A History Lover’s Guide to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a history lover's paradise. With its museums, historic neighborhoods, and wonderful infrastructure, the charm of this iconic South American city is undeniable.

Jun 6, 2024By Matt Dursum, BA Geography and GIS Systems

history lover guide buenos aires


On the mouth of the Rio de la Plata River sits a megacity that has captured the hearts of visitors and locals for centuries. From music and literature to architecture and the performing arts, Buenos Aires’ impact on global culture is wide. Like other big global cities like Paris or New York, Buenos Aires is teeming with history. You’ll find remnants of its past in its architecture, music, art, food, and daily life. It just takes a few moments in the city to appreciate its timeless charm.


Things to Do in Buenos Aires

recoleta cemetary cover samantha demangate
Recoleta Cemetery. Source: Samantha Demangate


Places such as the National History Museum and the National Railway Museum are perfect places to learn about the city’s rich and influential history. On top of museum hopping, you can visit neighborhoods and destinations teaming with historical significance and exciting history-rich highlights. Below are a few must-see places and experiences that history lovers should not miss.


1. Visit San Telmo

buenos aires san telmo
San Telmo Neighborhood, El Zanjón. Source: Elzanjon


Near the southern port of the city is the neighborhood of San Telmo. This jam-packed neighborhood is the oldest section of the city. Today, you can still feel the soul of old Buenos Aires throughout the neighborhood’s narrow streets, bars, and cafes. San Telmo was the location of El Zanjón de Granados, thought to be the original settlement of Buenos Aires. Today you can visit the ruins of the 18th and 19th century structures that were built over this historical site.


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Next, don’t miss strolling around Plaza Dorrego. Surrounded by antique stores, bars, and restaurants all tucked in historic plazas, this one is not to be missed. Every weekend, you’ll find street performers and outdoor markets, selling everything from yerba mate cups to leather Gaucho hats. Near the plaza, don’t miss the Pasaje Defensa, also known as the Casa Ezeiza. This beautiful, former mansion of the elite Ezeiza family hosts boutique shops and antique stores.


For food, look no further than the historic San Telmo Market. Since 1897, the large market and national historic monument has served the neighborhood and was once where the waves of immigrants in the early 20th century used to buy their produce. Today, you can find Argentine BBQ restaurants known as parrillas, sandwich shops specializing in the city’s famous choripan, and pizza restaurants.


During the evening, don’t miss one of the world-famous tango shows in the neighborhood’s cafes. San Telmo is one of the birthplaces of this world-famous music and dance style. One of the best places to catch a show is at El Viejo Almacén Tango Cena.


2. See the Plaza de Mayo

plaza de mayo buenos aires
Plaza de Mayo. Source: Buenos Aires Tourism


After visiting San Telmo, take a walk along Avenida Defensa to the Plaza de Mayo. This is where some of the biggest moments in Buenos Aires’ history have occurred. The Plaza de Mayo is where the former presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, stands. This famous pink palace is one of the most iconic buildings in South America. Here, the beloved First Lady, Eva ‘Evita’ Perón, famously addressed her husband, President Juan Perón’s supporters.


The plaza is also home to the early 17th-century Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. The current Neo-Classical building was constructed between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, although the original chapel was built on the site shortly after the Spanish built the first settlement of Buenos Aires. It was once the seat of Pope Francis and houses the Pope Francis Museum and several important historical artifacts.


Another historical place not worth missing is the Museo Nacional del Cabildo. This historical building was once the seat of the colonial city government. It played a major role in the Argentine Revolution of May 1810, which led to its independence from Spain, followed by subsequent revolutions across the continent. Today, you can tour the building and see artifacts from the Colonial Period.


You can find a lesser-known remnant of history along the walls of the Tesorería General De La Nación on Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen. In 1955, the Argentine Navy conducted a bombing of the Plaza de Mayo in an attempted coup. Although he was the target, President Juan Perón managed to escape, but the attack left hundreds of civilians dead in the streets and imprinted bullet holes in the buildings surrounding the plaza that are still visible today.


3. Experience La Boca

la boca adrian gonzalez buenos aires
La Boca, by Adrian Gonzalez, Source: Unsplash


When many people think of Buenos Aires, La Boca often comes to mind. From its world-famous soccer team the Boca Juniors to its colorful architecture, this neighborhood is like nowhere else on earth. La Boca is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. As the city’s southern port, it served as the entrance point for around 6 million immigrants from around the world. As people moved to different parts of the country for a better life, many of the poorest people stayed here. This mixture of cultures created one of the proudest and most influential parts of the city and led to the birth of tango and many other Argentine art forms.


