Today was another big day for us and possibly the farthest we were going to travel (besides Versailles) on our Paris trip. We were heading to the famous flea market at Saint-Ouen, just outside the Périphérique. We left early, taking the RER B to Gare du Nord and from there, the Metro (line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt). Once you get off, you need to walk down just outside the Périphérique to where the marché aux puces begins. As we walked on I saw a sign that made me smile: Paris. It made me feel like I was indeed a Parisian coming from within the city, stepping outside the city for a little weekend shopping!
A very important tip (so important, it needs a paragraph for itself): Just below the flyover (a large white bridge), you will find toilets. Use them. Even if you don’t feel like it! Once you get into the flea market, there aren’t too many options. You will need to get to one of the restaurants that are scattered along the main roads and not exactly inside the little lanes of the flea market.
Now that we’ve gotten the essentials out of the way, it’s back to the report. Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is open Saturdays (9 am to 6 pm), Sundays (10 am to 6 pm) and Mondays (11 am to 5 pm) and is the largest antique market in the world. And it really is large! Spread over 7 hectares, it’s actually well organized for a flea market. Rue des Rosiers is the main road you walk through to access the markets. Get past the first few stores that house cheap, fake clothes and trinkets and get to the real deal further down.
The flea market is actually a collection of fairly well organized smaller markets. The markets are more or less divided into the kinds of things they sell…everything from antiques, furniture, jewellery, clothes and even old beer coasters! It helps if you have a map of the market (the best place is the Tourist Information Office you should visit when you get to Paris, like we did). Markets are divided by name – Vernaison, Serpette, Dauphine, Paul Bert, Biron and Malik to name a few. Vernaison had a nice mix of everything. From the charming to the macabre (especially the one housing Nazi memorabilia that just left me very disturbed, especially because of the owner who proudly shared his wares with me). Dauphine looked nothing like a flea market. It was covered and had stores divided neatly. There’s more interesting stuff I found here than Vernaison. There were a lot of eclectic stores but the second hand bookstores and a print store with neatly catalogued sections that caught my attention. Paul Bert was another nice section where, again, there was a mix of everything. Some of the markets we clearly avoided. They seemed like expensive, high-value antique shops judging by what we could see and the people we saw inside (possibly getting them shipped to their villas)! We weren’t here to do lots of shopping but we did want to get something that was truly Parisian from the flea market. We found lots!
We read about the bargaining and we were well prepared to do it. I’m a seasoned bargainer and I was all set to get down to it but surprisingly, I didn’t need to. Everybody seemed really friendly and ended up reducing rates even before we asked. At first I thought it was a ploy but later realized it probably had to do with the time of year we were there because there weren’t too many customers around. They didn’t just voluntarily reduce rates, they also threw in small things we were interested in for free.
We picked up a few nice things that will remind us of this experience forever. Like the two identical letterpress printing alphabets representing our names. And yes, I did buy a whole bunch of old beer coasters that will soon hang framed next to the bar counter at home!