Mar del Plata is Argentina’s most visited city after Buenos Aires, probably because it’s by far the most popular beach destination in the country.
Known locally as ‘Mardel’, it has excellent restaurants serving fresh seafood, a harbour crowded with traditional fishing boats and adorable sea lions, handicraft markets and an amazing nightlife.
You’ll find art museums and shopping, as well as trendy neighborhood streets full of cafes, bars and parks.
Obviously, you can choose your favorite beach, but the city also has casinos, theaters, an aquarium, and even several water parks for you to enjoy while you’re on the sand.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mar del Plata:
1. Go to the beach
The beaches are the main reason people come to Mar del Plata, but be aware that they can get very crowded during the summer months (December to March).
There is free public beach access, but get there early to reserve your spot! Chairs or umbrellas can be rented during the day, or if you want to get away from the crowds, rent a private tent a little further away from the water.
Private beach clubs also occasionally have swimming pools that you can use as well.
Playa Varese and Playa Iglesia are popular beaches in the city centre with cafés and shops nearby.
Playa Grande is also centrally located, surrounded by many bars and restaurants, where you can find surf rentals and lessons.
In the south of the city, you can head to calmer, less crowded beaches such as Punta Mogotes near the lighthouse, and Playa Serena further south.
Playa Escondida is a legal nude beach about 15 miles (25 km) from town, if you like.
2. Torre Tank
A fun activity for families and a romantic adventure for couples, climb the water tower in Mar del Plata for the best views around.
There is also a free lift to the top (driven by water) where you can find lookout points and 360 degree views of the coast and city.
It is actually a working water tank owned by the town water company.
If you want to see how everything works and see all the gauges and machinery, the staff can offer you an interpretive tour.
Sunset is the best time to visit, and there are often concerts on the lawns here in summer.
3. Victoria Ocampo Centre Cultural Villas
The house was the summer home of Argentine writer and socialite Victoria Ocampo.
The entire house was shipped from England to Argentina, and now visitors can walk around, looking back in time to how high society spent their holidays in the early 20th century.
You’ll find photos of many celebrities visiting with the famous Ocampo in those days, and even some original furniture and elegant fixtures.
Guests can also visit the architecture, rotating cultural and art exhibitions, beautiful gardens and summer concerts and theatre events.
4. Eat some great seafood
By the sea, it’s no surprise that Mar del Plata has plenty of great restaurants serving fresh seafood, with squid in particular in abundance.
In January, the city celebrates the Fiesta Nacional de los Pescadores (Fishermen’s Festival) with a local seafood feast and parade.
As far as dining goes, Sur is a well-known seafood restaurant, consistently called the best in town, and almost always packed.
La Marina is also very popular with locals, serving a plethora of delicious but unpretentious seafood.
Viento en Popa also offers high-quality fish, while Chichilo lets you pick seafood at the counter.
If you prefer something more upscale in a great location, check out La Piazza or Alito.
5. Mar del Plata Aquarium
Not only do this impressive urban aquarium have colorful fish tanks, but their grounds are filled with natural lagoons, aviaries, and lagoons.
There is a touch pool that allows you to get up close and personal with marine life and shows off dolphins and sea lions.
In one of the most modern aquariums in South America, you can learn more about the local flora and fauna by visiting marine mammals, birds, sharks, and even some of the rescued animals they recovered here.
You can actually buy a ticket for the day, view the exhibits, and use the aquarium’s boardwalk and private beach!
6. Go to the water park
If you have enough beach time, take the whole family to one of the water parks near Mar del Plata.
A short drive north of the city, Aquasol is a huge water park that includes a huge wave pool, many waterslides, a zipline and a lazy river.
Tickets are cheap, you can rent things like lockers, floats and umbrellas, and there’s a restaurant to dine in.
Just outside the city, you’ll also find the popular Aquopolis, which has a wide variety of water slides (including some extreme), great places for younger kids to play and get wet, and affordable snacks and drinks .
They also offer grills and picnic tables if you want to bring your own food for the day.
7. Museum of Contemporary Art
The city’s iconic building, the MAR is a newer museum that showcases contemporary art, including pop art, sculpture and a variety of works by famous Argentine artists.
The building itself is super sleek and modern, facing the sea, with bright spaces and rotating exhibits.
They also have workshops where kids can paint with acrylic paints.
Perhaps the most popular piece is the giant sea lion sculpture at the front, which was originally made in golden alfajor wrapping paper by Marta Minujín (she is known for making art out of edibles). Admission is free, and you’ll also find a library and café on site.
8. Puerto Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata has a thriving fishery, so head to the port to watch the red, orange and yellow boats return with their daily catch.
