Determined to have a real Parisian shopping experience, I decided to look into something a little more off the beaten path. When I heard about the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, I knew that I had found my solution. With over 2,500 stalls that are nicely separated into individually named specialty markets, there is something for everyone. Being the largest flea market in all of Europe, it’s not hard to see why it attracts between 120,000 to 150,000 visitors each weekend.
You can take the metro to the Porte de Clignancourt station or if you drive parking is available. Crossing the street separating Paris from Saint-Ouen you walk past many men with knock-off designer bags dangling from their arms and perfumes stuffed in their jackets before you can access the entrance, but what awaits you is worth this initial inconvenience.
Once you reach the market, you can walk down one of the many aisles of tented tables selling mostly cheap clothing, shoes, hats, bags, and African carvings and textiles. This part of the market is extremely crowded and loud and the vendors eye you like hawks before you even look at their products. I love the mix of cultures that you come across in this initial jungle. In this lively section of the market there’s music playing, plenty of food stalls, and you can find shoes for 10€.
You then have the choice of entering one of the specialty markets dedicated to antique furniture, jewellery, and clothing. The pace immediately slows down and calm washes over you as you have entered another time. Some of the furniture looks like it came from the Palais de Versailles and is equally expensive!
Marché Vernaison is the oldest part of the market and is comprised of narrow winding alleys draped in ivy and lilac. It is also home to Liberty’s, the famous store that specializes in the sale and repair of old French clocks. What I love about this market is the variation in what you can find. There are stands selling dolls, vintage dresses, buttons, doorknobs, tiaras, silverware, and my personal favourite, old keys! There’s something magical about those slightly rusted iron keys and I love trying to imagine what beautiful French door they once opened.
I also like to walk into the Marché Serpette, as it is housed in an old garage and is a welcome relief on a cold and rainy day. Last time I explored this market, my eye was immediately drawn to the most beautiful, bronze jewellery box. The detail was gorgeous with cherubs and birds dancing around its ornate sides. The vendor crept up behind me and said it was from Napoleon III’s time, was 3000€, but that she could lower the price if I was interested. Bargaining is commonplace in these antique markets and the price listed is rarely the price you pay if you are up for a little friendly haggling. She also reminded me that shipping could be arranged. Perfect! Unfortunately, it was out of my price range, as are most of the items in this market, but you feel like you are in a museum as you walk past stunning chandeliers, Louis XIV style cabinets, and wooden gilded mirrors shining like the sun.
If there were any doubt, you are reminded that you are indeed in France as you can see a group of vendors sitting at a table enjoying their leisurely lunch with a bottle of wine, truly relaxed while at work. Walking around, you can hear German, Japanese or English words briefly float by and then join in with the overall French hum. People from all over the world come here to find that one item they cannot find anywhere else. I have spent several Sundays here (that is the best day to go) and have enjoyed it every time.
So if you’re looking for some cheap clothing, beautiful antiques, a lovely promenade or some friendly conversation with the knowledgeable vendors, then I highly recommend checking out the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. It really is the most wonderful place to spend a day soaking up a unique atmosphere and you’re bound to leave with some true treasures.
Address: 140 rue des Rosiers 93400 Saint-Ouen
Métro: Porte de Clignancourt
Tél: 01 40 12 32 58
Hours: Saturday 9:00 – 18:00, Sunday 10:00 – 18:00, Monday 11:00 – 17:00