8 must-visit flea markets around the globe
From rare antiques to unique treasures, here are some of the best international flea markets to test your bargaining skills.
If you want to experience a culture firsthand, there's perhaps no better place to do it than the local flea market. Under sky or canvas, a country's entire history can be perused – with antiques, vintage clothing and literature all available at sometimes bargain prices. Complementing this experience is a menagerie of sights and sounds from restaurants, food stands and street buskers; as well as the occasional coffee shop to relax and soak in the moment.
Below are eight flea markets from around the world not to be missed in your world travels. Remember to carry cash, brush up on your negotiating, and always bring an extra suitcase.
Portobello Road Flea Market, London
The bustling crowds of Portobello Road in London, the world's largest antiques market. (Photo: Garry Knight/Flickr)
Considered to be the world's largest antiques market, London's Portobello Road offers an exhaustive selection of items from more than 2,000 dealers – as well as copious stands for fresh fruits, vegetables and all of the British delicacies one could possibly want. Originally a farmer's market in the early 19th century, the space evolved in the 1940s and '50s to include antiques and is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary. Treasure hunters seeking the beautiful to the unusual and rare will find all manner of items from centuries beyond, as well as many shops offering more modern wares and fashion.
According to fashion designer Olivia Rubin, the best time to hit the antique market on Saturday is at 10 a.m., giving you plenty of time to scope out the selections before the crowds arrive. Also, be sure to bring some cash in advance. Apparently, there's only one ATM – and the line can get out of hand.
Braderie de Lille Flea Market, France
A small portion of the more than 10,000 stands available during the Braderie de Lille flea market in Lille, France. (Photo: vacation2/Flickr)
There are flea markets, and then there's France's Braderie de Lille Flea Market, a 33-hour nonstop swarm of 10,000 stalls dotting over 62 miles of roads and drawing close to 2.5 million people. The annual event, which usually happens on the first weekend of September in Lille, France, dates back to the 12th century, making it the oldest and largest flea market in all of Europe.
In addition to the antiques and treasures, the food at Braderie (French for "sell at low price") is also worth sampling. The mussel, in particular, has become intertwined with the event, with all of Lille's restaurants selling the clams. According to The Good Life France, "each restaurant participates in an unofficial competition to see which one is able to build the highest pile of empty mussel shells."
Jaffa Flea Market, Israel
Jaffa Flea Market (Photo: israeltourism/Flickr)
Nestled in the small alleyways of the ancient port city of Jaffa, this eponymous flea market is known for its secondhand goods, antiques, gorgeous art, enticing sounds and smells, and a wondrous mix of old and new that leaves an impression on all who visit.
The market is divided into three areas that branch out like the spokes of a wheel from the beautiful Jaffa Clock Tower. Antiques, jewelry and oriental rugs comprise the main street; vintage clothing and souvenirs can be discovered in the covered alleys; and secondhand items are located within the open section. There has also been an uptick in the amount of restaurants and art galleries in the area. Plan for a full day to enjoy a true Mediterranean shopping experience, followed by fine dining in the area's bistros, taverns, and legendary ice cream shops.
El Rastro Flea Market, Madrid
The El Rastro Flea Market in Madrid features over 3,500 stalls selling low-cost items. (Photo: PromoMadrid/Flickr)
Featuring more than 3,500 different stalls, the El Rastro flea market in Madrid is steeped in both the culture and history of Spain. Its earliest origins can be drawn back to gypsies who once sold their wares from southern provinces. Today, unlike some of the other markets on our list, it remains a true bargain hunter's flea market – with antiques and rare treasures dominated along the main thoroughfares by more recent clothing, jewelry, posters, shoes, electric gadgets and much more.
Remember to arrive early, bring cash, and keep your valuables safe. The El Rastro is notorious for pickpocketers drawn to the large crowds.
5. Brimfield Antiques Market, Brimfield, Mass.
The Brimfield Antiques Market appeals to both old and young generations with an eclectic mix of unique treasures and upcycled creations. (Photo: 6SN7/Flickr)
For three separate week-long stretches every year, the small town of Brimfield, Mass., (pop. 3,500) plays host to over 5,000 dealers and tens of thousands of bargain hunters. Unlike the cramped streets of other famous markets, Brimfield takes place within 21 country fields spanning 3-5 acres each, making it the largest outdoor antiques market in the northeast U.S.
While the antiques business is still very much a part of the attraction of Brimfield, the scene is also starting to feature more up-cycled items that appeal to more modern tastes and younger generations. “People want different. They want weird,” Molli Kirkpatrick, a 23-year-old seller, told the Boston Herald. “The old-time dealers say, ‘It’s not really an antique,’ but that’s not what it’s about anymore.”
Interested in making your own discoveries at Brimfield? Plan ahead (the hotels and area B&Bs fill up fast) and arrive early. According to one site, to get a better price, it's also best not to dress to impress. "Watch what you wear – don't overdress," it recommends. "The trick is to look pretty much like everyone else."
6. Long Beach Outdoor Antique Market, California
Organizers of the Long Beach Antiques Market enforce a strict 20-year rule, so antique hunters can be assured what they're browsing is at least from the early '90s. (Photo: Long Beach Antiques Market)
If you want to be sure the antiques market you're visiting isn't inundated with newer items, check out the scene at Long Beach. Managers Lynn and Donald Moger maintain a strict 20-year rule on all booths, giving you a wide range of items from the very old to the early '90s. You'll also have a lot of ground to cover, with more than 800 sellers spread across 20 acres. Vintage furniture finds are reportedly very good here, as well as affordable, one-of-a-kind items. Bonus: The market is located in close proximity to the beach, so refreshing sea breezes and decent weather should be expected.
7. Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris
One of the largest and most famous flea market in all of Europe, Les Puces de Saint Ouen covers nearly 18 acres. (Photo: ParisSharing/Flickr)
Covering nearly 18 acres in Paris, the flea market at Les Puces de Saint-Ouen also lays claim to being one of the largest antique markets in the world. Between 120,000 and 180,000 visitors each weekend browse the items being offered by some 2,500 sellers. The entire layout is often compared to that of a small city, with 14 submarkets dedicated to whatever genre of antiques you're interested in.
Like other flea markets, your best chance at finding some rare treasure will happen by going early and knowing what part of the market to target first. Thankfully, most dealers accept credit cards, so you won't have to carry wads of cash around with you all day.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
The Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok is the largest market in Southeast Asia and one of the largest in the world, with nearly 10,000 stalls covering 35 acres. (Photo: Adam Kahtava/Flickr)
Offering both old and new items, the Chatuchak is the largest in all of Southeast Asia – with an estimated 8,000-10,000 vendors covering more than 35 acres. Some 200,000 people descend on the area each weekend, purchasing everything from antique wood chests and vintage clothing to modern fashion, rare silks and even exotic animals.
Divided into 27 themed sections, your best bet (like Paris's Les Puces de Saint-Ouen) is to plan ahead and target those that interest you; lest you wander aimlessly until your feet fall off. As Lonely Planet warns, the place is also something of a labyrinth (with a layout resembling, as they put it, a plate of pad thai noodles) so if you see something you really love, don't put off buying it until later. Chances are, you won't be able to retrace your steps!
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