World's Top Night Markets
When the sun sets over Marrakesh, the market on cobblestoned Djemaa el-Fna square is just heating up. Smells of cumin and sizzling sausage mingle with plumes of smoke above stalls strung with white lights, while fortune-tellers and musicians amuse the crowds.
At this Moroccan market and others around the world, people come together to browse, socialize, and unwind. Sure, there are daytime markets, but under the cover of darkness, night markets feel exhilarating, drawing locals relieved to be off from work. They're entertainment venues pulsating with life; there's plenty to see and do, and dinner's cooking.
Night markets originally took root mostly in Asian cities, where the advent of electricity freed locals to bargain over goods without the pressure of daylight and its oppressive heat. Countries as varied as Canada, Peru, and France eventually put their own spins on the night market concept. But it's only in the past few years that major U.S. cities are seeing the potential.
"It all comes down to a need for community," says Nick Spano, manager of Yamashiro's summer farmers' market in Los Angeles, which launched in 2010. "There's plenty of nightlife in L.A., but little of it appeals to young families and those tired of the club scene. Evening markets fill the void by providing a casual place where people can mingle with a glass of wine, some live music, and lots of amazing food."
San Francisco and Philadelphia have established their own night markets, and Brooklyn, where daytime options like the Brooklyn Flea have flourished, hopes to follow suit.
Some night markets gradually go beyond serving the local community to become sprawling tourist attractions in their own right. After a day out at Laotian temples and monasteries, many visitors stroll Luang Prabang's night market, where more than 300 vendors sell everything from traditional textiles embroidered by the Hmong minority to teas and rare spices such as pandan, used as a fragrance for desserts.
Even at markets where the quality can be questionable or downright kitschy, it's an experience just to be a part of the after-dark hubbub—and you're guaranteed to head home with colorful stories.
San Francisco Underground Market, CA
Forager and founder Iso Rabins created San Francisco's hugely popular underground market in 2009 to give fledgling entrepreneurs a place to sell to the public without jumping through regulatory hoops. Two years later, it hosts more than 35 of the Bay Area's finest home chefs. A simple online registration is required for attendees of the monthly event to maintain its "underground" status. Once inside, people gather around rows of cart tables for bacon-caramel popcorn and orange marmalade sandwiches.
Market Find: French fries deep-fried in duck fat, and loads of free samples.
Ratchada Night Bazaar, Bangkok
Every Saturday night, the parking lot outside the Ratchadapisek MTR (metro) station swarms with Thais and a handful of tourists who sift through piles of secondhand jeans and leather handbags, vintage cameras, furnishings, and auto accessories for that one perfect purchase. The market began as a swap meet for used scooters and classic car parts, but has since expanded to showcase all kinds of vintage vehicles and fashions. Besides being a great place to bargain hunt, it's also a window onto Thai culture.
Market Find: Vintage cameras, classic advertisement posters, and vinyl Thai records.
The Summer Night Market, Richmond, BC
Richmond's summer market celebrates the city's immigrant population—Canada's largest—through performances by Latin salsa groups and Asian singers and, most significantly, food. On weekend evenings, more than 200 vendors set up shop on a 10-acre site in the Vancouver suburb and get to work on Chinese, Thai, and Italian dishes. They come prepared for lighthearted haggling with shoppers, who can also pick up bargain gadgets and accessories.
Market Find: Some of North America's best Chinese food; dim sum is the way to go.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Thailand
One of northern Thailand's biggest draws, Chiang Mai's nightly market transforms a three-block stretch of Chang Klan Road into a lively shopping and food concourse. Stalls stand shoulder-to-shoulder in front of covered arcades, Internet cafés, and restaurants, but most of the fun occurs street-side, where it's as easy to find bargain Rolex knockoffs and Hangover DVDs as it is painted silk and paper lanterns. For true artisan treasures, swing by one of the city's weekend nighttime "walking markets," which are closed off to traffic, particularly the Sunday Market along Ratchadamnoen Road.
Market Find: Skilled Thai artisans render paintings of your favorite photographs on-site, making the ultimate souvenir.
