TRAVEL | FIVE OF THE BEST MARKETS OF THE WORLD
It seems only natural to kick off this new facet of Souks du Monde with a post about some of my favorite markets I have encountered while traveling. Planning our trips around the markets I want to see is a favorite pastime of mine after all, much to the chagrin of my patient husband.
While this list is not exhaustive, these are the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most.
The souks of Marrakech, Morocco
Wandering around the souks (markets) of Marrakech is an adventure in and of itself. Some might consider it sensory overload, but to me, shopping in Marrakech is a treat for the senses. The fragrant spice markets, the vibrant colors in every single stall, and the shouting of vendors trying to encourage you that their price and quality is indeed the best make for a truly unique shopping experience.
Moroccans pride themselves on the authenticity of their artisan-created products, and the souks are the perfect place to get a taste of all that they have to offer, oftentimes seeing the professionals at work on their handicrafts. Some of my favorite things to look out for in the souks of Marrakech are the rugs and textiles (obviously!), but I also love checking out the metal and woodworkers who you can usually find working in the streets or just behind the wall of their workshop. I always pick up a bottle of 100% argan oil at the Arganie Shop before stopping for a mint tea and a snack and some people-watching at the nearby Cafe des Epices. You can also find hand-painted ceramics, silver and brass teapots, babouche slippers, straw bags, leather products including bags, purses, shoes, and poufs.
Note that you will not see price tags on any of the objects in the souks and will have to haggle with the shopkeeper.
Keep in mind that things tend to slow down after noon on Friday and are otherwise generally open from around 9-10 am until late at night.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey
The Grand Bazaar, while somewhat easier to navigate than Marrakech’s souks, is a sprawling covered market with over 4,000 stores. I enjoyed passing through a different part of the markets nearly every day during our stay in Istanbul. You can find Turkish rugs and kilims aplenty in the Grand Bazaar, as well as lots and lots of gold and jewelry (many jewelry stores are easily located on the main passageway), antiques, like mirrors, silverware, Turkish towels, robes, and scarves. There are also restaurants in the marketplace when you need a break.
The Grand Bazaar was actually where I first fell in love with handwoven rugs. You can also look forward to bargaining for what you’re willing to pay at the Grand Bazaar. A word to the wise (and this may well go for any market where you have to haggle), if the vendor is overly pushy about selling you and object, it is not worth your time. The most trustworthy shopkeepers will not harass you to buy their products. If you’re in the market for a Turkish rug, the best part of shopping is being treated to an apple tea by the shop vendor as you get comfortable and are presented with rug after rug until you find your perfect one.
The Grand Bazaar is closed on Sunday, so plan your visits accordingly.
Sunday Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand may have the best night market in Thailand. Covering sidewalks and streets closed to traffic, this giant market is only open on Sunday evenings. You can find Thai silk clothing, screen paintings, and other handicrafts and locally-made souvenirs, but my favorite part of the night market is the street vendors of food located in the temple grounds on either side of the streets. You can enjoy noodles, seafood, a fruit smoothie, and a local dessert for a couple of dollars. The nights we visited the market were the most delicious and fun meals during our time in Chiang Mai. When you’re done shopping, treat yourself to a foot massage from one of the many masseuses spread about the market.
If you’re looking for a deal, your best bet is to get to the market early, as it’s bad luck for the vendors if the first customer doesn’t buy anything. I will note that while haggling is also a part of shopping at the Chiang Mai night market, ten Thai baht, or the equivalent of $0.33, means a lot more to the vendors than it does to you.
The market on Sunday is located on Tha Pae to Ratchadamneon Road in the Chiang Mai Old City. It’s open from 4 p.m to about 11 p.m.
If you happen to miss the Sunday market during your stay in Chiang Mai, there is a nightly market Intersection of Tha Pae and Chang Klang Roads that starts around sunset. Unfortunately, you won’t find as many authentic goodies as in the Sunday market.
Paris Flea Markets at Saint-Ouen
This one merits its own blog post, as it’s one of my favorite things to do in Paris. The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in northern Paris is maybe the chicest flea market that exists, and you can easily find antiques, vintage, and second-hand items for every price point. From furniture that dates to some of the French kings, to glassware, artwork, bric-a-brac, vintage, and second-hand clothing, this market has it all. It is spread across fifteen markets and can be overwhelming to explore in one day. Make a stop at one of the local restaurants to refuel before tackling more in the evening.
The market is open on Saturday through Monday, and it is easy to get to by taking the metro line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt.
European Christmas Markets
I would be amiss to write a blogpost from Europe after the end-of-year holidays and not mention the magic that is Europe’s Christmas markets. I don’t yet have a favorite one (I’m still exploring), but I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones in Strasbourg, France, and in Brussels, Belgium. Paris also has numerous markets around the holidays, including the one in the Tuileries Gardens stretching between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde. This one boasts a giant Ferris wheel and Santa’s Haunted House (I’m not unsure they haven’t reused this one from October and stuck some Christmas trees in place of spiders’ webs! ha!).
Barcelona’s Christmas market surprised me with its endless stalls selling El Caganer (literally “the crapper” or “the sh*tter”) to add to your Nativity scene. I never did get the entire story as to how this figurine made its way into Catalan Christmas decor, but from what I understand he brings luck by fertilizing the Earth. I guess the ole yule log has another meaning to the Catalans!
If you’re planning a European trip during the holidays, make sure to hit up the Christmas market. You might be lucky enough to find some stocking-stuffers of local products (or score your very own Caganer to add to your Nativity Scene), and you’ll surely be able to find some hot spiced wine to warm you up, as well as specialties like melty-cheesy raclette, or fondue, and spiced cookies and bread.
I’d love for you to spill the tea on your favorite markets. Do you have a great farmer’s market or flea market in your area that we should put on our bucket list? Do tell!
Many thanks for reading and sharing!