Buenos Aires “Must Do”
Spending a Sunday in and around Plaza Dorrego is one of the few things that ranks as a ‘must do’ sightseeing attraction for visitors to Buenos Aires. On the seventh day of the week, when the rest of the city is resting, the city closes much of neighboring Defensa street to traffic, and this part of San Telmo explodes into a mass of around 8,000 people, locals and tourists alike. They come to peruse antiques and knick knacks, watch the outdoor tango dancing and other performers, sit for a coffee or beer outside a classic old cafe, or just aimlessly wander around the interesting chaos. This, more or less, is the Plaza Dorrego Sunday market, also known as the Feria de San Telmo.
Some San Telmo History
Plaza Dorrego is one of the oldest public spaces in the city, dating back to the 18th century, when it was an area reserved for the wagons that brought in produce to Buenos Aires from all over the country. Just before the turn of the 19th century it was turned into a public square. The coffee shops and bars surrounding the Plaza only sprung up in the 1930s, when it became an area for wine, song and dance, as it remains today. Bar Plaza Dorrego is the most famous of these establishments, with its lovely old wooden fixtures and counter, although the former has been etched with graffiti over the years – but then many would say this adds to its charm.
Plaza Dorrego Sunday Market / Feria de San Telmo
The market started in 1970, and it is still going strong with more than 270 stands offering antiques, phonographs, period clothes, jewelery, old books, crafts items and other knickknacks. It is open on Sundays from around 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. While this fair is going on, Argentine tango and folklore singers and dancers, and other performers, put on outdoor shows throughout the day.
If you have no more than a casual interest in tango, then Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday is an excellent time and place to enjoy an introductory sampling of the dance, if you don’t want to go full-out and pay for a proper Tango dinner-show in Buenos Aires. Also, in the late afternoon and early evening, after the stalls begin to pack up, free impromptu outdoor Tango lessons are often given in Plaza Dorrego, which can be quite good fun if you are not ashamed of making a fool of yourself in public.
If you don’t want to get that involved, it is nice just to sit at one of the bars that surround the Plaza and take in the action from there, while partaking of your favorite liquid refreshment.
Initially the outdoor market was antiques only. These days, to cater for visitors, all kinds of other knick knacks and local crafts are available in addition to the more expensive antiques. But despite this small change in the outdoor market away from tradition, this area of San Telmo still remains very much the antiques quarter of Buenos Aires.
San Telmo Indoor Market
Keeping up the antiques theme, nearby to Plaza Dorrego, surrounded by the streets Bolívar, Carlos Calvo, Defensa, and Estados Unidos, is the San Telmo Indoor Market, a massive iron structure built back in 1897, which fills the whole block. Back then it was a produce market, but when the outdoor fair started in 1970, it soon shifted to antiques, and these days it is just as interesting to wonder around as the outdoor version. It is also quite poignant to see a few of the food produce stalls holding on to their past trade, side-by-side with the antiques. Some of the smells are not what you would usually expect when looking at such valuable old pieces.
The nearby street of Defensa is also full of antique shops, most of which contain items far out of many tourists’ price range. However, they still make for a nice spot of window shopping, looking through the Argentine and European period pictures, 18th and 19th century furniture, jewelry, colonial silver and classic toys. In fact, this area of San Telmo is now considered one of the most important antiques centers in the whole of Latin America. And yet strangely, there seems to be an obsession with selling plain old soda siphons, as pictured below (although actually, they can be quite beautiful when many different colored siphons are all displayed together on one stall).
Whether or not you do buy anything, you are still sure to have a great time in and around Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday – a true Buenos Aires experience.
Location of Plaza Dorrego
Corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo, San Telmo