If you’re looking for a classy, time-worn curio to remind you of Paris across oceans and continents, you could do worse than a trip to one of its many brilliant flea markets. At once atmospheric and oddly beautiful, the sprawling stalls of St-Ouen and Montreuil brim with souvenir-worthy goods, while the quainter Brocante des Abbesses does so on a much smaller scale.
For exquisitely fresh grub – admittedly slightly less transportable, but ideal if you’ve got an Airbnb fridge to stock up – there are also innumerable excellent food markets in Paris that can deliver. Historic locations at Bastille and Aligre, plus trendier newcomers like the Marché des Enfants-Rouges, offer a great way to meet producers and sample new flavours. But almost every neighbourhood has its own seasoned stallholders – to track down your local marché, check out the comprehensive and up-to-date listings on the Mairie de Paris website. And remember: whether antiques, bric-à-brac, food or parakeets, when taking pictures, it’s always polite to ask first.
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Best markets in Paris
This historic market takes its name from the 16th-century orphanage that used to occupy the site; the red of the children’s clothes indicated they had been donated by Christian charities. Although the orphanage closed before the revolution, the imposing wooden edifice survived and was reopened as a deluxe food market in 2000 after extensive campaigning from locals. Now something of a tourist hotspot, the market also boasts a handful of first-rate restaurants.
Welcoming 3,000 traders and up to 180,000 visitors each weekend, the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen is generally thought to be the biggest ‘flea market’ in the world. If that conjures up images of a sprawling field filled with broken bed frames and sofas with the stuffing coming out, you’re in for a surprise. The fleas left long ago, and since 1885 what started as a rag-and-bone shantytown outside the city limits has been organised into a series of enclosed villages, some entirely covered and others with open-air streets and covered boutiques for the antiques dealers.
One of the oldest markets in Paris, the Marché d’Aligre survived the turbulence of 1789 and 1871, and continues to ply its second-hand clothes, bric-à-brac and cheap food as if the city around it hasn’t changed one bit. Your experience of the market depends largely on where you go: the top of the street is where to head for seasonal fruit and veg (€1-€3/kg), while a detour through the covered Beauvau market will take you through the pricier fishmongers’ and butchers’ stalls. Don’t miss the motley collection of books, African masks and other trinkets that line the stands in the main yard.
The Marché International de Rungis is the largest wholesale food market in the world. Spanning 232 hectares, this monster marché caters to pretty much every culinary need (and is, unsurprisingly, the go-to supply spot for many a Parisian chef). Set up in the city centre in the 10th century, Rungis relocated further out of town in 1969 because demand on suppliers was so high. The current site, in the southern suburbs, is easily accessible by train and car.
Paris’s major central flower and bird markets have drawn gardeners, pet hunters and curious passersby in droves since the mid-19th century. With both indoor and outdoor areas, and in a prime spot at the northern end of the Île de la Cité, the flower market is home to blooms familiar and exotic, cheap and steep, while the Sunday bird market on the same site chips, clucks and squawks with all manner of feathered species. An ideal spot for an afternoon potter.
Half market, half heavenly food shop strip, the pedestrianised Rue Montorgueil heaves with flower vendors, rôtisseries, alluring bakeries and fragrant cheese shops. As you browse your way along, you might stop in for a hot chocolate at Charles Chocolatier, a pastry at Stohrer (the oldest pâtisserie in Paris, with a particularly beautiful ceiling), some strawberries from the fruit and veg stalls, shellfish from the fishmonger, and artisanal cider from a booze shop. Good thing there are plenty of tempting cafés for regular pit stops.
In the Goutte d’Or area of the 18th arrondissement, the Marché Dejean is the place to go for tilapia and manioc, or just to get a flavour of the West African community in Paris. Food stalls, halal butchers, cosmetics parlours and cafés are crowded into the small pedestrianised street – filling it with exotic smells and colours.
Less famous than its older brother up north in St-Ouen, Montreuil’s flea market is where real folk riffle for antiques nowadays, mostly because it’s off the beaten tourist track (so you can still find the occasional treasure). You’ll find pretty much everything, from vintage clothes and toys to old cutlery, 1940s light-fittings, furniture and antique glassware. Just be patient: you have to walk past stands selling arrays of junk before you get to the little square where the best dealers are (at the end of the alley alongside the periphérique).
