Paris Shopping: Tips for flea market success

Posted in: Paris Shopping


Uncovering treasures at Paris' flea markets
Uncovering treasures at Paris' flea markets

Fellow Cheapos, I’ve got a confession to make: I’m hooked on flea markets. I’ve hardly missed a weekend at the flea market in years. I rarely spend more than €20 a visit, but rest assured, I’ve slowly amassed a world-class collection of treasures (which some might call “kitsch”).

Porte de Vanves Flea Market

If you only have time to visit one flea market during your trip to Paris, I’d suggest heading to the The Porte de Vanves Flea Market on Saturday or Sunday morning.  The market stretches for blocks along Avenue Marc Sangnier and around the corner on Avenue Georges Lafenestre on the southern border of Paris.

Flea market treasures?The Porte de Vanves market isn’t dirt-cheap, but you can bargain, the “coolness quotient” is pretty high, and even just looking is plenty of fun.

The city’s flea markets were started in the late 19th century by the infamous “rag and bone men” (forerunners of today’s “dumpster divers”), and today you’re likely to find anything from trinkets to treasures.

On a typical trip, you’ll probably spot plenty of plastic key chains,   postcards,  religious tokens, and old magazines. But you might also uncover vintage designer clothes, agate cigarette holders, swanky barware, retro bistro tables, ancient archaeological treasures, and perhaps even a genuine Old Masters (even the occasional world-class find—Monet’s, Utrillo’s and Cocteau paintings, have been known to pop up here from time to time!).

Tips for flea market success

Here are a few tips to get the most out of the experience and make the most of your hard-earned euro:

1. Arrive early.

The Porte de Vanves flea market opens at 7 AM on Saturdays and Sundays and the dealers start packing up to leave at noon. An ATM is located near the “Boulevard Brune” exit from the Porte de Vanves Metro, and just around the corner on the way to the market is a patisserie where you can grab a flaky, heart-shaped palmier for breakfast.

Flea market in Paris

2. Carry cash.

If you can, organize a small “till” the night before. I usually carry €30 in coins and small bills.

3. Know some key phrases in French.

Practicing some key phrases like “Combien ça?” (How much is that?) and “Accepteriez-vous une euro?” (Will you take one euro?) will carry you far.

Keep a sense of humor and don’t be afraid to walk away if the dealer won’t budge. Chances are that he’ll counter offer before you get far. It also helps if you learn French numbers prior to your trip. (Of course, this will help outside the flea market, too!)

4. Bring along a sturdy bag.

Grocery stores like Champion sell lightweight fiber-cloth bags in bright colors for less than a euro and they last for years.

Everything five euros5. Arrive with a mission.

It’s great to have a “quest” in mind, since visualization helps narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your desire.

6. Pace yourself.

Don’t buy the first thing you see, since you may spot a cheaper, similar item later on. And don’t dawdle—the market stretches for about eight or ten blocks. When you get to the snack wagon on the corner you’re halfway. You can always go back and snag something if it’s still calling your name on the way back.

7. Look for the bargain tables.

These are usually marked with hand-written signs like, “TOUT À €1 CETTE TABLE.” (Anything on the table for one euro.)

8. Boast about your bargains.flea market finds

Last week I found a gorgeous hand-painted Venetian tray for €2. Tell me what you find! Bon chance!


Practical Info

Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves (Porte de Vanves Flea Market)
Metro: Port de Vanves, line 13
Days and hours: Every Saturday and Sunday 7 AM—1 PM

Other flea markets

Since the Porte de Vanves market is open only on weekend mornings, hit it before trying the other markets. If this only whets your appetite, hop on the 95 bus near the patisserie and ride it clear across Paris to the Porte de Clignancourt flea market, which stays open till 7 PM. Or visit the Clignancourt or Porte de Montreuil fleas on Monday.

About the author

Theadora Brack

About the author: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.

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22 thoughts on “Paris Shopping: Tips for flea market success”

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  7. I’m in Paris for four weeks and have already been to the St Ouen Flea Market and am so looking forward to the Porte de Vanves this Saturday. Will definitely take the 95 bus, was dreading the Metro, fast, but feels like zombie land. I am from Perth, Western Australia, and am at our flea market every Sunday by 5am, totally addicted. Thank you for your information.

  8. Hi – Thank you for the wonderful tips on the flea markets. Does anyone know of a person you can hire that speaks English and French that can accompany you to the flea markets and help negotiate for you? Thanks for any help anyone can give.

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  10. Please can you tell me where I can find some of these lovely antique diamond french rings that I see for sale on ebay, are they perhaps found at these markets?

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  12. Bargaining is not my stength – especially overseas where I am truly aware of my communication weakness! Thank you for the tips but importantly the encouragement! Thank you, Ms. Brack!

  13. Hey Theodora, I love this blog. The tips on bartering with the other traders will be invaluable as well on the rest of the step-by-step guide on how to be successful. Thanks very much for this useful info!

  14. Thanks for txcellent tips on flea market bargain hunting – I’m sure we’ll be able to use them in many other situations too! Great work :)

  15. Theodora’s pics pull you right into the article! As a flea market shopper for many years I found her pic choices show the variety and quality of what’s there . Made me want to jump up and jump right into each and every picture. Her suggestions were very helpful. Makes you feel less of a “newbie” and more ready to go for the first time. I have already printed this article and will keep it for preparing for future flea market trips. Theo certainly has the love of “flea markets”! Must be in her genes. Looking forward to her next contribution!

  16. diane megargel

    I hung on Theodoras every word. Her article about Porte de Vanves made me want to jump on a plane and rush right to The paris flea markets. She writes well and is very thorough.I woudnt dream of shopping anywhere else and one does hope for that Monet treasure. Now that the economy is the way it is its the best. Once when in Paris I did go to a flea market and got something for nothing!1 It was at the end of the day and this pot was just sitting there under a tree- the vendor didnt want to lug it home, so hang til the end.

  17. I really wish I had known about Theodora’s tips before I had gone to the flea market at Porte de Vanves! I didn’t take enough change and bought the first thing I fell in love with, a George Stubbs plate (or at least it was signed with his name.) I felt like a fickle school girl, and fell in love again at almost every vendor’s stall!

  18. Martin Laughlin

    Good suggestion Theodora! You reassured me about something I suspected was true really IS true–so right-on about the Vanves market. My wife and I went there with a French friend the last time we were in France and it’s the most fun market I’ve ever seen!

    Sure, if you got money to burn you *could* blow thousands there buying something like a steam engine or Rennassance painting (and they do have that kind of stuff there!) but you can also just bring chump change and *still* find something that you could never find back home. Like I scored a brass artillery shell from World War 1 with a circus scene engraved on it for 15 euros, and I can’t hardly wait to take it with me if Antique Road Show ever comes to our town! Meanwhile, the high-ticket booths at Vavnes let you do something that you can’t do in a regular art museum, which is touch the art! So what’s next? we’re already making our list of cheap things to do for our next trip. With the economy the way it is, you gotta do what you can to stretch the budget since giving up traveling altogether is too painful to even think about!


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