One of a Kind – International Flea Markets

– By Andrea Mestrovic –

Camden Passage in London England

The most daunting places to visit when abroad are the outlandish and often surprisingly haughty local flea markets.  Not only is there a sense and sensibility of unfamiliarity and language barrier, which already dishevel your confidence, but there is also the jostling of a loud horde, the wild bargaining, the smooth pocket picking, and the occasional outbursts of rage over a Louis XV Rococo chair with fanciful patterns of tortoiseshell and ivory inlaid teak design.

Flea markets have this unrivaled, tough to précis energy. A day of flea-ing can easily conclude with a feeling of beatific joy, simply because you just walked away with a significant, 1930’s pancake panama hat for $5. Then there is the mystery and history of each object, which adds some romanticism to your new-old purchase and allows for an illustrious show-and-tell story. Not only do we have the top five flea markets you should visit around the globe, but we have the reasons why, behavior style, bargaining potential and category of goods.


El Rastro in Madrid Spain

1. El Rastro – Madrid, Spain.
It all always starts with Madrid – the city of red, raw, and ethos. El Rastro is one of the largest open markets in Europe and it is conveniently located in the very center of old Madrid. The non-logic in street mapping here is matchless.  This is a large network of intertwined streets, each filled with an array of colorful artifacts. The two most interesting streets for OPalermos (that’s you!) are Plaza de Cascorro and Calle San Cayetano. At Plaza de Cascorro you will find both odd and odd enough to be amazing garments. Our pick for the most memorable are the hand-made, sequence appliqué, textile purses ($35). Calle San Cayetano is located left to the entrance and it is bountiful in mind-blowing art on canvas at laughable prices (starting at $15). The market is only open on Sundays, from 7am to 2:30pm, and it attracts “half of Madrid”. This is a market that feels convivial to foreigners, due to warmth of greeting and tolerance of barter wars.

Ameya Yokocho Market in Tokyo Japan

2. Ameya Yokocho Market – Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo is a wonder city. It is majestic, powerful, packed and yet, straightforwardly navigated.  Ameya Yokocho market is located along Yamanote Line tracks between Okachimachi and Ueno Stations.  It consists of two long alleys, home to over 400 vendors that sell anything from purses, shoes, watches to fish and candy. Standout goods here are kimonos, yukata, hakama, and other traditional Japanese garments at non-traditional prices. Remember Galliano’s iconic Madam Butterfly Spring ‘07 couture show, overflowing with sumptuous, silk kimonos?  Well, you might not find Galliano at Ameya Yokocho, but you will certainly find similar custom-made, colorfast creations by local sartorialists (starting at $25). One thing to expect is friendly vendors attempting to outshout each other for your business.  But don’t let them fool you, and fight for your deal!

Brooklyn Flea in New York City

3. The Brooklyn Flea – New York City, USA
One of our all time favorites, although we could be a tad bias, is the Brooklyn Flea. From Thanksgiving through March the market relocates to the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue.  The venue is grandly impressive and in itself a sufficient reason to visit. Although alive and riveting with hodgepodge of merchandise, the BK Flea is most rewarding for the collector in you. If you are in the market for a 1920’s chiffonier ($340) or decorative curtain tassel tiebacks ($3.25), skip Designer Guild and try the BK Flea finds. Barter at your own risk – some vendors will play and some just want you to pay.


Les Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris France

4. Les Puces de Saint-Ouen – Paris, France
The largest flea market in the world is Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, located in the 18th arrondissement. The weekend traffic it gets is austerely shocking: 120,000 to 180,000 visitors. It also expands over seven hectares of alleyways, so make sure you conjure up a game plan. Three key behavioral tactics here are: bring a calculator and pretend you are a dealer – it will get you mass discounts; get there before the after-lunch rush; and leave your cash at home – the vast majority of vendors accept credit cards and are happy to negotiate shipping.  A must-visit gem at Puces is Violon d’Ingres, stand 11 at 85 Rue des Rosiers, Allée 1. Among all the 19th century impressionist paintings and a random Ligier Richier limestone sculpture, you just might find a series of 19th century, hand-painted, silk shade lamps that will leave you wheezing (starting at $58). Puces is an overwhelming place and one where a Parisian guide might actually be a smart investment.

Camden Passage in London England

5. Camden Passage – London, England.
Camden Passage is located outside of the Congestion Zone in the Borough of Islington.  It is enchanting, sterile and uniquely self-important (hence the higher than usual price points).  This is one of the few flea markets in the world where you will be addressed as Sir or Madam, although haggling is still in full affect.  In addition to rows of market stalls along the cobble-stoned alleys, there are just as many magnetic boutiques, where the traders are true specialists.  Make sure you stop by Granny’s Goodies (Unit 3, 34a The Annex), a celebrated doll dealer, where the magic of whimsical toys dating back 1850’s, takes you to a castle in the sky. Most dealers are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, although visits can also be arranged.

Ready. Set. Barter.

Andrea Mestrovic is a multi-lingual, multi-talented, but modest multi-tasker who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic. Andrea has a sure-footed instinct for discovering fab finds all over the globe. You can follow her on twitter @AndreaMestrovic

About the Author

Andrea Mestrovic is a multi-lingual, multi-talented, but modest multi-tasker who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic. Andrea has a sure-footed instinct for discovering magnificent finds all over the globe. You can follow her on twitter @AndreaMestrovic or read all her posts on