During my time in Buenos Aires, my friend and I visited numerous open-air markets that the Argentine capital is so famous for, but the two I enjoyed most were the Recoleta Fair and the San Telmo Antiques Fair. They’re extremely different from one another so if you only have time to visit one, it’s important to know which is best for you!
Best for younger people and families, individuals looking for that unique Buenos Aires souvenir and those with limited time.
Younger people & families: Let’s face it, excepting a small percentage of individuals, “antiques” are more of an older person thing (I consider vintage to be entirely separate). So for the most part, younger people and families would more enjoy an open-air market that sells every craft and souvenir imaginable, along with plenty of food options. Craving an empanada-the Recoleta Fair has you covered. And empanadas are just about the best food to feed your child-dough and typically a bland filling. When I visited there were numerous tourists browsing the wares but there were also plenty of locals doing their shopping too. It takes place on Plaza Francia, right by some pretty gorgeous green space, so when you’re done shopping you have the chance to relax, have a picnic, kick around a soccer ball just like the locals do. It’s a great place to check off multiple things from the to-do list (shop, play tourist, relax, eat).
Individuals looking for that unique Buenos Aires souvenir: While Argentina isn’t known for its crafts like Peru and Ecuador are, there are still some pretty skilled artisans who sell their wares right in the capital, including at the Recoleta Fair. Since I visited almost seven years ago, I’ve long since forgotten what I purchased but recall there were plenty of beautiful handmade wares for sale. Artwork, clothing (wool sweaters and jackets were particularly lovely), and mate gourds and cups were what I most remember. For anyone not familiar-mate is one of Argentina’s most famous drinks. It’s a caffeine-rich infused drink traditionally poured into a carved gourd and then sipped with a bombilla, which is a straw. Many of the mate gourds that I saw had been elaborately carved. I didn’t get one as I didn’t care for the taste of mate but now wish I had just bought one anyway!
Those with limited time: As its name implies, the Recoleta Fair takes place in Recoleta, home to the very impressive Recoleta Cemetery (also the final resting place of a certain Argentine first lady). If you only have a day or so in Buenos Aires, you can kill two birds with one stone by visiting the cemetery, then also getting some shopping done and sampling some local eats. You’re not having to go out of your way to visit a market since it’s near one of the city’s most famous attractions.
San Telmo Antiques Fair
Best for antique lovers, tango aficionados, individuals with copious amount of suitcase space (or don’t mind spending large amounts of money to ship articles home), travelers who speak enough Spanish to be able to haggle in the language.
Antique lovers: What can I say? Brass candlesticks and stemware just don’t excite me unless they belonged to my ancestors. However, I know some people go crazy over antiques to either buy for themselves or later sell, so San Telmo would be a pretty cool place to visit. There were a ton of booths there and yes, I know that sometimes it’s antiques fairs where a person ends up getting that one in a million find all for mere dollars.
Tango lovers: It’s hard to go anywhere in Buenos Aires and not encounter a tango street performance (especially in the tourist areas where the locals know tourists are obsessed with tango even if they can’t dance a lick of it themselves). However, at San Telmo tango performances (singing and dancing) take place among the booths so as you’re haggling over that prized 1940s era typewriter (well, I hope you wouldn’t be foolish enough to try to cart home a typewriter), tango will be going on in the background…just an fyi. The market is known for this. It is something that the Recoleta Fair does not have (at least consistently).
Individuals with copious amounts of suitcase space or bottomless wallets to ship articles home: With the exception of some antiques, people’s junk treasures are usually of the bulky variety so you’re going to need large amounts of suitcase space to fit in that Delft pitcher. Alternatively, shipping something home will probably also cost a fair amount of money. But to each his own!
Travelers who speak enough Spanish to be able to haggle: When I’ve shopped in open-air markets in other countries, I’ve for the most part always given the asking price. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I haven’t been to countries where haggling is taken very seriously (i.e. India and China for starters). When I visited San Telmo, I was playing more the part of the tourist taking everything in (I didn’t buy anything) so I can’t comment on the whole buying experience there. However, I would think that if you spoke Spanish (convincingly I mean), you would have a better time of getting a fair price for the article you’re interested in versus not knowing a lick and maybe being charged too much.
The verdict? In my opinion the Recoleta Fair is more fun for tourists. San Telmo will definitely offer you more of a local’s experience simply because not too many tourists scour the pavement for antiques when traveling (unless they’re in the business of course). However, if you have the time to visit both, do so. Recoleta Fair takes place every Saturday and Sunday whereas San Telmo only takes place on Sunday, so fortunately you will not have to choose if you don’t really want to!