Argentina

Exploring the San Telmo Market & Street Fair in Buenos Aires

Two of my very favorite things to do during our month in Buenos Aires were to 1) eat at the San Telmo Market, and 2) wander the giant San Telmo Sunday Street Fair. San Telmo is one of Buenos Aires’ most popular and historic neighborhoods, and is conveniently located just south of the city center. Every visitor to Buenos Aires will certainly spend time in San Telmo, exploring its antique shops and clothing stores, perusing its art galleries, eating in its restaurants, and perhaps even taking in a tango show.

But at the very epicenter of this neighborhood is the indoor San Telmo Market, which welcome shoppers and diners everyday. This is where I consistently ate the best food in Buenos Aires.

And then on Sundays, the neighborhood hosts a massive street fair – the Feria de San Telmo. It’s the largest, most chaotic street event I’ve ever seen. If you are in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you absolutely must go. Let me tell you more about these two great things to do in San Telmo.

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A Brief History of San Telmo

A street corner building in San Telmo across from Plaza Dorrego

In the late 1500s, Buenos Aires was founded by Spanish Conquistadors along the banks of the La Plata River in the area that is now San Telmo. As the fledgling city grew and expanded, San Telmo evolved into a working class neighborhood – home to ship workers and laborers. However, in the 19th century, the city’s aristocrats moved into San Telmo, building large colonial-style homes along the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets.

In 1871, yellow fever hit San Telmo, killing over 10,000 people, and those wealthier residents moved to safer parts of the city (away from the water). The homes they left behind were turned into tenement housing for the wave of immigrants coming from Europe at the time. Multiple families were packed into single homes, living in extremely unsanitary and cramped conditions.

Through the 1900s, with improving economic conditions, the neighborhood evolved again, and became more of a haven for artists, who brought with them a bohemian vibe, and turned the neighborhood into what it is today.

The building in the picture below is a great example of San Telmo’s evolution. It’s the Pasage de la Defensa. First, home to one of Buenos Aires wealthiest families, then a tenement home to multiple immigrant families, and now a restored space filled with boutiques and cafes.

Inside the Pasage de la Defensa in San Telmo

The San Telmo Market

One of the focal points for this now-vibrant San Telmo neighborhood is the San Telmo Market. This indoor market occupies an entire city block, and was founded in 1897 to serve the needs of the local residents.

The facade of the San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires

Now, it mainly serves the culinary and shopping needs of Buenos Aires visitors…

Diners inside the San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires

And I’ll admit that converted markets like this – markets that can cater to tourists – are sometimes best avoided. The food can be less than authentic and overpriced. And the shopping can be a souvenir jungle.

However, not so with the San Telmo Market. It really is more of a giant food hall than anything. You’ll find a few shops, but dining establishments rule here (and the interior is pretty cool – retaining a lot of its original character).

And the food we ate at the San Telmo Market was great. Some of the best of our entire time in Buenos Aires. And not overpriced either – again a common expectation for this sort of place. Same prices as elsewhere in the city. I’ll share my favorite San Telmo Market eats further below in the post.

The San Telmo Sunday Street Fair

Every Sunday, the streets of San Telmo play host to what is the biggest street event I’ve ever personally attended – the Feria de San Telmo (Fair of San Telmo). It’s unquestionably the best thing to do in Buenos Aires on Sunday. We visited twice during our month in the city.

One of the main north-south streets through San Telmo – Defensa Street – is shut down to motor traffic and converted into an outdoor marketplace. A multitude of stalls are set up along Defensa and many of its side streets. Street performers provide a variety of entertainment. And thousands of people show up – locals and tourists alike. The Fair runs from 10am to 6pm (though as with most things in Buenos Aires, it doesn’t really get going to its fullest until after 12). Here’s a look at what we found…

Shopping

Stalls as far as the eye can see. The fair covers at least 12 city blocks along Defensa Street. Maybe even further. We honestly never made it all the way to the end. And people. Lots and lots of people. Not the place for an agoraphobic to browse.

Crowds of people at the San Telmo Sunday Street Fair

The stalls are filled with all kinds of stuff – local crafts, mate cups, leather goods, jewelry, artwork, first hand clothes, second hand clothes, and more. As you might expect given the sheer number of stalls, there was some redundancy in the goods being sold, but nevertheless, there was still a surprising variety of things to look at. And the quality of goods at the San Telmo Fair was by far the best of all the weekly markets we visited in Buenos Aires (the weekend markets in Recoleta and Palermo Soho).

A mate vendor at the San Telmo Sunday Street Fair

The San Telmo Street Fair is also famous for its antiques market. Just two blocks south of the San Telmo Market, you’ll find San Telmo’s main square – Plaza Dorrego. And during the Sunday Fair, this Plaza is turned into the city’s best antiques market with even more stalls lined up throughout the square. Clearly there are lots of things to buy in San Telmo on Sundays!

