The joy of a Paris flea market is not that perfect vintage find – although a successful treasure hunt certainly puts le cerise sur le gâteau, so to speak – it’s the experience itself. So polish off your bargaining skills and join the crowd amid the curios and collectables.
Paris has three main flea markets (marché aux puces), and Saint-Ouen is the biggest. This city within the city covers seven hectares, divided into 14 distinct markets, with 1700 vendors whose stands are often more like museum exhibits than market stalls. Its scope, from 17th-century furniture to vintage buttons, can be overwhelming, and the prices sometimes daunting, but a little pre-visit research, patience and time will be rewarded. The best strategy? Pick a destination to start (Marché Paul Bert Serpette and Marché Vernaison are both good options), then wander, browse and dream. It’s okay to negotiate, and always ask before taking photographs. Among the numerous food options is the Philippe Starck-designed bistro Ma Cocotte on artery rue des Rosiers.
To get to the market, take Métro line 13 to Garibaldi or line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt, or hop on bus 85 for the scenic route.
Open Saturday to Monday.
Smaller and more relaxed than its iconic counterpart, the open-air flea market on the edge of the 14th arrondissement at Porte de Vanves is often nominated as the best in Paris. It brings together about 380 stall-holders, whose carefully curated trestle tables (and blankets) provide the perfect way to while away a morning perusing furniture, art, porcelain, glassware, rubber stamps, silverware, jewellery, militaria, African artifacts and many other collectables besides. The atmosphere is nicely village-y, and prices can be a little lower than at Saint-Ouen.
Take Métro line 13 or tram T3 to Porte de Vanves.
Open Saturday and Sunday, 7am to 2pm.
Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Montreuil
If your idea of shopping heaven is rummaging through dusty china, racks of leather jackets, and boxes of silk scarves to kit out your retro kitchen and/or wardrobe, head east to the flea market at Montreuil. Its stands offer everything from clothing to car parts, tat and treasure alike, with vintage, second-hand and new all mixed together. The good stuff can be elusive, but a recent visit turned up a beautiful Terre de Fer soup terrine and a cashmere cardigan for five euros.
Take Métro line 9 to Porte de Montreuil, then follow the trail of footpath vendors to the market proper.
Open Saturday to Monday. Avenue du Professeur André Lemierre, 75020
Fossicking through each other’s stuff is a French national pastime. As well as the fixed-location flea markets, outdoor brocante and vide-gréniers markets line the boulevards of different Paris arrondissements most weekends. Brocante markets generally offer better quality antiques, vintage and pre-owned items from professional dealers and individual sellers, while vide-gréniers (literally “emptying the attics”) are the equivalent of car-boot or garage sales. Look for signs pointing out upcoming markets or check locations online , and be prepared to go early to increase your chances of stumbling on the perfect piece.
Thanks to high-speed train travel, France’s two biggest annual flea markets are accessible as day trips from Paris, or warrant their own detour. The largest flea market in Europe, Braderie de Lille, takes place in the beautiful French-Flemish town on the first weekend of September. About 2.5 million people pound a hundred kilometres of footpath stands, continuing a tradition of buying and selling furniture and bric-a-brac that goes back to the 12th century. Lille is an hour from Paris by TGV. For early-summer visitors, each June, the historic centre of Rennes is transformed into a network of stalls for the one-day La Grande Braderie, bringing about 400,000 people to the Breton capital. Paris to Rennes is about two hours by TGV.
SEE ALSO: The Beauty Guide to Paris