Right. You’ve been up the Eiffel Tower, you’ve waited in line at the Louvre and you’ve enjoyed your Fraise des Bois Berthillon ice cream on Ile Saint Louis.
Been there, done that.
I’ve got an authentic Paris visit for you. How about visiting a Paris flea market?
Not the overcrowded and somewhat bewildering antiques mall of Puces de Saint Ouen (north of Paris) mind you, but rather the more relaxed traditional Paris flea market at Porte de Vanves. The open stalls are open Saturday and Sunday mornings, stretching along Avenue Marc Sangnier in the south of the 14th district.
The flea market at Porte de Vanves retains its original charm and scores highly on the “coolness quotient”, offering visitors a tantalising peak into the French art de vivre. Many objects give you a glimpse into French everyday life in years past as well as a foray into French society today.
For antique lovers, deal finders and shoppers of all kinds, Porte de Vanves is a crazy jumble of unique finds, quirky items, dainty jewelery, Art Deco clocks and lamps, one-of-a-kind trinkets and cherished treasures that you certainly won’t find back home and that serve as perfect mementos of your stay in Paris.
In fact, I go to Paris flea markets (and this one in particular) myself to source rare items with a story or artwork, to bring warmth and authenticity to our A La Carte Paris apartment interiors, so I certainly put my money where my mouth is. That said, you needn’t break the bank (tips on haggling further down) and even just looking & browsing at a flea market can be a lot of fun.
On a typical trip to this flea market, you’ll spot plenty of period porcelain, patinaed post cards and periodicals, or religious relics. But you might also uncover vintage designer clothes, silver plated cigarette holders, retro barware, old toys, or ancient archaeological finds. Almost anything you can imagine and a lot that you can’t, all with a marvelous sheen of soul and history.
- Metro: Line 13, stop at Porte de Vanves.
- Address: The open flea market stalls are on Avenue Marc Sangnier, just one minute’s walk from the metro.
- Opening days and hours: Every Saturday and Sunday, 7am to 1pm (get there early!)
13 Tips to Hunt like a Pro:
- If you are a serious bargain hunter, a collector or a specialist of Paris flea markets, then arrive early in the morning, as this is when you will have the best chance at making a great find.
- If you are a more casual visitors, there to peruse and have a cultural experience, then mid-morning is when the markets are more lively.
- Carry as little as possible with you, though DO bring a sturdy bag to take your treasures home (if you don’t have one, grocery stores sell brightly coloured fiber-cloth bags at the checkout for less than a euro).
- Hide your camera. Carrying a camera with you will label you as a tourist and will often affect the prices of items and your ability to bargain.
- You won’t need your passport for the detaxe VAT refund, as the sale is without VAT.
- Bring some cash with you as credit cards are not accepted (there is a nearby ATM however). Carry your cash securely though, to avoid the risk of pickpockets.
- Pace yourself. Don’t buy the first thing you see, since you may spot a cheaper or more desirable item further along. You can always go back and snag something if it’s still calling your name on the way back.
- Say “Bonjour” and “Au revoir” to each vendor if you stop to check out his or her wares (it is considered impolite not to).
- Try to address people in French, at least at first. Even if all you can manage is a simple, “Parlez-vous Anglais?”, you’d be amazed how far this little courtesy effort can get you (and will probably even get you a better price!).
- Don’t be afraid to bargain at Paris flea markets. Asking prices are high and bargaining is a fully expected part of the shopping experience. Count on getting at least 10%-15% price reduction without much problem. Be polite and use tact and finesse to get an even bigger reduction in the price.
- It pays to brief your compagnon to say in a loud voice that you don’t need that item at all, it’s too expensive, etc. If the seller thinks he’s going to lose the sale, he’ll likely offer a keener price.
- If you’re not happy with the price, try doing a “take away”. Walk away ; often, the seller will try and call you back with a lower price. If he doesn’t, you can always pop back later.
- My favorite trick, useful for more expensive items, is to pull out a pocket calculator, punch a few buttons, look up and say: “It doesn’t work at 200€ ; I can’t pay over 150€”. The seller will assume you’re a dealer of some kind and that you must have the lowest possible price. Hehe. 🙂
Useful words and phrases
Here are some essentials that should carry you far :
- Paris Flea markets: Les puces de Paris
- Antiques: Antiquités
- To hunt for antiques: Chiner
- For sale: A vendre
- Sold: Vendu
- Silverware: Argenterie
- Painting: Tableau
- That looks nice : C’est beau
- I like this : J’aime ça
- Seller: Vendeur
- How much is it ?: C’est combien ?
- To haggle: Marchander
- That’s too expensive!: C’est trop cher!
- What’s your best price?: Quel est votre meilleur prix?
- Would you accept __ €?: Accepteriez-vous __€?
- To pay in cash: Payer en espèces
- Where is the ATM?: Où est le distributeur?
A spot of history
The history of Paris flea markets dates back over two centuries, when merchants resold the cast-off, flea infested (hence the name!) clothing of aristocrats to peasant folk. Rag-and-bone men would scour through the garbage of Paris at night to find valuable junk to sell on.
Many set up their temporary market stalls in central Paris, in sleazy neighborhoods. However, in the 19th century, there was a large scale effort in Paris to push these scavengers out of the city center and a city official named Eugene Poubelle (yes, that’s where the French got their word for trash can!) ordered that garbage cans be sealed.
Pushed away from central Paris, the scavenging trade set up their markets at three of the city gates, at Porte de Vanves, Porte de Clignancourt and Porte de Montreuil.
All three Paris flea markets continue to this day.
To learn more:
- A good article from French Property News about Puces de Saint Ouen, at Porte de Clignancourt. This largest of Paris flea markets is more oriented to higher-end antiques and furniture however, so will appeal more to the antiques buff.
- A comprehensive insider guide book on Paris flea markets, written by an American expert on French antiques.
-> Have you visited one of the 3 main Paris flea markets? Which one(s)?
-> What did you think?
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Happy hunting! 🙂
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