Flea Markets. There is always something for everyone. Whether you are an antique dealer, a hard-core collector or just enjoy browsing from aisle to aisle admiring the treasures, flea markets can be a great way to spend a few hours, a whole day or the better part of your vacation. These locations are worthy destinations all on their own, but they get bonus points for having well established flea markets.
It turns out that the City of Light is also where the Marché aux Puces, literally translated as flea market, was first introduced in the late 1800’s. The Puces Port Saint-Ouen, the queen mother of all markets, is the largest in the world. It is located on the northern edge of the city, the seven acre space houses over 2,000 permanent stalls.
Here you will find everything from bargains to top of the line French antiques, some even museum quality. Frequented by millions of visitors each year, this is the one flea market considered a tourist attraction all on its own. Each of the seventeen markets offers its own unique atmosphere and selection. Two markets not to miss are Paul Bert and Vernaison.
If you are looking for a smaller market with a friendly neighborhood feel, Porte de Vanves flea market fits the bill. Located on the Southwestern side of Paris in the 14th arrondissement, is a lively, second-hand, treasure trove frequented by locals. Every weekend of the year over 350 merchants blanket two tree-lined city blocks with objects, both antique and modern, including furniture, paintings, trinkets, militaria, photographs, books, glassware and other household items. The Vanves market is the place for a bargain in Paris and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Catherine Deneuve, who is a frequent shopper here!
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South of France
Many are drawn to the French countryside, specifically Provence, for its spectacular scenery, its lavender, its works from artists like Cezanne and its relaxed lifestyle. However, it is also a favorite destination for bargain hunters shopping for authentic French country antiques. Provence is home to hundreds of flea markets, also called Brocantes, in French. No matter when you go, there will always be a flea market happening somewhere in the South of France.
French linens, Provençal painted furniture, old iron garden furniture, lighting, paintings, French pharmacy jars and Provençal pottery are abundant in this region. Tourists, dealers and locals alike swarm this area like bees on honey. Popular villages like Aix-en-Provence, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Avignon are charming spots with busy weekend markets. Others have larger weekly markets that occur only a few times a year. Make one your home base and venture out into the more remote markets. Check the calendar before you plan your trip, to map out your game plan.
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This beautiful area of the Italian countryside is also littered with flea markets, or Mercatini dell’antiquariato, in Italian. Take some time away from your winery tour in Chianti and head to the tiny town of Arezzo. Made famous as the backdrop for scenes in the movie ‘Life is Beautiful’, Arezzo hosts the grandest market the first Sunday and preceding Saturday of every month. Known mainly for its hand-crafted furniture, more than 500 vendors come from all over Italy to set up in the cramped streets of Piazza Grande. But don’t worry, many smaller items like antique linens, jewelry, paintings, silver, books, ceramics and kitchen items can be found and are small enough to bring back with you. Don’t miss Piero della Francesca’s amazing frescos in the nearby church of San Francesco.
A bit further north, in Florence, you will find the Pulci Market on the Piazza dei Ciompi. Though advertised as open daily, you’ll find the best selection on the last Sunday of the month, when the most vendors are set up. This one is perfect for searching through the bric-a-brac and finding bargains on off the wall treasures. Stalls offer furniture, ceramics, chandeliers, paintings and books.
Cross the Arno River and head to the lively Piazza Santo Spirito, home to the Oltrarno flea market. Open the second Sunday of the month from 9am to 7pm, you’ll find second- hand furniture, household items, books and paintings. Don’t forget to grab some gelato along the way!
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The Big Apple is a city blessed with a vibe like no other and that rings true for the markets as well. If you want a break from the hustle and bustle, the crowds and designer price tags, head for the flea markets because New York won’t disappoint.
The big three are Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, The Garage and West 25th Street. All offer free admission and are open on both Saturday and Sunday, year round. Go early for the best deals on antiques, collectables and tons of vintage items including clothing and mid-century modern pieces. The Garage is a covered spot and is only a stones throw away from West 25th Street, so if you’re pressed for time and your tootsies are giving out, choose these last two.
The Pier Antiques Show offers higher quality pieces that command higher prices. But don’t let that stop you! An internationally known show that attracts celebs, designers and interior decorators alike, it’s limited to just two weekends per year, generally Spring and Fall. Over 500 exhibitors show up to Pier 94, which overlooks the Hudson River, and sells everything from jewelry, furniture, lighting and even vintage fashions. Admission is $15, but for this decidedly trendy show, it’s worth it.