Marrakech Night Market, Morocco
With each sunset, the orange juice stands and snake charmers populating Old City's main square give way to open-air food stalls cooking up sensory treats. Locals and tourists alike line up for helpings of couscous and lamb-stuffed sandwiches then hunker down at communal tables to feast. Gnawa drummers, skilled orators, and fortune-tellers provide the evening's entertainment and a taste of local culture.
Market Find: Grilled chicken or lamb brochettes, and henna tattoos on your hands and feet that last a week.
Suzuki Night Market, Melbourne
Held Wednesdays from November through February at the 19th-century Queen Victoria Marketplace, Melbourne's open-air night market showcases local artisans and designers as well as culinary vendors highlighting the city's ethnic diversity. Choose among Indian, Ethiopian, Dutch, Spanish, and Vietnamese along with Aussie barbecue and ‘roo burgers. Locals come here to cool down, sip local Victoria wines, and score handmade aprons. Others don't make it past the food booths.
Market Find: A foot reflexology massage in the market's health and harmony area, and a one-of-a-kind (if not particularly Australian) watch hand-carved from a coconut shell.
Ningxia Night Market, Taipei
Ningxia Night Market got its start more than 60 years ago as a shopping place for clothing and accessories. Today it's strictly a food affair—a rare specialization in a country that's arguably the world's night market capital (there are at least 30 in Taiwan's northern half alone). Among more than 200 vendors, the specialty here is snacks from across the country. This is also one of Taipei's greenest markets: encouraging the use of eco-friendly chopsticks and utilizing an inceptor that keeps grease from entering sewage systems.
Market Find: Snacks like bawan, a dumpling stuffed with meat, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, and tan shui, or fish balls.
Barranco Night Market, Lima, Peru
Small night markets thrive in Lima's neighborhoods, from beachside Miraflores to the bohemian district of Barranco. Just a dozen or so handicraft vendors gather around Barranco's main square, hoping to catch the late-night revelers who pour out of the neighborhood's clubs, bars, and peñas, or music venues. It's an ideal place to pick up traditional Peruvian handicrafts, including alpaca shawls and seed jewelry.
Market Find: An etched and colorfully painted piece of gourd art, one of Peru's oldest handicrafts.
Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos
More than 300 handicraft vendors sell artisan wares, textiles, teas, and paintings that hew to local traditions. This roughly half-mile-long nightly event is one of the country's best spots to find one-of-a-kind items at bargain prices. While food is available on-site, duck into the nearby alley between Sisavangvong Road and Mekong River for the best dishes.
Market Find: Traditional embroideries handmade by the Hmong ethnic group, and rare spices such as pandan, often used as a fragrance for desserts.
Yamashiro Farmers' Market, Los Angeles
Now in its second year, this brainchild of the nonprofit LA City Farm takes place Thursday evenings all summer in the lower parking lot of Yamashiro Japanese restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. Not only are there views of the city spread out below, but the market offers free off-site parking and round-trip shuttle service—two perks virtually unheard of in L.A. Friends and young families line up for gourmet street food like shrimp toasties and pulled-pork sliders before chowing down at scattered tables and chairs.
Market Find: Duck confit or chicken satay tacos prepared by Yamashiro's own Chef Brock are worth the wait.
Audrix Night Market, France
Food cultivated in the greater Périgord Noir region of southwest France is the draw at this market, open mid-June through late September. Most of the dozen or so purveyors gathered in the tiny village's main square likely spent their afternoon selling at nearby farmers' markets. Locals know to arrive early to stake out their seats, then choose their favorite culinary offerings from the variety of made-to-order cuisine.
Market Find: Anything with walnuts—prevalent in the region—including fresh greens dressed in walnut oil vinaigrette, and plenty of local wine.
Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong
Bargain wares like dress suits, watches, electronics, even condoms, earned Temple Street the nickname "Men's Street." Many of the 100 stalls open around 4 p.m., but the market doesn't pick up until evenings, when residents browse the array of goods, including some women's fashions and Chinese memorabilia, and haggle over prices. Others hit up the dai pai dong (street food stalls) or the fortune-tellers at the end of Yau Ma Tei Street.
Market Find: Knockoff menswear labels like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.