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.
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.
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.
5. 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.
Last week I found a gorgeous hand-painted Venetian tray for €2. Tell me what you find! Bon chance!
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.