Fun Shopping Experiences in Markets Around the World

People & Culture

Young Woman Shopping For a Scarf in Bazaar

Shopping doesn’t have to be just at department stores or exclusive name-brand boutiques. Discover some markets around the world, for not only an enjoyable shopping experience, but also to put some fun into your vacation.

True confession from this writer – I hate shopping. There have been many times when I have traipsed after my wife into and out of stores dutifully carrying her purchases. No fun. A female shopper once said, “I live life with complete honesty and to be completely honest, you can’t have enough shoes.” Doesn’t that just about sum it all up? Now, I would like to tell you how I discovered, over time, places that I have enjoyed on my travels and which are actually purveyors of merchandise. In a word, they are called markets, and all the following have given me enjoyment on my various vacations.

Markets in Europe

Portobello Road Market, London, England
This is probably the best and most fun market in London, situated near Notting Hill in West London. It boasts the world’s largest antiques market, with over 1000 dealers, but it is actually a market for everyone on a UK vacation, as it is several markets rolled into one. You can buy up-to-date fashion, second-hand vintage clothes, furniture, art, jewellery and food. This market was featured in the film, Notting Hill, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Saturday is when the market is in full swing, although it does function on most other days.

London Portobello Road Market in UK (United Kingdom)
London’s Portobello Road Market

Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris, France
Once, when visiting a friend in Paris, she insisted on taking me to a flea market in the northern part of the city, and the experience turned out to be fascinating. This is a huge market with around 3000 traders and 180,000 visitors each weekend. It is considered the biggest flea market in the world and, according to the experts, it is the 4th most visited attraction on France tours. You can bargain here if you want but it helps to be able to speak some French. What can you purchase? Almost anything – fashion, ceramics, books, paintings, prints, furniture, kitchenware, vintage records, and, of course, antiques (some of it might be better termed bric-a-brac). Naturally, being in France, there are numerous cafes and a few restaurants where you can rest your feet while enjoying a French snack.

Albert Cuypmarket, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Albert Cuypmarket is situated in what I would call an alternative neighbourhood in Amsterdam. De Pijp is a wonderful district, with many cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, and small shops. Bang in the middle of all this is the Albert Cuypstraat, where you will find this colourful authentic street market and Netherland’s largest, operating since 1904. Once again, variety is the theme, with everything from clothes to food available. If you tire of the market on Netherland vacations, there are many small boutique-style shops close by which mix in perfectly with this market and where you can pick up bargains. Locals shop at the market for their provisions and this is what makes it a neighbourhood.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
If you find yourself in Istanbul on a Turkey vacation, you must visit the Grand Bazaar. You will be truly amazed as I was. This is one of the oldest and largest covered markets anywhere. Inside, there are 61 covered “streets” and over 4000 shops attracting around 300,000 visitors daily. I am told it employs 26,000 people, so that should give you a good idea of the size of this market. However, I found it easy enough to navigate as the “streets” on the whole are designed on a grid system. If you wander off the beaten track, you will find artisans hard at work making merchandise. What can you buy? Name it. Carpets and jewellery are big sellers. Most of the time you will be expected to bargain, and you should, all the while drinking a complimentary tea or a soft drink. You will never forget a visit here.

Various old lamps on the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey
Various old lamps in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Markets in Asia

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
I didn’t believe it when I was first told that this fish market was on most visitors’ to-do list on Japan tours. I know I have been saying “the world’s biggest” quite a bit, but here we have what is the world’s biggest wholesale fish and seafood market… in Tokyo, to be precise. I believe it is the busy atmosphere of trucks, sellers, and buyers scurrying around that make it such a serious tourist attraction. The tuna auction is a popular event but it is limited to 120 people per day and you have to be there at 5am. You wouldn’t think something starting that early would be an attraction, but it is, and you have to line up for tickets even earlier. It should be noted that no outsiders are allowed into the inner market until 10am. The outer market area caters to visitors wishing to buy fish or enjoy breakfast at one of the restaurants here. Each day, 400 types of fish are handled. That’s a lot of fish. If you go, be sure to take your camera.

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, near Bangkok, Thailand
Here you don’t go to the market – The Damnoen Saduak market comes to you. Located about one hour’s drive from Bangkok, this market is situated in a small town. It is definitely somewhat touristy but is colourful and photogenic, and should be experienced on a Thailand vacation. Most visitors join a long-tailed boat that takes them to the market, which is active among narrow canals with wooden houses on stilts on the riverbanks. When you arrive at the market, you will see fruit and vegetable sellers rowing up the canals, delivering their goods to the locals. The market is open every day from around 6:30am to 11am. The Floating Market is always crowded with vendors floating in their small boats selling agricultural products and local food, which are mostly brought from their own nearby orchards.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, District of Ratchaburi in Bangkok, Thailand
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Bangkok

Namdaemun Market, Seoul, Korea
Seoul has several street markets to enjoy on Korea vacations. Namdaemun is a typical traditional Korean market – the oldest and the largest in the country. It actually dates back to 1414. Where it is located is not accessible by car, as it was built in an era of non-motorized vehicles, and the principal method of transporting merchandise into and out of the market is by motorcycle and hand-drawn carts. It is open around the clock and is the perfect place to acquire inexpensive clothing, housewares, jewellery, electronics, flowers, and food. You can try a snack at one of the many stalls offering typical Korean food.

