When visitors come to Buenos Aires, they often look for a set itinerary or list of “must-sees,” expecting to bounce around from one to the other at that typical over-eager, North American-tourist pace. Unfortunately, that pace doesn’t fly in Buenos Aires. To get to know the city you’ve got to slow down and spend time in each neighborhood without much of a plan.
Luckily for us at Foto Ruta, anyone who has even a passing interest in photography and taking photos is predisposed to enjoying this type of tourism, because with a camera, it’s all about the journey and not the destination — seeing a city through the lens of a camera, the best parts of a city are always the details that make every barrio different as you walk down the streets. Try checking out some of these neighborhoods on your trip.
While most of the things sold in Once are probably not on your guidebook’s list of typical souvenirs, this is the barrio Argentines go to for all their practical needs. There are streets dedicated solely to fabric, trashy quinceañera dresses, mannequins, and anything wholesale. The hustle and bustle of this neighborhood feels very local, and if you want street photography, this neighborhood will not disappoint.
This is also a neighborhood known for its Jewish presence, so head here for synagogues, Jewish clubs and kosher bakeries. Another plus is that everything here is cheap, which is becoming more and more rare in this city.
The epicenter of Once is the Plaza Miserere stop on the A line subway.
Abasto is known primarily for its shopping mall, a gorgeous building built in 1893 that was used as the “Mercado Central” for fruits and veggies until it closed in 1984, attracting many immigrants who lived in housing similar to the tenaments of New York City.
This population fostered the growth of tango in the neighborhood, and was home to Carlos Gardel, the biggest name in the bizz. The spirit of tango, which is alive in the many tango halls (milongas) and theaters, paints the buildings bright, vibrant colors and has welcomed an influx of Peruvian and Bolivian master chefs, whose restaurants leave the smell of lomo saltado, causa limeña and ceviche wafting through the streets.
For those who want a more contemporary theater and musical experience, Abasto is home to the Ciudad Cultural Konex (known for La Bomba del Tiempo, a percussion group that plays there every Monday) and El Cubo Theater.
Argentina’s Congress building is the center of this neighborhood, met with a large plaza where politically-inclined tourists and photographers will be sure to see at least one protest a day, complete with drumming, signs, and annoying road-blocks.
Politics and protests aside, Congreso is a very classic, traditional porteño neighborhood with what we consider some of the best architecture in the city. One of Buenos Aires’ famous architects, Eduardo Rodriguez Ortega, designed a few gorgeous, turn of the century, Art-Nouveau buildings, one at Rivadavia 2031, that rival those of Europe.
Ortega was a big fan of Gaudí, and you can see this in the curved design of the facade, intricate iron details, and of course, an homage to Gaudí´s signature copula style. Ortega’s aren’t the only beautiful buildings in the neighborhood, so keep your camera pointed up (while watching out for the dog poo) and on the look-out.
Sadly, many of these buildings are run-down, but hey, it gives them more character. Stop by Café de los Angelitos on Rivadavia 2100 to get your caffeine fix.
4. Belgrano and Chinatown
After living in Belgrano for both semesters as an exchange student, I appreciated living in such a quiet, residential neighborhood that was complete enough to render leaving the barrio unecessary. Because it is so complete, and in a sense, its own little world, few tourists can be found there, but if there is anything that puts it on the map, it is probably Chinatown.
Chinatown can be found next to the Belgrano C train station, the heart being the intersection of Arribeños and Juramento. It attracts people from all over the city with its supermarkets packed with everything most normal porteños do not eat, Chinese restaurants, and stores with toys and knick-knacks like those cat statues whose paws are permanently waving and stationary with rainbows and little pandas on them.
For a night out with your honey, try eating at one of the many excellent Chinese and Korean restaurants lining the streets of el barrio chino and heading to Puerta Uno, a hidden bar at Juramento 1667 that does not have a sign, but does have a black awning and a bouncer that looks like he is a lot less likely to let you in than he actually is. Just knock, tell him you want to “tomar algo” and head into a dimly-lit, jungle style patio with enough ambience to justify spending a few extra pesos on a caiparinha.
5. Villa Crespo
Villa Crespo is that neighborhood you would walk down and feel like nothing was put there for the tourist’s eye — not the restaurants, shops, or prices. While it is starting to feel the expansion of its neighbor, trendy Palermo, it has become a refuge for those who want to live in what Palermo used to be — a residential neighborhood with low buildings, tree-lined streets, and of course, great street art.
It also has a large immigrant population, mostly Armenian, Arab, Jewish and Greek, whose influence is felt in the food, decor and of course, people itself. Although we like to consider ourselves real porteñas at Foto Ruta, we feel like a tourist could walk down these streets, think how pleasant it would be to be a real porteño, and that if they were, this is where they would live. It is relatable, with a touch of quirkiness that any inquisitive photographer or traveler should find worthy of an afternoon stroll.
For a few gastronomical suggestions, we yield the floor to Buenos Aires food expert Allie Lazar, whose blog, Pick Up the Fork, has a great entry on unique, ethnic restaurants in Villa Crespo.