All too often, the first stop on our tourist itineraries is at the local museum, mosque or castle. But an arguably better place to start your visit is at the market. A visit to a local market is the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs, try out the local cuisine and get a taste of authentic culture on your next trip. Here’s ten of our favorite markets from around the world. Take a look.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Swap the shopping cart for a dugout canoe, and the store aisle for a muddy canal, and suddenly you’ve found yourself bartering for fresh cut pineapple from a floating vendor at Bangkok’s Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. A longtime tourist draw, the market has skyrocketed in popularity, and on busy days the canals can get packed to the point of “canoe gridlock”. Well-prepared shoppers will bring small bills to avoid having to make change, and an adequate form of sun protection to survive the open-air journey.
Istanbul Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
The granddaddy of its genre, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is the world’s oldest–and one of the world’s largest–covered markets. Slinging everything from traditional pottery to precious gemstones, the market has roughly 4000 different shops, and the restaurants feature some of the most palate-whetting, finger-licking good food on the planet. Savvy travelers to the market bring a pocketful of cash (as few stalls accept credit cards), hardy bargaining skills, and a voracious appetite.
Monastiraki Flea Market, Athens, Greece
On Sunday mornings in Athens, the Monastiraki Flea Market is simply the place to be. Rural merchants and urban store owners alike all crowd the streets with their wares, as street performers and local musicians provide background ambiance to the entire scene. While many of the goods found in the market can be classified as typical tourist junk, the intuitive shopper can easily be rewarded by hunting out the quirky local characters and some of the tucked away stores. One such store features a sign out front that simply states, “No tourists allowed. Travelers welcome”, attesting to the shopper it hopes to attract.
Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
Seeing as the entire city of Luang Prabang is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it comes as no surprise that it also features one of the most colorful, exquisite markets in all of Asia. Each evening, ethnic Hmong villagers descend from nearby hill communities to ply their handicrafts at the Night Market, with the most popular being the handsewn silk scarves. If all the shopping works up an appetite, an incredibly narrow alleyway features a cornucopia of fresh meat, vegetables, and fish, where you can tackle an “all-you can fit” style plate to the tune of a whopping $3.
Jalan Gaya Street Fair, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia
There aren’t all that many markets in the world where you can purchase a fresh handful of Rambutan fruit, handpainted blowdarts, and top it all off with a live snake for lunch. This is exactly the case, however, at the Jalan Gaya Street Fair held each Sunday in this bustling Borneo metropolis. For a curious array of fresh seafood, check down the street at the seafood market along the waterfront. Highly eclectic and culturally diverse, the entire scene takes place under the watchful eye of 13,435 ft. Mt. Kinabalu, looming stoically in the distance.
Chiconcuac Tianguis, Mexico City, Mexico
With the third-largest metropolitan area on the planet and a culturally diverse native population, Mexico City is bound to offer up some colorful street shopping experiences, for those who know where to look. Traditional tianguis (Aztec for market) are located all over the city, the largest being the Chiconcuac Market on the outskirts of the city, where up to 3,000 merchants swap handwoven clothing, pottery, and various forms of produce.
The Medina, Tangiers, Morocco
With its shoulder width alleyways and constant cloud of wafting spices, navigating the Tangiers Medina is a shopping experience entirely unto itself. While many of the Medina (old towns, usually featuring tightly knit houses and narrow alleys) in other Moroccan cities have become somewhat of tourist-traps, the Tangiers Medina is an authentic cultural experience. Spend enough time in the Medina, and there’s a good chance you’ll wind up drinking tea on a rooftop with a local carpet merchant, haggling over color schemes and which neighbor cooks the best lunch.
Chinatown Night Market, Singapore
Under a string of red lanterns in the moist equatorial air, the experience of the Chinatown Market comes alive once the sun goes down. A juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, you can haggle for knockoff watches and purses while eating a plate of fried manta ray wings, or examine the markings on a handpainted mask while enjoying a cold Tiger beer. While the market is always a hotbed of energy, the streets explode with activity during the Chinese New Year.
Portobello Market, London, England
Set in West London’s Notting HIll district (yes, the same one as the film), the Portobello Market held each Saturday turns two miles of Portobello Rd. into a teeming street scene of market stalls and browsing pedestrians. In proper British fashion, the market is subdivided into categories so that merchandise of the same genre can all be found clustered together in the same vicinity.
El Rastro, Madrid, Spain
An essential stop on any Madrid itinerary, El Rastro is a Sunday morning flurry of street commerce that takes up multiple streets in the Spanish capital. While the usual market items are available for purchase, the top-prize at El Rastro is to come away with a good price on a handcrafted sword from the nearby town of Toledo, home of all the weaponry found in the movie series Lord of the Rings.