Hunt like a pro at a Paris Flea Market!

Hi there,

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.

Getting there:

  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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. :-/
  5. You won’t need your passport for the detaxe VAT refund, as the sale is without VAT.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Say “Bonjour” and “Au revoir” to each vendor if you stop to check out his or her wares (it is considered impolite not to).
  9. 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!).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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:

Q&A:
-> Have you visited one of the 3 main Paris flea markets? Which one(s)?

-> What did you think?

Go ahead and enter your comments and feedback in the box below or clicking the “Leave a comment” link. Or share it by clicking one of the icons below.

Happy hunting! 🙂

Alex Wagner
Founder & CEO

66 Comments Add yours

  1. Kyle Knight says:

    I’ve been to les Puces de Saint Ouen, which is great, but as you said it can be crowded and overwhelming. I’ll definitely be heading to Porte de Vanves on my next trip!

  2. JoJo Vanuatu says:

    Great advice
    I visited the Port de Vanves flea market on my last visit to Paris.
    As a designer I was delighted to find a large selection of vintage beads and buttons from the 1920’s made by the Paris Button Company.
    Certainly has a much more authentic ‘french’ feel than Clingancourt.

  3. manosonia20 says:

    yes you are right my dear this is very good for trip. my next trip is to Porte de Vanves thanks

  4. Anonymous says:

    SSSSSSSSSSShhhhhhhhhhhhhh..Why are you telling everyone! It may become overcrowded and touristy! I love Vanves. I always find something to bring home to the states. Clingancourt has become pricey – more like antique stores than a flea market, but vanves has affordable treasures. I am still kicking myself for not buying the curtain tiebacks shaped like bird talons!!

    1. Hehe, yep, Vanves of full of little oddball surprises. 😉

  5. Paula says:

    Thank you so much for this information Alex. Can’t wait to visit on my next trip to Paris.

    1. You are welcome Paula ; I’m glad my article was helpful. 🙂

  6. Katie says:

    We spent a delightful morning at the Vanves ‘vide grenier’ (flea market) in April. I agree that it is much more manageable and fun than Clingancort. I found some incredible buys and still am regretting what i did not buy! It’s on our list to visit again the next time we’re in Paris.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed Vanves flea market Katie. I was there myself a couple of weeks ago and picked up quite a few delightful objects and framed artwork, both for some of our rental apartments and for my own home. 🙂

  7. Jan Ward Melbourne says:

    Hi Alex, it’s wise info but alas too late – ah well next trip……………..
    We went to Ouen recently and although we enjoyed Cafe Louisette for a bit of fun, the markets themselves were overpriced and not very interesting or welcoming. I was grossed out by the poor toilet facilities.
    Can’t wait to return to try out your fave market, thanks

    1. Yes indeed, better luck next time! 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi Alex,
    We are going to Paris at the weekend and was wondering whether this market has any 60 and 70’s furniture and lamps etc? any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Shelly

    1. Hi Shelly,
      Yes, they do have some 60’s and 70’s furniture, mostly along the second street I think (not avenue Marc Sangnier, but the other perpendicular one lined with stalls). That said, there is not a huge choice, and for furniture you will have much more choice at the bigger flea market at Porte de Clignancourt, to the north of Paris.

      1. paula ungar-jewelry historianand designer says:

        I went to paris one year for a furniture market that lasted only one day and all the dealers came in withtheir trucks but for the life of me cannot recallwhenI went the month ???maybe april/do you know it?also if yuare really looking for furniture you have to walk way back inthe market where there are only furniture dealers and they will have the stuffshipped for you in ac ontainer. you may have towait for the container tobe full but that isthe way it goes unless you buy a whole container of furniture. paula ungar
        p.s. there are also lots of little sales on weekends outside of paris and somewhere there is a list which i somehow lost. lots of fun on weekends. when I lived there.

