Buenos Aires isn’t the cheapest place to travel, but you can certainly find some affordable gems. There’s always a lot of great stuff going on, but more importantly, tons of free things to do! See the map below for where to find them.
Palermo’s centre lights up every Saturday and Sunday afternoon with outdoor market stalls. Even if you’re not looking to shop, it’s fun to peruse the handmade goods. Or stop nearby for a beer and do some people watching from a patio.
The Sal Telmo Fair is a highlight for any market-lover. The area closes down every Sunday from 9am to 6pm for pedestrian-only streets lined with market stalls selling everything you could imagine. Grab a freshly squeezed orange juice from one of the old-fashioned carts and carry it with you while you explore. Only open on Sundays.
If you’re not around on a Sunday, you can still visit the San Telmo Market every day of the week from 10am to 8pm, but it sells mostly antiques and will be much quieter.
*Bargaining is not really a thing in Argentina. I learned that the hard way when I tried to make a deal with someone at this market. He accepted, but looked at me like I was crazy. I later asked our Argentine friends who said I shouldn’t be doing that. Whoops!
There’s also the neighbourhood of La Boca. It’s the tourist hot spot where you’ll find colourful buildings, live tango shows, and the famous Caminito street. It’s beautiful to visit so you definitely should, but when I say tourist hot spot, I mean it. Walking around is free, but everything else is marked up for tourists.
2. Jardin Botanico
This of course translates to Botanical Gardens. These are nice to visit on hot afternoon when you just want to mosey along and soak up a bit of sun with the relief of some shade when you need it. There are species of trees from all over the world, including Canada and New Zealand!
We went on a Sunday afternoon and there was a tiny market with just a few stalls near the entrance. One of which was selling fresh fruit juice, cakes, and sandwiches for cheap.
Just across the road from the Jardin Botanico is this strange amalgamation of zoo and park. It’s open every day from 10am to 5pm. You can wander around as you please and once you’re inside there are loose peacocks and marras running around. Marras are a little like a giant rabbit or capybara, and can only be found in Argentina. There’s nothing to keep them from leaving and running out onto the city streets outside the walls, but they stick around for the food I guess.
The eco-park used to be a zoo and they’re slowly scaling it down. There are still monkeys kept in specific areas, and I saw an elephant off in the distance in an enclosure, but it wasn’t accessible to people. I think it’s way cooler than keeping animals in a bunch of cages! I think this is the way of the future.
El Ateneo Grande Splendid
This old theatre has been transformed into the most incredible book store you’ll ever see. Unless you speak Spanish, there isn’t a lot for you to buy, but that’s what makes it a free activity! It’s worth a visit on its own. But you could always pick up a kid’s book if you’re looking to learn. Open from 9am to 10pm, or midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Buenos Aires is famous for its books. They have the most book stores per capita! Who measures things like this? I’m not sure. But after spending a month in Argentina, the metric was easy to believe. Collections of stalls like these can be found all over the city on random streets. Sometimes even in the meridians between major avenidas.
Libros de Pasaje
This adorable book shop has some cozy reading spots as well as a little cafe with decent wi-fi. We walked past this 100 times before stopping in, it’s a little hidden gem! Of course, this doesn’t really count as free if you stop for a coffee and only takes about 5 minutes to walk through but it’s so cute I couldn’t resist.
5. Recoleta Cemetery
This collection of extravagant mausoleums is one of the creepiest places you can visit in the city. Famous people including Eva Péron, former presidents, and Napoleon’s granddaughter are buried here. It has been around since the 1880s and since then many of the grave sites have been abandoned, some robbed, and are crumbling away. You can wander the seemingly endless, chilling aisles from 7:30am until 5:30pm every day of the week.
*It’s just around the corner from El Ateneo Grand Splendid so if you plan to visit both you can roll the two into one trip.
