Located in the south-western part of Argentina, Neuquén is a fast-growing and modern city with an attractive central district and a rich cultural life, competing with Comodoro Rivadavia for the "title" of the cultural capital of Patagonia. The city has 300,000 inhabitants and is the center of a densely populated metropolitan area with about 700,000 people, which stretches into the neighboring Río Negro province.
Neuquén is located near the confluence of the Limay and the Neuquén river, being called Negro river after the union. The city lies in an irrigated oasis valley with some agriculture at the foot of the arid Patagonian meseta with steppe vegetation; the hills north of the city, called las bardas, are already part of this typical Patagonian landscape.
The city center is located about 8 km north-west of the confluence. The railroad connecting it to Bahía Blanca divides the city in two parts: the Alto near the hills in the North and the Bajo in the lower part south of the railroad. The Bajo is the main commercial sector and has also some cultural life, but has no real tourist attractions. In contrast, the Alto has attractive boulevards like Avenida Argentina, many high-rise buildings, and comprises a banking sector, most government agencies, gastronomy, nightlife and some luxury commerce. In the middle of both parts lies the attractive Parque Central around the railway station with museums, monuments and a tourist office.
Outside the city center the only really interesting sector for visitors is the Río Grande neighborhood near the Limay river, with pleasant riverside beaches, a modern park and some gastronomy.
Founded in 1904, Neuquén is the youngest provincial capital of Argentina. Few historical buildings remain, most of them being typical Argentine residences of the 1910s and 1920s or buildings related to the railway activity, some of them have been converted into museums.
The climate is pleasant with hot summers, similar to those in central Argentina, and cool to cold winters. The weather is often sunny - there are cloudy days but it barely rains. Windy days are common, above all in spring, but Neuquén is protected from the worst storms of the Patagonian meseta because of its location in a valley. Bathing in the Limay river is possible between mid-November and early April.
- 1 Presidente Perón International Airport (NQN IATA) (about 10 km west of the city centre). Neuquén's airport offers daily flights to Buenos Aires (Aeroparque & El Palmar), several times a week to Mendoza, Córdoba, and Comodoro Rivadavia weekly flights to smaller cities, even some in the provincial inland, like San Martín de los Andes. Flights are operated by Aerolineas Aregentinas, Flybondi, JetSmart, and LADE.
The 501 bus line runs connects the airport about once every 30-60 min to the city centre. A taxi to the Central Park will cost you about US$10.
The train station - surprisingly small for a city of this size - is in the Central Park near Avenida Olascoaga. There's a local train connecting Neuquén with nearby Plottier and Cipolletti, in neighboring Río Negro province. Long-distance trains to Bahía Blanca and Buenos Aires have not run since the early 1990s. For train enthusiasts coming from Buenos Aires, an alternative is to take a train to Bahía Blanca and continue by bus.
- 2 Neuquén railway station (Estación Neuquén).
- 3 Estación Terminal de Ómnibus de Neuquén (ETON). There are five main lines: one to the Northeast to Buenos Aires via Bahía Blanca, one to the North and Northwest reaching Jujuy, Salta or San Miguel de Tucumán via Córdoba, one to the North-West reaching Mendoza and San Juan, one to the South-East (Río Gallegos and Comodoro Rivadavia, some few services also go via Puerto Madryn) and one to the South-West (San Carlos de Bariloche and Esquel).
There are a few hotels and hostels near the bus station, the area is not really dangerous but a bit boring (having almost no gastronomy) and the city center offers more variety.
National Route 22 is the main long-distance highway and passes through the whole city from east to west. It connects Neuquén to Bahía Blanca to the east, where other highways part to Buenos Aires and the Atlantic Coast. It also connects Neuquén with Zapala, the Andean region and Chile to the west. From Córdoba and most cities of Northern Argentina, go via Santa Rosa and General Roca.
The city center is not too large and can be visited by foot. Buses are the main transportation in Neuquén city. Before boarding you must buy a bus card (SUBE, available at some kiosks for about US$1.50). It is also valid in Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities; if you bought one in Buenos Aires you can use it in Neuquén, too. Fares are about US$0.80 for a single ride, combinations are free.
Taxis and remises (similar to radio-taxis) are found throughout the city. The fare is about US$2 per km.
