Top 10 things to do in Córdoba, Argentina

Trip Start Jul 15, 2010
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Where I stayed
Windsor Hotel and Tower Cordoba
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Argentina  , Central Argentina,
Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Had I read some of the reviews of the city of Córdoba on Travelpod before I decided to go there, I might not have bothered. I'm pleased I relied instead on the more positive review in Time Out, as, so far, Córdoba is my second favourite place in Argentina (after Buenos Aires, of course).

I'm sure your view of Córdoba will be steered by your attitude as you head into it.  If you go there expecting it to compete with the likes of Buenos Aires or Río de Janerio, you’ll find the place a little sleepy.  However, if you go in wanting a taste of city life outside of the huge metropolises of South America, Córdoba has everything you need.  Home to many universities – including Argentina’s earliest and South America’s second university, created in 1613 – Córdoba has a slightly more radical, activist feel about it, compared to more conservative cities like Salta.  Head to Córdoba when there is a major event happening (I went during el Día de la Memoria) and you get an even stronger sense of the city’s politics.

Here are my ten favourite things to do in Córdoba:

Number 10: Iglesia Catedral

This is a cathedral (Plaza San Martín) that took more than 200 years to build.  As a result, different parts follow different architectural styles, although I'm too architecturally-ignorant to spot the joins.  For me, it was the over-the-top interior that grabbed my attention.  If you want to indulge in a little mental church-bashing along the lines of "Urgh, how can a religion preach about addressing poverty and, at the same time, wrap itself up in this much gold-leaf?" then this is just the spot for you.  The fact that the cathedral is within spitting distance (and, therefore, most certainly within screaming distance) of one of the torture and detention centres used by the military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s adds an extra bitter taste to the experience; the role of the church in the this period of Argentina’s history – indeed, throughout Argentina’s history – is still fodder for many a heated debate.  If you are after a slightly less political experience, go and stand outside the cathedral at night; the lights look very prettyAnother travel blogger has written a less angry description of the cathedral, which might float your boat.

Number 9: Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Dr Genaro Pérez

Something Argentina does extremely well is creating art museums that are a pleasure to walk around.  I definitely felt it in the Malba en Buenos Aires, and, in Córdoba, two of my top ten sights are arty.  This museum (Av. General Paz 33, free admission, 10am-8pm, Tues to Sun, closed on Mondays) has a great mix of 19th and 20th century works, but it was the modern art that interested me.  There were some great pieces commenting on the patriarchy and violence of modern society, and I was also rather taken by a piece about the homoeroticism of sport.  It’s worth pausing for a look at some of the scribbles in the comments book on your way out, some are which are worthy of being hung on the wall themselves.

Number 8: Cineclub Municipal Hugo del Carril

It has been a while since I went to the cinema for £1.50 (10 pesos/U$D2.50).  The Cineclub Municipal is a great space with a really interesting, if slightly dizzying, foyer full of mirrors and scenes from famous films.  Don’t go expecting to see Big Momma's House 2 or some such crapola; this is a cinema that sidesteps multiplex-style fast food in favour of some more satisfying film seasons.  The one that was running when I was in town was called “20 films you must see before starting to study cinema”, and I plumped for Woody Allen’s “Manhatten”.  As in cinemas throughout Argentina, non-Spanish films are shown in their original language with Spanish subtitles.  Take your own drink, if you want one, as there wasn’t anywhere to buy one inside.

Number 7: Day trip to La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano

There are lots of interesting places to see beyond the city limits, but I only took one excursion – a 10-hour trip in a minibus, booked with Códroba Nativo Viajes, costing 190 pesos (£30/U$D47) to a hillside town called La Cumbrecita.  I was rather intrigued after reading that this pseudo-alpine town was "completely pedestrianised", and "very peaceful" as a result.  Sadly, it was all a little too 'Swiss chocolate box’ for my liking.  What I thought might be an interesting social experiment in banning cars from a town turned out to be a tiny village that only seems to most ban most (not all) cars from entering its one main street because they would struggle with the gradient anyway.  The waterfall area of La Olla is worth the half-hour stroll – I’ve heard that some people swim in the very cold and very deep water pool there, and it would be worth a dip if you’re brave enough – but La Cumbrecita is not a place I would like to stay for more than a couple of hours

