Buenos Aires Stories and Tips

San Telmo

Russian church Photo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

We were seduced by the crumbling facades and cobbled streets of this neighbourhood. It was once the up-market area of the city and after years of neglect it is once more slowly being gentrified. We enjoyed exploring and if we were antique lovers, this would have been heaven.

San Telmo is the oldest neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. It is a well-preserved area and is characterized by its colonial buildings. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line the cobblestone streets, which on weekends are often filled with artists and dancers. San Telmo's attractions include old churches, museums, antique stores and a semi-permanent antique fair (Feria de Antiguedades) in the main public square, Plaza Dorrego.

San Telmo became the most multicultural neighborhood in Buenos Aires in the late 19th-century, home to large communities of British, Galician, Italian and Russian-Argentines. The large numbers of Russians in San Telmo and elsewhere in Buenos Aires led to the consecration of Argentina's first Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. This is well worth seeing. The area suffered badly during the early 20th-century and some of it became derelict. San Telmo's bohemian air began attracting local artists after upwardly mobile immigrants left the area. Growing cultural activity resulted in the opening of the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art by critic Rafael Squirru in 1956, as well as in the 1960 advent of the "Republic of San Telmo," an artisan guild which organized art walks and other events.

Buenos Aires is the home of the tango. Ask anyone in San Telmo, and they’ll tell you that the dance was born there (although you’ll get the same answer in La Boca, and elsewhere). The best way to experience tango is by taking classes or going to a tango show. Tango shows take place in special restaurants, where you pay one price for a meal and a display of dance and music. The tango dancers are artists and athletes, and the shows are marvellous.

If you are into antiques San Telmo is where to go. The main street, Calle Defensa, is lined with antique shops. There are literally dozens of them, selling every sort of antique imaginable, from shiny old brass locks to books to old gaucho knives. There are some antique stalls in the San Telmo market as well. The best time to walk around San Telmo is either on Saturday or Sunday, as the main streets are closed to traffic. It's true that at the weekend it becomes a tourist spot, but you'll also get to see one of the best antiques markets in town, as well as a small army of street performers singing and dancing tango.

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