Is there anything more exciting than going to a famed Parisian flea market and digging through some European's unwanted possessions? The answer is no, there isn't. The flea markets in Paris – or as they are locally known, the ‘Mache aux Puces’ – have been a beloved part of Parisian culture since their invention back in the 1870s. Vendors would go to sell some supposedly flea-infested furniture. Today, the fleas are hopefully gone, and Parisians and travellers alike flock to the many markets to buy goods at surprisingly good prices. Creativecommons.org/Ralf Smallkaa
What To Buy At Paris Flea Markets
It is not an exaggeration to say they you can find just about anything you can think of at the flea markets of Paris. There is everything from fresh food and fashion to art and antiques. There is a lot of kitschy stuff too, and lots of World War II-style prints.
Don’t expect to find an original Van Gogh or anything. Much of the art is by local artists, which is really nice in its own right, but there are a lot of knock-offs of the great artists too. If you don't mind a version of Starry Night painted by some nameless no-one, then the flea market is a good place to get it.
The flea markets are a great place to find some of last season's fashion. It’s usually authentic and it’s cheap. However, don't go for anything from the current season, as they are usually some of the most common fake items that can be found in the flea markets.
If you’re looking for antiques, shopping at the flea markets can be hit or miss. Only some of the items are authentic. The markets are, however, a great place to shop if you just like things that look old. There is a lot of vintage glassware and silver that looks nice.
The Best Markets
Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen is the oldest flea market in Paris and widely considered to be the market that started the craze in the 1870s. With some 3,000 traders, it is also the largest. What started as a flea-bitten shantytown outside of the city walls has grown into something magnificent, and thankfully all the fleas have left this flea market. The market is organized into a series of villages that are separated by the streets that run through the market. Marche Malassis is where you’ll find toys, furniture and older cameras, while on Marche Dauphine you’ll find furniture and ceramics. Marche Biron has expensive light fixtures and furniture, and Marche Vernaison is where you’ll find fashion, books, prints, artwork and kitchenware.
Les Puces de Montreuil is less famous than St-Ouen and is not nearly as charming. However, most people don't go to flea markets for the stunning atmosphere – they go for the good deals! And that is just what Les Puces de Montreuil has – really good negotiable deals on a wide variety of awesome goods. The smaller crowds make it easier to haggle with the stall vendors as there is less chance of someone wanting items at any price. From vintage toys and kitchenware to furniture and fashion, there is a lot on offer. Les Puces de Montreuil is very much an antiques market though, so while there are a few stalls that have some more modern wares, the antiques will always outnumber them.
Marche aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves is considered to be friendlier than St-Ouen or Montreuil, but it is also smaller in size. While it’s the not a great place to look for antiques of furniture, it is the king of kitsch. It is a great place to find flapper dresses, crates upon crates of vinyl records, perfumes and vintage toys. As the market only spans across two avenues, it is a great place to spend a few hours pawing through the old and the silly.
Marche du Livre Ancien et d’Occasion is a small market that caters to a very specific audience – bibliophiles. It specializes in vintage books, so it’s great if you’re looking for something that is out of print or a special first edition. Anyone who loves books will get a big kick out of this flea market.
Don't buy goods that require an appraiser: Sure that 18th century chair may seem like a steal at the price, but if the price is too good to be true, then it’s best just to pass on it. Unless you are travelling with your own personal appraiser or have personal knowledge of the goods, you are probably being taken for a ride.
Get cash out prior to visiting: There are no ATMs or bank stalls at most flea markets and most sellers only accept cash.
Beware of pickpockets: Pickpockets can be a worry anywhere in Paris, but flea markets are a major target. Why? Because everyone uses cash! So naturally, they are magnets for those with some of the quickest hands in the world. Always keep a tight hold your purse or wallet. Of course, if someone bumps into you suddenly, be sure to check and make sure that you still have your money. Also, it is not a bad idea to dress down and leave any expensive pieces of jewellery that you would mind losing at the hotel. Seriously, these guys can be really crafty.
Arrive early: If you’re looking for the best deals, get to the flea market as it’s about to open. The best goods are always the ones that sell out fast. However, even people who are just looking to browse should start early for two reasons: the first being that flea markets crowd up as time goes on, and second being that it is just so easy to lose a whole day walking around these wonderful places.
Dig around: Most stalls at Parisian flea markets look like a hoarder's house, so don't be afraid to get elbow deep and riffle through piles of stuff. Who knows what you might find in there!
Sharpen those haggling skills: These flea markets are a haggler’s dream as pretty much everything is negotiable. If you’re visiting Paris with your significant other, a good haggling trick is to have one person say in a loud voice that an item is too expensive or that you not need it. The vendor gets afraid of losing a sale and sweetens the deal. It works on most sellers except for the most hardened ones, which are usually antique dealers.