After La Cumbrecita, we stopped off for an hour in Villa General Belgrano, a small town that makes the oom-pah-pah-ness of La Cumbrecita feel positively and genuinely alpine.  I think I had some kind of allergic reaction to Villa General Belgrando; in fact, to be honest, the place gave me the creeps.  My half-German Spanish teacher didn’t appreciate this point of view, but the place feels like a piss-take, a stereotypical image of Bavarian Germany.  Apparently, it was once a tourist-less, authentic settlement of German immigrants, many of whom were Nazis fleeing Germany after World War II.  (Another interesting episode in Argentina’s history was the period when the country welcomed some of the more notorious Nazi leaders looking for somewhere to flee to.)  Anyway, nowadays, 'authentic' is the last word that springs to mind in Villa General Belgrano.  I am sure the place is more appealing in October, when the town hosts Argentina’s national Oktoberfest/Beer festival, but, the rest of the year, the place just feels like a rather sad little tourist trap waiting for the next October to come around again.  Still, this day trip had to make my top ten because I can’t get these places out of my mind – a Disney-fied Germanic town in the heart of Argentina’s countryside has to be worth a quick goggle.

Number 6: Feria Artesanal

I stumbled across this outdoor market (corner of Rodriguez and Belgrano, 5-10pm, Sat & Sun) by mistake, whilst looking for a gay pub that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and I really liked it.  There are some lovely bars in the area too (I had a gin and tonic in an Alice in Wonderland themed bar), and lots of shopping arcades off the main streets.  Definitely worth a visit, as the market has a lot more than the usual 'mate' paraphernalia, plus my number 5 is right next door, so you won’t have to walk far to find somewhere great to eat afterwards.

Number 5: La Nieta 'e La Pancha

Definitely my favourite restaurant in Córdoba.  When you walk in, don’t hang about downstairs, but head straight upstairs to the terrace.  The place (Belgrano 783, facebook page) opens for dinner at 7pm, but doesn’t start taking orders for dinner until 8pm.  It’s worth getting there early to get a street-side table so you can look down at the market and the people below.  I decided to go for trout (fish is always a risk in Argentina, as it often gets cooked as though it’s meat – i.e. viciously overcooked).  The meal was delicious.  I particularly liked the slices of cabbage and garlic set mousse stuff on the side of the plate (I am sure it has a more attractive sounding name than this in Spanish, but I can’t remember it). 

One of the waiters had a tendency to keep touching himself, which I found strangely alluring, until I realised he might have crabs (after that, it took three beers for me to decide that the crabs wouldn’t stop me; after all, I’m sure my Spanish is now good enough to enable me to chat to pharmacists about lotions and itching.)  If sexy, self-loving waiters aren’t your thing, don’t let him put you off...this restaurant was great.  Trout, three beers, coffee and crabs for 100 pesos (£15/U$D25).

Number 4: Cripta Jesu
í­tica

I surprise myself by having two religious sights in my top ten, but there you have it.  This was one of those places I only went to because a bus strike gave me more time in Córdoba than I had planned, and I am pleased it did.  On the largest, busiest street in Córdoba (Av. Colón, corner with Av. Rivera Indarte), you walk down some steps.  It's like walking down towards the entrance to a poorly-lit metro station.  After paying the rather cute entrance fee of 30 pence (2 pesos/50 US cents), you find you are inside an extremely peaceful underground Jesuit crypt

I strongly recommend you ask/wait for a tour, as there is not a great deal of useful information on display as you walk around (and, if you don’t speak Spanish, you won’t get very much out of wandering around unaccompanied at all).  Without a guided tour, you would also miss out on gems such as “If you look there you can see where the stone walls are a different colour; that’s because the fat from dead bodie, that were dumped here during the cholera outbreak, oozed into the walls”.  The story about the crypt lying there until it was discovered by Telecom engineers digging the road in 1989 also says a great deal about the way in which Argentinean cities were rather ruthlessly transformed to take on European-style layouts in the 19th century.

