Rot Fai (Train) Night Market, Bangkok, Thailand
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Originally set up alongside a disused railway line (it’s moved thanks to a railway expansion), this enormous night-time market specialises in vintage – everything from Mao kitsch to antique French chandeliers. The stalls are housed in a collection of rainbow-hued marquees, VW vans and airy warehouse spaces. And there’s no need to eat before you go – there’s a huge selection of street eats on offer.
Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong
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Wander along Temple Street on any night of the week to experience a raucous cacophony of fortune-tellers, Cantonese opera singers and sea creatures meeting their sizzling demise in woks at Hong Kong’s liveliest night market. For sale, there’s knock-off designer fashion, all manner of street-food delicacies, cookware, trinkets and almost anything else you care to imagine.
Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thailand
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Claiming the crown for the world’s largest market (it covers 11 hectares), the sprawling Chatuchak weekend market in downtown Bangkok is the lifeblood of the city. The air is redolent of mango and coconut; items for sale run the gamut from pet baby squirrels to traditional musical instruments to independent fashion labels; and there’s even an information centre. Our advice? Arrive early to avoid the heat of the day, bring water and have a plan.
K.R. Market, Bangalore, India
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Named for Krishna Rajendra, a former ruler of the state of Mysore, this market is a feast for the eyes – think huge tubs of bright yellow turmeric, domes of vibrant dyes, fragrant flowers and exotic fruits and vegetables. It’s a chaotic riot of colours and scents and an excellent way to get a taste of traditional, urban life in India.
Tet floating flower market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, is the most celebrated event on the Vietnamese calendar. In the lead-up to Tet, which falls between December 20 and 30, locals begin buying flowers and plants to decorate their homes for the festivities. Colourful flower markets spring up all over the city, most strikingly at District 8, where traditional wooden dhows arrive from the Mekong Delta selling blossoms and plants (such as cumquat trees) that are considered auspicious.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
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Sixty-one streets and more than 4000 vendors make up the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It swarms with up to 400,000 visitors each day – each DAY – and has served as Istanbul’s main shopping centre since it was constructed in 1455/56. Today, it’s the country’s premier tourist attraction, which can make treasure-hunting challenging; try moving past the outer stalls and into the labyrinthine alleys to shop where the locals go.
Columbia Road Flower Market, London
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Each Sunday East London’s Columbia Road becomes a teeming garden of exotic plants, buckets overflowing with gaudy flowers and pots of edible herbs. It officially begins at 8am but Londoners like a lie-in – you’ll still beat the crowds if you arrive at 9am.
Chinatown street market, Singapore
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Pick up trinkets, souvenirs, jade, Chinese herbs, fans and other knickknacks at Singapore’s Chinatown street markets, located around Pagoda Street and Trengganu Street.
The souks, Marrakech, Morocco
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Marrakech was an ancient desert trading post through which goods borne on camel-back and caravan made their way to sub-Saharan Africa – this city was built on shopping. Each souk is named for the goods being sold – pastries, pottery, pashminas – you name it. The heady scent of spice and tanned leather lures visitors into maze-like alleyways, as does the promise of exotic goods such as hand-woven rugs, Moorish lanterns, handmade tagines and pointy toed leather slippers.
Christmas Alley, Naples, Italy
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The cobbled street of Via San Gregorio Armeno is famed for its stalls selling tiny handmade nativity scenes and Christmas decorations year-round. It’s known to visitors as Christmas Alley, but you’ll find other Neapolitan specials there such as figurines of Pulcinella, a comical Neapolitan character who’s been around since 1620, and a local instrument, the tammorra napoletana or Neapolitan tambourine. Better yet, it’s close to Via dei Tribunali, where you’ll find some of the best pizza in the city.
Otavalo Market, Otavalo, Ecuador
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This weekly Saturday extravaganza sees vendors selling exquisite hand-woven textiles, leather goods and jewellery the Otavalo region is known for. The market’s history began in pre-Incan times when the local indigenous tribes would gather to trade and sell goods. Now, at its peak, the market takes up almost a third of the town.
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris, France
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This enormous Parisian flea market has been going for more than 200 years – it’s been well and truly discovered and you’re not likely to find any outrageous bargains (unless you’re prepared to barter seriously in French). What you will find are seven hectares and 14 distinct markets; some are well-ordered stalls in covered streets and others are in the open air, selling vintage toys, furniture, books, collectibles and fashion.