Neuquén has also some cycleways, the most important being one that crosses the city from the bus station bordering the railway, crossing the Central Park and reaching neighboring Cipolletti city.
Neuquén's museums are all free of charge and most of them are located in the Central Park. Here you can begin your walk through the city. A good idea is to move to the north on Avenida Argentina until the overlook at Balcón del Valle with nice sights of the valley, with a slight detour to points like the Government House and the modern district on Avenida Leloir.
- 1 Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes Neuquen, Calle Mitre y Santa Cruz, ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-8PM, Su 4PM-8PM. One of the largest and most important art museums of Southern Argentina, the MNBA exhibits a historic collection of Argentine and European paintings and exhibitions from contemporary artists. Free.
- 2 Sala Emilio Saraco, Av. Olascoaga (inside Central Park), ☏ . M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa Su 4PM-8PM. Small independent art gallery with expositions from local contemporary artists. Free.
- 3 Museo Paraje Confluencia, Independencia and Córdoba (inside Central Park, 100 m north of MNBA), ☏ . M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa Su 4PM-8PM. Neuquén's City Museum, with local history and geography. Small but nice, located inside an old railway building. Free.
- 4 Museo Gregorio Álvarez, San Martín 280 (in the western part of Central Park), ☏ . M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa Su 4PM-8PM. Located in a old railway building, Gregorio Alvarez Museum features exhibitions about culture, history and science in Neuquén, with a permanent exhibition about Mapuche culture. Free.
- 5 Capilla Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, Avenida Argentina (directly north of the Cathedral). Neuquén's oldest church, dating from 1907, is a small Neo-Classicist building.
- 6 Cathedral (Catedral María Auxiliadora), Avenida Argentina 150. Built in the 1960s, the cathedral combines Modernism with Historicism, with Neo-Romanic and Neo-Gothic influences.
- 7 Museo y Archivo Histórico Policial, Montevideo and Corrientes (south of Ruta 22). The Police Museum exhibits artifacts from police activity and history. Free.
- 8 Government House (Casa de Gobierno), Julio A. Roca 300-400. Built in 1923, the Government House is the largest building surviving from Neuquén's first decades. The building, typical for Argentine architecture of that time, has a clock tower, a Neo-Colonial patio and an eclectic facade that resembles a castle.
- Beaches. Neuquén offers good river beaches at the Limay river. For swimming, water and air temperature is fine from November to early April but lifeguards are operating between December 1 and March 15. Beware of the strong currents of the river. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular and possible the year round. Bathing in the Neuquén river is strongly discouraged because of dangerous waters. There are three main beaches and some others that are less well-known:
- 1 Río Grande beach (near the southern end of Olascoaga Avenue, 2 km south of the city center, bus lines 14 and 3 stop on Olascoaga/Purmamarca intersection). Pretty crowded at summer weekends, offers a beautiful view of the river and its islands and is bordered by a nice park. The currents are pretty strong here, although it's not dangerous if you stay near the beach.
- 2 Sandra Canale beach (near the end of Gatica street, about 3 km south-west of the center, bus line 17 reaches Gatica street, 500 m north of the beach). Quieter than Río Grande, it lies on an arm of the Limay river. It is recommended for families with children because the water is shallow, and has also a nice park area.
- 3 Albino Cotro beach (north-east of the Río Grande beach, on an arm of the Limay river, bus line 15 stops 200 m north of the beach.). It is the nearest bathing spot from the city center. Its installations are a bit run-down. In some years in the 2010s, bathing was forbidden because of pollution, so better ask.
- 4 Las Perlas beach (in Valentina Sur neighborhood, 10 km west of the city center, near the bridge to the suburb of Las Perlas, Bus line 102). It is beautifully located and the most natural of Neuquén's beaches, but surprisingly crowded at summer weekends.
- Walking. There are some interesting paths on the barda hills north of downtown, where you can explore semi-desertic landscapes with stony hills and small canyons at less than 2 km of the city center. Most of them begin at the northern end of Avenida Argentina, with beautiful views of the Neuquén river valley and the neighboring city of Cipolletti. Mountain biking is also possible in the area, only on one of the paths bicycles are forbidden. Another nice spot to walk is the Río Limay coastline, where you can walk on 1 Isla 132 (an island with a park) and between the Río Grande and Sandra Canale beaches.
