6 Tricks to Navigating the Paris Flea Markets

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My bucket list has long included a visit to the Paris flea markets and I checked it off in January 2017.  Go.  It’s worth it.

But if you are at all like me and love the hunt, be warned.  You will not know when to quit, feeling that if you entered just one. more. stall.…. then, there it would be, the most exquisite gem.   Simply, I was spoilt for choice.

Here is what I wish I knew before I went, with pictures to whet your appetite for your own visit.

Let’s start with the basics.

1. There’s More Than One

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There is more than one flea market in Paris.  In fact, there are many.  The Marche aux Puces/ St-Oeun  is the oldest and largest flea market, affectionately known as ‘Les Puces’.  It is located in the suburbs of Paris just north of the city line in Porte de Clignancourt.   This post will focus on my visit there.

On later trips to Paris (a visit to the city is, indeed, always a good idea),  I hope to visit the open air Les Puces de Montreuil and Marche aux puces de la Porte de Vanves.  Details on those markets are covered here.  Plus, there are regular street fairs for those who really love to dig–you can locate those markets at vide-greniers.org.

Some say there are better bargains at these smaller markets.  I can’ t wait to find out someday, and when I do, I promise to report back.

However, since this was my first opportunity to explore the flea markets in Paris and I only had one day,  I went with a visit to the big guns…Les Puces.

Let the treasure hunting begin…

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2.  Take an Uber There and Back

Yes you can get there via mass transportation.  Here is how to take the metro, but the neighborhood around Les Puces is sketchy and the metro involves a long 15 minute walk through acres of junky t-shirts and housewares before you get to the good stuff.

So, if this is vacation and you are out for fun, spring for the Uber.  Tell the driver to take you to Rue Paul Bert at Les Puces.  That last bit is important as there are others streets of the same name in central Paris.

In January 2017, my Uber from the St. Germain area was approximately $26 each way.  It was worth it.  I had more time at the actual flea market, and saw some pretty sights on my journey.

3. There Are No Bargains, But Bring Cash

Ok, maybe, maybe, maybe you will unearth gold.  But, seriously, don’t count on it.  The vendors are sophisticated, even if they appear eccentric.  They are well aware of the value of what they are selling.  It’s next to impossible to get a steal.

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That said, you can surely find something you will personally treasure, and you will definitely pay less if your currency is cash.  Most importantly, I found that many dealers did not take credit cards for the relatively small purchases I made.  I purchased a teapot and a vintage Hermes scarf, while my friend bought a light fixture and an etching.

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4. Start at Marche Paul Bert/Serpette

You will not have time to see all of Les Puces in one day.   At 7 hectares, Les Puces is considered one of the largest flea markets in the world with over 3000 dealers.

After an exhaustive search online prior to my visit, I found that anyone who picked a favorite market, chose Marche Paul Bert/Serpette.  It did not disappoint.

Trust me, after wandering the mix of outdoor and indoor stalls of Paul Bert, and the entirely indoor market, Serpette, you will feel like you had the “experience.”  It took us the entire day.

What will you find?  Everything!

Expect to see oodles of drippy chandeliers, lots of copper cookware and dishes, antique passementerie, some fabulous art, plenty of vintage designer clothing, old Louis Vuitton luggage and much much more.

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After oogling booth after booth of  interesting furniture, I am convinced that Italian midcentury modern is on the verge of a big moment.

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If you have the energy and time, there are shops that line the streets just outside the Marche Paul Bert/Serpette also worth exploring.

5. You Can (and Should) Eat There

I had heard that the restaurants were bad at Les Puces but I had a delicious meal there.

Shopping works up an appetite, and my friend and I ate at an old timer, the Cafe Le Paul Bert.  Located at the Marche Paul Bert entrance, it was crowded, loud and had signs that warned of pickpockets.  I clutched my handbag between my knees.

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But when it came to the food,  I gobbled up the most delicious boeuf bourguignon served steaming in its own little casserole.  Then, I topped it off with a country-style apple tart.  With wine, my meal was about 38 euros.  If this is French fare at its most basic, sign me up.

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It’s worth noting that one of the dealers recommended  Ma Cocette at the other end of Marche Paul Bert.  I read later that it was designed by Philippe Starck, so design hounds may want to have a look.

6.  If You Expect To Spend Big Money, Hire a Guide

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You certainly can have fun at Les Puces without a guide, especially if you are wandering about just for the kick, seeking only  to pick up a small personal delight.

On the other hand,  if you really expect to drop some money, a guide is essential.  Les Puces is vast and you can easily get taken.  I say this after shopping many many markets from Brimfield here in the US (without a guide) to the Medina in Marrakech (with one).

Who to hire?  I recommend Toma, The Antiques Diva.  (This is not a sponsored post, but my personal, unsolicited opinion).  I have been shopping with Toma in Venice, Italy and in Tetbury, England.  Her local guides know their stuff and she has the largest network in Europe.  While I didn’t require her services in Paris this time, she is a noted expert there.

Toma and her team will tailor your visit to those dealers who are trustworthy and offer just what you are seeking.  The biggest stressor associated with such a large market is worrying that the best thing is the item you didn’t find.  That won’t happen with Toma.  You will see it all, time and money will be saved,  and she can assist you with getting your purchases home.

Happy hunting.

I can’t wait to get back to Les Puces and the other Paris Flea Markets.  Drop me a comment if you have any other questions.

All photos by Lynn Byrne.

CultureJeremy Richardson