I was recently interviewed by travel guru Rick Steves (and–yes!–he’s every bit as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as he seems on t.v.). One of the call-in questions came from a woman who is planning a trip with her 15-year-old daughter and looking for something fun to do in Paris when traveling with a teenager. I suggested going to a flea market. Bada-bing! She loved the idea and wanted to know more. So I’ve decided to share a few flea market tips here.
Which are the best flea markets in Paris?
The most famous is Clignancourt (pronounced “Clee-nyahn-cour”) and also known as Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. It’s just outside the 18th arrondissement. Another is the Porte de Vanves flea market, in the 14th. A third is the flea market by Porte de Montreuil, located right over the border of the 20th arrondissement on the eastern edge of Paris. There’s also a small flea market by place d’Aligre in the 12th arrondiseement, which could be combined with an outing to the Marché d’Aligre food market.
How to pick which flea market to go to?
It depends where you’re staying or where you want to go in Paris, and also what your interests are. Clignancourt is the grande dame. It’s the largest flea market in Paris, sprawling over numerous blocks and into alleyways and covered halls that are filled with sellers displaying goods. This map and related info are helpful. It’s no exaggeration when I say that you can spend an entire day there and still not cover the whole market. Some lament that it is no longer as ripe for the pickings as it once was. The items there range from the very large and expensive (some stalls resemble high-end antique shops with prices to match) to the tiny and cheap. The flea market at Porte de Vanves is smaller and, to my slow method of shopping, more manageable. You can easily cover it all in a couple hours. The flea market by Porte de Montreuil is my least favorite because it has a rougher edge and a lot of stock that doesn’t interest me (household hardware and small electrical items). But some shoppers (especially locals) regularly seek out its inexpensive goods, more ethnically diverse clientele, and the feeling of adventure that comes with being on the fringe of Paris.
Can you find really good deals at the Paris flea markets?
Yes. But as with any shopping purchase, caveat emptor. I buy items that don’t require any professional appraisal, and that don’t risk any post-purchase regrets.
Is it okay to negotiate for a better price?
Yes. But be attuned to the cultural customs. Follow these guidelines for negotiating at French flea markets as a starting point. Sometimes the seller will come down by 10-30%. But it’s not like being at some markets elsewhere in the world where tough bargaining is expected and where prices are inflated by a large margin.
How to handle shipping of big items?
Clignancourt is well set up for this, with options for shipping right there on the premises. Otherwise you can send items through La Poste or make arrangements directly with shippers. My personal motto is don’t buy anything I can’t pack in my suitcase. This is a lesson learned from some bad experiences having to do with a large broken vase from Vietnam. Don’t get me started.
How to not get dizzy from viewing all the merchandise?
I advise going with one or two items in mind. Or sometimes I go with a specific person in mind when I’m searching for a gift. I once went to Porte de Vanves, for example, with a mission to buy a small pitcher to hold cream for my coffee. Thinking about pitchers helped me focus at the market and became a much-needed visual sifting process. I ended up buying two, only a couple euros each. And now every morning when sipping my coffee, I’m transported back to the Paris flea market.
What are some items one can find at the flea markets?
An easier answer might be what can’t you find there. Hmmm, maybe really good fresh food? But for that go to any of the ninety or so neighborhood food markets in Paris. Some are near the flea markets! Several of my favorite purchases have been vintage glassware, silver serving pieces (including a ladle I use whenever I serve soup), and a beautiful set of cheese knives with inlaid ebony.
Why do the French call flea markets “les puces”?
Puce (pronounced “poose,” with a quick whooshing sound) means flea. It’s the same word they use to refer to the little microchip–or flea–in some credit cards.
Which days of the week are best for going to the flea markets?
They’re best as a weekend market. Saturdays & Sundays. Check the listings in Markets of Paris for the specific details on times & locations, depending on which flea market you want to visit. Go in the morning because they often become crowded and picked over by afternoon.
What else to know about the flea markets?
The thrill is in the hunt. The inventory is always changing. If you have fun once, then go again on your next trip or another weekend. It’s the kind of experience that can be repeated but never feels repetitive.
For anyone who enjoys shopping, going to flea markets is one of the most fun things to do in Paris. Flea markets are worthwhile destinations not only if traveling with teenagers (thinking back to the caller’s question), but also if looking for something to do in Paris with a friend or on one’s own. There are also brocantes, which are temporary flea markets that pop up in neighborhoods on sporadic weekends. Flea markets in Paris display such a wide range of goods that they’re likely to have something to pique everyone’s interests. Some travelers might not get their jollies from searching for must-have hidden treasures, but they are well entertained going along because it’s enjoyable to explore different neighborhoods of Paris and relax in the cafés that, yes, even dot most of the flea markets.