No matter where you travel internationally, just about every town and city has its own flavor of local markets. Markets are steeped in history and date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome when people sold their wares on the street. Think of the traditional bazaars in Morocco. The first signs used to display what was for sale in each stall were the first form of market-ing. (The word makes sense now, doesn't it?)
Best Roadside or Street Markets
In today's digital environment, where online shopping is the new norm, it's refreshing to shop at an authentic street market. However, not all markets are equal, so we’ve dug deep to uncover the best markets. It's no easy feat because there are literally thousands of markets worldwide!
Tsukiji Fish Market - Tokyo, Japan
The Tsukiji Fish Market located in Tokyo is the largest of its kind globally. This is the place where you can get just about any variety of seafood at a wholesale price. The seafood market is a major tourist destination for both domestic and overseas travelers. Along with the never-ending stalls of fresh fish, the outer retail seafood market consists of several restaurants along narrow lanes.
We suggest visiting Tsukiji Outer Market for a sushi breakfast (yes, you can eat sushi for breakfast) or lunch after the seafood has been delivered from sea to plate. This is an authentic Japanese experience and simply the best way to eat the freshest seafood in Tokyo. If you're feeling a bit cheeky, enjoy it with some sake.
Pro tip: Get there early (before 9 am) to beat the crowd.
Souks of Marrakech - Marrakesh, Morocco
The bustling souks of Marrakesh are the most exotic and famous group of street markets in the world. Over 1,000 years old, these markets have over a whopping 3,000 stalls and food vendors selling everything from multi-colored Moroccan carpets to spices, antiques and tagines. For the first-timer, it can be a little overwhelming at first with sensory overload from all the vibrant colors, the smell of spices and the shouts of vendors hustling for a sale. The whole place exudes frenetic energy.
The best thing to do is just dive in and get lost inside the maze of shadowy passages penetrated by slivers of sunlight. Valuable goods such as gold and delicate handicrafts are located in the center of the bazaar, and the items become less expensive as you work your way out. It can be sweltering here, so the best time to visit is in the morning or for a pleasant evening stroll.
Tips for haggling:
- Don't ask a vendor the price of something unless you are seriously considering buying it.
- Come back with half the seller's first price and go from there.
- Take your time, and don’t feel rushed or pressured into a sale.
- There is no ‘right’ price. Once you feel comfortable with the price and want the item, buy it.
Safety tip: Keep your belongings such as your wallet and phone secure. The bazaar can get crowded, and professional pickpockets are common.
Chatuchak Weekend Market - Bangkok, Thailand
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the largest in Thailand and has a mind-boggling 15,000+ stalls, 11,500 local vendors and over 200,000 visitors each week! In fact, they lay claim to being the world's largest weekend market. You name it, chances are you can buy it here. The sheer size of the market makes it hard to navigate for newcomers. As such, grab one of the free market maps from the information kiosks. It will help you from getting lost!
Like the souks, Chatuchak will engage all of your senses. You’ll hear loud music blasting from eclectic fashion stalls, smell the scent of Thai street food cooking, and see hoards of people milling about. Bartering is again the norm, however, everything is pretty cheap here, so don't feel that you need to get down on price too much. If you have the opportunity to eat spicy stir-fried frog legs, do it! Seriously, it's delicious. As they say, when in Rome...
Currency tip: Learn the numbers one to ten in Thai. The more Thai you can use, the less chance you’ll have of getting ripped off.
La Boqueria - Barcelona, Spain
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the iconic Spanish city of Barcelona, the local market of La Boqueria (in the Ciutat Vella district) is a must. This historically famous market and significant tourist attraction date back to 1217, when tables were set up near the old city gate to sell meat. Today, the market offers a much more diverse selection, though the majority of shops are still food-related.
The grand iron entrance welcomes you to a foodie's paradise of displays that are impressive just to look at, let alone taste. Besides the fantastic local Spanish cuisine, you will find a variety of foods from all around the world. We suggest that you pull up a stool at one of the many Spanish tapas bars and enjoy a delicious meal with a glass of tempranillo while taking in the electrifying atmosphere.
Spanish tip: Avoid the rush by getting there when the market opens at 8 am.
Ver-o-Peso: Belém, Brazil
Ver-o-peso is a special market located on the Guajará Bay riverside in Belém, Brazil. It has a controversial history of colonial-era traditions where goods brought from the Amazon forests were taxed by the Portuguese crown. Today, it is an open market containing the Açaí Fair, where the world-famous, nutrient-packed purple berry is traded straight from the jungle. The market also has both a fish market and a meat market. Non-food-related shops include craftsmanship, live animals and artisanal products such as natural essence perfumes made from exotic Amazon ingredients.
However, Ver-o-Peso is more than just a market; it is of great cultural and social significance with a deep connection to the Amazon rainforest for the local Brazilian people. It is an icon for the city of Belém and a big part of their identity. As such, Ver-o_Peso is currently on the tentative list to qualify for UNESCO World Heritage status.
We recommend going in early to see the local fishermen unloading their catch in the morning.
Safety tip: Keep belongings secure, remain vigilant for pickpockets and avoid going after 5 pm.