6. Yellow Fever shot
Is this an exciting, adventurous activity for your day? Nah. But this can cost upwards of $80 in Canada, $120 in New Zealand, or a whopping $400 in the USA (sorry ’bout your Health Care system). In Buenos Aires, you can get it for free! And it’s good for 10 years.
Yellow Fever is an endemic in most South American countries. So if you’re planning to visit Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela, you’ll want the shot. In fact, you may even need it if you plan to come back into Argentina. They will sometimes ask for proof that you’ve had the vaccine. We got it before spontaneously deciding to go to Peru, and while they didn’t ask for it at the border, we were happy to have it.
Here’s a detailed description of where and how to get it, which is what we used to figure out ours. But the key points are:
- You’ll need to make an appointment here (office open from 9am to 2:30pm)
- Location: Sanidad de Fronteras (Border Health) on the corner of Avenida Pedro de Mendoza & 20 de Septiembre
- Get the shot at least 10 days before you plan to leave the country
7. Reserva Ecologica
Just a quick walk from Puerto Madero, and a perfect spot you love bird watching, jogging, cycling, or feel like having a picnic in the park. Don’t expect a dense forest or overgrown trails, it’s very well trodden and has a lot of open spaces. It wasn’t my favourite place in Buenos Aires by any means, but it’s nice if you want a little city break.
8. Walking tours
I know everyone includes this on every travel blog ever. But hey! It is free. I left it for last because I know it’s the least inventive suggestion possible, but here I go anyway. Buenos Aires is very walkable on your own, but it’s nice to have a guide to point you in the right direction and help you get your bearings. They’re free, but obviously tipping is polite.
9. Watch tango on the streets
Buenos Aires loves to tango. Maybe that’s how everyone stays so skinny after eating giant slabs of steak for dinner. If you don’t want to pay to watch a professional malonga show, you can find impromptu performances at random on the streets (especially in the tourist areas). Couples will put on a show for free, but of course it’s nice to toss some pesos their way if you enjoyed the show. These are common in La Boca, Puerto Madero, and Recoleta.
10. Check out all the rad street art
I love a colourful city! And this is definitely one of them. In some of the cooler, younger neighbourhoods there is street art to be found around every corner. So on a sunny day take a stroll down some of the smaller side streets and see what you can find. Why can’t all cities be like this?!
Lots to see in neighbourhoods like Palermo, Villa Crespo, & San Telmo.
Not free, but cheap
Authentic, affordable parillas (barbecue)
I highly recommend Don Niceto. It’s a shabby little hole in the wall but that’s what I love about it! Arrive at 8:30pm (basically still breakfast time for the Argentinians, who eat at 10pm or later) to get a bar seat. You can watch the chef as he slings grilled meat around, and shovels coals to keep the barbecue at the right temperature.
He’ll flick you a different plate the moment each item of your order is ready to go. They come when they’re ready, not all at once. You can order a cheap bottle of wine for a few bucks to pair perfectly with your bife de chorizo (steak) or provoleta (slab of cheese grilled like a steak). Avoid riñon and chichulines if you’re not interested in trying kidneys or intestines.
This is a hella cheap and super interactive way to eat parillas. We visited three times because we loved it so much.
If you’re willing to spend some money on an official performance, and want something a little off the normal tourist path, you have to check out CAFF (Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro). This was recommended to us by a local and we were not disappointed! Wednesday nights only.
Call to book a table in advance and show up before 11pm to watch some amateur tango lessons – you can also go up if you’re feeling brave or happen to know what you’re doing! After the dancing, prepare for a modern, badass, live music performance. I can’t really describe it but I don’t have to, just go check it out. Try to go in with no expectations.
There are too many to even pretend to cover all of them, but Palermo has some awesome bars with great happy hour deals. Most of them start around 6pm, and include cervezas artisanals (craft beer), not just a boring house lager. The happy hour is almost never just 1 hour.
I didn’t take note of all the bars and happy hours, but definitely check out Tacuana between 6-9pm and 12-1am in Palermo. They did 2 for 1 specials on their great craft beers and have a cool atmosphere!