Recently, I had the opportunity to spend five days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and although I was traveling on a tight budget, I found enough free or low-cost things to do in this vibrant Argentinian city.
My travel buddy Lyle and I had just finished a cruise to Antarctica, so I only had a few hundred bucks and we knew we couldn’t opt for the big tours or expensive excursions. Lucky for us, there are plenty of free and low-cost adventures and experiences in this lively city. From free walking tours and museum days to verdant parks and public street fairs, you’ll find plenty of things to do without breaking the bank.
Excluding the cost of our hotel, I exchanged 100 U.S. dollars and was able to cover all the costs of hired rides, food, and experiences over five days!
How did we do it? Here are eight incredible things to do in Buenos Aires on a budget.
1. Palermo District
Besides the stellar people-watching and multitude of restaurants, bars, and boutique shops, some free things to explore in Palermo include the 350 acres of parks, lakes, and wooded areas on Palermo’s eastern side. These wooded and cool escapes are beautiful areas to explore and include Tres de Febrero Park, the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Garden, and the Planetarium.
Palermo is also home to museums like Museo de Arte Latino Americano (MALBA), the National Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Museo Evita. We spent an entire morning in the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Garden, but the Tres de Febrero Park is home to Rosedal de Palermo, a rose garden with 93 different varieties of roses.
2. Free Admission Days At Museums
Many of Buenos Aires’ museums have “free admission days,” which fall on different days. Be sure to check the individual websites to see when you can score a free visit to the dozens of museums in Buenos Aires.
Argentina loves its colors and arts, so you won’t have any problem discovering art museums in Buenos Aires to explore, ranging from Latin American artists to modern art to sculpture and history.
While not a museum per se, El Ateneo Grand Splendid in the Recoleta area has been named the “World’s Most Beautiful Bookstore.” Located within a beautifully restored antique theater, you’ll easily see why. The terraces at the top of El Ateneo have some of the most stunning views of Buenos Aires as well.
3. The Obelisco
The Obelisco is one of Buenos Aires’ most photographed and recognizable structures. This massive obelisk was inaugurated on May 23, 1936, as a tribute to the fourth centenary of the first foundation of Buenos Aires, and it is located at the intersection of 9 de Julio, one of the widest streets in the world, and Corrientes “street”, one of the main cultural areas of Buenos Aires.
Pro Tip: The Obelisco has only one entrance door, but it’s hit-and-miss if entrance is allowed that day or not.
4. Cemeteries And Cathedrals
If architecture is your passion, you can’t miss visiting or taking tours of the city’s many cathedrals, churches, and cemeteries. Some stunning churches and cathedrals in the city to check out include The Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar Church next to the Recoleta Cemetery, the Catedral de La Plata: La Plata Cathedral in the center of La Plata, in front of Moreno Square, City Hall, and The Iglesia de San Ignacio in the Montserrat neighborhood, which is also the oldest building in Buenos Aires.
Anyone visiting Buenos Aires for the architecture must visit the Recoleta Cemetery! For a small entrance fee, you can see the more than 90 elaborate and opulent vaults that are the final resting place for such notable figures as Eva Perón (Evita), Nobel Prize winners and military commanders like Julio Argentino Roca. It is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, an eerily beautiful place with architecture covering everything from art deco, art nouveau, baroque, and neo-gothic architectural styles.
Pro Tip: Opt for a map of the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s a maze of vaults and mausoleums, so it’s easy to get lost or overlook a vault you want to see.
5. Street Fairs And Art Markets
The streets and neighborhoods in Buenos Aires come alive with street fairs and art markets. On Sundays along Defense Street in San Telmo, the San Telmo Sunday Fair features hundreds of vendors and artisans peddling their wares and antiques. It’s arguably one of the best free things to do on Sundays in the entire city.
We stumbled upon the Feria of Recoleta (Recoleta Weekend Market) when we visited the Recoleta Cemetery, and I ended up buying art prints, souvenirs, and too much jewelry from the artists there. Book lovers will adore the Feria de Libros, one of the literary gems located in Parque Rivadavia, while fashionistas will flock to Feria de Plaza Serrano, a small weekend market that specializes in unique fashion and jewelry from local designers. No matter what time you visit, the various art fairs and markets will leave you with the taste, culture, and art of Buenos Aires.
6. El Caminito In La Boca
Those looking for Buenos Aires’ artsy vibe will completely adore El Caminito (little path, in Spanish) in La Boca. The Caminito is a street full of colored painted houses and is a living street museum, and on most days you’ll find the Feria de Artesanos Caminito, the Patio de los Lecheros open-air food court, and live tango shows. This wildly popular tourist destination is full of scents, music, laughter, the swirl of tango dancer skirts, and is one of the most colorful places to visit in Buenos Aires.
Pro Tip: While La Boca and El Caminito make most visitors’ agendas, it’s wise to leave the neighborhood before dark. Also, keep a close eye on your valuables as tourists are often pickpocketed or targeted for theft.
7. Free Walking Tours
Okay, so “free” guided walking tours are a bit misleading. While many walking tours are offered in Buenos Aires, you’re expected to tip what you think the tour guide deserves at the end of the tour. But, it’s worth whatever amount you decide to tip.
One of the best-known and recommended tour guide operators is Free Walks Buenos Aires, which offers daily tours in nearly all neighborhoods. You can even do street graffiti tours, bike tours, and market tours.
Like most major cities, Buenos Aires has its “rich” areas and “not-so-rich” areas, so if you are traveling on a budget, look outside the higher-priced neighborhoods. We managed to get five days in a pretty nice Wyndham Dazzler hotel in the San Martin neighborhood, which was considerably less than the same hotel in some of the other areas. We found this hotel to be comparable to the many hostels in the city, so we opted for the hotel stay with free Wi-Fi and breakfast every morning.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, is huge. The city is made up of 48 neighborhoods, but the most visited and most practical for travelers are the Palermo, Recoleta, Puerto Madero, Belgrano, San Telmo, La Boca, Monserrat, San Martin, and Caballito barrios.
The Palermo district is by far the trendiest, filled with restaurants, boutiques, bars, and clubs, but it’s also the most expensive area to stay in if you are on a budget.
We opted for the San Martin District, which was in the Ritero area near the “microcentro,” which is Buenos Aires’ financial, political, and business center. However, the Recoleta and San Telmo neighborhoods are nice and budget-friendly too. Hostels in Buenos Aires are always an option, but honestly, they were almost as pricey as a hotel if you wanted a private room.
Some neighborhoods, like San Telmo and La Boca, can be more dangerous at night. Even San Martin was a bit sketchy at night, so stay within crowded and well-lit areas if you do opt for the less touristy areas. Official taxis are the safest way to travel, but we didn’t have any problem using a rideshare like Uber.
Buenos Aires has two separate money exchange systems. The first is the regular bank rate exchange you can get from any of the local money exchangers, banks, or ATMs. You’ll get the standard accepted rate, but Buenos Aires also has what is nicknamed “the black market rate.” Also called “The Blue Dollar Rate,” the spread between these two rates can be 45-55 percent, so you’ll get more pesos for your buck by using a money transfer service to send money from a bank account at home or finding a Blue Dollar exchanger, called an arbolito. Many of these can be found on Calle Florida near Plaza de Mayo and the Obelisco.
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