Number 3: City bus tour, Córdoba

In case you don’t feel that you stick out enough as a tourist in the city, I recommend getting on a big red London bus, which is sponsored by McDonald’s, and riding around the city in it for an hour and a half (the bus tour departs from the Cathedral in Plaza San Martín at 10am on Thurs, Fri & Sat, 4pm on Mon and Thurs, and 6pm everyday, adults 35 pesos/£5/U$D8.50). 

The ride has its perils; you have to duck during large chunks of the journey to avoid getting hit in the face by trees, plus I had a funny-looking insect bite me twice on my back after it got trapped in my t-shirt...but it's worth it.  The tour guide speaks very clear Spanish, and English on demand.  There’s a quick stop to give you time to look around a cathedral - the Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús de los Capuchinos, which has a missing steeple (see photo below), left out on purpose to "symbolise human imperfection".  (Building contractors of the world, take note...it's a great line to use when the money runs out!)

What I liked most about the bus tour was seeing things I might not have seen just wandering around the city on foot.  For example, we passed Córdoba’s Ciudad de las Artes (“City of the Arts”), a university campus, specialising in teaching arts subjects, in which each of the main schools is housed in a different coloured building.  A colour-coded university looks fun.

Number 2: Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa

My favourite art gallery next.  El Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes Emilio Caraffa (free admission, 10am-8pm, Tues to Fri, Sat, Sun & holidays, 10:30am to 7pm, closed Mondays) plays host to temporary modern art exhibitions, and it’s a really lovely space to walk around.  The building is very light and airy, and even the telling off I got for drinking my bottle of water was polite and smiley. 

I really enjoyed Martin Sastre’s “Tango with Obama”, a short film about the relationship between Obama’s USA and South America, and an exhibition by French artist, Stéphanie Lacombe called “La mesa de la cotidiano” (“The everyday dinner table”), a series of photographs of individuals and families having dinner in their own houses.  The Juárez Beltrán’ exhibition – which includes a piece I would love to own called “Vergüenza de un pueblo cordero” (“Embarrassment of a sheep nation”) – says some interesting things about modern South American politics and culture.  No doubt the exhibitions will be different when you visit, but I am sure the trip will be worthwhile.

...and Number 1: Museo de la Memoria

Rather predictably, given my last blog posting, the number one spot goes to the Museo de la Memoria (admission free, 9am-noon & 2pm-8pm, just off Plaza San Martín, between the cathedral and the cabildo/town hall), the former torture and detention centre in the centre of Córdoba.  I doubt anywhere in Córdoba could trump it in terms of having a long-lasting effect on its visitors.  I won’t say anymore about it here; frankly any information on this page would feel out-of-place alongside crotch-scratching waiters and back-biting insects.  Just go. 

I am sure there are plenty of other places that should be listed above.  I would like to go back to Córdoba one day to head out to Alta Gracia and visit the Ernesto “Che” Guevara museum, for example.  But so far, the above are, in my experience, the ten best things to do in Córdoba.  And I would be very happy to do all of them over again - except perhaps for the "Disney meets (Nazi) 'Germany'" day trip.  I feel I've done that one now.

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Comments

yvonne pay on

i wouldnt have let you off that lightley when i worked at the NATIONAL GALLERY , SCOTLAND for drinking water inside , lol... looks like a beautifull place

Vainillina on

I'm so happy you had such a great time in Córdoba! :) I've been there many times and, all over, I agree with you on your 10 things to visit. However, I do love Villa General Belgrano... maybe that's because I went to a German school and therefore I got to meet many people from that city during my school days.

Anyways... you have to visit Alta Gracia sometime in the future! When I think back of Córdoba and the many holidays I spent there with my family, Alta Gracia is the place that comes to my mind. I think you would enjoy it.

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