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Exploring flea markets is a popular weekend activity in Paris for locals and travelers alike. The items that turn up cover the spectrum. And so flea marketing is one of those “equal opportunity” activities–likely to appeal to people of all ages (yes, even–or especially–when in Paris with teenagers), sexes, backgrounds, and hobbies. The Paris flea markets are open year round, but the inventory expands during spring and summer.
Here are a few practical tips:
Which are the best flea markets in Paris?
The most famous is Clignancourt (pronounced ”Clee-nyahn-cour”) and also known as Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. It’s just outside the 18th arrondissement. Another is the Porte de Vanves flea market in the 14th arrondissement. A third is by Porte de Montreuil, right over the border of the 20th on the eastern edge of Paris. There’s also a small flea market by place d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement, which could be combined with an outing to the Marché d’Aligre food market.
How to pick which flea market to go to?
It depends on where you’re staying or where you want to go in Paris, and also your interests. Clignancourt is the grande dame. It’s the largest flea market in Paris, sprawling over numerous blocks and into alleyways and covered halls that are filled with goods. You can spend an entire day there and still not cover the whole market. Some lament that it is no longer as ripe for the pickings as it once was. The items range from very large and expensive (some stalls resemble high-end antique shops with prices to match) to tiny and cheap. The flea market at Porte de Vanves is smaller and, to my slow method of shopping, more manageable. You can easily cover it in just a couple of hours.
The flea market by Porte de Montreuil is my least favorite because its stock doesn’t interest me (mostly household hardware and small electrical items). But some shoppers regularly seek out its inexpensive goods, more diverse clientele, and the feeling of adventure that comes with being on the geographical fringe of Paris.
Can you find really good deals at the Paris flea markets?
Yes. But as with any shopping purchase, caveat emptor. I buy items that don’t require any professional appraisal, and that don’t risk any post-purchase regrets.
Is it okay to negotiate for a better price?
Yes. And sometimes the seller will come down by 10-30%. But it’s not like being at some markets elsewhere in the world where bargaining is the norm.
How to handle shipping of big items?
Clignancourt is set up for this, with options for shipping right on the premises. Otherwise you can send items through La Poste or make arrangements directly with shippers. My personal motto is don’t buy anything I can’t pack in my suitcase. This is a lesson learned from some bad experiences having to do with a large broken vase from Vietnam. Don’t get me started.
How to not get dizzy from viewing all the merchandise?
I advise going with one or two items in mind. Or sometimes I go with a specific person in mind when I’m searching for a gift. For example, I once went to Porte de Vanves on a mission to buy a pitcher to hold milk for my morning coffee. Thinking about milk pitchers helped me focus and served as a visual sifting strategy for dealing with what otherwise would have been stimulation overload. I ended buying two small pitchers, only a couple euros each. And now every morning when sipping my coffee, I’m transported back to the Paris flea market.
What are some items one can find at the flea markets?
An easier answer might be what can’t you find there. Hmmm, maybe really good fresh food? But for that go to any of the ninety or so neighborhood food markets in Paris, all of which are detailed in Markets of Paris, 2nd ed (available via Amazon). Some are near the flea markets! Several of my favorite purchases have been vintage glassware, soup ladles,
and a set of cheese knives with inlaid ebony.
Why do the French call flea markets “les puces”?
Puce (pronounced “poose”) means flea. It’s the same word used to refer to the little microchip–or flea–in some credit cards.
Which days of the week are best for going to the flea markets?
Saturday and Sunday. Mid-morning is best because they become crowded and picked over by afternoon. Clignancourt and Porte de Montreuil flea markets are also open. Mondays, but they’re not as dynamic because fewer sellers show up.
What else to know about the flea markets?
The thrill is in the hunt. The inventory is always changing. If you have fun once, then go again on your next trip or another weekend. It’s the kind of experience that can be repeated but never feels repetitive.
Clignancourt Flea Market (Puces de Saint-Ouen)
Métro: Porte de Clignancourt
Open Saturday 9 am-6 pm; Sunday 10 am-6pm; Monday 11 am-5pm
Porte de Vanves Flea Market
Métro: Porte de Vanves
Open Saturday and Sunday 9am-6pm
Porte de Montreuil Flea Market
Métro: Porte de Montreuil
Open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 7am-7:30 pm
Photos by Marjorie R. Williams
Do you want to know more? If so, Marjorie R. Williams’ book Markets of Paris, 2nd Edition: Food, Antiques, Crafts, Books, and More is worth the investment. You can also visit marjorierwilliams.com for more information.