The air hangs heavy with a perfume of orchids and mango, curry and teakwood as the sun beats down. You go deep into the maze till you’re lost amid stalls of carved Buddhas, weavings, and ancient temple bells. Welcome to Bangkok’s Chatuchak, the world’s largest market.
Bazaars like Chatuchak turn shopping into a cultural exchange, knitting you into local rhythms, customs, and traditions like few other travel experiences can. The best give you an entrée into day-to-day life, allowing you to interact with sellers and to come away with souvenirs that truly tell a story.
“When you are traveling and shopping the local markets, the ‘edit’ or mix of goods isn’t designed for you—it’s for the locals—so you run a much better chance of finding something you’ve never seen or even thought of before,” says Wendy Wurtzburger, Anthropologie’s chief merchandising officer.
It’s the vibe of bazaars as much as what you buy there that inspires Wurtzburger and the buyers at Anthropologie. “The color, the mix of textures, and the sheer volume of stuff make the experience. You can’t take that home,” she says. But you can find items that evoke that feeling. For Wurtzburger that might mean a 1960s suzani (embroidered textile) found in Istanbul or a vintage oil painting from Paris.
Les Puces’ Le Marché Serpette in Paris is among the most famous, well-established bazaars and has retained its cool over more than 200 years. In Buenos Aires, too, the San Telmo flea market has been a Sunday tradition since 1897. You can review the day’s purchases—perhaps a leather saddlebag or vintage glassware—over a bottle of Malbec at one of the outdoor cafés as dancers tango through the street.
Even as these bazaars remain favorites, design hounds the world over are increasingly getting inspiration from the next generation of cool bazaars like the Brooklyn Flea and London’s Brixton Village Market. They create a space for artisans to sell their goods and a sense of community for like-minded locals and tourists who can pour over the latest that each city has to offer.
Start by browsing our picks for the world’s coolest bazaars, from these new-guard markets to the ancient souks of Marrakesh and India and the grande dame fleas.