One of my favorite parts about traveling to France is shopping in the plethora of indoor and outdoor markets throughout the country. From specialty markets like the fish market in Marseille and flea markets in Paris to the many community-based produce markets throughout France, there is never a lack of great finds at these treasure-troves of gastronomic and antique delights.
While many people love searching through the bric-à-brac (knick-knacks), antiques, household wares and more at the flea markets in France (or marchés aux puces), I’ve always been a bigger fan of the food markets. The greatest part about these markets? Not only are they in almost every village throughout France; they are full of regional specialties, the freshest produce, cheeses and meats, and only carry seasonal items. The treasures you’ll find at these markets will depend on where you find yourself and in which season. However, no matter where or when, you are sure to find treats galore.
Tips for Shopping in French Markets
Honestly, there is little advice to be given about shopping in French food markets. Once you find yourself surrounded by the stalls of freshly-picked heads of lettuce, huge cheese wheels, hanging salamis, bins of olives and more, you’ll have little trouble figuring out what to do.
If you are looking for clothing and other wares, you may want to check out how to maximize your market shopping; below are a few of my tips for getting the most out of your trip to the markets in France:
- Go early. The best stuff sells out fast and you can avoid crowds and parking problems by showing up toward opening time.
- Bring a basket or canvas bag. While many of the vendors have plastic grocery bags these are not only bad for the environment, but also not very practical for carrying your purchases. A big basket (I personally like this one) will allow you to buy lots of goodies and carry then comfortably.
- Bring cash, especially smaller bills. As with markets in the U.S., the easiest way to navigate your way through these markets is with the appropriate change.
- Walk around the market at least once before you purchase anything. Many of the merchants have similar or almost identical products; scoping out everything before diving in will help you find the best prices.
- Take advantage of the samples. This will save you not only from ending up with a big hunk of cheese you don’t like, but you can also make an entire meal from free, delicious samples.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. This is of course much easier to do if you speak French, but if you feel like something is overpriced (or you see a vendor next door with lower prices) try to negotiate – even if your tactic is simply to roll your eyes and walk away. This of course does not always work, but it’s worth a shot. (Don’t be too aggressive, however, as you may hear a sling of French curse words directed toward you!)
- Make a picnic. One of my favorite things to do when traveling in France is to spend the morning at the market, picking up ingredients for a delicious and affordable lunch. Grab a baguette, some cheese and meat (maybe even pâté), fresh fruit or produce and a bottle of wine, and you’ll be eating like a King or Queen all while staying on budget. (Don’t be afraid to ask if they can open the bottle for you!)
Famous Markets in France
While there are plenty of fabulous markets in both big cities and small country villages, there are a few especially great markets in France that are well-known for both their size and the amazing selection of items found there. Here is a brief summary of some of France’s most famous markets.
The great thing about the markets in Paris is that because the is the cultural and commerce capital in France, it is easy to find products from all over France at the markets. Vendors often drive hundreds of miles to sell their products in Parisian markets.
But almost every neighborhood in France has its own market, all selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses, etc. There are over 70 outdoor markets in France, all of which are sure to please, but here are a few of my favorites.
Richard Lenoir, Paris – This market in the 11ème arrondissement is one of the city’s largest; it is especially lively on Sundays, when you’ll see musical performers among the vendors and general hubbub. Here you’ll find all kinds of foods – from the freshest meats, cheeses and produce to international foods and flavors like Middles Eastern cuisine and Spanish paellas. Those who want to pick up some hot new duds will also find leather goods, clothing, lingerie, shoes and textiles.
