Mar del Plata is the most visited city in Argentina after Buenos Aires, probably because it’s the most popular beach destination in the country by far.
“Mardel,” as the locals call it, has fabulous restaurants serving fresh seafood, a port packed with traditional fishing boats and cute sea lions, handicraft markets, and amazing nightlife.
You’ll find art museums and shopping, plus trendy neighborhood streets lined with cafes, bars, and parks.
You’ll have your pick of beaches, obviously, but the city is also home to casinos, theaters, an aquarium, and even a couple of water parks for when you’ve had your fill of the sandy shores.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mar del Plata:
1. Hit the Beaches
The beaches are the main reason people come to Mar del Plata, but be warned that in the summertime (December through March) they can get super crowded.
There’s free public beach access, but get there early to reserve your spot! You can rent chairs or an umbrella for the day, and if you want to get away from the crowds, you can rent a private tent a little farther from the water.
Private beach clubs occasionally have swimming pools that you can use as well.
Playa Varese and Playa Iglesia are popular beaches located downtown with cafes and shops nearby.
Playa Grande is also central, with lots of bars and restaurants around, and you’ll find surf rentals and lessons available here.
South of the city, make your way to calmer, less crowded beaches like Punta Mogotes, located near the lighthouse, and Playa Serena even further south.
Playa Escondida is a legal nude beach about 15 miles (25 km) away from town, if you’re into that.
2. Torre Tanque
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’s also a free elevator to the top (powered by water) where you’ll find the lookout point and brilliant 360-degree views of the coast and the city.
It’s actually a working water tank owned by the town water company.
If you want to learn how everything works and see all the meters and machinery, staff can give you an explanatory tour.
Sunset is the best time to visit and there are often concerts on the lawn here during the summer.
3. Centro Cultural Villa Victoria Ocampo
This house was the summer residence of Argentine writer and socialite Victoria Ocampo.
The entire home was transported from England to Argentina by boat, and now visitors can venture around for a look back in time to see how the high society spent their vacations in the early 20th century.
You’ll find photos of many famous people who visited with the prominent Ocampo during those days and even some of the original furniture and elegant fixtures.
Guests also come for the architecture, rotating cultural and art displays, beautiful gardens, and summer concerts and theatrical events.
4. Eat Some Great Seafood
Being by the sea, it’s no surprise that Mar del Plata has a ton of excellent restaurants serving up fresh seafood, and the calamari here is especially plentiful.
In January, the city celebrates the Fiesta Nacional de los Pescadores (Festival of the Fishermen) with local seafood feasts and a parade through town.
For dining, Sur is the well-established favorite for seafood, consistently called the best in town, and it’s almost always crowded.
La Marina is also popular with locals, serving up delicious yet unpretentious seafood in big portions.
Viento en Popa offers high quality fish as well, and Chichilo lets you pick your seafood out at the counter.
If you’d prefer something a little fancier with a great location, check out La Piazza or Alito.
5. Aquarium Mar del Plata
This impressive city aquarium is not only home to colorful tanks of fish, but their grounds are filled with natural lagoons, an aviary, and a saltwater lake.
There’s a touch pool so you can get up close and personal with the sea life and shows which feature performances by dolphins and sea lions.
At one of the most modern aquariums in South America, you can learn more about the local flora and fauna by visiting the marine mammals, birds, sharks, and even a few rescued animals that they rehabilitate here.
You can actually buy your ticket for the day, check out the exhibits, and then use the aquarium’s boardwalk and private beach!
6. Go to a Water Park
If you’ve had enough beach time, take the whole family to one of the water parks around Mar del Plata.
A short drive north of the city, Aquasol is a huge water park that includes a great wave pool, lots of waterslides, a zip-line, and a lazy river.
Admission is cheap, you can rent things like lockers, floats, and umbrellas, and there’s a restaurant for meals.
Just outside the city, you’ll also find the popular Aquopolis with a big variety of water slides (including a few extreme ones), nice areas for younger kids to play and get wet, and affordable snacks and drinks.
They also have grills and picnic tables available if you want to bring your own food for the day.
7. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
An icon within the city, MAR is a newer museum and it features contemporary artwork, including pop art, sculptures, and various pieces 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 acrylics.
Perhaps the most popular work is the giant sea lion sculpture out front which was originally constructed out of golden alfajor wrappers by Marta Minujín (she’s known for making art out of edible stuff). Admission is free, and you’ll also find a library and a cafe on site.
8. Puerto Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata has a thriving fishing industry, so head down to the port to watch the red, orange, and yellow ships return with their daily catches.
There’s a scenic wharf – la Banquina de Pescadores – where tourists can stroll and take photos.
