The city’s oldest barrio or neighborhood, San Telmo, Buenos Aires is a hot spot of sultry tango dancing, colonial architecture and lively street markets. It’s also considered the birthplace of tango; a dance which found its way onto the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. San Telmo remains an important district for learning about tango, which alongside gaucho culture, has become one of the most universally-recognized symbols of Argentina.
Believed to have developed from the milonga dance, tango includes African and European roots amongst its eclectic influences. Barrio San Telmo has historically been home to huge immigrant communities which amassed in the once lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, and the mixed ancestry of these residents was central in the creation of the tango in the late 1800s. Gaining international fame in 1913 when Argentine sailors arrived in Paris, it became a globally popular dance, but one which today still exists at the very heart of Argentina’s bohemian capital.
Best places to see tango dancing in San Telmo, Buenos Aires
There are many ways of experiencing tango in this cosmopolitan city. But watching tango dances in music halls or on café-lined plazas, or even taking a tango class at one of the many schools rank among the best things to do in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.
A Sunday evening tango performance in Plaza Dorrego
Often filled with dancers, Buenos Aires’ second oldest square, Plaza Dorrego, is a San Telmo highlight. Particularly on Sunday evenings, but more regularly during the sultry summer months, professional couples come here to dance. Accompanied by live music as the sun sets on the neighborhood, it’s an engrossing sight.
Tango shows in the San Telmo District
An abandoned colonial-era grocery, bought in 1969 by tango singer Edmundo Rivero, El Viejo Almacén has been hailed as helping to revive tango culture in the last few decades. Today, it remains one of the best-known tango music halls, and is open for organized tango shows most evenings.
Bar Sur is another location for experiencing a tango show in San Telmo. With only nine tables in the whole bar, it’s a cosy, atmospheric setting for admiring the sensual steps of the tango.
Another highlight of the tango scene in San Telmo is the Centro Cultural Torquato Tasso. Known in Argentina as an example of a milonga, this is a dance hall where young and old come to dance tango, and is one of the most famous in all of Buenos Aires. Used as the set of a number of tango films, this intimate milonga doesn’t offer shows, but instead recitals and concerts by renowned tango stars, after which the tables are cleared to allow the audience to dance tango.
Dance classes in the San Telmo neighborhood
The best way of getting to grips with the culture of tango is to try it yourself.
Escuela Mariposita is one of the best for starting with the basic steps or even for those with previous experience in tango. Run from an old mansion in San Telmo, it has tango classes for all levels, regular workshops and even intensive, week-long classes of tango.
What to do in San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Although tango is what draws the crowd to the San Telmo district, its charming streets are home to other attractions worth visiting.
Feria de San Pedro Telmo
The Fería de San Telmo is open from 10am-5pm every Sunday and sprawls over 10 blocks from Calle Defensa to Plaza Dorrego. Stalls here offer everything from antiques, handicrafts and souvenirs. An open-air market, its distinctive Argentine atmosphere is characterized by the street performances and tango dancers that grace its many cobbled streets.
San Telmo Food Market
Open all week, this market spans an entire block and offers fresh food and street food cooked on the spot, as well as a range of antiques for those with the patience to comb its extensive stalls.