Buenos Aires has been called the “Paris of the South”. I think that’s a bad name, because the city certainly doesn’t stand in anyone’s shadow. It is it’s own city, with a unique culture, cuisine, arts, and style. Buenos Aires should be on any short list of the world’s great cities. And thanks to comparatively low prices, these days it is much cheaper than other world-class cities. Buenos Aires is a place your entire family can soak in some culture for a few days, without depleting your college savings. Here is Buenos Aires with kids:
Our family of four just spent four nights in BA. It is a big, massive, modern city – the 20th largest metro area in the world, and 4th largest in the Western Hemisphere. So, of course, with a city that size, there is lots to see and do.
But cities are cities. What makes BA stand apart as a great place to visit with kids is its unique culture and food in a relatively safe and pedestrian-friendly central area – all for much cheaper than you would spend in New York, London, or Paris.
A Culture Shock
I love Buenos Aires for it’s culture. At the top of my list are tango, futbol (soccer), zamba music, and the best steaks you’ll ever eat, outside of perhaps neighboring Uruguay. But for our family, going to Buenos Aires was really a culture shock, because we’ve been living in a small town in rural Bolivia for the last six months.
For us, visiting Buenos Aires was a bit like going through the looking glass. We went from rural, slow, simple, and scenic, to the big shoulders of culture, history, and entertainment. We knew we were in a completely different world the second we stepped out of the airplane.
But first, how much does it cost? Buenos Aires is about as expensive as a midwestern U.S. city, such as St. Louis or Minneapolis. You may have to spend on the airfare to get there, but once you are there, things are relatively cheap considering the quality of this destination.
Our family stayed in an AirBnB apartment for less than $100 per night, and the average restaurant meal cost around $50-$75 for the whole family – but that’s eating at upscale restaurants, like steak houses. If you want to really eat cheaper, you certainly can.
We stuck to free or inexpensive sights, and spent about $100 per day for the whole family, excluding the hotel.
Buenos Aires, like San Francisco or Boston, is a city where you can safely and easily walk to most sights in a day or two. If you combine the walking with a few stops on the excellent subway system (the “Subte”), then you never need to get in a car during your whole trip, other than perhaps to getting to and from the airport.
Our kids love to walk around and explore cities. When they were both under 10 years old, we spent a whole day walking in San Francisco from the Embarcadero up to Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, and back to the Financial District. It was about seven miles of walking and seeing sights. And at the end of the day they wanted more.
Since then, the only way our kids want to see a new city is on foot. That’s awesome because not only do they use up some of their vast reserves of child energy, but it’s much lighter on my wallet too.
If you do need to take a taxi somewhere, Uber recently opened up in the city just last year, and typically charges about half the price of the official taxis.
The Sights In Downtown
We spent the better part of a day seeing the historic buildings and monuments in the downtown area. Most of the buildings in the center were built during Buenos Aires’ heyday – the 1920s. Buildings are architecturally distinct, and the wide avenues are lined with large shade trees. In the spring (October – November), purple jacaranda trees bloom on most of the avenues. The city center feels somewhat like Washington, DC or Paris. It has a regal feel.
Within a few dozen blocks, you can see the “Casa Rosada” (the President’s palace – The Pink House), Congress, some grand old theaters, cathedrals, and, of course, the beautiful obelisk;
Buenos Aires Cafes
Buenos Aires is about atmosphere. And nothing represents that more than the cafes. Yes, Starbucks is in Buenos Aires, but they have a tough time competing with BA’s home-grown local corner cafes.
In Buenos Aires, you can sit at a white table-cloth cafe among 1920s decor and sip some of the best coffee you’ve ever had along with some fresh homemade pastries, while being served by highly-professional black-coat waiters. You can pick just about any street corner. These cafes are everywhere. And this quintessential Buenos Aires experience costs about the same as a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It your choice.
Don’t worry, if your kids start getting bored, order another croissant, or perhaps an alfajor. What is an alfajor, you ask? Oh, only God’s gift to pastries, that’s what.
It’s two cookies or cakes with dulce de leche (kind of like caramel, but calling it caramel is an insult) in the middle, often bathed in chocolate or coconut. Here’s a more upscale one:
I have to admit, we kind of went nuts with the alfajores. The thing about them is that no two are alike. There are industrial packaged alafajores, which you can get in any convenient store, and are often quite crappy. And then there are the homemade bakery alfajores, which are like an orgasm for your mouth. (Am I allowed to say that on a post about travelling with kids?)
OK, let’s keep it kid-friendly. Alfajores are the bomb. And there are endless varieties: with chocolate, peanuts, coconut, you name it. Our kids really got in on the hunt for the perfect alfajor. Why these things are not more popular outside of South America, I cannot explain.