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Voted the Best Flea Market in an SF Weekly 2006 Readers Poll is the Alemany Flea Market, right in the city, on Alemany and Putnam. Though they are open Wednesday to Sunday, opt for Sunday for the largest selection when the number of vendors climbs to 200. Hit this one early, as stuff is priced to move. Funky is a great way to describe the atmosphere here, which should come as no surprise, with vintage items like clothing, skull buttons, kitchen tools and other oddball ephemera.
Located a short drive from the City by the Bay, in Alameda, is Northern California’s largest flea market. The Alameda Point Antiques and Collectables Faire is an outdoor market with over 800 vendors. Strict guidelines require everything at the show to be at least twenty years old and original, not a reproduction. Though open year round, make sure to time your visit properly, as this market is only open the first Sunday of every month. This one is totally worth the drive!
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Belgium has waffles, chocolate, beer- and great outdoor flea markets, many of which can rival those in Paris! Its cultural melting pot makes it a great spot for unique market shopping at reasonable prices.
Brussels, a large and very cosmopolitan city, hosts a daily second-hand market on the Place du Jeu de Balle. 500 vendors in a cozy atmosphere sell their wares between 6am and 2pm, often out of boxes. Bargaining is expected here. For a more upscale market, try the chic Sablon Antiques Market, open both Saturday and Sunday. Pristine antiques in excellent condition are offered at top quality prices. This area is trendy and artistic and the perfect spot to watch life go by at a café after you’re finished treasure hunting.
The compact city of Brugge hosts a market set against a stunning backdrop of medieval architecture, lime trees and picture perfect canals. Some buildings date back to the 1400’s. Every Saturday and Sunday at Dijver you’ll find items such as zinc pots, stone urns, lace, chandeliers, silver, china and baskets. This one closes in the colder months from mid-November through mid-March, so plan accordingly. Make sure to sample the Belgian pancakes here.
Another option is Tongeren, the oldest city in Belgium. The Tongeren flea market is open on Sundays and is definitely for early birds- vendors are packing up by noon. If you are day tripping here, come the night before, sleep over and get up with the roosters for the best selection.
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Nestled in the Massachusetts countryside is a little town called Brimfield – Blink and you’ll miss it! But, three times a year in May, July and September this sleepy New England town springs to life as people from all over the world descend on the largest outdoor show in the country. The mile-long stretch, a sea of tents lining both sides of Route 20, has been around since 1959. Each six day long event boasts 5,000 dealers, covers between 3 and 5 acres, and offers anything from antique Victrolas to Civil War memorabilia and everything in between. Let’s just say, “If you can’t find it at Brimfield, you can’t find it!”
Stay in nearby Sturbridge, a town steeped in American history, where you will find Old Sturbridge Village, Yankee Workshop and Bed & Breakfasts with loads of country charm.
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For Brits, their beloved capital is the center of everything, but the rest of us know it as home to a famous clock, a nursery rhyme bridge, a royal residence, Bangers and Mash, and Cockney accents. Despite its high prices and less than stellar cuisine (sorry Mr. Ramsay) tourists still flock to London. The abundance of varied covered outdoor and street markets are just one of the reasons.
In existence since 1855, the Portabello Road Market, located in Notting Hill, is the crème de la crème of antique markets. 2,000 vendors set up every Saturday from 6am till noon, selling books, lace, china, music, vintage clothing and bric-a-brac. Go on an empty stomach, as this one has great food vendors as well!
The Bermondsey Market, also known as the Caledonian Market, is a 50 year old market located in South London. Open only Friday mornings, 500 traders set up shop at 5am. Silver, china, household items, knick-knacks and furniture can be found here, though not at rock bottom prices.
Camden Passage is also worth a visit. This 40 year old antique village is home to 300 shops lining a charming pedestrian street. The best times to visit are Wednesday and Saturday mornings. This is a favorite for designers, dealers and collectors alike.
Oh, and an empty suitcase for hauling back your newfound treasures!
About the author
Read more about markets:
- Traditional Markets in Latin America
- 7 Great German Christmas Markets That Aren’t In Germany
- Eight of the World’s Best Food Markets
- Markets of Europe: In Photos
- 8 Great Shopping Destinations Around the World
Photo credits:Porte de Vanves market in Paris by Dorenrof Claudius on Flickr , Provence market by psmithy on Flickr , Tuscany market by magro_kr on Flickr , Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market by IseFire on Flickr, San Francisco flea market by sfbike on Flickr , Bruges Market by rosebennet on Flickr , Brimfield market by junepapercups on Flickr , Portabello Market London by Nicholas Lativy on Flickr