World's Coolest Bazaars
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.
Marrakesh Souk, Morocco
The city of Marrakesh was founded on shopping: it was a desert trading post for caravans on their way to and from Timbuktu. And though certainly more modernized (ATMs aplenty), its souks still throb with the heady exoticism that has long drawn travelers down its alleyways. Serious shoppers should set aside two full days to get lost in the maze of streets, getting past the touristy stalls right at the main Djemaa El Fna Square, past rug-sellers and lantern stands, musical instruments and sweets shops, to where leather is still tanned, silver is worked by hand, and wool is dyed in steaming rainbow-hued vats.
Best Buy: Moroccan wedding blankets. Long a favorite of high-end designers like Jonathan Adler, these white fringed and sequined throws are thought to ward off evil spirits. And here they cost about a quarter of the price that they do in U.S. boutiques. Open daily.
Feria de San Pedro Telmo, Buenos Aires
You go to the Feria de San Pedro Telmo on Sundays as much for what you can buy—vintage frocks, Art Deco jewelry, antiques—as for what you can see. The market was built in 1897 and retains the turn-of-the-century charm of leaded glass and wrought iron. Throughout the streets, tango dancers, classical guitarists, and other performers entertain tourists as well as porteños out for a weekend stroll. After dark, the stalls on the neighboring Plaza Dorrego are cleared away to make room for an outdoor milonga, or tango gathering. Review the day’s purchases while you watch the dancing over a glass of Malbec at one of the outdoor cafés.
Best Buy: Argentina is known for its leather, and there are amazing deals to be had here on vintage saddlebags. Open Sundays.
Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang, Beijing
If people in Beijing tell you to go to the Hong Qiao Shichang for cheap pearls and knock-off bags, do not listen. Unless, of course, you enjoy getting full-body tackled while haggling for a faux Chloe bag (true story!). What you really want out of a Chinese shopping experience can be found in the wee morning hours at Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang, a.k.a. the Dirt Market. Each weekend, vendors set up row upon row of antique furniture, delicate teapots, vintage Mao memorabilia, old instruments, and more. Come ready to bargain.
Best Buy: Vintage curios. A recent visit turned up a 1940s Chinese globe and a Mao tea set for less than $15 each. Open weekends.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
“Grand” seems like an understatement for this sprawling bazaar, with 4,000 stores, 65 streets, and six centuries under its belt. Some 15 million come here annually, making it Europe’s most-visited attraction. Though some traditional artisans have been pushed out by high rents and tourist schlock, treasure hunting down the labyrinthine warrens is still every bit the rewarding shopping experience. Wind your way through the central, more trafficked shops for tea sets, ceramics, and rugs. But be sure to spend some time along the outer rings, where locals still ruthlessly bargain for gold bracelets, fabrics, and leather.
Best Buy: Fine jewelry. You’ll find gold and gemstones here for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the States, and artisans can custom-make pieces in a matter of days. Open daily.
Brooklyn Flea, New York City
The Brooklyn Flea catapulted the bazaar into the 21st century when it opened in 2008. The concept? Creating a curated market of the up-and-coming artisan food purveyors, vintage sellers, jewelry designers, furniture makers, and artists in New York. Over its five years in operation, it has helped jump-start the careers of many local creative types. So if you want to get the inside track on the next big things, peruse the vendors that gather each Saturday and Sunday in either the Fort Greene or Williamsburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn. (The Flea also hosts an all-food market, Smorgasburg, each Saturday with picklers and popsicle makers, bakers and meat curers.)
Best Buy: Whimsical cable-knit ceramics by Alyssa Ettinger or dreamy Coney Island prints by She Hit Pause Studios. Open weekends.
Johari Bazaar, Jaipur, India
When the world’s top accessories designers need inspiration, gems, or artisans, they often turn to Johari Bazaar. Nearly every stonecutter, metalworker, and store owner here comes from a long line of skilled craftsmen whose secrets have been passed down through the generations. And because they’re used to working with international designers, you’ll find a wide range of on-trend pieces as well as the more traditional Rajasthani kind. Stands and shops sell richly hued textiles and saris, costume jewelry, and snacks. Make like a local and reward yourself with an afternoon lassi at the LMB café.
Best Buy: The loose gems sold here are a great value, but if you’re not ready to make the investment, the piles of bangles are fun souvenirs. Open daily.
Le Marché Serpette, Paris
Les Puces de Saint-Ouen at Porte de Clignancourt is arguably the most famous flea market in the world. It dates back more than 200 years to when Parisians would search through garbage at night for discarded valuables to sell (they became known as pêcheurs de lune or “fishermen of the moon”). Today it’s a much posher affair with more than 2,500 vendors selling antiques, vintage kitsch, and retro wonders. Those in the know—Vogue editors, Bill Gates, for example—focus their energies on Les Puces’ Le Marché Serpette. Housed in a former garage, the well-edited, high-end selection includes crystal chandeliers, Deco furniture, prints, paintings, architectural salvage, and vintage designer handbags.