There is a scenic marina – la Banquina de Pescadores – where visitors can stroll and take pictures.
Here you’ll find souvenir stalls and lots of cheap fresh seafood from vendors, where you can get some great fried calamari.
While you’re here, be sure to walk down and check out the city’s sanctuary for sea lion populations, where they come to take refuge before heading off to the Uruguayan coast to mate.
The reserve is a national monument and is home to as many as 800 male sea lions.
9. Shop locally
Visit Mar del Plata’s handicraft fair – Diagonal de los Artesanos – with up to 200 vendors every day of the week during summer.
Located along San Martín Square and Diagonal Pueyrredon, it is a great place to buy souvenirs as they sell traditional mate gourds, knitted sweaters, silver and leather goods.
Outside of peak season, the fair is only held on Saturdays and Sundays.
Feria de Artesanos del Torreón is a similar handicraft market, next to Playa Varese, with around 80 stalls where you can find artisans who often make handicrafts to your specifications.
If that’s not enough, visit the laid-back Mercado de las Pulgas (flea market) in Plaza Rocha to buy all the old stuff you might need.
10. Torreón del Monje
Built in Mar del Plata’s more glamorous heyday, this magnificent medieval-style landmark is located along the rocks of Punta Piedras near the sea.
Torreón del Monje looks like a castle with watchtowers, red domes and stone footbridges, but now it’s just a restaurant and event space.
It is an urban landmark that was originally built by businessman Ernesto Tornquist to beautify the town surrounding his summer house.
Don’t expect too much from the food, but be sure to stop and look around, take in the views, and maybe have a drink on the patio close to the shoreline.
11. Take a DIY walking tour of the city
Take a walk to see what’s going on in downtown Mar del Plata.
The streets around Playa Varese and Playa Grande have the best views and architecture, while Güemes is a trendy street and central business district with plenty of cool shops, restaurants, bars and cafés.
Check out Peatonal San Martín, a pedestrian street opposite the Grand Casino Central.
In Plaza San Martin, you’ll find the city’s main cathedral, the Catedral de los Santos Pedro y Cecilia, built in the Neo-Gothic style with stained glass windows and French chandeliers.
Be sure to stroll down Las Ramblas, a large boardwalk that will take you past sea lion sculptures and several beaches.
Then stroll along Calle Alem, famous for its restaurants, shops and nightlife.
Share churros and relax at sunset at Parque General San Martín, with views of Playa Grande.
12. Take a day trip to the Sierra de los Padres
For a peaceful, nature-filled trip outside the city, head to the small town of Sierra de los Padres and nearby Laguna de los Padres.
Just a 20-minute drive away, the lagoon in the middle of this woodland allows you to breathe in the fresh air, walk along the trails and enjoy asado with a barbecue.
Nearby you will find forests, small mountains, canoes for rent and the remains of Jesuit missionaries.
The peaceful village of Sierra de los Padres is full of quaint souvenir shops and restaurants, where you can enjoy a plate of picadas (cold cuts, olives and cheese) while enjoying the tranquil atmosphere.
13. Boat tour
Explore the city of Mar del Plata from the water on a short boat cruise and learn more about its history.
Crucero Anamora takes passengers on an hour or two tour around the harbour to important city landmarks such as Cape Corrientes, the sea lion sanctuary, the main fish processing plant and the Mar del Plata naval base.
The boat has three decks, and you can enjoy the salty sea air outside or sit by the windows inside.
There is even a cafe on the lower level where you can enjoy coffee and medialuna (or beer).
14. Check out the city’s nightlife and entertainment
With theaters, bowling alleys, bars, nightclubs and several casinos, nightlife is one of Mar del Plata’s biggest attractions for tourists, especially in summer.
If you like to gamble, or just want to see one of the most historic and architecturally significant buildings in the city, head to the Central Casino.
For concerts, shows and plays, check the schedule at the Radio City, Roxy and Melany theatres in the Arts Centre, or head to the Colon Theatre for a great tango show.
For nightclubs, any hot parties along the Avenida Constitucion until late at night – Sobremonte is very popular.
In the summer, when the sand is transformed into a live music venue and dance floor, join a beach party.
15. Go deep sea fishing
Schedule a trip to the sea and try fishing with an experienced guide.
They will provide boats, gear, bait and knowledge to take you to prime locations and show you what bait and methods to use.
You will depart early in the morning from one of the clubs in the port, where lunch is usually served.
Roll on snapper, trout, grouper and yellowtail, then ship the catch back to town that afternoon.
Some tour companies will gut and wash your fish so they are edible, while others will even cook one for you.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Mar del Plata, Argentina
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