You’ll find souvenir stands and lots of cheap, fresh seafood from vendors here where you can grab some great fried calamari.
While you’re here, be sure to walk down and pay a visit to the city’s population of sea lions at the reserve where they come to take shelter before leaving to mate on the shores of Uruguay.
The reserve is a national monument and it’s home to up to 800 male sea lions.
9. Do Some Local Shopping
Visit Mar del Plata’s craft fair – Diagonal de los Artesanos – which has up to 200 vendors each day of the week during summertime.
Located along the Plaza San Martín and Diagonal Pueyrredon, it’s a great place to do your souvenir shopping as they sell traditional mate gourds, knitted sweaters, silver jewelry, and leather goods.
Outside of peak season, the fair is only held on Saturday and Sunday.
The Feria de Artesanos del Torreón is a similar handicraft market located next to Playa Varese with around 80 stalls where you can find artisans who’ll often make crafts to your specifications.
If that’s not enough, visit the laid back Mercado de las Pulgas (flea market) in Plaza Rocha for all the old stuff you could ever need.
10. Torreón del Monje
Built during Mar del Plata’s more glamorous heyday, this imposing medieval-style landmark is located on along the rocks next to the ocean at Punta Piedras.
The Torreón del Monje looks like a castle with its lookout tower, red domes, and stone footbridge, though now it’s just a restaurant and event space.
A bit of a city landmark, it was initially built by businessman Ernesto Tornquist in his attempts to beautify the town that surrounded his summer villa.
Don’t expect too much from the food, but do stop by for a look around, some great views, and maybe a drink out on the terrace just next to the shoreline.
11. Take a DIY Walking Tour of the City
See what the downtown Mar del Plata has to offer on foot.
The streets around Playa Varese and Playa Grande have the best views and architecture, while Güemes, a hip street and centro comercial has tons of cool shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Check out Peatonal San Martín, the pedestrian street which is across from the grand Casino Central.
At Plaza San Martín, you’ll find the Catedral de los Santos Pedro y Cecilia, the city’s main cathedral, built in neo-Gothic style with stained glass windows and a French chandelier.
Be sure to stroll La Rambla, the large boardwalk that’ll lead you past sea lion sculptures and several beaches.
Then wander down Calle Alem, known for its restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
Grab some churros and relax during sunset in the Parque General San Martín for great views of Playa Grande.
12. Take a Day Trip to Sierra de los Padres
If you fancy a calm, nature-filled trip outside the city, head to the little town of Sierra de los Padres and the nearby Laguna de los Padres.
It’s only a 20-minute drive, and the lagoon in the middle of this wooded area provides a breath of fresh air with trails you can walk along and grills for having an asado.
You’ll find forests, a small mountain range, canoes for rent, and the remains of a Jesuit mission nearby.
The peaceful village of Sierra de los Padres is filled with quaint souvenir shops and restaurants where you can have a platter of picadas (cold meats, olives, and cheeses) while enjoying the serene atmosphere.
13. Take a Boat Ride
Take a short boat cruise to see the city of Mar del Plata from the water and learn more about its history.
Crucero Anamora takes passengers on a journey around the harbour for an hour or two, venturing to important city landmarks like Cape Corrientes, the sea lion reserve, the main fish-processing plant, and Mar del Plata Naval Base.
With three decks on the ship, you can enjoy the salty ocean air outside or sit inside by the windows.
There’s even a cafe on the lower level where you can grab a coffee and a medialuna (or a beer) for the ride.
14. Check out the City’s Nightlife and Entertainment
With theaters, bowling alleys, bars, nightclubs, and multiple casinos, nightlife is one of the biggest draws to Mar del Plata for visitors, especially during the summer.
If you’re into gambling or just want to see one of the most historic and architecturally significant buildings in the city, check out the Casino Central.
For concerts, shows, and plays, check out the schedules at the Radio City, Roxy, and Melany theaters of the Centro de Arte, or go for a great tango show at Teatro Colón.
For nightclubs, party until late at any of the hotspots along Avenida Constitucion – Sobremonte is super popular.
And in the summer, catch a beach party when the sand turns into a live music venue and dance floor.
15. Go Deep Sea Fishing
Arrange to head out into the ocean and try some fishing with experienced guides.
They’ll supply the boat, the gear, the bait, and the knowledge, taking you out to prime locations and showing you which lures and methods to use.
You’ll depart from one of the clubs in the harbor early in the morning and lunch is typically provided.
Reel in sea bream, trout, grouper, and yellowtail, then haul your catches back to town that afternoon.
Some tour companies will gut and clean your fish so that they’re ready to eat, and others even offer to cook one for you.