Best Buy: Dealers are savvy and competition is high, so this isn’t the best place for bargains. But once-in-a-lifetime finds like, say, a vintage Vuitton trunk, are worth the price. Open Friday through Monday.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
Shopping at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market is akin to running a marathon—it requires preparation, endurance, and frequent water breaks. You’ve got 15,000 booths over 35 acres to cover here. But your commitment will be rewarded. As the market is largely arranged in thematic sections, it’s easy to develop a game plan for what you want to see. Check out rare orchids in the plant section or exotic lizards and snakes in the pet area, or focus in on antiques, vintage home goods, or art.
Best Buy: Well-priced funky accessories and one-of-a-kind clothing from up-and-coming designers. These modern Thai styles can be easily translated to life back home. Open weekends.
Neighbourgoods Market, Cape Town
Hipsters, foodies, and families gather to peruse the wares of some 120 vendors at this thriving Saturday morning community market in the easterly district of Woodstock (open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.). In an 8,600-square-foot, glass-covered warehouse, there are gorgeous flowers, organic produce, and treats meant to be instantly enjoyed, whether while strolling or at central long trestle tables. Just try to resist the tarts and meringues from Queen of Tarts. Once you’re fortified here, you could spend the afternoon hunting down treasures at the Church Street Antiques Market.
Best Buy: Pack-in-your-suitcase goodies of the dried and jarred variety, such as the spicy Cape curries from Cumin. Open Saturdays.
There’s only one place in the Windy City where you’ll find spiked snow cones, astrology readings, leather boat shoes, and a mini-barbershop all under one roof—and that’s Dose, the monthly pop-up market showcasing food and fashion finds from 50 or so midwestern vendors. The event launched in June 2011, offering displaced shop owners and online artisans a physical space to peddle. And in the process, Dose is transforming the previously underutilized River East Arts Center—an early 20th-century brick warehouse a few blocks from Navy Pier—into a cool place to shop and snack.
Best Buy: Chiffon scarves, specialty cocktail bitters, and other funky items you never knew you needed. Open once a month. —Rod O’Connor
Brixton Village Market, London
London has long been known for its markets, from the vintage stalls of Portobello Road to the punk rock and ethnic wares in Camden Town. But the new face of British shopping is Brixton Village Market. The 1930s market, also known as Granville Arcade, was a near-abandoned mess of shops until 2009, when development organization Space Makers launched a contest offering three months’ free rent for budding designers, artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs to open up shop. Now the space is a thriving mix of indie fashion, funky interior design shops, vintage sellers, and one of London’s more exciting food scenes. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, bands and DJs soundtrack the retail experience.
Best Buy: A jar of plantain-tamarind chutney or figgy mostardo from Brixton Cornercopia, a locavore shop and café. Open daily.
Jaffa Flea Market, Tel Aviv
Once down at the heels, the 19th-century Arab quarters of Jaffa have become one of Tel Aviv’s hippest ’hoods. At the center is the Jaffa Flea Market, which has been in operation since the Ottoman era. Down the narrow streets you can browse among funky handmade statement necklaces, screen-printed T-shirts, and a jumble of antiques, old instruments, and Judaica.
Best Buy: Colorful antique Persian tiles get our vote for being affordable and easily transportable. Open Sunday through Friday.
Izmailovsky Market, Moscow
Walking into this market feels a bit like walking into the “It’s a Small World After All” theme park ride—if it had been left to gray and decay for a few years. It was built as a sort of Russian architectural theme park complete with a faux ship, cartoon-like kremlins, and a mishmash of other landmark buildings. While it can feel like a tourist trap, some locals do come here, too, to peruse flea market wares that include everything from Soviet kitsch to antique Uzbek textiles, fur hats, and pelts to vintage cameras and, of course, matryoshka nesting dolls.
Best Buy: Original or reproduction Soviet posters. Their slick graphic designs translate well back at home, and they’re great collectors’ items. Open daily.
Mercado Libertad, Guadalajara, Mexico
For the brave of stomach, this is one of the best places to come in Mexico. Start your food adventure on the second floor of this vast indoor market, which shills all manner of Mexican eats from traditional tortas ahogadas to skull-shaped Día de los Muertos sweets. After a lunch of pozole and deep-fried goat, prepare to sample the more than 2,600 stalls selling produce and handicrafts, flowers, and cheap electronics (from which the market got its nickname “Taiwan de Dios”).
Best Buy: Traditional clay cookware, massive copper pots, and handmade leather huaraches. Open Monday through Saturday.