  9. Katherine says:

    I’ve been to Porte de Vanves dozens of times and am pleased and delighted with my “finds” every time I go! The vendors are very friendly, appreciative that you at least ask in French if they speak English and will gladly get someone to interpret if they don’t. Be sure to get there by 11am as they start packing up at 1pm. There’s even a piano player on the corner who is there every weekend with his “piano on wheels”, very French! What a great atmosphere!!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hello Alex, I’m enjoying your emails about Paris. Thank you for the recent one on flea markets because that is one of things I’m looking forward about my trip to Paris. You did mention about seeing the Mona Lisa at night. Why is that ? Let me know thanks again. Marissa Logan

  11. Marissa Logan says:

    I wrote a comment earlier but did not include an email address so that you could replie to . Why is it nice to see the Mona Lisa at night?

    1. Hello Marissa,
      I don’t remember mentioning the Mona Lisa and can’t find a reference to it in my blog post…

      1. Anonymous says:

        Hello
        I also saw the reference to the Mona Lisa at night. It was in your e-mail.

      2. Hmmm… strange, I have no recollection. Can’t see the point of the Mona Lisa at night, because it is indoors anyway… (besides, the Louvre is closed at night).

      3. Anonymous2 says:

        Go to see the Mona Lisa on Wednesday night when the Louvre is open late, because the whole museum is almost empty! We went during the day, fought the crowds (yes, even in February) around Mona Lisa, left for a few hours in the late afternoon, and returned after 6 pm. There were only a dozen people looking at ML around 8 pm, which was a nice surprise!

  12. Jane says:

    Alex, I very much enjoy your emails and tips. I am visiting Paris for the first time in September. So your newletters are great for me. But they are really a great marketing tool as you know. I own my own business (recruiting firm) so really like this aspect of your marketing.

    Thanks so much!

  13. J says:

    Typographical error in #11.
    “Loose” should be “lose”

  14. Tracy - Sydney, Australia says:

    We visited these lovely markets a few years back on our last trip and were lucky enough to find two wonderful and extremely collectable vintage film posters at a mere fraction of the price you would pay from a dealer.

  15. Jolene says:

    Alex,
    I have not gotten an email since the 22nd of February. Is here a reason?

    1. Hi Jolene,
      Thanks for your enthusiasm ; with running and developing A La Carte, there is limited time to write new content. I do try and stick to one piece per month.
      Alex

  16. Jeffrey Richards says:

    Thank you for the informative article Alex. Exactly what I have been looking for. We will be in Paris on Sat/Sun 29 & 30 Dec staying at Marais Gem for nine nights with very empty suitcases. Counting down the months, weeks, days and hours! Is this flea market open year round? I do hope so.
    Also wondering if you will be doing a ‘special’ article at some stage (I know it’s months away) on what to do in Paris on New Years Eve?
    Thanks again.
    Jeffrey

    1. Thanks Jeffrey. Yes, I might research what to do on NY’s eve, because I don’t really know off the top of my head, seeing as living in Paris means going to a private party with friends, in or outside Paris.

  17. Luanne Steven says:

    Hi Alex,
    The fea market sounds great but it would break my heart if I found something that wouldn’t fit in my back pack. Do you have any handy hints on international postage. we are staying at one of your appartments next week.
    Thanks
    Luanne Steven
    Australia

    1. Good question. Certainly at the larger Porte de St Ouen flea market there are international transporters present. In the smaller Porte de Vanves market, there are not, as it’s more of a local scene.

  18. Kerry says:

    Hello, I’ll be in Paris in Oct, is this market better on a Sat or Sun? Kerry
    South Australia (wow you do have lots of Aussies following your blog Alex) :o)

    1. Lta says:

      Saturday is busier but has better stuff than Sunday.

  19. Reid Bonner says:

    Hi Alex! I’m so glad I discovered your blog as I research Paris markets. Thursday myself and a friend arrive. We want paintings and nice accessories for her French styled home in Dallas, Texas. I am concerned about carrying all our new items with us. I’m not sure if it would be tacky to pull a rolling bag. What about shipping back to the States? Thank you for any input you may offer!
    Reid from Dallas.

    1. Pulling a rolling bag is a GREAT idea, yes. As for shipping, at the larger Porte de St Ouen flea market there are international transporters present. At the smaller Porte de Vanves market, there are not, as it’s more of a local scene.

      1. Lta says:

        Would it be possible for you to find out how shipped purchases are handled at Port du Vanves? Thanks.

