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Buenos Aires is a vibrant city at the heart of Argentina. With a population of over 12 million people, it is a large city with a lot to see and do. There is something for every visitor no matter your interest. But here are a few facts that might surprise you!
Read on for the 8 fascinating things no one tells you about Buenos Aires!
1. Their Italian Heritage
Between 1880-1920 huge numbers of Italians immigrated to Buenos Aires. This, and immigration from Spain, make up the bulk of the historic settlement of Argentina. Some estimates have close to two-thirds of the current population of Buenos Aires having some Italian ancestry. Yet the strong Italian heritage is one on the things no one ever tells you about Buenos Aires.
What it means for you, the visitor, is there is a lot of excellent Italian food found in Buenos Aires. If you would like to try a traditional pizza, head to El Cuartito – (Talcahuano 937, El Centro, Buenos Aires, located not far from Avenida Santa Fe). This place has been serving up pizza since 1934 and it is bustling. The waiters are in white waistcoats. It is very casual and the pizza is brilliant. El Cuartito often appears on lists with the best pizzas in the world. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it is worth a visit.
2. Known as “the Paris of South America”
This nickname of the “Paris of South America” is a throwback to the early 1900’s when Buenos Aires was one of the world’s richest cities. A lot of the architecture has French influence.
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The Recoleta neighborhood is a good place for a stroll to imagine what Buenos Aires would have been like in its heyday.
Today this area contains many mansions, high-end shops with all the usual international luxury providers and a few local designers as well, and an eclectic mix of cafes and restaurants. Most of the foreign embassies are in Recoleta in converted mansions on the leafy tree-lined streets.
This neighborhood is also home to one of Buenos Aires largest tourist attractions, La Recoleta Cemetery. Many of Buenos Aires rich and famous are buried here and some of the family mausoleums are quite ornate. As you enter there are maps to help you find the sites of some of the most famous residents, including the Duarte Family which is where Eva Peron, or Evita fame, is buried.
Some of the statues and sculptures in the cemetery are made by some of Buenos Aires most renowned artists.
3. Tumultuous Government
Sticking with the Evita theme, you can see the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s equivalent of the White House, in Plaza del Mayo. You might recognize the balconies as those where Eva Peron addressed the crowds.
The Plaza de Mayo has been the site of many protests and social demonstrations over the years. Argentina has had a tumultuous past having had a dictatorship for many years and having declared bankruptcy several times.
Through it all the porteños, as the locals are known, endure, and protest. Even in recent years, Buenos Aires has been the site of some huge anti-government and socialist protests. These are often held on 9th of July Avenue, one of the widest streets in South America. (If you visit in the spring this street is spectacular, it is lined with Jacaranda trees, which are in bloom turning it a lovely share of purple.)
Due to decisions by the government, they have also endured runaway inflation. (So ignore the prices you see in guide books and don’t believe anyone that tells you Argentina is cheap.) With their last elections in late 2015, perhaps things are beginning to stabilize. Along Dusty Roads has a good guide to the currency exchange situation as of late 2015.
4. Buenos Aires has one of the World’s Top 5 Opera Houses
Built in 1908, at the height of Argentina’s wealth, the Teatro Colon has exceptional acoustics, fantastic architecture and all of the major opera stars of the last century have performed here.
In 2010, Teatro Colon underwent an extensive renovation to restore the theater to its former glory. During the day you can take a guided tour of the theater. Or for something really special, attend a show in the evening. We went to see the Philharmonic play an evening of Mozart. The acoustics in the theater are just amazing.
5. The River Plate
The River Plate, or Rio de la Plata, is a huge river forming the boundary between Argentina and Uruguay. The river is 180 miles (290 Kilometers) long and at its widest point, almost 140 miles (220 kilometers) wide.
Buenos Aires, (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay) are both located on it banks. You can take the ferry across the river between the two cities. You can also take the ferry from Buenos Aires to beautiful Colonia, also in Uruguay.
If you want a good day trip out of the city, head to the Tigre Delta. You can take a boat ride through the delta all the way back to Buenos Aires, and see how the people of the Delta live. There are no roads through this area. The locals get around on boats. Grocery stores and other essentials for the locals are also boats. All of the goods for this area are transported in and out via boats. There is a large market there and you can buy souvenirs and household goods.
6. Home of the Tango
Originating in the 1880’s the River Plate is credited as being where the tango began. Uruguay and Argentina applied jointly and have had the tango recognized on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
The San Telmo neighborhood is a great area to find a milonga, as tango houses are known. You can see a show, take a lesson or just come to watch.
If you are in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, the Mercado in San Telmo is worth a visit. A great place to find crafts, souvenirs, street food and street performers. You will most likely find someone doing the tango.
7. Soccer (fútbol) Rivalry
If you are at all into soccer or fútbol as it is known in Argentina, then you know Argentina is obsessed! However did you know that Argentina has one of the fiercest soccer rivalries in the world between two neighborhood fútbol clubs?