Booths line the Plaza Dorrego at the Feria de San Telmo

Street Performers

During the Fair, as you meander up and down Defensa Street, you will find a variety of street performers from block to block, and down some of the side streets too. Music interests me much more than shopping, so I loved stopping to listen to the various musicians.

A street side guitar player on Defensa Street at the Feria de San Telmo

Street musicians in Buenos Aires

Plus there were dancers too. Like this one dancing Spanish Flamenco…

A street side flamenco dancer at a street fair in Buenos Aires

But this is Argentina. And Tango is the dance of this country. So as you might expect, you will see plenty of tango at the Feria de San Telmo. In fact, Tango was invented in these very working class neighborhoods during the late 19th century. And many of the cities best tango venues are in San Telmo.

We found tango dancers performing for tips in empty spaces between market stalls…

Tango dancers on the street at Feria de San Telmo

Tango Dancers in between market stalls at the San Telmo Sunday Street Fair in Buenos Aires

And in the southwest corner of Plaza Dorrego, opposite all the antique stalls, you’ll find a makeshift stage where a group of dancers performed intermittently throughout the day (and reportedly continue into the evening after the market stalls have been disassembled).

Tango Dancers in Plaza Dorrego during the Feria de San Telmo

We felt that we saw enough Tango during our two visits to the Street Fair. However, if you would like a more extensive Tango experience in Buenos Aires, then be sure check out these tango opportunities on Viator:

Street Eats

Food is usually a highlight of any street fair, but I disappointingly didn’t see much street food at the Feria de San Telmo during our two visits. We passed a few vendors selling sweet treats. And there were a couple of makeshift places selling choripan. Choripan is the favorite street food of Argentina – a sausage (chorizo), split in half and grilled, served on a crusty bun with chimichurri sauce.

Street side Choripan in Buenos Aires

But most eating at the Fair seemed to happen at the San Telmo Market or in the many street-side restaurants.

Quieter Diversions

As you can see, the San Telmo Street Fair is chaotic. And it is easy to spend an entire afternoon exploring everything there is to see. But if you need a break from the crowds, or find yourself suffering from market stall fatigue, here’s two great ideas for a quieter diversion in San Telmo.

El Zanjon De Granados

El Zanjan de Granados is one of the aristocratic 19th century San Telmo houses that’s been fully restored and turned into a museum & event center. Tours are given throughout the day, and it’s one of the best ways to gain an understanding of San Telmo’s history. It’s located directly on Defensa Street and, as you can see in the picture below, is right in the thick of things on Sundays (it’s the white building).

The outside of El Zanjan de Granados during the San Telmo Sunday Street Fair

Its history is similar to the history of San Telmo that I previously outlined. It was first built by one of Buenos Aires’ wealthy merchant families in the 1800s. Then it was turned into tenement housing for multiple immigrant families after the yellow fever outbreak. It was then abandoned and ultimately purchased in the later 20th century with the goal of turning it into a restaurant.

During the remodel, a series of tunnels were discovered underneath the building. Turns out these long-forgotten tunnels had been constructed in the 1800s to help direct two small rivers that ran through San Telmo, underneath the city, and out to the much larger La Plata River Estuary.

And in fact, these two rivers intersected directly underneath this house. So, the “basement” is a series of tunnels.

Rather than turning the property into a restaurant, the current owner ultimately decided to restore the old house to its former glory and cleaned up the tunnels. It’s now a museum and a popular event center (it’s much larger than it looks on the outside).

One of the interior courtyards of El Zanjan de Granados in Buenos Aires

One of the tunnels underneath El Zanjan de Granados in Buenos Aires

We took the hour-long mid-afternoon tour on one of our Fair days. And I highly recommend it. The tunnels are amazing and the history you’ll learn of both the building, and of San Telmo, is truly fascinating. You can find more information about the tour on their website.

Bar El Federal – A Bares Notable

For another peak into San Telmo’s history, you should also considering ducking into Bar El Federal. This is one of the eighty-six Bares Notables found in Buenos Aires, and is located just one block west of the San Telmo Market. The Bares Notables are so-designated due to their historical significance, and date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The outside of Bar El Federal in Buenos Aires

Bar El Federal is the second oldest Bar Notable and was founded in 1864. Once you step inside, you’ll see that it oozes historic character.

The inside bar at Bar El Federal in Buenos Aires

We spent an hour at Bar El Federal late one Sunday afternoon, relaxing with one of their inexpensive cocktails.

Depending on where your San Telmo wanderings take you, you can hang out in a couple of other Bares Notables as well. These included Bar Britanico and El Hipopótamo.

Here’s a great overview by another blogger about several of these historic Buenos Aires bars and cafes.