- Theaters. Most theaters are located in the city centre, and there are some in the Alto and some in the Bajo areas.
- 5 Casino Magic, Teodoro Planas 4005 (located 500 m west of the bus station), ☏ , toll-free: 0800 666 2442. With hotel and restaurant.
- 1 Feria de Artesanos, Av. Argentina 100-300 and nearby streets. F-Su 6PM-9PM. The craft market is located at Argentina Avenue every weekend and is the largest in Argentine Patagonia. Near San Martín Monument musical exhibitions take place. Free.
Unlike the malls, the restaurants are concentrated in El Alto.
- ROTISERIA Ruben, Fray Luis Beltrán 2080, ☏ . Oversized sandwiches, potatoes, and other filling economically-priced options.
- Cervecería OSS, Fray Luis Beltrán 1041, ☏ . Brewpub with burgers and fries and that kind of food to go along with your favorite lager.
- El Boliche de Alberto "Parrilla", Juan Julián Lastra 1020, ☏ . For all your favorite grilled meats, plus some crazy cheese fries.
- Bambú Canting, Sarmiento 458, ☏ . For when you need a buffet and taste is not the most critical factor. Has squid anyway.
- La Casa de las Empanadas, Diagonal 9 de Julio 229, ☏ . Empanada zone, as you might expect.
- Hostal del Caminante. This is kind of more a banquet hall type of place.
Typical for Neuquén's nightlife are the various craft beer bars and shops. These bars are, however, relatively expensive.
- 1 Elita, Gobernador Elordi. Popular and nicely decorated resto bar with drinks, not too expensive.
- 2 Oid Mortales Beer & Wine, Belgrano 3437 (500 m north of the bus terminal). A small, nice bar offering craft beer and some simple dishes, not too expensive. One of the very few interesting bars in the west of the city, a good option for those sleeping near the bus terminal.
- 1 Hotel del Comahue, Avenida Argentina 377, ☏ . One of the most traditional and elegant hotels of Neuquén, in the center of the El Alto area.
- 2 DePaso Hostel, Sargento Cabral 975, ☏ . Hostel in the north of the city, in a quiet area just outside the center.
- 3 Hostel Punto Patagónico, Periodistas Neuquinos 97, ☏ . In the El Alto area, in a lively area with many university students, just north of one of the hotspots of Neuquén's night life.
WiFi is plentiful available at many common places, like cafés, restaurants and accommodations, and also at some public spaces like plazas, public buildings and libraries. A map of free WiFi locations is available at the website of the local government.
There are plenty of short trips you can start in Neuquén.
- Cipolletti (80,000 inhabitants), a pleasant town just 6 km east of Neuquén across the Neuquén river, with some good gastronomy and nightlife. Near the town the Alto Valle del Río Negro, with large fruit plantations, offers nice walks and bike tours and some pleasant river beaches.
- Cinco Saltos (30,000 inhabitants) with Lago Pellegrini, about 25 km north or Neuquén. The lake lies about 15 km outside of the town and has good beaches, it is perhaps not as beautiful as El Chocón, but with good infrastructure at the shoreline (although there is no accommodation directly at the lake). Crowded at summer weekends. The city of Cinco Saltos has an acceptable infrastructure, but is not really worth visiting; from Cinco Saltos to the lake there is no public transportation (besides taxis).
- General Roca (90,000 inhabitants), the second-largest city of Río Negro province, is located about 40 km east of Neuquén. Despite of having a reputation of being boring, it is a nice city with some historical architecture, a lively city center, pleasant and shady parks beside irrigation channels, several universities, a good Natural Sciences museum and a surprisingly rich cultural life with one of Argentina's largest art schools and several theaters and bars.
- El Chocón, a large reservoir and dam about 100 km south of Neuquén, with the Villa El Chocón small town at its shoreline. The lake is embedded in a beautiful landscape with reddish rocks and has some beaches - those near the town are pretty stony, but there are also sandy beaches west and south of the town (you'll need at least a bicycle to reach them). Several daily buses connect the lake with Neuquén. Villa El Chocón also has a Paleontological Museum showing fossils of large dinosaurs found in the area.