Namdaemun Market, Seoul, Korea
Namdaemun Market in Seoul

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos
On a recent Laos tour, I enjoyed the serenity of Luang Prabang Night Market, which seemed to appear out of nowhere, as at around 5pm until 11pm, the busy main street of this charming town closes down nightly to allow the vendors to set up their stalls. The local Hmong hill tribe people come into Luang Prabang with their merchandise consisting of many typical Laotian souvenir items such as handicrafts, purses, ceramics, bamboo items, bed covers, silk scarves and, of course, t-shirts. This is all combined with the Night Food Market. You do bargain, but I think you will find the vendors non-aggressive and easy-going.

Night Market in Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang Night Market

Markets in Africa

Khan Al Khalili Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt
The Khan Al Khalili Bazaar is a very authentic Middle Eastern market or bazaar which still retains its medieval atmosphere. It is far from being a tourist trap on an Egypt tour even though there are plenty of souvenirs available. There are high-quality clothes, fabrics, and other items made by local artisans. It is also known for its spices, perfumes, jewellery, and handicrafts. There are several coffee shops serving Arabic coffee and one of the oldest and best-known worth a visit is Fishawi’s, established in 1773. There are also restaurants plus food vendors. While in the area, do visit the Al-Hussein Mosque, built in 1154 and considered to be one of the holiest Islamic sites in Cairo.

Khan el Khalili Market, Cairo, Egypt
Khan el Khalili Market in Cairo

Victoria Spice Market, Durban, South Africa
Spices conjure up the smell of the Orient and at this market, while on a South Africa vacation, you will certainly experience an exotic aroma which is a combination of African and Indian spices. Durban has a large ethnic Indian population, the largest outside Asia, so it is no surprise to find this spice market here. There are over 170 stalls selling these spices. You can also purchase silk saris, scarves, jewellery, woven baskets, beaded and carved curios, and Asian ceramics. You will also be invaded by the smell of incense. Want to try some curry? It’s here.

Masai Market, Nairobi, Kenya
If you find yourself in Nairobi on a Kenya vacation, check out the open-air Masai market, the Masai being the nomadic people of East Africa. It is the premier place for curios and artifacts and will save you a lot of time and trouble if you purchase your presents in the city if later going on an African safari. In this market, you can find curios, paintings, drawings, clothes and fabrics with East African prints, jewellery, and wood-carvings… many hand-made by local artisans. If you enjoy bargaining, you will finish up with some great deals. This market moves around the city on different days of the week. Specialty items are sandals, jewellery, and artwork.

Old african masks for sale at market in Nairobi, Kenya
Old african masks for sale at market in Nairobi

Markets in South America

Otavalo Market, Ecuador
Otavalo Market is one of South America’s best-known, and can be found approximately 2 hours north of Quito, while on an Ecuador vacation. The indigenous local people are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool, which are sold at the famous Saturday market. The market exists on other days of the week but the big occasion is Saturday. Almost one-third of the town is filled with stalls selling textiles, woolen goods, blankets, ponchos, sweaters, scarves, gloves, hats, musical instruments, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, purses, carvings, paintings, and jewellery. What a choice! Handmade goods are one of the main industries in Otavalo. The main centre of the market is actually called Plaza de Ponchos.

Colourful Otavalo Market, Ecuador
Colourful Otavalo Market

Witches Market, La Paz, Bolivia
This very, very unusual market (known as El Mercado de las Brujas) is a popular tourist attraction on a Bolivia vacation. The merchandise sold in The Witches Market, which is run by local witch doctors, includes potions, dried frogs, and medicinal plants used in Bolivian rituals. No, doesn’t sound like anything to bring back for Aunt Bessie, does it? The witch doctors are easily recognized by their black hats and pouches containing amulets, talismans, and powders that are meant to bring luck, beauty, and fertility. I am sure, at this point, you see the significance of the name of the market. The most famous of the items sold here are dried llama fetuses. These are buried under the foundations of many Bolivian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama. It is said this market in La Paz has something for any problem you might have. Hold on to your hat, as other items sold here include snakes, dried frogs and turtles, aphrodisiacs, owl feathers, armadillos, and oddly-shaped black candles. Maybe you won’t come away with any purchases, but just seeing what’s on offer will be fun.

Traditional talismans for sale at Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia
Traditional talismans for sale at Witches Market in La Paz

Pisac Market, Peru
Located in the Sacred Valley, about 1 hour from Cusco, Pisac is a traditional Andean village that attracts hundreds of foreign visitors on a Peru vacation. The Pisac Market runs daily but the real market takes place on Sundays. This is when the indigenous Quechua people from the surrounding highlands come to Pisac to sell their produce and also to buy their own supplies for the week. They are all dressed in colourful outfits and usually sit cross-legged with their wares laid out in front of them. There are hundreds of vendors who sell weaved goods, ponchos, alpaca products, ceramics, hats, jewellery, scarves, and much more. You will want to take photos of this colourful market, and if you do, remember to ask permission of the vendors and offer them a small amount of local money.

Colourful Textiles in Pisac Market near Cusco, Peru
Colourful textiles in Pisac Market near Cusco

Markets in the South Pacific

The Rocks Market, Sydney, Australia
The Rocks Market, which takes place in the oldest part of Sydney every Friday from 9am to 3pm, is a great place, on your Australia vacation, to pick up fresh fruit and bread, chocolate, olive oil, and condiments. This is all supported by buskers playing their guitars and banjos. If hungry, you can indulge in “gourmet” wraps and burgers, barbecued salmon, lamb kebabs, and a whole range of Australian-made gourmet produce. Any weekend, there are additions to the market where you can find stalls offering arts and crafts, handmade jewellery, and other trinkets. You can also buy dresses and bags designed by the stallholder themselves. There is a night market every Friday and Saturday night from 6 pm until 10:30 pm.

Sweet Treats in the Rocks Street Market, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Sweet treats in the Rocks Street Market