Food in San Telmo

I’ve already mentioned how much we enjoyed the food inside San Telmo Market. But it wasn’t just the Market. The whole San Telmo neighborhood is a great place to eat in Buenos Aires.

I personally found the Market itself much too crowded on Sunday street fair day…

Sunday crowds at the San Telmo Market

It was far less chaotic to visit on other days of the week. Consequently, we discovered some other great places to eat in San Telmo on Sundays.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite dining both at the San Telmo Market and in its immediate surroundings.

Cafe Rivas

Cafe Rivas is located in one of San Telmo’s classic corner buildings just one block away from the Fair. It’s small, so you’ll want to get there early. We arrived on Sunday shortly after 12pm. We were first in, but it had completely filled with patrons by the time we finished. And in a city where seafood can be really hard to find on many menus, their bacon-wrapped shrimp and Dover sole filet were so very welcomed by this seafood-lover.

Cafe Rivas in San Telmo Buenos Aires

Bacon-wrapped shrimp at Cafe Rivas in Buenos Aires

El Banco Rojo

I’ve written elsewhere about the food in Argentina – about how it’s certainly one of the most red meat-centric diets in the world. So if you are visiting for an extended time like we were, you will need a break from all the meat. I already mentioned how welcomed the shrimp at Cafe Rivas was. You can also find lighter fare in San Telmo at El Banco Rojo, located less than a block away from the Market.

While it’s a burger joint, they have other food too. Including vegetarian options. And it’s excellent. We ate falafel tacos, and an unusual but tasty chicken salad that feature seasoned potatoes as its base instead of greens.

Falafel tacos and chicken salad at El Banco Rojo in Buenos Aires

El Hornero

Emapadas are ubiquitous in Argentina. And they are delicious. You can get them baked or fried, and common fillings include beef, chicken, spinach/cheese, and creamed corn. El Hornero is located inside the San Telmo Market and is renowned for their great Empanadas. Just take a look at those beauties!

Empandas lined up on the counter at El Hornero in the San Telmo market

La Choripaneria

Another popular and excellent eatery inside the San Telmo Market is La Choripaneria. I mentioned the choripan before – the only street food I saw at the Fair. But it’s not just a street food. You can find many restaurants in Buenos Aires that serve choripan too. And Choripaneria is generally considered one of the best.

Diners lined up along the bar at Choripaneria at the San Telmo market

The menu here features many different types of choripan and you can choose from either pork or lamb chorizo. The chorizo is grilled in full view behind the bar, and then served with a couple of different tasty sauces. Below is a photo of my “Patagonia” choripan featuring lamb chorizo, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and arugula.

A Patagonia Choripan at Choripaneria

Hierro Parrilla

You cannot visit Buenos Aires without eating at a Parrilla. Actually, you cannot visit Buenos Aires without eating at several Parrillas. These are the Argentine steak houses so beloved by the locals. And where you will certainly eat some of the world’s best steak. We ate at several excellent parrillas in Buenos Aires, but our favorite was Hierro Parrilla, located right in the center of the San Telmo Market.

And lots of other people love it too – it’s the #3 ranked restaurant in Buenos Aires on Tripadvisor.

It’s a simpler place when compared to a lot of the other parrillas around town, which can sometimes be quite fancy with linen table clothes and tie-wearing waiters. Hierro Parrilla is much more informal, and if you are lucky, you’ll get a seat at the bar where you can watch the grillmaster cook and prepare one order after another. It’s a great show.

The grill master adjusting the grill at Hierro Parrilla in the San Telmo Market

But don’t let the informality of the place or the market location fool you. The quality of the meat and the service are both outstanding. Mrs. TT – a true steak connoisseur – declared this ribeye from Hierro Parilla the best steak she has ever eaten.

A ribeye steak from Hierro Parrilla

And they also serve some pretty awesome choripan too. Like this one covered in roasted tomatoes and chimichurri.

A Choripan from Hierro Parrilla

Hierro Parrilla at the San Telmo Market was our favorite place to eat during our entire time in Buenos Aires

Final Thoughts

Clearly, it should now be evident that there’s a lot going on in San Telmo. The San Telmo Market is one of the great places to eat in Buenos Aires. The San Telmo neighborhood is full of history and character. And the San Telmo Sunday Street Fair is an unmissable event when you visit this great city.

So don’t miss it!

If you want to read about more great things to do in Buenos Aires, then check out these posts:

11 Photos That Will Convince You To Visit Buenos Aires

Learning to Drink Mate in Buenos Aires

Exploring Famous Evita Sites in Buenos Aires

If you want to read about other great activities we’ve found around the world, then check out these posts:

Lisboa Em Fado – A Glimpse into the Portuguese Soul

Hiking an Ancient Byzantine Road on Paros Island Greece

Why A Palenque Tour is the Best Day Trip from Cartagena Colombia

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