This little tourist went to market...
Some of Europe's top markets and areas for street vendors
For the most fun shopping anywhere in Europe, head to an outdoor market. It may be the fruit and vegetable market open each morning, the daily leather market stalls of Florence, the weekly antique market of London's Portobello Road, Madrid's El Rastro flea market, or the monthly antiques extravaganza in Arezzo. Even non-shoppers will have fun exploring street markets. Shoppers will find great bargains.
Market stalls are where you'll find the most colorful characters (among merchants and shoppers alike), the best deals, the widest variety of goods (from fine art to used plumbing supplies), and the best chances to haggle.
Markets are also where you'll find the most attempts to fleece the unsuspecting tourist, the most cunningly disguised Gucci or Hermés knock offs (although, if all you want to buy is an imitation, this is perfect), and the potentially shoddiest merchandise.
Aside from commerce, markets are also great for taking pictures, soaking up local character, decompressing from too many museums, and getting cleaned out by pickpockets in the crowd. Have fun; be careful.
One of the odd synchronicities of the Universe is that flea markets are actually called "flea" markets in many different languages: marché aux puces in France, mercato dei pulci in Italy. (Except British English, of course, where they become "boot sales.")
Be that as it may, here are some of the top markets—flea and otherwise—in Europe.
Europe's top markets
- Portobello Road, London - The granddaddy of British antiques markets (though there's a little bit of everything), vast and bustling and in a choice neighborhood. The deals aren't what they once were—this has become largely for serious buyers of antiques, not folks looking to pick up a battered "old-ish" stick of furnishings—but there's still lots in there for the casual browser. The shops are there all week; the stalls fill the streets Saturdays only.
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- Porta Portese, Rome - Even if you buy nothing, this giant flea market in Rome's Trastevere district is a carnival
of sights, sounds (largely Euro-pop from stalls selling knock-off CDs), and smells (don't worry, mostly of roasting corn).
This truly is the
Big Mamma of Roman flea markets. Not to be missed. Sunday mornings only.
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- El Rastro, Madrid - Madrid's
massive flea market and junk sale fills the Ribera de Curtidores and its
surrounding neighborhood with stalls and tables and even just blankets
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- Le Marché aux Puces de Clingnancourt, Paris - Paris's major outdoor
market for old clothing, kick-knacks, semi-antiques, bootleg CDs, paintings,
used car parts, yellowing comic books, and just a little bit of everything
else you can imagine takes place out in the 17eme district. Closed Sunday.
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- San Lorenzo Leather Market, Florence - Daily except Sundays, the streets around San Lorenzo church and the Mercato Central (indoor food market) are lined with stalls hawking leather jackets, wallets, purses, and other products (as well as the usual silly T-Shirts and other touristy souvenirs).
» More on the Florence markets...