A feast for the senses with a hefty dose of local culture, there’s no better way to put your finger on the pulse of the city’s heartbeat than getting lost in the sensory experience that is the local street market.
Farmers markets, flea markets, vintage, mercantile – and I love them all. Each has its own set of distinct and unique treasures. I can only attest to the ones I’ve been to, but there are countless others I can’t wait to explore!
Here are some of my favorite European street markets from the past year.
La Boqueria: Produce, meat, seafood, confections
Located steps from Barcelona’s famous La Rambla, La Boqueria is my favorite street market by far. Because I’m from a big city (San Francisco), it spoke to my love of chaotic anonymity. I’m used to pushing my way through loud, densely-packed urban areas; yet traversing this market alone is the only way to let your eyes and nose lead the way.
The moment you set foot in La Boqueria, your senses are consumed. A thousand voices fill the air at once. Vendors have mastered the art of the two-second sale as they shout prices at passersby, so be aware that making eye contact or lingering at a stall is an invitation for a sales pitch.
Whether you’re in the mood for empanadas a la carte, artisanal candy by the ounce, dates by the box, or Crema Catalan-filled chocolate eggs by the handful, you won’t leave hungry. It’s also an excellent place to shop for local produce, seafood, meats and spices. I distinctly remember stands with colorful fruit smoothie cups stacked high with every combination imaginable– the fluorescent pink pitaya-coconut juice was my favorite.
Open Monday – Saturday from 8am-8:30pm. Visit boqueria.info for more information.
- Arrive an hour before closing for the best deals. As vendors begin to close up shop they are more inclined to slash prices since they dump much of their merchandise at day’s end.
- The better deals are often in the back stalls.
Borough Market: For conscious foodies
Tucked beneath the southern end of London Bridge, Borough Market is a foodie’s paradise. You can find produce, fresh seafood, meat and delicacies from around the world but it’s so much more. As one of the oldest markets in London, it’s a cultural melting pot of vendors and visitors alike.
Whether you’re in the mood for deep fried squid, cranberry bleu cheese, lemon-lime basil ice cream, organic veggie burgers or crumb cake from Cinnamon Tree Bakery, the only problem you’ll have is having only one stomach to fit it all.
Opening times vary depending on the day – the full market is open Wednesday through Saturday with select stalls open on Monday and Tuesday. Visit boroughmarket.org.uk for details.
- Take your lunch to Southwark Cathedral, which isn’t just the beautiful backdrop for this market, it’s also a perfect place to snag a bench and enjoy your lunch among its pink blossomed trees and grassy courtyard. The cathedral is open to the public but food is, of course, not allowed inside.
- Free wifi is available in Market Hall, the green house area near the restrooms.
Portobello Road in London is really multiple markets in one, especially on Saturdays when you can shop the full lineup of stalls (select stalls are open on other days).
To accommodate the crowds, Portobello Road closes to vehicle traffic as vendors spill onto the road displaying everything from clothes, coveted British antiques, accessories, street food, vinyl records, and used books.
The Portobello Road market runs from the Notting Hill Gate tube station to Ladbroke Grove station and opens around 8:30- 9am. Closing times vary depending on the day of the week. Visit portobelloroad.co.uk for details.
- Food stalls are concentrated toward the Ladbroke Grove end.
- Get there early to avoid the largest crowds.
Mercato Centrale: Food and leather galore
This market spans multiple blocks, with the outdoor stalls featuring mostly leather goods (jackets, bags, belts), luggage and various apparel.
The inside of the market is basically a food lovers/chefs heaven. Not only can you find colorful, fresh produce and exotic meat, but you can also enjoy freshly prepared porcetta sandwiches, pasta, pizza and wine from Porky’s or one of the other restaurants.
Beware though, the lines can get crazy! But that’s how good the food is. And because of the crowds, it tends to be difficult to get acknowledged so you have to be aggressive and get there early.
It’s dog friendly so bring your pups if you have them. And most stalls only accept cash.
- Free wifi and pay toilets inside.
- Dogs are allowed in the market, surprisingly.
Campo De’Fiori Market: Food, flowers and produce
This market is the biggest and most famous in the city. Bring plenty of Euros and put your game face on, cause you’ve never haggled until you’ve successfully negotiated a suitcase down from 50 to 25 euros. I know, I’ve done it in Italy TWICE :)
My tactic is to ask for prices, compare the different stalls, then act unimpressed at whatever price they give and walk away. Come back later, or the next day, and they’ll sell it to you for whatever you want.
Eataly and streetside mercantile market: Clothing, jewelry, vintage accessories
I don’t know the exact name of this market but it’s located just outside of Eataly near the Piramide metro station and Ostiense bus stop. This street market features clothiers and jewelry makers offering one-of-a-kind gems. If you want to bring home a unique piece of Italy, check this place out. I snagged two vintage rings which were made from the repurposed buttons of 1960’s Chanel coats!
While you’re there, do yourself a favor and wander around Eataly, a culinary funhouse with four floors of Italian delicacies including a handful of restaurants. I participated in a food show filming on the top floor when I was there in October!
Mercatino: Vintage home décor and collectibles
I still remember tearing myself away from the black crystal chandelier I so fell in love with here. With aisles of densely stacked antique furniture, record players, silverware, tea sets, crystal vases and antique China, Mercatino is a vintage-lover’s dream.
If I lived in Rome, I would furnish my entire house from Mercatino. I would serve my guests Sangiovese from my vintage purple crystal wine glasses, on my 1930’s wrought-iron side table, beneath my sexy black chandelier. It would be fabulous as f*ck.
So next time you plan a trip and someone says, “Bring me back something nice!” hit up a street market and blow their minds with a unique piece of the city.
…because nobody really likes cheesy shot glasses and refrigerator magnets. They just pretend to.