The BA Tourist Traps That Are Actually Worth a Visit
Article by Nora Wallenius
In the world of travel, the word sightseeing often conjures negative connotations. Getting a local feel for the city has become the ‘correct’ way to travel. When did sightseeing become something only gawky foreign tourists can do? Major sites of a city are famous for a reason; tourists spots are powerful in understanding the personality of a city, even if their importance is muddled behind the clicks of a hundred cameras and a crowd of fanny-packs.
Unlike other big destination cities, Buenos Aires’ iconic sites aren’t just for visitors – you’ll find locals, Argentines from around the country, and the hodgepodge of expats and travelers flocking to the cities’ fabulous attractions. Here are a few of our favorites:
The Casa Rosada, or The Pink House, has been an integral part of Argentina’s cultural and political history since its inauguration in 1898. Located at the eastern edge of Plaza de Mayo, the office of the President has served as the backdrop to speeches, rallies, and demonstrations. Luckily for visitors, the palace’s doors open for free tours every weekend. The tour is first come, first serve, and are guided in Spanish, English, or Portuguese.
Visitors first catch a glimpse of the Bicentennial Hall of Argentine Painters and Paintings, where you will continue onto the beautifully decorated rooms including the Salón Blanco (White Room), the decadent Hall of Honor, stained glass art gallery, and the celebrated Bicentennial Hall for Argentine Women, where the 100-peso bill featuring Eva Peron was introduced.Check out the President’s office, the presidential elevator’s red velvet bench and the office where Eva Peron prepared herself before stepping out on that famed balcony. The presidential balcony will probably be the highlight of the tour for many, where you stand in the footsteps of former presidents while enjoying a great view of the entire Plaza de Mayo.
When I think cemetery, I imagine something dark, unkempt and creepy. Not this one! The Recoleta Cemetery has some of the most notable architecture in the city and is home to some of the country’s most famous past residents, including Eva Peron.
The cemetery was converted from a church’s garden in 1822 in modern-day Recoleta, which at that time was on the outskirts of central Buenos Aires. The layout was designed by French civil engineer Próspero Catelin, who also designed the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Nowadays, some of the vaults require modern-day maintenance but it has mostly kept its classic flair. The view above the cemetery walls is unique, too. Modern day office buildings and restaurants surround the cemetery, making an interesting combination of modern and antique.
The cemetery contains almost 5,000 vaults, with 94 that are protected by the Argentine government as National Historic Monuments. All of the vaults are above ground, many are large and elaborate mausoleums made with marble and other materials imported from Paris and Milan during their construction in the late 20th century. Try to spot the difference in architectural styles like Art Deco, Baroque, Neo- Bothic, Neo- Classical and Art Nouveau, the last of which can be found in prominent buildings throughout the city. The aisles are more like tree-lined sidewalks, with small alleys winding their way through the vaults. The must visits are the tombs of Eva Peron, former Argentine presidents like Bartolomé Mitre and Carlos Pellegrini, General Luís Maria Campos, and Nobel Prize winner Carlos Saavedra Lamas.
A tourist haven in the middle of a not-so-touristy neighborhood, El Caminito stands tall and colorful, still grasping onto the last string of originality. If you have been searching for the place to give you that perfect photo-op thats says I visited Buenos Aires, then El Caminito has to be your one Instagram-worthy photo.
A cobblestone street lined with brightly painted houses, El caminito is a one stop shop for kitschy souvenirs, painters and artists, and tango dancers strutting in the street. Look past the gaudy touristy-ness of it all, and embrace the history of the little street. The neighborhood of La Boca is one of the oldest in the city. A large number of Italian immigrants, mostly from the Genoa area, populated the area in the late 19th century and the location was once the main port of Buenos Aires. In the 1950’s an abandoned railroad system was left to become a waste landfill and local artist Benito Quinquela Martín decided to make the street a space for artistic beauty to lighten up the neighborhood. It took three years to paint all of the houses and build a small stage for performances. Since then, it has become a sanctuary for artists, vendors and tourists alike, searching for the old glory of traditional Buenos Aires.
Puente de la Mujer
The youngest site on the list in the fairly new modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero, the Puente de la Mujer or Woman’s Bridge is a stunning functional pedestrian bridge connecting Puerto Madero and downtown. The rotating bridge was created by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and was completed in December, 2001. Its model is similar to that in Seville, Spain and is his only work in Latin America. His inspiration is said to be a man and woman dancing tango together, with the man bending her down at the waist in a dramatic dip. Its name supposedly comes from the streets of Puerto Madero, which are mainly named for famous women in Argentine history.
The bridge was meant to be a type of marketing strategy for the advertising campaign for Puerto Madero, allowing pedestrians easy (and beautiful!) access to cross the harbor water. A successful strategy at that, as the views at sunset are breathtaking.
The Obelisco of Buenos Aires is easily Buenos Aires’ most recognizable monument. Located in the center of the city in the Plaza de la República at the intersection of Corrientes and 9 de Julio, construction began on this gigantic obelisk in 1936 to create a monument for the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city. Architect Alberto Prebisch took on the project and it was completed in only 31 days, a record time. Restorations in the 1980’s, including a fence to keep out vandalism, changed the facade from white to a more stone color. Funnily enough, it was decorated in a giant pink condom for World AIDS Day in 2005!
The Obelisco is a sight for celebrations, demonstrations, political and cultural gatherings. Driving past it at night is magical, lit up and jutting into the black night sky. It is a place to take a rest, look up, and feel small for just a moment.