Thursday and Sunday
Métro stop: Bastille
Marché aux Puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen de Clignacourt – The world’s largest flea market, located on the outskirts of Paris, features almost 3,000 stalls that sell everything from antiques to cheap clothing. For avid antique hunters, deal seekers and rummage rats, there are definitely some excellent finds at this sprawling market. A knack for treasure hunting and a little know-how will help you navigate its seven hectares of treasures; but with a little pateience and a lot of luck, you can sort through enough junk to find some truly amazing finds.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday 9 am-7pm
Métro stop: Porte de Clignancourt
>>Learn more about the gigantic flea market, Les Puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen, or get more tips on shipping furniture at Fashion at the St.-Ouen Flea Market
Saumur – This quaint town along the banks of the Loire River is home not only to one of Loire Valley’s Castles; it also has a great weekly market on Saturday mornings. The Loire Valley is frequently called the “garden of France” for its fertile soil, great wines and cornucopia of fresh produce, which is why this market is especially wonderful. Saumur is also known for its locally grown mushrooms and is home to the famous (and only) Cointreau factory.
Strasbourg – If you find yourself spending Christmas in France (or even just December in France), then don’t miss taking a trip to the amazing Christmas market in Strasbourg. The oldest and largest Christmas market in the world, it takes over the city of Strasbourg in December, complete with twinkling lights and beautiful decorations, vendors selling vin chaud and cookies, Christmas decorations, housewares and plenty of great gifts for Francophiles.
Quiberon – While this Breton town, located on a thin peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, may not have the biggest or best market in the region it will always be one of my favorite markets to shop at. My great-grandparents owned a vacation home in this picturesque town on the Brittany coast; I have many summer memories involving eating fresh gauffres (waffles) on the boardwalk and shopping for fresh fish and flowers in the weekly market, which takes place on Saturday mornings. Fresh seafood and produce always abound, and in the fall and winter months you can find freshly shucked oysters.
Most of my favorite market experiences in France have been in Provence during the summer months, where you will find fresh-cut lavender, handmade soaps, aromatic Herbes de Provence, local produce, and high-quality meats and cheeses. If you find yourself in France in July or August, you will be hard pressed not to stumble upon a great market.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – This compact, medieval Provençal town is built on five islands in the Sorgue River, whose source is a spring at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This lovely town is worth visiting for its Venetian-style bridges, canals and ubiquitous waters, but it is also home to a sprawling market on Sundays. Here you will find mostly local produce, meats and cheeses, though there are vendors selling typical Provence-inspired wares – tablecloths, antiques, soaps, etc. As you cross the Sorgue River and shop in market stalls alongside giant moss-covered water wheels, you’ll be glad you stopped in this little town.
>>Read more about the Markets at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Carpentras – This little town, located near Arles (Vincent van Gogh’s town and muse) is situated in the melon-producing region of southern France. Especially in the summer months, this Friday morning market is overflowing with great local produce like lovely, little French melons. In the winter, this market is known for its selection of truffles (dubbed “black gold” in France) found in the region.
Nice – While Nice has markets in its various neighborhoods, it is most famous for its gorgeous daily flower market along the Cours Saleya. For the best selection, get to this market especially early – vendors arrive around 6 am – and try to make it to the market by no later than 8 or 9 am. While the beautiful bouquets of flowers are certainly a main draw at this market, you’ll also find antiques here on Mondays and fresh produce, food items and soaps on the other days of the week.
>>If you want a budget place to stay so you have more money to shop at the market, check out the Best Hostels in Nice.
Marseille – The greatest part about shopping in the markets of this major French port city is the sheer diversity of things you’ll find. Marseille is one of France’s most culturally diverse cities and in addition to large immigrant communities from northern Africa and other Mediterranean countries. Today, these influences can be seen in the Moroccan-style souk-like market stalls, complete with plenty of exotic spices, foods and flavors. Marseille is also famous for its daily fish market, which takes place north of the old port in a neighborhood called Le Panier. Get there early to see fishermen and fish vendors unloading the freshest catch for the hoards that will descend later.
Perigueux – The capital of the Dordogne River Valley in southwestern France has a great market, where vendors set up stalls along the narrow, cobblestoned streets on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Here, alongside the fresh produce and cheeses you will also find foie gras, pâte and duck. The medieval architecture in this quaint town makes for a nice backdrop while you shop (or you can always stop for a snack at the market after you finish canoeing the Dordogne River).