With its idyllic location on the Montmartre butte, this second-hand market is a favourite haunt of Sunday brunchers making their lazy way around the neighbourhood. You’re more likely to run into artists and locals rather than tourists at this tiny but charming market, rummaging among old paintings and knick-knacks, lamps and art deco accessories, vintage postcards and jewellery by young designers. Perfect for tranquil mooch, coffee or hot chocolate in hand.
The Marché Bastille’s food stalls sprawl up the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir twice a week, with more produce than most hypermarkets – it’s a particularly great source of local cheeses, free range chicken and high-quality fish. The photo-worthy piles of fruit, veg, saucisses, olives and so on are interspersed with stalls offering African batiks, cheap jewellery and bags, but that doesn’t detract from the overall sense of bountiful goodness.
Fresh aromas, vivid colours, buzzing crowds – a mere stroll among the stands of the Batignolles food market is enough to invigorate the senses and whet the appetite. Fruit and veg have pride of place, but the 50-odd stalls run the gamut from pâtés and cold meats to bath soaps, makeup and essential oils, with a particularly enticing sideline in fine wines. As with its rival Brancusi, this market also keeps things authentic, providing a rare forum for the consumer to meet the producer.
Running the length of Avenue Président-Wilson, this open-air foodie paradise may well be the largest of its kind. Highlights include Joel Thiébault’s long-established grocery stall, packed with obscure fruit and roots; JPB fishmongers for ultra-fresh seafood; and Maison Priolet for game and poultry. It’s a proper window into Parisian gastronomy – tongues, tripe and all. And there’s a decent range of hot food, too: Thai, Chinese, Lebanese, Breton-style crêpes, Alsatian choucroute, boeuf bourguignon, paella, pâté and rotisserie chicken. Do several laps of the eye-popping selection before you make up your mind.
The leafy square and quiet fountain of Place Monge provide the setting for this charming if pricey food market, a calm alternative to the tourist bustle of the nearby Rue Mouffetard. The stallholders take pride in their products: the beekeeper will turn up in person to sell his honey, while the fishmonger will tell you about how he gets his fish straight from the Normandy coast. Bear in mind that prices can run high in this rather affluent corner of the Latin Quarter; still, in this picturesque little square, you get what you pay for.
Smaller and arguably more friendly than St-Ouen, the market at Vanves is appreciated for its more manageable size. Some dealers swear by the mish-mash of stands at this weekend market, spread out over two avenues. It might not be the best place for furniture or antiques, but there’s much to please the casual browser, especially if you’re after a wacky souvenir (or three). Comb through the racks of Hermès scarves and flapper dresses, scour the boxes of perfume bottles and vintage toys, and explore crates of vinyls and gorgeous French linens. There are chocolate moulds here, 1950s sewing accessories there – just make sure you arrive early for the best finds.
This covered market is small, modern, well thought-out – and in places rather eccentric. Each stallholder enforces a high level of quality control to bring you the very best products, whether cheese, meats, flowers or spices. Explore a bit and you’ll begin to uncover the most interesting bits, such as the German grocers Der Tante Emma-Laden, whose vast range of beer, smoked ham and chocolate is worth the trip in itself. Come with a full wallet, and be prepared to get distracted at every corner.
This ‘wonderful, narrow, crowded market street’, as Hemingway described it in ‘A Moveable Feast’, still sports bright and bustling stalls of fruit and veg in its cobbled lower stretches (its upper extremities largely harbour student bars and tourist shops) – its quaint buildings making it one of the city’s most atmospheric street markets. Many grocers, which also hawk charcuterie, pâtés, seafood, cheese and sticky pastries, only select organic and fair-trade goods. On Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings, Mouffetard’s stalls run into the Marché Monge (on Place Monge), renowned for yet more excellent food, especially fresh bread.
Of the three main organic food markets in the city, Brancusi’s is the most modestly sized and least modestly priced. A somewhat upmarket affair, the market nevertheless justifies its prices with top-quality produce and attentive customer service. A solid range of rare vegetables (think obscure varieties of aubergine and sweet potato) is another plus, although the relative calm of the place will be a draw in itself for many. For the ethical gourmet, this is the market of choice.
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