Flea Spirit: Navigating Paris’ Marché Aux Puces

The ritual of strolling around Paris’ sprawling Marché aux Puces – and other European flea markets – offers both a window into the past and some fabulous vintage finds. One writer joins a Parisian regular to prowl between the antiques

stepping out of the Porte de Clignancourt metro station, or
parking their bike (or Vespa, in the case of Paris-based artist
Marin Montagut) on Rue des Rosiers, in the French capital’s fourth
arrondissement, dedicated treasure hunters start to feel their
pulse quicken. It makes no difference if you were here yesterday,
or last week, or if it’s your first time: there is absolutely no
knowing what awaits you today. Which is what makes the Marché aux
Puces – and, indeed, any flea market – so thrilling. A certain
amount of luck – good fortune, magic, je ne sais quoi – is

“I have a big love for flea markets,” says Montagut, the
Toulouse-born watercolourist whose eponymous Saint-Germain-des-Prés
shop and home are both furnished almost
exclusively with foraged items. “I go every weekend when I’m in
Paris. I have a house in Normandy, and when I’m there, I go to
Normandy flea markets. My parents are antique dealers, so… I’m in
this universe.”

Montagut has already orbited the marché this morning, picking up
an ornate round decorative miniature, behind whose age-smoked glass
lies an illustration of St Gregoire VII, his eyes raised pleadingly
towards heaven, with gold curlicues and pearls embedded around its
circumference. Inspiration for his own objets d’art in the palm of
his hand.

Not that you need a professionally trained eye to find items
that will make your heart sing. Nor a papal shopping budget (unless
you’re set on a vintage lambskin leather Chanel bag or Louis XV
dining table that once graced the apartment of a royal mistress).
We chance upon original 80s geometric clip-on earrings in turquoise
porcelain for the equivalent of £1 a pair; 70s magazines, pin
badges and jeans patches for a fraction of that; and a cornucopia
of killer vintage deadstock, accessories and homeware for prices
similar to, or less than, what you’d pay for the same in London’s
Brick Lane or Portobello Road.

Antiques at a Parisian flea market
Vintage leather bags

Antique finds around Paris’ Marché aux Puces. | Photo
credit: Bert e Boer / Shutterstock

You do, though, have to accept that you’re only going to scratch
the surface on any given visit. Think of yourself as a magpie,
hopping between branches; not a marathon runner. Rummaging is
required. With 15 distinct areas, and some 1,700 antiques,
bric-à-brac and vintage clothing vendors, the Marché aux Puces is
as labyrinthine as any Marrakech souk. You might want to focus your attention
on one of a popular quartet of well-established sections – the
Marchés Vernaison, Dauphine, Paul Bert Serpette and Biron – or only
look at the stalls on your left as you proceed westerly, or only
those with a yellow sign… Let your instinct be your guide. Don’t
be afraid to get lost. Allow your eyes to skim over the rainbow of
anthropological artefacts laid out across tarpaulin-covered tables
and behind artfully arranged windows, pausing here and there to
zoom in on your peccadillos of choice, be that antique house number
plaques, 60s-made toys, immaculately preserved old broderie
anglaise, rare vintage vinyl, Japanese denim, feather boas or
historic nautical paraphernalia.

On a practical note, many of the merchants now accept card
payments, but not all. Carry some cash, to avoid a long schlep to
the nearest ATM, and a large tote. And don’t be nervous about
haggling; sellers are usually prepared to negotiate, particularly
later in the day. Ask questions. Listen to stories. In a market
that’s been going strong since 1885, there are a lot of them.

Decorative miniature from Paris' Marché aux Puces
Antiques at Marché aux Puces, Paris

The decorative miniature picked up by Montagut, left, and
Parisian antiques on offer.

“There’s a particular kind of book from 18th-century France I
always look for,” Montagut says. “You put secrets inside, like
erotic scenes, and after, you put it in the library… These were a
big inspiration for me to make my own collection of secret

Voilà. Make like an artist. Shop for ideas. Even if you go home
empty-handed, a visit to the Puces will fire your imagination, and
might just set your life off on a different course, prompting fresh
travel adventures or a new creative enterprise. Vive la liberté!
Vive the thrill of the chase.

Sustainable shopping: four more flea markets in Europe to

A stall holder at Dry Bridge Flea Market in Tbilisi, Georgia
photo credit: Yukliasupova / Shutterstock

Dry Bridge Flea Market, Tbilisi, Georgia

Best for: quirky historical memorabilia

Established in the 90s, following the collapse of communism,
when city residents started selling their possessions in order to
make some much-needed cash, this Tbilisi market is now a permanent
fixture, with vendors making a full-time business out of selling
collectables. Open daily, year-round (other than on Orthodox
Christmas and Easter), on the Dry Bridge (Mshrali Khidi) and
overflowing into adjoining Dedaena Park, it’s packed with domestic
flotsam and jetsam – old telephones, cameras, tools – alongside
military items such as medals and compasses, making it an
illuminating window into the Georgian capital’s turbulent


Dry Bridge (Mshrali Khidi), Tbilisi 0105, Georgia

IJ Hallen, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Photo credit: Ingehogenbijl / Shutterstock.com

IJ Hallen, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Best for: hippy vibes

Sure, you can get the bus to this vast outdoor market (check the
website for dates), but it’s far more fun to arrive by ferry,
especially on a sunny day, when the atmosphere is more like that of
a festival than a secondhand marketplace. With more than 500
stands, and loads of cool coffee shops and cafés around its edges,
it’s easy to spend a whole day zig-zagging up and down IJ Hallen’s
aisles. Most of the sellers are young and happy to chat, so it’s a
great place to pick up local recommendations on where to go while
in town – as well as all the pre-loved fashion and homeware
bargains you can squeeze into your suitcase/carry-on/layer up in
for the journey home.


TT Neveritaweg 15, 1033 WB Amsterdam-Noord, the Netherlands

Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market, Brussels, Belgium
Photo credit: Anastasia Petrova / Shutterstock.com

Place du Jeu de balle Flea Market, Brussels, Belgium

Best for: trinkets and vinyl treasures

While it’s shifted locations a few times since its 1854
inception, this daily market in the city’s Marolles/Marollem
district is now synonymous with the handsome square on which it’s
set, so-called in French (it’s Vossenplein, or Foxes’ Square, in
Dutch) because it used to serve as a playing field for Frisian
handball, or jeu de balle. There’s no food sold here, so you’ll
have to fuel up in advance, but that won’t deter flea market
aficionados, who, in the shadow of the Church of Notre-Dame
Immaculee, can rummage through countless stands stacked with
higgledy-piggledy piles of furniture, second-hand clothes,
jewellery, old photographs, art and much more to their heart’s


Place du Jeu de Balle 79, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Antiques at Portobello Road Market, London

Portobello Road Market, London, UK

Best for: antiques and street eats

Don’t rule this one out just because it’s on your doorstep,
Londoners. With a history stretching back to the 19th century,
Portobello Road Market (which spills onto Golborne Road) still
offers some of the best people-watching and vintage gem-finding
opportunities in the capital. Some of the stalls – selling
everything from museum-worthy antiques to fresh fruit and veg –
have been in the same family for generations, while hot-ticket new
restaurants, such as Straker’s, helmed by FoodTok star Thomas Straker, are
pulling even east Londoners to W11. The vendors are here from
Monday to Saturday, and watching the buskers won’t cost you a


Portobello Rd, London W10 5TY, UK

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