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The best European cities for flea markets

Bargain hunters are spoilt for choice when it comes to European antiques markets. Take the car for a weekend break and stock up on everything from mid-century furniture to vintage lighting.

From Paris to Berlin, we uncover the cities with the best flea markets in Europe.

Photograph by Alamy
Published 18 Dec 2021, 06:05 GMT, Updated 4 Jan 2022, 14:50 GMT

There’s a unique appeal to rummaging through a market abroad, tempted by the prospect of unearthing overlooked treasure among the inevitable clutter. A bit like visiting an open-air museum, you can gain a cultural understanding of a destination by the sorts of items on sale, from East German-era paraphernalia to French-language first-edition comics. A day’s bargain-hunting also forms an excellent basis for a city break, too, before setting off to explore the destination itself. There are plenty of options within a few hours’ drive of the UK — just be sure to leave room in the boot for your loot.

Paris, France

Le Marché aux Puces of Paris Saint-Ouen is less a market than an entire city. With around 1,700 vendors spread over 12 covered markets on a vast site just north of central Paris, you could spend days nosing about here and still only scrape the surface. In terms of the offering, if it exists, it’s probably on sale here — whether you want an enamel coffee grinder to hang on your kitchen wall or an entire stone staircase extracted from a Renaissance chateau. Most of the stalls are open Saturday to Monday; outside of these times, there’s more to discover in the local area. A five-minute Métro ride away is the leafy Montmartre Cemetery, final resting place of such luminaries as artist Edgar Degas, writer Émile Zola and Russian ballet dancer Nijinsky.

Lyon, France

Make the five-hour drive south of Paris, meanwhile, and you’ll be able to rifle through the bustling Puces du Canal, on the banks of the Canal de Jonage. Running on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, the stalls are a good resource if you’re looking to decorate a home — there’s furniture, lighting and objets d’arts on sale across four ‘districts’ representing various eras from medieval times to the 1980s. You’ll want to set aside a few days to explore the city, too, as there’s plenty to see: a highlight is the medieval old town, Vieux Lyon, a maze of lanes and traboules (hidden passageways). You’ll find plenty of bouchons (traditional bistros) serving classic Lyonnaise dishes including dumplings, stews and sausages, all of which are best washed down with the excellent local wine.

Antwerp, Belgium

The Belgian city is less than a three-hour drive from the ferry/Eurotunnel terminal at Calais. Once or twice a month, its medieval market square hosts BrocAntwerpen, an open-air market specialising in antiques and curios. There’s a terrific mix of smaller finds to be had here — some bordering on the kitsch — from vintage toy robots and original Belgian cartoons to elaborate costume jewellery and crockery sets. Once you’re done browsing, spend time wandering the city’s cobbled streets, dipping in and out of art galleries and coffeeshops and visiting its impressive gothic cathedral.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Very few excuses are needed to visit the Dutch capital, but you can add another by timing your stay to coincide with IJ-Hallen. The flea market is held every three weeks or so in a massive warehouse in a former shipyard — NDSM Wharf is now home to workshops, studios, bars and restaurants and the industrial setting is a world away from the canals and gabled houses of central Amsterdam. More than 500 stalls set up for the market, selling mainly small, eminently portable items that range from crafts and second-hand clothes to apothecary bottles and hat boxes.

Berlin, Germany

At the far reaches at what can be deemed ‘driveable’, Berlin is about nine hours from Calais. There’s easily enough here to keep you occupied for a week or more, though, not least the city’s buzzing flea markets. Many specialise in items from the GDR period (1945-1990), with Soviet memorabilia featuring heavily on a lot of stalls. These include toys, old shop signs and kitchenware, as well as military uniforms. The Sunday flea market on tree-lined Arkonaplatz is ideal for browsing, with a relaxed atmosphere and plentiful cafes for some post-haggling refreshment. The market at the nearby Mauerpark is a much bigger, busier affair; while a lot of the items on sale aren’t always of the highest quality, it’s still a fun place to wander around.

Dublin, Ireland

Hundreds of events take place in towns across Ireland in a normal year; however, many of these have been mothballed due to the pandemic, so keep an eye on sites such as Vintage Ireland for updates. One market that’s back on its feet is the North Dublin Antiques, Art & Vintage Fair. The market is held in Clontarf Castle, a hotel in a 19th-century much-modernised castle with medieval roots just outside the city centre; more than 30 vendors sell a huge range of antiques and trinkets, such as coins, books, prints and vintage jewellery.

Malvern, England

Of course, you needn’t leave the country to get your collectors’ fix. The Malvern Antiques & Collectors Fair takes place several times a year in the handsome spa town set in the hills along the English-Welsh border. Alongside high-quality antique furniture and accessories, there’s a vast range of curios on sale from around 150 exhibitors, whether your tastes run to collections of mounted butterflies or factory lighting from the 1950s. The company that runs the fair also runs a flea market in the town and similar events in Edinburgh and the village of Detling in Kent.

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