Market Stories: 7 Bucket-List-Worthy World Bazaars

Dive into a new culture and walk away with a few souvenirs in the process.

The Grand Bazaar

Known as the world’s first shopping mall, located in Istanbul, Turkey, it once served as the central marketplace for the Ottoman Empire.

No place sums up a destination quite like its local market. Here, the stories of a city’s history, culture, and cuisine are told by displays of dusty antiques, bins of curious trinkets, and rows of delicious food stalls.

For the traveler, a market reveals a destination’s essence with sensory experiences a museum or city tour would be hard-pressed to deliver: the aromas of unfamiliar roasting meats, the accents of hawking vendors, the awe of finding an ancient relic on sale.

We’ve rounded up the world’s best bazaars, all located in Azamara’s port cities, to show how a trip to the market is the best way to dive into a new culture.

Clams At A Fish MarketTsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan

By sunrise, the world’s largest fish market is in full swing. Preparations for Tsukiji’s famous morning auction—where a whopping four billion dollars worth of seafood is sold each year—begin before 5:00 am.

Sushi stands abound at Tsukiji, but locals will tell you the best ones are located near the fruit and vegetable grocers. Come early and start your day with a sushi breakfast crafted from that day’s catch.

Every day, more than two thousand tons of seafood are sold in the market’s narrow alleys. A walk through the stalls is a lesson in marine biology. Shrimp, clams, and crabs wriggle in plastic bins. Buckets full of eels, sea slugs, and urchins are stacked next to precarious piles of tuna and whale meat. Behind the stalls, workers slice, dice, and filet sardines, salmon, and swordfish.

Tsukiji can trace its history back four hundred years to a fish market that once stood near a castle selling its leftovers, located in today’s business district.

If you want to visit the world’s most historic fish market in its current location, you better do so soon. Amid much controversy, the city will be relocating the market more than a mile away by 2016 in order to develop the land prior to the 2020 Olympics.

Portobello MarketPortobello Road Market, London, England

On Saturdays, the market of London’s Portobello Road is abuzz with shoppers, street performers, and vendors hawking everything from rusty suits of armor to vintage lace.

The top attractions are the antique shops, rumored to offer the best assortment of artifacts in Britain. Hundreds of bustling stalls sell treasures like textiles from the seventeenth century, teapots from the 1950s, and top hats from the 1800s. African art is on display next to stacks of silver-handled magnifying glasses. Shoppers can try on World War I military hats and necklaces crafted from discarded vintage beads.

Along the sidewalks, mop-topped guitarists practice their best Beatles impressions and steel drummers keep the beat under streamers of Union Jacks hanging from the streetlights.

Portobello Road Market

Local Culture
The personality-packed Portobello Road Market is known for having the best assortment of artifacts in Britain.

Portobello Road’s come a long way since its humble start hundreds of years ago as a winding country lane. When the nearby neighborhoods of Paddington and Notting Hill started to grow, the road served as an ideal location for shopkeepers eager to serve the area’s new wealthy residents. Rag-and-bone men selling secondhand goods and food stalls known locally as “costermongers” became Portobello Road staples, laying the foundation for today’s vibrant market.

Porte de Clignancourt, Paris, France

Paris’s most popular flea market is one of the largest antique fairs in the world, welcoming up to 180,000 weekend shoppers hunting for the perfect mid-century modern table or Scandinavian-inspired desk chair.

Nicknamed Les Puces, French for “the fleas,” the market started in 1885 as a place for rag men to sell the treasures they found scouring the trash bins of Paris at night. Today, the market is home to seventeen acres of covered and open-air shops. At times, it feels more like a gallery or museum than a second-hand bazaar.

Paris’s Les Puces

Eclectic Collections
Pieces from all eras are on hand at Paris’s Les Puces.

Shoppers can find pieces from all eras and countries at Les Puces. At one stand, wooden, Art Deco side tables share space with ornate eighteenth-century silverware. Hand-carved Louis XV loveseats are on sale next to racks of vintage dresses. Kitchy 1960s tables hold stacks of antique film cameras and decades-old baby dolls.

Throughout the market you’ll find about two dozen cafés and restaurants, including the Philippe Starck-designed Ma Cocotte. As a child, the French designer visited the market often on weekends with his father. Almost everything Starck chose for Ma Cocotte was bought at Les Puces.

