For antique lovers, deal finders and shoppers of all kinds, the immense flea markets of Paris are a treasure trove of unique finds, quirky items, one-of-a-kind junk and cherished treasures you are sure not to be able to find anywhere else in the world. The flea markets of France offer visitors a peak into the French art de vivre—and many of the objects for sale give you glimpse into French everyday life in years past as well as offering a foray into French society today.
However, while Paris’ sprawling flea markets are certainly full of great finds, first-time visitors will probably be surprised by their out-of-way locations and less than beautiful appearance.
In fact, the three major flea markets in Paris are all held on the outskirts of Paris, around the boulevard perpherique, which encircles the city. While many of the flea markets in France are held in the centers of charming towns, villages and cities, the flea markets of Paris are not surrounded by old stone buildings and stunning scenery, and are in themselves sometimes even unsightly.
History of Flea Markets in Paris
The flea markets of Paris (or en francais, les puces) are a product of their distinctive history, which dates back a couple of centuries to the days of the rag and junk trade in the city. Hundred of years ago, the streets of Paris would often be scoured by folks scavenging for bits of scrap metal and other finds to either be sold for a profit or used as a household item.
However, in the 19th century, there was a large scale effort in Paris to push these scavengers out of the city center and a city official named Eugene Poubelle (yes, that’s where the French got their word for trash can) ordered that garbage cans be sealed. This, as you can imagine, cut into the scavenging trade in Paris—which pushed many of these scrap merchant to the outskirts of the city.
The scrap merchant moved to the north of the city in Saint-Ouen, just above the Porte de Clignancourt, where the king of French flea markets now exists today.
Paris Flea Markets
Puces de Saint Ouen
The daddy of French flea markets, with 2000-3000 vendors, this market is housed in a strange mixture of ramshackle structures and more modern buildings above the Porte de Clignancourt to the north of the city.
Saturday: 8-9am until 5-6 pm
Sunday: 10 am until 5-6 pm
Monday: 11 am until 5-6 pm
How to get there: Metro: Porte de Clignancourt, Line 4
Puces de Porte de Montreuil
This market of about 50 vendors on the eastern edge of the city should be reserved mostly for the more intrepid flea market shoppers who don’t mind sorting through a lot of junk in hopes of finding a treasure.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday 8 am-6 pm
How to get there: Metro: Porte de Montreuil, Line 9
Porte de Vanves
One of the best markets in all of France, Porte de Vanves may not be as big as the markets at Saint Ouen, there are several hundred vendors here who sell everything from ceramics, to glassware to paintings and prints to Art Deco items to clocks, lamps and books to second hand clothing and even some furniture.
Saturday and Sunday mornings until 1 p.m. (get there early!)
How to get there: Metro: Porte Vanves, Line 13
Tips for Shopping the Paris Flea Markets
- If you are a serious bargain hunter or a collector, then arrive at the markets early in the morning, as this is when you will have the best chance at making a great find.
- More casual shoppers who are visiting the markets more to peruse and have a cultural experience should arrive mid-morning when the markets are more lively.
- Keep in mind that lunch time (or any meal time in France) is a treasured time when crowds will thin and many vendors will sit down next to their booths for lunch (which often includes a bottle of wine).
- Carry as little as possible with you, though bring a cloth bag is probably a good idea (I personally like this French market bag).
- Keep your camera at home. Or at least hidden. Carrying a camera with you will label you as a tourist and will often affect the prices of items and your ability to bargain.
- Leave your purse at the hotel. Pickpockets are all over Paris, especially at these busy markets, so carrying cash well secured on your person is probably the best way to avoid this problem.
- Do not leave your suitcase in your car. If you do drive to the markets (though I almost never recommend driving in Paris at all), don’t leave your luggage in the car while you shop. Breaking into cars and stealing the stuff inside is common in France, and a suitcase is an easy target.
- Say “Bonjour” and “Au Revoir” to each vendor if you stop to check out his or her wares. As I write in 12 Things you should know before visiting Paris, it is imperative to do with with store clerks in France (it is impolite not to do so).
- Try to address people in French, at least at first. Even if all you can manage in French is a simple, “parlez-vous anglais?” (do you speak English?) you’d be amazed how far the effort can get you (and may even get you a better price on that antique).
- Don’t be afraid to bargain. Bargaining at these markets is part of the shopping experience and you can generally get a 10%-15% price reduction without much problem. Be polite and use tact and finesse to get an even bigger reduction in the price.
- Take public transportation to the markets. Driving in Paris is just no fun and taking a taxi to the markets from the center of Paris is both slow and expensive. Plus, all three major Paris flea markets and easily accessible by the Metro (read about how to How to Use the Paris Metro).