It was a few years ago, when for the first time, I was given a map of local places to visit in Brussels. The very first spot I decided to visit was a flea market. From the very first moment I entered, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere of these places, full of old items that others don’t need anymore. Since I was a student living on a tight budget, I was mainly attracted by the prices.
However, after visiting more markets in different countries, I now understand that flea markets are an amazing opportunity to sneak a peek into the personal lives of locals and begin to understand the destination, you are living in or travelling to, a bit better.
Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to during my travels. It might be useful for those who are new to the flea market world.
Bargain, Bargain, Bargain
Please don’t make the same mistake, I did the first times. Always ask for a lower price! And the absolute key is to not show a real interest in the item. The more you like it, the harder it gets to negotiate. One of my favourite techniques is to walk away after a small talk with the vendor. In most cases, this will make them offer you a better deal!
Robby Block seconds this theory. While recommending Leopoldplatz Flea Market, he states if you don’t get too excited about an item, then you might just be able to take it home for a couple of euros. In some cases a bargain isn’t always necessary though, there’s a great indoor flea market in Rome, il Mercatino, where the items are tagged with a date and if 60 days have passed since then, the article is sold at a discount!
Go without expectations
Sometimes before a visit to a flea market, I make a visual plan of what I would need to buy. Mistake! Let yourself be surprised and don’t limit yourself with expectations. There is a far more beautiful, vintage world to be discovered out there. Jeremy Petrus from Montreal agrees, “getting lost in the maze of precious junk [that is Marché aux puces St-Michel,] is a real treat” and half the fun! Indeed, leaving any expectations behind can also help to avoid some disappointment if you return home empty handed. However, like Deniz says in her review about the Feriköy Flea Market in Istanbul, even if you don’t find anything, at least you’ll have experienced a genuine, cozy neighborhood atmosphere.
Like I mentioned before, a visit to a flea market is a great way to experience local life. They’re often located in out-of-the-way neighborhoods you wouldn’t normally visit. So it’s a 2-in-1, you can get souvenirs or treasures at a bargain price (if you play your cards right), and see some more of the city’s great neighborhoods. Vasco highly recommends the Porto Belo market in Porto, which is on a square surrounded by lovely cafés and a beautiful 18th-century church, covered in “azulejos”. It’s also why Karla recommends the antique fair on British Square in Zagreb, as a perfect way to experience local culture and traditions.
Take a closer look at the vendor
Most of the items offered at markets were part of the everyday life of the person selling it. And even though they want to get rid of it, they still feel some personal attachment. The more you can identify yourself with the personality of the vendor, the more chance you have of the item becoming one of your favourite ones! Vilnius local Marek puts it nicely in his article about Tauras Hill flea market, “every vendor has stories to tell about the things he or she is selling.” Most of them are definitely up for a chat, depending on the occasional language barrier of course!
Get up early, and be there before the crowd to snatch the best treasures. The organizers of one of the biggest flea markets in Europe, the IJhallen in Amsterdam, have made a smart move to increase their profits: charging more. ‘How would that work’, I hear you thinking?! Well, it gives the early-birds and die-hard flea market hunters the chance to peruse the stalls in a smaller crowd. It’s almost like the flea market is open just for you and you can ‘steal’ all the treasure before the rest of the world has even gotten out of bed.
Yes, be early and go late… might sound contradictory, but it’s actually quite logical. At the end of the day, many of the good treasures are gone, but sellers don’t want to carry everything back home. Especially the bigger stuff you can get for a bargain! And you might find a treasure that was buried under a lot of other treasures before, but is now displayed for your eyes only.
Claudia Schwarz mentions this tip for her favorite market, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, too, “[…] the best-priced deals can be found later in the afternoon. About 30 minutes before all vendors start packing up their things, they start to lower their prices in order to make last minute sales.”
Have you got any other tips?