Where to go to channel your inner Parisian – Paris flea market (Marché aux Puces)

What do you imagine when you hear “flea market”?  Overpriced tat, hoards of people pushing and shoving, dusty crockery, trestle tables sagging under miscellaneous car boot/jumble sale type stuff, bacon butties and polystyrene cups of tea, furniture with woodworm, broken electrics, old plugs, poor quality “art” and nothing of value OR antiques, furniture worthy of a glossy magazine, vintage clothing, shops to cover everything from old film reels and ship fittings to Louis XIV and cool 1970s Scandinavian furniture, realistic celebrity-spotting potential and classy, good quality eateries?

It is a misnomer that Marché aux Puces de Paris/Saint-Ouen is translated into English as Paris/Saint-Ouen Flea Market and, yes, the “or” half of the answer above is a basic description of this Paris “flea market”.

Marché aux Puces is probably the world’s largest antique market and consists of around 15 separately named areas.  It is not somewhere to visit if you only have half an hour to spare; it covers a large area and is kind of in zones by era and type and there are a lot of shops to explore in each market.

Why go if you’re not interested in shopping for antiques and second hand “stuff”? 

It’s full of interesting people, quirky things, good places to eat, at least one café with lively gypsy jazz (La Chope des Puces/”Espace Django Reinhardt”, 122 rue Rosiers, right by where Django lived – you will hear it just before you see it) more niche shops than you would probably expect, which at times makes you feel like you’re in a museum, the smell of almonds being caramelised, lots of cafés and restaurants, including one designed by Philippe Starck (Ma Cocotte), ideas for your home and a real sense of buzzy, fashionable, chic Paris.

Practicalities

Opening times: Saturdays 9am – 6pm; Sundays 10am – 6pm; Mondays 11am – 5pm.

It is best to arrive later than the opening time to ensure most shops are open.  Many shops are closed between 1st and 15th August.

Getting there by Metro: Porte de Clignancourt (pink Metro 4, northern terminus) or Garibaldi (pale blue Metro 13).

Make sure you have cash as some vendors do not take cards.  The only ATM I found that was in operation had a long queue and is on the corner of Rue Paul Bert and Manoir Paul Bert.  There is a useful and informative market information shop on Rue des Rosiers.

With the £ to € rate being so bad, and anyway, I do not find it to be cheap (it certainly isn’t a flea market in that respect) and prices have definitely gone up more than I’d expect over the past 18 years I’ve been occasionally visiting the market.  Maybe there are bargains to be had but don’t assume it will be cheaper than in the UK.

There are free public loos around the market.  They will not fill you with joy but they serve their purpose.  Any loo there is no queue for will be an old French long-drop, to be used only if your thighs are strong and you are confident of your aim.

As well as the antique shops, there are also a lot of stalls around the market selling fairly cheap clothes, souvenirs and other new things, ie more of a regular market.  Don’t see those stalls (especially if you come from Porte de Clignancourt) and feel disappointed that it’s not what you expected; keep walking.

I ate an exceptionally tasty, albeit overpriced, burger and chips at Les Gastropodes, Marché Dauphine.  I sort of pretended I didn’t know the English for “veau” (veal).  The two burgers were cooked medium/medium rare by default and were juicy and full of flavour, the sauce was delicious, the bread was perfect, lovely mushrooms, cheese … really, a destination burger.  But it did cost €16 for a paper plate restaurant.  But I’d still go again.

In short, it’s an interesting, quirky, trendy and fun place to spend time and I enjoy it so much that it was one of only two places I chose to revisit on my first day back in Paris for a few years.

Don’t be alarmed by its location being just outside the Périphérique, it’s not as far out of central Paris as that sounds, plus you can easily see Sacre Couer from a few streets in the area if you want proof you’re still in Paris.

This is the official Puces website and is particularly useful if you want to know what each market specialises in.