      2. Jack says:

        we are only there this trip for 48 hours is there a good flea market open on a Tu. or Wed?

      3. Not that I know of…

  20. Natalie says:

    Thank you Alex very much for informative News Letter. We’re going in July (regretfully we missed one of your apartments). Definitely we’ll visit this flea market. As a designer I’m always on the look out.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your information on the Flea Market and we will definitely visit it in 2013 when we go
    for a month.

  22. As a deal I agree about St-Ouen: too commercial and crowded, really just a vast array of shops with overpriced wares. It used to be great when one could go with a flashlight and cash at 4AM when the dealers unloaded their cars and trucks. Then afterwards there was that great old bistro for petit dejeuner…

  23. Mindy says:

    I am going to Paris in November when the chances of rain are great. Will the flea market be open even if it rains on the weekends?

    1. Yes, open regardless of weather. In fact, poor weather is when you’ll bag the best deals due to less competition!

    2. Perfect reply! But I would add that the term “flea market” has led auslanders to expect open stalls and merchandise spread out on blankets. Not much of that here, I fear, more just an enormous collection of stores with uptown prices. Perhaps the highlight of your visit will be a fine old bistro on the edge of it all, a place right out of an old film. (I’ll track down the name if someone does not come up with it.)
      Jack Chatdegrange

  24. Philip Mahoney says:

    Bon Jour Alex for the great tips, visiting Paris for 5 weeks in November from Australia so this will be on my list with my daughter. Wondering do you know of some day cooking classes that are reasonably priced around Montmarte.
    Cheers
    Phil

  25. Philip Mahoney says:

    Ha Did mean to say thanks after Bon Jour. Will get better with French by the time i get there ha.

  26. Barbara says:

    I love the Vanves market, Alex; it’s great.
    Do you know about the vide-greniers (empty your attic) sales? Every town/village in France has at least one a year, usually on the weekend. Townspeople set up booths and I’ve found some great vintage stuff:toys, porcelain, children’s clothes, scarves. Paris has them by arrondissement. I happened upon a great one a few years ago along the Canal St. Martin. Most of the vide-greniers are in June, July, August. I forget the website but google it and the website will bring up a search by month and province/city. (I think it’s http://www.vide-greniers.com or .fr) Happy hunting.

    1. Sheila says:

      Darn, went to vide-greniers.com and it’s not in English.

  27. Ellen A. says:

    Clever and informative article, Alex, thanks. Visitors to Paris in November should also look for the Salon Antiquites/Brocante at the Bastille. There is a small entrance fee, but this enchanted series of tents and stalls houses many fine antique dealers along with sellers of more reasonably priced collectibles. Very good selection of items (higher priced than Porte de Vanves, but one can be sure to find some quality things). And, like the Christmas markets, you will at least a few stands selling sausages or hot wine as you wend your way through the maze. Quite a pleasure in the off season!

    1. John Avery says:

      These periodic antique markets, such as the twice-yearly Bastille events, and the regular weekend ones, such as The Porte de Vanves and Place d’Aligre shows, are my favorites. As a dealer of more than fifty years experience and as a longtime lover of Paris, I very much appreciate the variety and intimacy of these venues, combined with discovering new parts of the city . France, like much of the Western World these days, feels the crunch of reduced circumstances, and dealers have moved away from the commitment of shop rentals and top-end antiques shows to these less-expensive events. You might want to check some of the monthly publications such as “Aladin” and “Antiquites”, available at newsstands. They not only feature listings of shows in Paris and throughout France, all arranged by area code (Paris is 75,)they have fine articles on antiques and brocante (collectibles and second-hand goods.) Chinez-bien!

  28. Jan Jenner says:

    Hello Alex.
    Thank you for your great e-mails they have been very helpful. My family of 7 are staying at Marais Saint Saubeur. in May this year. 2013.
    My sisiter and I love markets and have found your reply soooo good. will be there for a week. no weekends hope they are there thru the week. Jan Brisbane. Australia.

