Love the Design’s Guide to the Flea Markets of Paris
By Ashley Bartlett
Hunt. Rummage. Scour. Whatever you prefer to call it, searching for antiques is the name of the game, and doing so at one of Paris’ famous puces (pronounced poose) is the main event. Home to the largest flea market in the world, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris is one of the best places to strike it gold for buyers and dealers alike.
Planning a trip across the pond? If you’re an avid collector or simply a curious flaneuse looking for obscure inspiration, you’ll want to add these to your itinerary. Follow along as we take you to some of the best markets Paris has to offer — including do’s and don’ts of navigating your way to a deal. And because it’s always good to lead in French, a helpful little list of key phrases.
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Sometimes referred to as Marché aux Puces de Clignancourt because of its location, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is the mac daddy of flea markets. It’s the world’s largest, by no exaggeration. Located on the fringes of North-east Paris, this is mecca for collectors as it covers 17 acres and sprawling with over 3,000 vendors. Unlike traditional fleas which bring to mind an open sidewalk with merchants on each side, the Saint-Ouen is more like a small neighbourhood made up of several different markets. The sheer size means you’ll find everything under the sun — from rare books and fix’er up’er furniture to prized antiques and luxury décor. With so many vendors, things are more specialized which is good news if you’re on the hunt for something specific. The vibe isn’t as warm and friendly as others, so don’t be surprised if the merchant won’t budge on the price but do take your time and let yourself get lost in the maze of treasures. It’s a wonderfully unique experience, one you may recall from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Lively. Bustling. Colourful.
Nearest metro: Clignancourt, line 4
Hours: Saturday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Monday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Map: click here
Marché aux puces de la Porte de Vanves
If you aren’t ready to commit to the beast that is Saint-Ouen, the Marché aux puces de la Porte de Vanves may be more your speed. The offerings are equally varied, however the size is much more manageable if you’re in the mood for a weekend stroll. Vendors are lined up on either side of the sidewalk, which extends a few blocks. The goods — ranging from weathered paintings and vintage postcards to old travel posters and letterpress keys — are typically scattered with no rhyme or reason and without thought to merchandizing, so be prepared to sift and sort. Feel free to charm your way to a bargain, it just may work here.
Nearest Métro: Porte de Vanves, line 13
Hours: Saturday + Sunday 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Map: click here
The Do's and Don'ts of Flea Market-ing
- Do bring cash: some vendors will have credit card machines for larger purchases, but don’t bank on it
- Don’t feel rushed: take your time going through stacks, boxes, or piles. While this may be frowned upon in more formal shopping environments, the flea is the place to take your sweet time.
- Do arrive early: the early bird really does get the worm! Give yourself lots of time to explore the market, you never know what you’ll find.
- Don’t be afraid to dig: some merchants put more care into displaying their offerings, while other stands are a complete mess. Don’t let this discourage you, after all… the thrill is in the hunt.
- Do be friendly: most of the vendors are friendly but some wear their poker faces for buyers. Regardless of their approach, always wear a smile.
- Don’t touch items: unless of course you are interested in purchasing. If you are simply browsing and have no intent on a trade, touching the item will signal you are interested in a deal.
- Do negotiate: unless the piece you’re interested in is seriously valuable, the vendor will often welcome an offer. Stick to your guns if you’ve done the research, but be prepared to meet in the middle.
Navigating the flea in a new city can be a bit tricky, especially if you don’t speak the language. In Paris, it’s a very a good idea to have a grasp on a few key phrases when approaching a sale. The vendor will likely notice you aren’t French and respond in English (often to relieve you if you are struggling, so don’t take it personally), but they will respect the effort. It’s nice to address others in their own language when traveling.
What is your best price? Quel est votre prix?
How much? Combien?
Too expensive for me. Trop cher pour moi.
How old is it? C’est de quelle période?
I only have XX Euros – is that enough? Tout ce que j’ai est XX Euros – est-ce suffisant?
Ashley Bartlett a design enthusiast and the founder of Quaintrelle.ca, a cultivation of life’s pleasures.
Follow Ashley’s adventures on Instagram via @quaintrellebyab.