The La Boca neighborhood is home to the La Boca Juniors whose home ground is La Bombonera stadium. Diego Maradona hails from this club. They have a fierce rivalry with River Plate, one of Argentina’s oldest and most successful clubs. River Plate’s away colors are red and white. The rivalry is so fierce, at La Bombonera stadium even the Coca Cola logo is in black and white so as not to have the colors of their rival.
The La Boca neighborhood was originally settled by Italian immigrants. It has colorful houses and Caminito, the pedestrian street, is a good place to see the tango performed. This area is popular with tourists during the day, but many locals warn you about safety in the area after dark.
8. Night Owls will Love Buenos Aires
Nothing starts early. Dinner doesn’t begin until 9 pm and dinner and dancing can carry on until late in the evening or maybe even the next morning. You will find the Italian custom of aperitivo, or a before dinner drink and light snack, very common around the city.
Even the little ones are up late and it is not unusual to see the entire family arrive for dinner at 10 pm.
Now over to you, do you have any things you learned on your trip to Buenos Aires? Or any questions for us about Buenos Aires?
If so, please leave us a comment below (no URL is required to leave a comment.)
I’m headed to Buenos Aires for the first time in the next few weeks. What are your thoughts on safty in BA for women traveling alone?
It has been a couple of years since we were in Buenos Aires. But here is a link to a great site that we trust and we think is accurate. Check the Safety and Security Section. It mentions neighborhoods to be wary of.
I would love to explore Buenos Aires sometime! Thanks for sharing these interesting facts–I would fit in for the night owl aspect! I had no idea that they had one of world’s top 5 opera houses or about the Italian heritage–would be cool to check that out sometime!
Jenna, We were surprised on the Italian heritage. An dif you do go I highly recommend the opera house, the acoustics are just amazing.
Oh, how I want to visit Buenos Aries! Some friends were just telling us about their recent trip to BA and how they did visit La Boca after dark and it was really sketchy! It looks wonderful and colourful by day, however!
Katja, Yes I think La Boca is very touristy during the day, but returns to the locals during the evening. It is an interesting place though, very colorful!
My husband and I have a very good friend from Argentina and he is always so proud of his country. I’ve always wanted to visit to eat all their delicious meat and to experience the Tango. Perhaps I should take lessons before visiting.
Brenda, You can go early to a tango bar and they run lessons. If you are a quick study you will get the hang of it.
Very interesting, I had no idea about the Italian heritage being such a huge part of the city. Kind of funny to think about BA having good pizza! 🙂 I have only heard great things from people who have traveled to BA and Argentina in general. I hope to get there in the near future.
We also were quite surprised to learn about the Italian heritage. Who would have thought? One of the great benefits of traveling to learn such information. Maybe after steak, pizza was the most popular meal there.
I have only transited through BA, but I’d love to visit the city properly. I’ve heard some family rumors we may have some Italian relatives there, but I’d have to do some digging to figure out the link. The hardest part about visiting Argentina for me was the currency. You get used to the different exchange rates, but lines at ATMs and even finding out the only couple ATMs in a small town are empty can really cause some travel headaches. Nevertheless, I’d love to visit this Paris of the South and try to dance the tango! 😉
We didn’t have any issues with currency. But there have definitely been issues that have caught tourists out. Even worse for the locals, when they have money in their accounts but can’t access it. I wouldn’t let that fact hold me back from visiting Argentina.
A very informative post. I must admit I didn’t know much about Buenos Aires before I read this.I love that is has a french influence with its architecture. It looks like a vibrant and colourful place.
The French feel to the architecture is fascinating. Colonized by the Spanish, huge Italian heritage and French architecture. A real melting pot. It is a fascinating city.
That is so good to know! That if I go to Buenos Aires, I just take a ferry and I am in Montevideo, Uruguay! Two countries in one flight! Thanks for sharing this!!!
No problem Carol. The ferry was easy and we loved little-visited Uruguay, a real surprise package that we will write about in the future.
I didn’t know the city had Italian heritage! All I knew that it is full of life. 🙂
Loved the shot of old couple dancing.
The old couple dancing was a highlight. Such passion and love for the tango.
I haven’t made it down to South America yet but my friends who have just rave about the great food scene in BA – and the amazing, super affordable local wine as well! So many awesome reasons to visit.
Vanessa, the wine was a highlight, particularly torrontes ( a lovely white) and their famous red wine, Malbec. Great with a steak!
One of my favourite cities in the world and returning there this summer to stay longer. Another interesting fact, it’s one of the gay capitals of Latin America – Argentina took the lead with gay marriages on the continent. Didn’t know it was 12 million – huge!
Stefan, Buenos Aires is full of surprises. I wasn’t aware of it being the gay capital of South America. Fascinating food and culture as well.
A friend goes often, because he loves it so much. Looks like I need to go, and soon. Thanks for the insights.
Scott, A lot of people really like BA and return again and again.