Start your visit at the famous Caminito. Here, the outdoor museum buildings are painted, harkening back to the days when immigrants used to paint their homes made of wood and sheet metal known as conventillos. Next, head over to the famous Bombonera stadium, home to the Boca Juniors soccer team. There’s a great museum inside dedicated to the team and its long history. The Boca Juniors are one of the most celebrated and idolized teams in the world and no visit to La Boca is complete without seeing this emblematic blue and yellow stadium.


Make sure to stay within the tourist area of Caminito and be extra vigilant if you walk around at night. La Boca’s reputation as a rough part of town is certainly deserved. That said, if you visit during the day and stay near the main tourist areas, you’ll be perfectly safe.


4. Walk Along Avenida de Mayo

confiteria el molino
Confitería del Molino. Source: Buenos Aires Tourism


This beautiful avenue stretches from the Plaza de Mayo to the Plaza Mariano Moreno, a popular green space in front of the impressive Congress Building. Along the avenue are some of the most famous buildings in the city. Arguably the most well-known is the Palacio Barolo. Luis Barolo, a tycoon who pioneered the country’s cotton industry, built this neo-Gothic and neo-romantic masterpiece in 1923. For almost a decade, it was the tallest building in South America until the nearby Kavanagh Building took its place. Today, you can visit this architectural work of art and even go up to the top.


From here, walk towards the Congress Building and visit the Confitería del Molino. This early 20th-century building features an iconic windmill and one of the most historic cafes in the city. The cafe has functioned as an important part of Buenos Aires’ history and culture for over a century. It was even called the third chamber of Congress because of its popularity with Argentine politicians.


5. Experience the City’s Theaters

buenos aires theater
Teatro Colón. Source: Teatrocolón.org/ar


Buenos Aires lives and breathes theater and opera, and few places exemplify this love of the performing arts more than Teatro Colón. Visiting this impressive center of the arts is a must. Since its founding in 1908, it has widely been acclaimed as one of the world’s great opera houses and theaters. You can take a guided tour of this amazing institution or even attend one of the many performances happening inside.


Although there are classic and influential theaters throughout the city, the best place to experience them as a local is by visiting Avenida Corrientes. This brightly lit and hugely popular avenue is where the Porteños, locals of Buenos Aires, come to watch world-class theater performances. The most famous theaters here include Teatro Ópera Orbis and Teatro Astral.


After seeing a show and walking down Avenida Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ answer to Broadway, stop at one of the avenue’s famous pizza restaurants. In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants brought their language, music, culture, and cuisine with them. Since then, the city has become synonymous with good pizza. Don’t miss Pizzería Güerrín, a pizzeria that’s been a staple since 1932.


6. Visit the Bares Notables

cafe tortoni buenos aires
Café Tortoni. Source: Buenos Aires Tourism


When Buenos Aires became an economic hub in the early 20th century, cafe culture blossomed. Unfortunately, after decades of dictatorships, economic peril, and the rise of trendy modern cafes, many of the city’s classic cafes went into disrepair. In 1998, Buenos Aires enacted a law designating up to 68 cafes as bares notables or notable bars, which provides governmental support and some funding to keep them in business.


The most visited one from the group is Café Tortoni. This establishment has been the meeting place for writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, actors, politicians, and the city’s movers and shakers since 1858. It’s now the oldest cafe in the city and a popular place for tourists and locals looking to relive the old days.


7. Walk Around Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

recoleta cemetary samantha demangate
Recoleta Cemetery. Source: Samantha Demangate


The neighborhood of Recoleta is one of Buenos Aires’ wealthiest neighborhoods. Since the late 19th century, the city’s elite have built some of the grandest architectural wonders here, from palaces to stately neo-classical highrises. However, few places can compare to the world-famous Recoleta Cemetery. It became the first public cemetery in the city in 1822 and has since become the burial place for many of Argentina’s most influential people.


As you walk through the almost 6,500 burial grounds, crypts, and sarcophagi, you’ll feel like you’re in a city of the dead. The cemetery is arranged in a grid of alleyways with beautiful canopies of trees overhead. Following your map, you can find the gravesites of famous people like Eva ‘Evita’ Perón, boxer Luis Ángel Firpo, and other historical figures.

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By Matt DursumBA Geography and GIS SystemsMatt is a freelance writer and journalist from Michigan who’s currently living in South America. When he’s not writing, Matt is studying languages — so far Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, and French — visiting museums, surfing, and traveling.