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Family Activities on the Cheap in Buenos Aires

There is no shortage of paid attractions for children in Buenos Aires, but some of the best things won’t even cost a peso.

 

I believe parenting does not have to be a bankrupting experience—despite an entire industry devoted to convincing us that if we’re not spending money, we are doing our kids a disservice. Having come from London, where it costs £12 (US$24) to get into most attractions, I tend to steer toward free activities that I can easily sandwich into a day—some time for my 3-year-old daughter, some time for me, everybody’s happy.

Maybe when she’s older I’ll start splashing out. But in the meantime, here are some of the best free activities in Buenos Aires to enjoy with your children—and guarantee your popularity by spending your savings on the excellent ice cream instead!  

Parks and Playgrounds

There are plenty of playgrounds in green spaces around the city—I’ve listed a few addresses at the end of this article, but if these aren’t close to you just ask your hotel/apartment owner. There will be something no more than a block or two away. The playgrounds typically have swings, climbing frames, slides and seesaws set in sand rather than asphalt. Digging in the sand—it doesn’t get much better! There are also parks with more challenging equipment for 8- to 12-year-olds. In the mornings, you will have the playground to yourself as porteños, locals, tend to start their days slowly.

One park to avoid, however, is the park at Lavalle and Libertad in the center of town, where the winos congregate and the smell of dog droppings is overwhelming.

The largest park, Tres de Febrero in Palermo, is a great place to wander but despite hours of wandering I have yet to find a playground.

Cementerio de Recoleta/Recoleta Cemetery

It is far more expensive to be buried in Recoleta than to live there—and living in this exclusive neighborhood isn’t cheap by Argentinean standards.

This is where all the great, good or wealthy of Buenos Aires stake their claim to posterity. Their monuments, mausoleums and tombs display an impressive range of architecture and stained glass. If you’ve been to Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Jim Morrison is buried, you’ll have a pretty good notion of what you’re in for. Recoleta’s cemetery is much smaller than Père-Lachaise; it’s about four blocks square and right in the center of Buenos Aires.

Most tourists come to have a look at Evita’s final resting place—but be warned, it isn’t anything special. However, the beautiful Art Nouveau and severe Modernist tombs certainly are. Young children will have fun climbing the mausoleums (no one seems to mind), playing with the water taps that appear at regular intervals for the cleaners and petting the feral cats (very healthy, no fleas).

You can task the older children with finding mausoleums by themes such as:

  • People on the currency notes: for example, Bartolomé Mitre (1821-1906), former president of Argentina and founder of the newspaper La Nación is on the A$2 bill. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888) is on the A$50; he was a writer and a former president as well.
  • People with interesting (ok, ghoulish) stories. Legend has it that Rufina Cambacérès (1883-1902), a 19-year-old girl, was buried alive. And the story of how the followers of a former general, Lavalle, boiled his corpse to remove the flesh and smuggle his bones into Bolivia (they now rest in this tomb) is unfortunately true. 

There are some quirky mausoleums, like the husband and wife who have statues facing opposite directions. You can only imagine that death mirrored life!

Costanera Sur/Ecological Reserve (Puerto Madero)

This huge reserve was created when nature decided to take over the leftover rubble from an overpass built in the 1970s. It’s a nice respite from the city, with its large ponds and gravel trails. You will need a stroller for smaller children, or else limit how far into the reserve you go. Entrance is free; you can rent bikes for about A$6 (US$2) per hour.

If you like bird watching, there are some unusual black-necked swans (with contrasting white bodies, very strange). However, the reserve lacks sheltered huts, and its viewing scopes don’t work very well, so bring your own binoculars if you have them.

The reserve is popular with joggers and cyclists, and the guards will start booting you out around 5:30 p.m. (it closes at 6 p.m.). Some people claim there are good river views, but I’ve never found them. The best route, especially with children who may need a rest, is the path closest to Puerto Madero (the western end), as there are more platforms jutting out into the water and benches to sit on.

Shop—and Play—Until You Drop

The Argentineans have the right idea when it comes to kids and shopping—they have taken the sensible step of putting in play areas at the top floor of some of their shopping malls. 

For example, Paseo Alcorta (Salguero 3172, Palermo) is probably the most pleasant shopping experience as it combines a good range of top brands, some children’s stores, four cinema screens, and an outdoor playground and carousel on the top floor.

The Abasto shopping mall (Corrientes 3253, Almagro—just west of Palermo Viejo) offers the best value shopping of any of the malls, and has started offering free transport from hotels for tourists (tel. 5777-6027). Its 1930s façade is especially striking. The mall has a large food court, an indoor amusement park and the well-regarded children’s museum, Museo de los Niños. (Entrance fee is A$10 Tuesday to Friday and A$15 on the weekend. It's closed on Mondays.) It gets very crowded on the weekends, so is best avoided then if possible.

I Scream, You Scream … Ice Cream!

With all these free things to do, you will have more money to splurge on ice cream instead. Freddo is widely considered the best brand and has outlets in Palermo, Puerto Madero and many of the shopping malls. Especially in summer, any of the heladerias (ice cream shops) sporting excellent, artisenal Italian ice cream should not be missed.


Destinations: Argentina, Buenos Aires

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Parks and Playgrounds, Sightseeing


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