St. George’s Market - Belfast, Ireland
St. George’s Market is one of Belfast's major attractions with a reputation as one of the best markets in the UK and Ireland. The award-winning market dates back to 1890 and runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It takes place inside a charming old Victorian building that underwent a significant refurbishment in 1997. What makes St. George's market truly unique is that they have a different theme for each day.
Friday is the Variety Market which holds around 250 stalls selling fresh food, fruit and vegetables. The fish section is known as the leading retail fish market in Ireland. Saturday is the City Food, Craft and Garden Market, where you can find crafts, specialty foods from around the world and fresh produce. The atmosphere is leisurely with a backdrop of live music, inviting you to grab a coffee, sit back, relax, and watch the people go by. On Sundays, they hold the Food, Craft and Antique Market, with local bands and solo artists to keep people entertained. St. George’s Market is a great place to shop and for people to gather and socialize.
Irish Tip: Grab a craft brew, sit back, listen to the live music and soak up the atmosphere.
Marché de la Condamine - Monte Carlo, Monaco
Le Condamine Market is a cultural institution and part of Monaco's heritage that dates back to 1880 and was renovated in 1992 to keep up with the demands of consumers. A pretty little outdoor market located in the city center of Monte Carlo, one of the most charming cities in the world, Le Condamine only has twenty or so traders and has a much less frantic vibe than the other markets on this list. Monte Carlo is a wealthy city, so expect the prices to match.
It takes place in a square on terracotta paving with small ceramic tiles decorated with Provençal motifs. The shades of the market stalls protect you from the sun in summer, and in winter, they provide heating. The market is a gourmet paradise where you can feast on Monégasque cuisines such as barbagiuan, socca, fougasse and pissaladière. Like St. George’s Market, Le Condamine is more than a place to shop. It is the authentic heart of Monte Carlo and holds many cultural exhibitions and celebrations for the locals.
The Grand Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and most famous markets in the world. The products have become so popular that the bazaar now even has a thriving eCommerce store online that ships unique handicrafts and Turkish delights worldwide. But forget online shopping; the on-premises market covers 61 streets with over 4,000 stalls! As a result, they are regarded as some of the world's first-ever shopping malls. The bazaar even has its own mosque in case a quick prayer is required during a shopping trip. According to Wikipedia, in 2014, it was listed as the world's most visited tourist attraction with a staggering 91 million visitors!
Located inside the walled city of Istanbul and dating back to the year 146, the bazaar is one of the best places in the country to get a taste of ancient Ottoman culture. You can find everything from exotic carpets, kilim rugs and textiles, to ceramics, lanterns, narghile (Turkish tobacco pipe), and jewelry. The best thing about the items is they are truly unique and hand-crafted with love, so you'll be hard-pressed to find anything similar. You cannot cover the whole bazaar in one day, and you should also expect to get lost, but that's half the fun!
Bargaining tip: Remember, the first price you're quoted is seldom the lowest the seller will go, but it's also important to show respect. If you are unsure, shop around a bit before returning.
Las Bóvedas - Cartagena, Colombia
Las Bóvedas is located within the beautiful old-walled city of Cartagena. The market takes place inside and outside of a fascinating example of Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 18th century, consisting of 47 arches and 23 domes. Originally built as storage for munitions due to its close proximity to the sea, it was eventually used as a dungeon to house prisoners of war during the civil war.
Today, it hosts the Las Bóvedas market and the cells in the dungeon house shops. It is a great place to pick up souvenirs, including hand-woven bags, trinkets, artwork, hand-made Colombian hammocks, and plenty of Pablo Escobar-themed wares if that’s your thing.
During operations, the area is buzzing, and hawkers can be slightly pushy to get your attention and a sale. However, if you are after some traditional and authentic Colombian merchandise, Las Bóvedas is the place to shop.
Safety tip: Keep your phone and wallet secure and be aware of pickpockets.
Khan El-Khalili - Cairo, Egypt
Khan El-Khalili is a world-famous bazaar in the historic center of Cairo. The site itself is built on the ancient burial grounds of the Fatimid caliphs, who founded Cairo in the 10th century. Much like the souks, Khan El-Khalili is comprised of thin grid-like alleyways with endless stalls selling colorful lanterns, musical instruments, jewelry, perfumes, candles and much more. All of your senses are activated when strolling through the bazaar, making for an incredible atmosphere.
What's excellent about Khan El-Khalili is that most vendors speak English, which makes haggling easier. However, it always helps to prevent overpaying if you can surprise them with a few words of Arabic. When you need to chill out after immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the bazaar, we suggest finding one of the many coffee houses. Try an authentic Arabic coffee (or ‘qahwa’), often brewed with local spices such as cardamom.
Bazaar tip: Try to catch the whirlwind dervish at the adjacent Wekalet El Ghouri Arts Center in the evening.
Have we missed any of your favorite markets? If so, we would love to hear about them! Please list any in the comments below.
Storylines MV Narrative is a private residence ship that continuously circumnavigates the globe. Residents aboard have unique and authentic cultural experiences every day as part of their global lifestyle, such as shopping at local street markets, and attending festivals and world-famous cultural events. These are just some of the attractions our community onboard MV Narrative will experience when traveling around the world (and taking their home with them).