rose garden, is one of the highlights, with pretty pink flower displays, fountains and carefully cultivated pathways. The nearby Japanese Gardens are equally photogenic, with a distinctive arched red bridge over the ponds making for an Instagram-worthy scene.
Go to Open Blues Night at El Universal
Buenos Aires has a brilliant scene for live music, with no shortage of events to choose from any night of the week. One of the best places to catch talented local artists is El Universal, a cultural space hidden away on the back streets of Palermo.
Every Wednesday evening inside the rustic little wooden hall of El Universal, musicians are welcome to come along and play to an audience of local music enthusiasts at open blues night. It usually begins with a typical open mic style but evolves into a full-on jam with everyone joining in.
The entrance is very easy to miss – keep your ears out for the sound of music! There’s a garden area outside the hall with a bar serving wine and craft beer (they do love a good craft beer in Argentina). The event is free to enter.
If you’re willing to spend a few pennies for some local live music, I would also highly recommend checking out the La Bomba de Tiempo show on a Monday night at Ciudad Cultural Konex. The 160-peso entry fee is an absolute bargain to see the incredible spectacle of a two-hour improvised performance by some of the best percussionists on the planet.
Map of Free Things to do in Buenos Aires
Having trouble finding your way around? I put together this little map of the free things to do in Buenos Aires covered in this article:
Using a SUBE Card
It’s a large and spread-out city, with many of the sights and activities too far apart to walk. By far the cheapest and easiest way to get around Buenos Aires is to buy a SUBE card, which will enable you to use the underground, buses and trains.
It’s worth checking with your accommodation if anyone has left one behind – you can’t claim back the money you haven’t used on a SUBE card, and so many travellers leave theirs for others to use when they move on to another destination. We got one for free when we arrived, which had 25 pesos on it, and we passed it on to others when we left.
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