There’s no better place to tap into local life in Buenos Aires than in the city’s parks. Amid the frenetic urban sprawl of apartment blocks, crowded sidewalks and honking traffic are elegant plazas and leafy green spaces, where the city’s residents can be found walking their dogs, playing soccer and strumming guitars. Just as each Buenos Aires neighborhood has its own distinct character, so too do the city’s parks, offering everything from birdwatching to rollerblading.
Best park for a peaceful escape
The Japanese Garden borders Parque Tres de Febrero in Palermo, but it has a very different feel. Bonsai trees, orchids, carp-filled ponds and Japanese sculptures help create a relaxing atmosphere. Near the red bridge is a bell of peace, decorated with coins from 100 different countries. It’s rung only twice a year, to celebrate International Peace Day and to mark the new year.
Best park for history lovers
Located on cobbled Calle Defensa in San Telmo, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, is Parque Lezama, a place steeped in history. The entrance is guarded by a statue of Pedro de Mendoza, who some historians claim landed on that very spot in 1536, in an early, failed attempt to settle the area with Spanish conquistadors. Later, what is now the park was the expansive landscaped garden of the Lezama family, and their former mansion is now a museum.
Among other local characters, look out for elderly people playing chess on park tables. From the park, the blue, bulb-shaped domes of the nearby Russian Orthodox Cathedral can be seen; a beautiful, if unexpected, sight.
Parque Tres de Febrero
Best park for family picnics, cycling and rollerblading
More commonly known as the bosques de Palermo (Palermo woods), this large park encompasses several artificial lakes with peddle-boats for hire, a poets’ garden featuring the busts of literary greats, and the Rosedal, a pretty rose garden with more than 18,000 roses.
There are plenty of grassy areas and shady trees under which to lay a picnic blanket, with space for kids to run around. The park’s largest lake is the center of the action: the path which circumvents it is popular with spandex-clad rollerbladers, cyclists and joggers. It’s a great spot to watch Palermo’s fashionable residents and more eccentric characters work up a sweat.
Best park for picnics and people watching
The park immediately north of Recoleta Cemetery is technically known as Plaza Intendente Alvear – Plaza Francia is on the other side of Avenida Pueyrredón – but the combined area is usually referred to as Plaza Francia. This well-kept park with manicured flower beds and pleasant landscaping suits the general grandeur of the surrounding Recoleta neighborhood. It’s a good place to spot professional dog walkers, who wear special belts with loops for the leashes of the many dogs in their charge.
Don’t miss the magnificent Gomera de Recoleta, a Moreton Bay fig tree thought to be some 200 years old. On weekends local artisans sell their handmade leather and wooden items, artworks and ceramics at stalls set up near the cemetery.
Best park for local life
This circular park right in the geographical center of the city is the best place to experience a taste of everyday life for Buenos Aires’ locals. The park has a somewhat bohemian feel: it’s common to see a tightrope slung between trees, people practicing circus skills and other acrobatics, and groups of friends playing guitar and drinking maté (the local tea that’s sipped through a metal straw from a distinctive gourd).
There’s a skatepark where local teenagers hone their skills and a modern playground full of children from the surrounding neighborhoods. On weekends there are stalls selling handmade crafts, artisanal produce and second-hand clothes, books and other items. There’s even a group of swing dancers who meet to lindy hop together in the open air.
Best park for plant enthusiasts
Tucked between two busy Palermo avenues, the Botanical Gardens offers a relaxing escape from the frenzied activity of nearby Plaza Italia. The gardens showcase native plants as well as flora from across the globe, including formal Roman and French gardens. Red gravel paths lead past sculptures, ponds and greenhouses.
Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve
Best park for long walks, cycling and birdwatching
Beyond the gleaming skyscrapers of Puerto Madero, the city’s newest neighborhood, a marshy, former wasteland on the edge of the Río de la Plata is now a large park, rich in biodiversity. Expect to see tegu lizards cross your path as you walk, jog or cycle. The area is teeming with wildlife, including colorful butterflies and more than 300 species of bird. The 350 hectare-reserve is traversed by some 6 miles (10km) of paths; the most picturesque stretch runs along the water’s edge with views across the estuary (about the closest the city comes to having a beach).
The entrance to the reserve is on Avenida Tristán Achával Rodríguez, on a stretch of road informally called the Costanera Sur. On the sidewalk here you’ll find several roadside parrillas (grills), food stands serving choripán (a barbecued Argentine sausage in a bread roll).
Best park for bookworms and collectors
In the residential neighborhood of Caballito is this small park known for its second-hand book, magazine and vinyl record sellers. Browse the stalls along the park’s westernmost parameter, then find a bench or shady tree and settle down with your new reading material. On Sunday mornings, collectors meet in the park to swap stickers of soccer players in the hope of completing their Panini sticker albums.