  29. toni roy says:

    Merci, Alex for all the wonderful information and tips on going to the Paris flea markets. My husband and I are lovers of antiques and have been buying and collecting for our 46 years of marriage. It’s in the blood! And next month we will be visiting southern France and Paris for the first time. Can’t wait to be part of the excitement of flea markets in another part of the world! toni from New Hartford, Ct. USA

    1. Hi Toni, thanks for your feedback.
      If you havn’t already booked, then you might be interested in our Provence house which we rent out for others to enjoy, owned by my wife Carole and I: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1000759

  30. Elise says:

    I find the Porte de Vanves market so relaxing and manageable. I was last there in 2000, but found 4 cafe au lait bowls for $1.50, $1.50,$6, and $15. The pricier one was from the 40s, the others were more recent but classic. I was amazed by the deals I got and the fun I had.

  31. Michelle says:

    Am so looking forward to my return visit in September. Cannot wait to look around some of these vintage markets for old designer clothes and vintage textiles and buttons as I have designed textiles and clothing for years. Here in Australia, we do not get to see some of the splendid textiles etc from the Deco period. REALLY EXCITED! Thanks so much Alex.

  32. web hosting says:

    Im getting a small problem. I cant get my reader to pickup your feed, Im using yahoo reader by the way.

  33. My husband and I have already rented an apartment from a different firm for 2 weeks in Sept. after 2 weeks travel in France. We love your letters and wish we’d known of your apartments earlier. Will definitely keep you on file for our next trip. Thanks for all your interesting information.

  34. Debbie says:

    We’ve been to all four marche aux puces you mention above (and several more neighborhood markets), but our all-time favorite is Porte de Montreuil. After the all-night flight to Paris, luggage drop-off and un tasse de cafe, we head there with our Parisian ami.

    1. anonymous says:

      What day of the week is it open? In what section of Paris?

  35. Anonymous says:

    Are you familiar with the movie Midnight in Paris? There is a flea market street featured in it that I would love to visit when I come to Paris. Do you happen to know where that is?

    Also…I love the language suggestions, but I have no clue as to how to pronounce the words. Could you also show them phonetically so I could at least approximate the words when I go? Thanks sos much!

    One more thing…this article is two years old. Does it still hold? (See Debbie’s comment above.) Thanks again, I am so enjoying the articles!

    1. The flea market in Midnight in Paris is Saint Ouen, mentionned near the start of my article.
      Yes, the info does still hold. It has held for the 20 yrs I have lived in Paris, so will probably hold a while longer…
      I’m not too good writing phonetic ; maybe someone here can help?

  36. Linda Berezny says:

    Been to flea market at Ouen. Sorry we won’t be there on a sat or sun when there in oct to go to your recommended one. it was fun at Oeun although a bit of a ride. Would alert visitors to ask before taking photos especially if one of the vendors will appear in a photo. One man became very angry. I understand that some cultures take offense or are superstitious or have beliefs that make them reticent about having photos taken. Just offering advice.

    1. Ellen says:

      Yes, really best to not take pictures. First, as Alex says (#4 above), you may pay more for your merchandise, although they will probably know you are a tourist anyway. But more importantly, the laws in France seem to give more rights to a person in public to control their image, as well as the artful display of their goods. It’s not because the French are superstitious or think you will capture their souls with your camera. It is more a matter of self-preservation, dignity and privacy. Parisians especially must sometimes feel like animals in the zoo with thousands of tourists clicking away at them! If you’d really love to capture a scene, you could ask for permission, or stand farther away and zoom in on your digital image later. Better yet, say hello and buy something, and then ask to take a photo as a souvenir of your experience.

  37. John Hartigan says:

    When I go to vide greniers in rural France I am able to load things into my car and drive them to my French house. How do you trasnport items from the Paris flea markest if too big to carry by hand but still small enough to take by car? Is there somewhere to collect purchases by car?

  38. Alex, thanks so much for the helpful information you post. We won’t be in the Paris apartment until next April (for our 35th anniversary), but I’ve been compiling your information and already have a file 5 mm thick. While this will be our fourth trip to Paris, we have yet to visit the flea markets. I am so looking forward to this trip! Thanks again! Linda

    1. deidra26 says:

      Are there flea markets in November? Weekdays? We will be there during the week and would love to experience this fun.

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