Portobello Road Market, London, England
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Portobello Road Market remains London’s most famous street market. It began as a fresh food market in the 19th century before antique dealers moved in during the 1940s and ’50s. Now, the Saturday fair is the UK’s largest antique market and it’s been immortalised many times over, memorably in the 1971 film Bedknobs and Broomsticks in which actor David Tomlinson sings of the street: “Portobello road, Portobello Road Street where the riches of ages are stowed. Anything and everything a chap can unload Is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road. You’ll find what you want in the Portobello Road.” It’s still true.
Feria de San Pedro Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Locals and tourists alike descend on the bohemian inner-city area of San Telmo on Sundays for its eclectic flea market, a vivid melange of sights, sounds and shopping. The Buenos Aires market has been a Sunday tradition since it was established in 1897. Find antiques, souvenirs, jewellery, art – if there’s something specific you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it here. As the sun sets, wander over to Plaza Dorrego where an outdoor milonga, or mass tango session, takes place. Take a seat at an open-air café and review the day’s efforts ¬– perhaps a handmade sterling silver ring or a real Argentinian leather jacket ¬– over a bottle of malbec.
Stuttgart Christmas Market, Germany
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About a month before Christmas, the centre of Stuttgart is transformed into a beautiful, snow-dusted market decked out in festive lights and decorations. With its focal point in Marktplatz by the Old Palace, the market spills into surrounding squares and streets. Attracting millions of visitors annually, the historic market dates back to the 1600s and is one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Europe. Shoppers buy traditional wooden crafts, seasonal specialties (such as roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and gingerbread), decorations and toys from more than 280 stalls. Other attractions include the Wintertraum (“Winterland”) on Palace Square and daily music concerts in the Renaissance courtyard of the Old Palace.
El Mercado de las Brujas, La Paz, Bolivia
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The name of this city bazaar translates as the Witches’ Market and it’s run by local witch doctors known as yatiri – identify them by their black hats and obscure merchandise. You can find more traditional market goods at the Witches’ Market – textiles, souvenirs, clothing – but you’ll also find potions, talismans and medicinal plants. Most confronting are the rows upon rows of dried llama foetuses. They’re buried under many Bolivian houses as an offering to the goddess Pachamama.
Marché aux Fleurs – Reine Elizabeth II, Paris, France
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Between the famous landmarks of Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle on Quai de la Corse on the Île de la Cité (one of two islands on the Seine, in the centre of Paris) is a flower market that dates back to 1808. Spilling out onto Place Louis-Lépine from Art Nouveau glass-roofed pavilions erected in 1900, the market is full of colourful, scented blooms and greenery, including exotic flowers and orchids. It’s open every day except Sunday, when the Marché aux Oiseaux (bird market) rules the roost.
Mercato di Rialto, Venice, Italy
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From an absurdly picturesque location alongside the Grand Canal, vendors carefully pile pyramids of fresh produce, casaros arrange tiers of cheese and fishmongers preside over piles of glistening fresh fish at the pescaria. This is where real Venetians (what’s left of them) do the daily grocery shop and the produce is strictly seasonal.
Namdaemun Market, Seoul, South Korea
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Dating back to 1414, Namdaemun Market is located by the historic gate of the same name – the Great South Gate. It’s the largest and oldest continually running market in the country and here you’ll find streets and streets of shops selling everything from clothing and kitchenware to cameras and ginseng tea. Head to Food Alley for a street snack of the market’s famous hotteok – made from risen dough stuffed with sweet filling (such as honey and cinnamon) that’s flattened and fried like a pancake until golden brown. Afterwards, shop for souvenirs, optical, stationery, fashion, bed linen or cameras on eponymous streets.
Mercado de Chichicastenango, El Quiché, Guatemala
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The historic indigenous town of Chichicastenango (also known as Chichi) holds one of the largest markets in Central America. Every Thursday and Sunday, vendors come from afar to sell their wares. A riot of colour and activity, the market offers everything from fruits, vegetables and live produce to flowers, crafts, textiles, tools and pottery against a backdrop of cobbled streets and traditional buildings. Don’t miss the nearby Iglesia de Santo Tomás, a beautiful white church built atop a temple platform dating back to Mayan times.