Eating In Buenos Aires With Kids
Buenos Aires is a city that doesn’t sleep. In fact, the restaurants don’t even open for dinner until about 8pm, and the crowds don’t show up until 10pm. Our kids normally go to bed early. But we figured “when in Rome”… So, we were up until 11pm or midnight most nights.
Buenos Aires is gaining a name worldwide for its celebrity chefs and avant-guarde cuisine. It is a foodies’ destination. But, five-star restaurants are no place for a 10 year old that doesn’t want to finish his vegetables. So, we stuck to the more traditional steak houses and pasta. There is no lack of abundance of good pasta, pizza, or steak in Buenos Aires – they are what the city grew up on.
Steak used to be primarily grass-fed in BA just a few years ago, but no longer. Today, the steak houses are mostly corn-fed feed-lot, like in the U.S. But, you can still get an excellent prime cut steak in Buenos Aires for about half the price of what you’d pay in the U.S.
I don’t normally take my kids out to a good steak dinner in California. But in Buenos Aires? Why not?
If you go to Buenos Aires with kids, you cannot miss the Palermo parks. Palermo is a neighborhood outside of the center. You’ll need to take the Subte or an Uber to get there.
Palermo is home to BA’s zoo, polo parks, lakes, and botanical gardens. On Sundays, the roads in the parks are closed to traffic, and the parks fill with joggers, bicyclists, roller skaters, and families enjoying the afternoon. We spent most of our Sunday in Palermo, walking around and enjoying the atmosphere. It felt much like the 4th of July in the United States – picnics and games among a family-oriented atmosphere.
Even if you don’t have time to make it out to Palermo on a Sunday, you can still enjoy the atmosphere in one of Buenos Aires’ many parks and plazas on any warm afternoon. Here we are in front of Congress:
Another must-see in Buenos Aires with kids is the Recoleta. It’s a bit odd perhaps that a cemetery is one of the top tourist attractions in the city. But, once you see it, you’ll understand why. The Recoleta actually ended up being my daughter’s favorite attraction in Buenos Aires.
Most people probably spend perhaps 30 or 45 minutes wandering through the maze of ornate tombs of Argentina’s aristocrats. But, you can easily get lost for hours if you want to. My 10-year old daughter was fascinated by the statues and the stories. I was too. The Recoleta is really a great way to understand more about Argentina’s history. And it’s totally free.
Not far from the Recoleta is the National Fine Arts Museum, also totally free. Here, you can see original works by some of the European greats, as well as home-grown art from Argentina.
San Telmo is one of the older neighborhoods in the city, with cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It is walking distance from the city center, or you can hop on the Subte for a few stops. We went to San Telmo for two reasons: to wander the colonial streets, and to see some free tango shows.
If you go to San Telmo on a Saturday, you can see free tango shows in the plaza (donations requested). Most professional tango shows are really geared towards adults, not kids. They start at 8 or 9pm, serve a long slow dinner, and generally do whatever they can to make squirmy kids wriggle with boredom. Plus, most tango shows aren’t cheap.
But in San Telmo, you can see a free open-air show, and stay only as long as you like. It is a great way to see Buenos Aires’ sultry dance without the late night commitment or cost.
San Telmo also has a very nice market with food stalls serving high-end cuisine on the cheap. We had some awesome sandwiches and micro brew beer.
Unfortunately, I also had my day pack stolen in San Telmo. Buenos Aires, like any big city, has petty crime. I let my guard down in the San Telmo market, because it felt so much like we were back in California. A couple who were pretending to be tourists took the backpack right from under our table while we were eating lunch in the crowded market.
The good news is that there wasn’t much of value in the backpack. (Hahaha! who gets the last laugh?) I never take my passport or much money out from our hotel room when I travel. We lost a book, a hat, and a few other miscellaneous items. My prescription sunglasses were the biggest loss.
But, fortunately, I was able to replace everything that was stolen for about $150 – including the backpack and even the sunglasses. After several years of living and traveling around South America, it’s the first time I’ve ever had anything stolen. It sucked at first, but when you realize everything is easily replaceable, it’s no big deal.
Buenos Aires With Kids
Our kids had a blast in Buenos Aires. It is a generally safe city, with plenty of free or low-cost entertainment for the kids. And nearly all the main sights are walkable, or accessible via the subway. While I did have my backpack stolen, the city is generally quite safe as far as large cities go.
The cost to visit Buenos Aires is much lower than comparable world-class cities like New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo. That means you can see world class sights on a budget. Or, if you prefer, you can live a little larger through FX magic.
I’d really like to go back to Buenos Aires, just for a few more days of sunny parks, classic cafes, and alfajores. And I know my kids would too.
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