Alternative Tours of Buenos Aires

San Telmo Art Walk home
Sorrel Moseley-Williams

Sorrel Moseley-Williams

Buenos Aires and its porteño residents have never been a particularly disciplined lot, so the idea of sending visitors on a traditional sightseeing tour complete with an officious flag-bearing guide is wrong on all accounts. However, BA, as creative as it is, offers a whole host of alternative ways to see the city via its street art, boutiques, sacred grape and a photography workshop.

Arty Farty

An afternoon with graffitimundo means delving into Buenos Aires’ street art scene, which, as well as brightening up dingy corners, unveils exactly what is going on, politics-, people- and history-wise. Aficionados can either walk or cycle a barrio as a GM guide reveals hidden graffiti hotspots and open-air galleries, and you may even meet the artists at work.

Meanwhile, San Telmo Art Walk puts said neighbourhood under the spotlight, which includes street art on the three-hour tour because “it’s an important part of its character,” according to guide Rick Powell. Delving into the history, politics, social issues, bar culture, the gallery scene, two museums, and even restaurant recommendations on the hoof lets the real San Telmo comes to life with Rick.

San Telmo Art Walk
Malagría, Estados Unidos, San Telmo Art Walk; photo courtesy of Rick Powell.

Happy Snappers

If street art has brought out your inner Mario Testino, it’s time to let Foto Ruta hone your snapping skills. Using the “creative seeing” concepts of street photography by first holding a workshop, then issuing a set of clues, you can uncover Buenos Aires’ treasures yourself. Focusing on one of seven neighbourhoods, which include the lesser-rambled Monserrat and Chacarita, Foto Ruta gets you photographing the more unusual aspects of the city. Head snappers Jocelyn Mandryk and Becky Hayes say owning a camera isn’t even a prerequisite as plenty of travellers simply use their iPhone to grab images of cartoneros, colectivos or choripan.

Call me Mr. Vain - a clue from Foto Ruta tour
Call me Mr. Vain – a clue from Foto Ruta tour; photo courtesy of Foto Ruta.

Food and Drink

Talking of chori, another way to familiarise yourself with Buenos Aires is with a glass of wine and a map in hand. Wine Tour Urbano provides the necessities then sets up tasting stands in several cool boutiques – and yes, that means you can drink and shop ‘til you drop. Another option for winos is to let a sommelier from Time Out magazine usher you around three restaurants in Palermo for a five-glass tasting experience, while epicures will love the Fuudis tour, a dining experience with a difference which takes hungry tums for a starter, main and dessert at distinctive restaurants in a particular hood, meeting and greeting chefs at each stop-off.

On the way to Bengal on the Fuudis Recoleta Tour
On the way to Bengal on the Fuudis Recoleta Tour; photo courtesy of Fuudis.

Shop ‘til You Drop

It’s easy to stumble the cobbled streets dipping into a fancy boutique and feeling the pull of a second-hand clothes haven. But one way for fashionistas to make lighter work of shopping sprees while buzzing about the city is with a personal shopper. BA Shop Hop tailor-makes tours should you require custom-fitted leather trousers, made-to-measure boots or anything else in between. Shopping guru Sophie Lloyd sends out a questionnaire beforehand so she knows which boutiques and appointment-only showrooms specialising in unique pieces you will love.

Crème de la Crème also offers bespoke tours, with Vanessa Bell showcasing independent Argentine designers and art galleries. She also arranges visits to artists in their ateliers, as well as to stores selling traditional luxury goods or souvenirs. And for a nose around the best vintage stores in town, let designer Elizabeth Gleeson take you on a Paradise Tour. The queen of thrift has her finger in all the style pies to ensure you pick a fancy dress which will never cause an awkward döppelganger moment at a party.

Men Only

According to Jed Rothenberg from Landing Pad BA, “The Man Tour was created as a unique way to see the city, targeting the guys that always get dragged along to go shopping.” Taking these down-trodden men out of typical touristy areas, Jed gives them a hands-on experience with snippets of history and banter, while familiarising them with subjects such as squatters’ rights and the economy. With stop-offs for a classic hot shave and a Cuban cigar and whiskey, Jed also chaperones the men into taxis, on the subway and helps them drink Quilmes lager in a popular restaurant frequented by cab drivers.

Enjoy a Cigar on the Man Tour
Enjoy a Cigar on the Man Tour; photo courtesy of Jocelyn Mandryk.

Tour to Tango

Of course, a visit to Buenos Aires wouldn’t be complete without some tango indulgence, which is where Narrative Tango Tours swings into motion. Led by a professional dancer who lives and breathes the genre daily, Cyrena Drusine shares her experiences so you can learn the secrets and stories about the world from an insider’s perspective. Taking in the three key tango barrios of La Boca, San Telmo and Abasto, during the NTT milonga outing you’ll learn everything there is to know: the dance, the music, the history and the milonga culture, and why people become addicted to it.

With a Twist

Of course, some traditional walking tours also like to mix things up. Jonathan Evans’ tip-based Buenos Aires Local Tours takes in the usual sightseeing suspects but also delves into the Guia T street map to catch the 29 and 168 buses, before heading into Abasto for a little Carlos Gardel action. At BA Cultural Concierge, Madi Lang offers a socio-economic historical excursion of La Boca as well as a Jewish tour, while BAlocal’s Off-The-Beaten-Path will take you places, such as the original women’s prison, the city’s oldest chemist or for a distinct view of the Casa Rosada that will have porteños peering at your digital photos, asking you “where is that?”

Buenos Aires' Original Women's Prison
Buenos Aires’ Original Women’s Prison; photo courtesy of Chance Miller.

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Sorrel Moseley-Williams
A freelance journalist and sommelier, Brit transplant Sorrel Moseley-Williams lived in Argentina in 1998 for a year before making a permanent move in 2006. She has contributed to CNN Travel, Condé Nast Traveler and Traveller, The Guardian, Saveur, The Independent, Departures, Wallpaper*, Fodor’s and Rough Guide books among others, and has written for La Nación, U-Like It and Forbes Argentina in Spanish.
Sorrel Moseley-Williams

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