I’m recently back from a month-long trip to France (and, speaking of timing, luckily returned only a few hours before Hurricane Sandy’s arrival). I visited markets in Paris and elsewhere. I arrived early to some, late to others. In every instance, I was reminded of how important timing is to having a good market experience. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but the point bears repeating and some fine-tuning.
One afternoon I arrived at Marché Enfants-Rouges (a covered market in the 3rd arrondissement) about 4 pm and found it practically empty and unexciting. But when I returned a few days later, shortly before noon, it was hopping. A good friend met me in Paris and I had been telling her about Marché d’Aligre. She was eager to experience it one Sunday. But we got off to a late start and arrived as merchants were boxing up their remaining goods and sanitation workers were taking aim with their hoses. It was fascinating to watch the clean-up, but my friend didn’t get to see this wonderful market at its best.
And so my tip is this: It matters what time (and day) you arrive at markets. More specifically:
* Saturdays and Sundays are often the better days for a vibrant experience. More shoppers and vendors show up.
* On Sundays, most Parisian markets start winding down about 1 pm. If you can’t get to a market well before 1 pm on a Sunday, then it’s probably not worth going.
* Go early for the best selection. Or later for the best deals. I usually aim to arrive at food markets about 9:30 am. The best hours are generally 10-noon. For flea markets, arrive even earlier for the best selection.
* If taking photos is a priority, arrive on the early side to avoid crowds and midday shadows and to see the stands at their fullest.
If you arrive to a market once most of the action is over, you might be scratching your head wondering what all the excitement over Parisian markets is about. When they’re closed or nearly so, they seem desolate and dreary. But give the markets a whirl at peak time, and the experience will be totally different.
The tool for this tip? The book. In Markets of Paris, we open every entry with the specific details of which days and what times the markets are open. (Plus the nearest Métro stop.) Check those italicized details.
And if you’re consulting the handy tool “Open on Sunday” (pp. 280-290), which lists all markets that are open on Sundays, remember to check the markets’ individual write-ups for exactly what times they’re open on Sundays. There are a couple exceptions but generally if you can’t get to a market before 1:30 on Sunday, pick something else to do instead.