Tip #2: Arrive Early for Best Selection, or Late for Best Deal
…and Tip #3: Ask Permission before Taking Photos
People sometimes ask me what time to arrive at markets for the best experience. In our book Markets of Paris, 2nd ed., we include the open days and hours for each market.
If you’re gazing at the special feature–”Open on Sunday”–keep in mind that most Sunday markets are open in the morning only. By afternoon, the merchants are enjoying the slim remains of the weekend with their family and friends. If you pick Sunday markets from this list (pp. 288-290 in the new edition of Markets of Paris), refer to the detailed descriptions of each market to be sure you’re aware of the open hours. Take it from my experience: It’s a bummer to trek across town in eager anticipation of a market and yet arrive as it’s being disassembled and only a few roadkill versions of lettuce leaf remain.
I like to arrive early for the best selection.
By that, I mean within the first 1-2 hours of a Paris market’s opening. That’s when displays look their best and are stocked to the fullest.
Some vendors take their presentations so seriously that they seem to be in competition. Fishmongers are among the most creative.
Entire schools of fish, or so it seems, fan out among ferns or arch over ice, with lemons placed for splashes of color (sometimes propping open toothy mouths).
It’s fun to photograph the fish displays. But beware of Tip #3: Ask permission first! (Puis-je prendre des photos, s’il vous plaît?”). Same goes for photographing the displays at flea markets or any of the other markets in Paris. Many vendors put great care, artistry, and humor into making their stands attractive. But don’t forget Tip #3.
Another advantage of arriving early, especially if you enjoy taking photos, is that the light is usually better then. Once the sun gets strong and casts shadows, the photography gets tricky.
Alternatively, to arrive late affords one a chance for better deals. At some markets the prices get slashed as the hours tick by. The vendors don’t want to pack up all their goods so they’re more willing to cut their prices. I’ve watched them grab their chalkboards, squeeze the juice from an orange over the slate to erase the price, brush the board dry with a few sprigs of parsley, and then write in a lower price. (Don’t worry, the tools were tossed on the ground and not sold.) But expect that both selection and quality deteriorate as closing time approaches.
As soon as the food markets close, the city’s sanitation men show up in their bright green uniforms to sweep up the remains. Adults and children can often be seen rifling through the debris searching for edible items, bringing to mind Agnès Varda’s brilliant movie The Gleaners and I.