Colourful. Gritty. Impassioned. Glamorous. Relaxed.

For me, those five words sum up Buenos Aires. It’s impossible not to love this city and all of its contradictions. Every barrio (neighbourhood) of this sprawling and eclectic metropolis has its own character and list of “must-see” attractions. From hipster Palermo with its new designers, cafes and parks to luxurious Recoleta with its famous cemetery and the Museo de Bellas Artes. Then there’s raffish La Boca with its iconic football stadium La Bombonera, or the historic centre with Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada.

Porteños (that’s the slang word for people from Buenos Aires) are as diverse as their city and have a certain charm that’s all their own. Taxi drivers immediately demand to know whether you’re a River or Boca fan (not watching football isn’t an option), elderly people will stop and chat to you in cafes and you’re guaranteed a smile from the dog walkers being pulled along the street by a playful gaggle of canines. So, if you want to get a real feel for the city and the porteños, these are my top ten recommendations.

1. Go street

You don’t need to go to a gallery to see masterpieces in Buenos Aires. The streets are covered with graffiti by local and international artists. Graffiti Mundo do the best organised tours. Their knowledgeable and passionate guides will tell you how street art is intertwined with politics and history. You’ll see many playful, childlike murals in a style known as muñequismo, which were spawned as a form of escapism from the bleak reality of the economic collapse in the country in 2001. Make sure to look out for works by Pum Pum, one of the top female Argentine artists.

2. Check out the events calendar

Given the number of events and festivals, chances are there will be something cool on when you visit. Polo season, for instance, takes place in November and December. So grab yourself a ticket and stare in wonder as the best players in the world gallop along the pitches swinging their mallets. There’s a local carnival in February where groups of dancers and drummers perform enthusiastically on the streets. In March, there’s Lollapalooza, a two-day festival with local music as well as international acts. Be warned though, it’s alcohol free, so don’t expect the same vibe as Glastonbury or Coachella. In July, there’s a two-week farming festival with pigs, sheep and bulls, as well as gauchos performing crazy stunts. Fuerza Bruta, a bizarre,  immersive Argentine acrobatics show, is on all year round.

3. Explore by bike

Grab a free city bike and cycle to the main attractions via the 130km of bike lanes. You just need to register for the Eco Bici scheme online or in-person and then you can take out bikes for an hour at a time. It’s the best way to get around. Just beware of rollerbladers, dog walkers and runners using the cycle lanes.

4. Try the best of Argentine Cuisine

Empanadas, steak and ice cream are staples on the food scene in BA and you have to try them. I recommend La Morada in Recoleta for cheap and delicious empanadas. Steak at La Escondida is a case of both quality and quantity (ask for the Chorizo de Bife) and is half the price of more touristy places like Don Julio. Rapa Nui does the best ice cream in the city – the lemon pie flavour is divine.

The appetite for more varied food is increasing in Buenos Aires. Go to Gran Dabbang and order the Burrata with Aubergine, pomegranate and herbs followed by the lamb curry. Sarkis, an Armenian restaurant, is so popular that there’s always 30 people waiting outside the door by 8.15pm, which is unheard of in a country where people dine after 9.30pm.

Puerta Cerradas (closed door restaurants) are run by chefs in their own homes and have some of the most exciting menus in town. Casa Felix in Chacarita does an exquisite 5-course meal with matched wines. Or try Delicias de Alicia, a vegetarian closed-door restaurant that uses all proceeds to fund cookery lessons for children living in poverty.

There are also food markets on almost every weekend. Lots of delicious food to try!

5. Wash it down with a local tipple

Sit in the rooftop bar of Rey de Copas and order the Apostles gin and tonic. The gin’s infused with yerba mate, a herbal stimulant that Argentines drink in copious amounts. It’s served with rosemary and grapefruit instead of the traditional slice of lime and might just be the most refreshing drink ever. To try something more classically Argentine, book into a wine tasting at Ja and sample malbecs from across the country.

6. Get creative

If you’re feeling inspired after seeing all the graffiti, take an art class and get chatting to the porteños. I love Anna Rank’s life drawing classes, which are hosted in her beautiful studio in Palermo Hollywood. There’s classical music floating through the house and plenty of coffee breaks. The ceramics class at Florinda y Silvestre is also great fun. The teacher doesn’t speak English but it’s taught through demonstration.

7. Listen to Cumbia Villera

Not many tourists or travellers visit the villas (shanty towns) of Buenos Aires but their popular Cumbia Villera music gives an insight into what life’s like in them. Have a listen to the popular Damas Gratis and Pibes Chorros. Even if you don’t understand the words you’ll get a sense of the communities through the beats. No doubt you’ll also hear this type of music in the clubs, segueing neatly into my next point….

8. Test your stamina

You can’t visit Buenos Aires and not check out its night life. But you’ll need stamina. Porteños don’t go out to a club earlier than 2am and they’ll be dancing to cumbia and reggaeton until sunrise. So far I’ve only managed to stay up until 4am. Palermo is the place to party and my favourite club is Charcas, which has a more relaxed bar downstairs and a heaving dancefloor up above. Be prepared for numerous invites to dance and if, like me, rhythm isn’t one of your strengths, you could always do a quick salsa or tango lesson beforehand.

9. People (and dog) watch

Take some time to just sit and watch porteños going about their daily lives in the city. The parks offer delightful opportunities for people watching. You’ll find porteños staring sulkily into the camera during amateur photo shoots in the rose gardens, and last time I was in the botanical gardens an elderly man was sat on a bench playing the flute to his wife.

Dogs are the city’s most beloved residents so spend some time observing them too. There are pooches of all shapes and sizes pottering along the streets, sitting in cafes and playing in the parks. Just be careful where you step when you’re walking along the pavement, especially at night.

10. Escape

Tigre and its huge delta of swampy rivers are the perfect place to escape the heat of the city in summer. On a Saturday, the 30-minute train from Mitre to Tigre passes through local stations with little antique markets by all of the platforms. Catch a boat from Tigre, navigate through the muddy water ways, only stopping off to explore when you feel like it, before heading back and catching a glimpse of the La Costenera theme park and it’s looming ferris wheel at sunset.

Have you ever been to Buenos Aires? Got any other tips for cool things to do? I’d love to hear about them!

All photos by Rose Palmer unless otherwise stated

About Rose: Rose Palmer was born in England where most of her summer holidays were spent in camping in fields in Wales and Devon, making stinger nettle stew with her family. Growing up on a farm instilled a love of the outdoors, and her first major trip outside of Europe was at the tender age of 17 when she visited India and hiked up Stok Kangri (20,000 ft!) in the Himalayas with friends. Since then she’s been exploring the rest of the world whenever she can. Her favourite countries so far are Ethiopia, Cuba and Russia, where she worked in Moscow as a journalist for a year. After finishing a PhD she quit her job in London to move to Buenos Aires. She’s now working as a freelance photographer, documentary producer and editor and will be using Buenos Aires as a base to explore South America.  After that, who knows? You can follow Rose on Instagram @roseacpalmerphotos and view photos of her adventures at