One of the pleasures of Buenos Aires is its open-air markets (called mercados) or fairs (ferias), many of which combine shopping with entertainment. The bargains you'll find are often accompanied by the wonderful, romantic sights and sounds of tango. I've listed below just a few of the many open-air markets you can find all over the city.
The San Telmo Antiques Fair, which takes place every Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and later in summer, at Plaza Dorrego and spilling onto Calle Defensa, is a vibrant, colorful experience that will delight even the most jaded traveler, and has also become a place among locals to meet, befriend, and flirt with tourists. As street vendors sell their heirlooms, singers and dancers move amid the crowd to tango music. Among the hundreds of vendor stands, you'll find antique silversmith objects, porcelain, crystal, and other antiques. The fair is especially famous for tango performances that can go on into the late evening, even if most of the vendors themselves close up at 5pm. The star of the show is Pedro Benavente, the tall, dark, handsome dancer known as "El Indio," and you'll see his photos on sale throughout the city. This fair alone is worth scheduling a Sunday in San Telmo. More information can be found at www.feriadesantelmo.com.
Head to Cabildo Patio Feria when sightseeing in the Plaza de Mayo area. This fair is held on Thursday and Friday from 11am to 6pm in the small garden patio behind the Cabildo, or old city hall. You'll find lots of locally made crafts here, especially pottery, stained glass, and jewelry.
Considered the most authentic of the outdoor ferias in Buenos Aires, the Feria de Mataderos (tel. 11/4342-9629 or 11/4687-5602; www.feriademataderos.com.ar), also known as the Traditions and Artisans Fair, takes place April to December every Sunday from 11am to 8pm, and January to March Saturdays 6pm to 1am on the streets surrounding the intersection of Avenida de los Corales and Avenida Lisandro De La Torre. Mataderos, the name of the Buenos Aires neighborhood where it's held, literally means "slaughterhouses." This area still houses many of them, adding a genuine gaucho feel. The fair is full of music, dancing, and crafts.
Friday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm, the Madres hold the Feria de Madres de Plaza de Mayo in front of their headquarters overlooking Plaza Congreso. Children will also enjoy coming here, as it is next to the park's merry-go-round and other rides. The fair has antiques, crafts, food, and book vendors. Sometimes there is also live music. This is among the most casual and least touristy of all of the fairs, so it provides a chance to chat with locals while supporting a good cause.
The La Boca Fair is open every day from 10am to 6pm or sundown on the Caminito, the pedestrianized and art-filled thoroughfare in the heart of this neighborhood. It's the most touristy of all the fairs, and most of the items are terribly overpriced. Still, if you need tacky souvenirs in a hurry, you'll quickly get it done here. Tango singers and other street performers will keep your mind off the inflated prices. Safety has improved in La Boca, but tourists should leave the area at night when the police leave and the shops have closed.
Plaza Serrano Fair is at the small plaza at the intersection of Calle Serrano and Honduras, which forms the heart of Palermo Hollywood. Bohemian arts and crafts are sold here while dreadlocked locals sing and play guitars. Officially, the fair is held Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm, but impromptu vendors will also set up at night when the restaurants are crowded. Those very same restaurants will fold up their tables in the afternoon and fill the spaces with clothing racks for young designers who cannot afford their own boutiques. It's definitely worth a visit. Plaza Serrano is also sometimes called by its official name, Plazaleto Jorge Cortazar.
Recoleta Fair (Feria de Plaza Francia), which takes place Saturday and Sunday in front of Recoleta Cemetery from 10am until sunset, offers every imaginable souvenir and type of craft, in addition to food. This has become one of the city's largest fairs, completely taking over all the walkways and then some in the area, and even the Iglesia Pilar, Recoleta Cemetery's church, gets involved by setting up tables of postcards and religious souvenirs in its courtyard. Live bands sometimes play on whatever part of the hill is left vacant by vendors.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.