Glass LampsThe Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The world’s first shopping mall, the Grand Bazaar dates back to Byzantine times and once served as the central marketplace for the entire Ottoman Empire. Today, the boisterous market retains much of its centuries-old ambiance. Turkish carpets hang from the domed ceiling and glazed glass lanterns illuminate displays of unrecognizable spices stacked on the stone floor. Gold rings glitter next to plates painted with whirling dervishes, and Istanbul’s famous street cats nap on piles of Turkish flag T-shirts.

Vendors are quick to chat up passersby in hopes of a sale, and shoppers are quick to haggle in hopes of a deal.

While today you’ll find plenty of souvenir stands and luggage stalls—items the Ottomans likely had little use for—the Grand Bazaar is still the perfect place to experience the spirit of Istanbul, the only major city stretching two continents and the literal crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Flag down one of the vendors carrying a plate of sesame bread on his head and get ready for an afternoon of exploring—and haggling over—the goods of nearly four thousand merchants.

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Every weekend, more than two hundred thousand visitors flock to Chatuchak to peruse the goods of thousands of stalls spread over thirty acres of land. This is one of the world’s largest markets, and savvy shoppers know to come early to beat the crowds.

If something can be bought, it’s for sale at Chatuchak. Stores devoted exclusively to pet fashion sell sweaters designed for bunnies, and costume shops line their walls with gorilla masks and fake rubber hands. In housewares, shoppers can pick out the perfect cow skull, grandfather clock, or smiling Buddha statue. Many visitors beeline straight to the market’s pet section to cuddle with kittens and feed treats to squirrels on string leashes.

At Chatuchak, the people watching is just as fun as the shopping. Along the alleys, banjo players dressed in cowboy hats serenade shoppers, and men wielding machetes deftly chop coconuts.

It’s Thailand, so dress for warm weather, grab a map of the market, and get ready for hours of shopping entertainment.

Tango DancersPlaza Dorrego Market, Buenos Aires, Argentina

On Sundays, the bohemian Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo is closed to traffic and opened to the people. More than eight thousand locals, tourists, and tango dancers gather for the Plaza Dorrego market.

San Telmo is one of the city’s oldest barrios, and the area’s historic charm is most palpable on market days. Vendors selling jewelry, woven blankets, and leather goods set up shop under the terraces of colonial buildings. Tables piled high with faded Spanish books, hulking phonographs, and colorful glass seltzer bottles line the cobbled streets.

The storytellers and street performers who gather to entertain shoppers only add to the appeal. Tango dancers, the men clad in suits and hats, the women wearing slinky dresses and heels, stomp and strut on every corner. The dance was invented in part by the men who lived in this neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. Fun fact: The tango was originally considered too obscene for women.

Plaza Dorrego Market

A look at an empty Plaza Dorrego Market.

On market days, it’s common to see crowds of as many as thirty people—locals, tourists, young and old—stop their shopping to watch a particularly talented tango duo slide, glide, and kick their way across the sidewalk.

Hong Kong Market PlaceTemple Street Night Market, Hong Kong

When the day ends, the fun begins at the Temple Street Night Market. Vendors selling everything from jade and antique tea sets to knock-off electronics and fake designer bags set up shop for an evening of bantering, haggling, and fraternizing.

The most successful shoppers come with the mission of having a good time rather than finding a good deal. At the Temple Street Night Market, the best entertainment comes from sorting through the vendors’ selections of homemade medicinal tonics and faux Rolexes, and taking in the crowd.

Impromptu arias are common as many opera singers come to the market nightly to network and perform. Some of the aspiring amateurs and talented tenors accept donations for their public practices. Snap a few pictures; you may catch a future Cantonese opera star in the making.

Hong Kong City

Bright Nights
The buzzing Hong Kong marketplace is alive with people and color, combining to provide a true sense of the local life and culture.

Around the corner, clusters of fortune tellers search shoppers’ palms and astrological charts for revelations about the future. Some own small birds that can pick a card from a deck to reveal a client’s fate. Others examine customers’ ears for insight.

In the night market’s food hall, older men play Chinese checkers and dine on spicy crab, skewered squid, and claypot rice under bare light bulbs. The Temple Street Night Market is a scene, and a great way to experience a cross section of Hong Kong culture.

[©Image 5 courtesy of VisitBritain/Joanna Henderson]

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