Meet Me At the Market: Visiting Some of the World’s Best Markets
By Scott Dicken
Whenever I find myself writing about a new travel destination, I nearly always add a market to the list of places I recommend visiting. I find markets, unless they are specifically designed for tourists, a great way to learn more about a destination and its culture. As a result, I tend to find myself drawn towards them. With that in mind, this month I thought I’d share my favorite world markets. The results include night markets, food markets, the largest market in the world, a traditional souk, and a floating market. All-in-all, a well-rounded selection to cater to all tastes.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey: The Grand Bazaar is exactly as you imagine it to be – the screaming of stall vendors, the smell of incense and spice permeating the air, and a labyrinth of streets. With over 4,000 vendors spread across 60 streets I guess you could say the Grand Bazaar is a shopper’s paradise. The most important thing to remember is to shop around and haggle hard, but also consider arriving early in the morning when the sellers are most worried about meeting their daily quotas.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand: Reportedly the largest market in the World, and served by both the Bangkok BTS and MRT rail services, the market has an almost cult status amongst tourists. With over 15,000 stalls, and 200,000 visitors each week, it may seem a daunting task. However, the chaotic nature of the market melts away as you browse the huge selection of street foods, art, antiques and fashion. Be prepared to get lost, be prepared to not get the greatest of bargains, but also be prepared for a visual and sensory overload that makes it all worthwhile.
Jemaa El Fnaa, Marrakech, Morocco: During the day, Jemaa El Fnaa square is brimming with snake charmers playing flutes and side acts drawing crowds. At night, the square turns in to a almost mythical lantern-lit local food market with local storytellers, acrobats, fortune tellers, and magicians entertaining the crowds. It’s really a place that absorbs all of your senses (which is unfortunately why pickpocketing is also so common!). My advice is enjoy the spectacle from above and sit on one of the balconies of the cafes that surround the main square with some tea (how British of me). Trust me, before you know it you’ll have been sitting there for hours just people watching.
Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong: Night markets and are a particular penchant of mine, and Temple Street in Hong Kong is probably one of, if not the, best. You’ll find everything on offer here from counterfeit handbags and designer watches to original artwork and souvenir trinkets. The street is lined with street food vendors, so pull up a stool, order some food and watch the chaotic buzz of the market with a beer in hand. You’ll also likely find tarot card readers and opera singers for entertainment. All-in-all, a great night out!
Camden Market, London, UK: Also known as Camden Lock, Camden Market is a true symbol of London’s diversity and a great place for people watching. The market, which is set around Regent’s Canal, boasts over 1,000 stalls, eateries, and shops set within a sprawling mass of buildings and open spaces. You can get everything here from street food to art, vintage clothing, tourist souvenirs, antiques, and handicrafts. The market is hugely popular with locals and tourists alike (especially at the weekends), so unless you fancy being jostled around the market by the hordes then I suggest you get there early and leave after a bite to eat at a local pub.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand: Although the floating market is about 70 miles West of Bangkok in Ratchaburi province, it’s worth trying to organize a trip to experience one of the last tourist-accessible bastions of traditional life in Thailand. Admittedly, the market has become more of a tourist trap than a traditional market over time, but hop in a long boat and arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds and enjoy the best of the chaotic and colorful market, and watch the stall holders boating in their produce along the snaking canals.
Borough Market, London, UK: A foodie’s paradise, and for the longest time a Saturday morning pilgrimage for me. Unfortunately the market’s growing popularity with tourists means that it isn’t quite as relaxing on a mid-Saturday morning as it used to be, but don’t let that put you off. Get there early and you can stroll around at a relatively leisurely pace picking up free food samples and eyeing up your lunch options. If you’re in London in the winter, then enjoy the market with a cup of warm mulled wine in your hand on the frostiest of mornings. Most of the market is covered so don’t let wet weather put you off and make sure to check out Southwark Cathedral whilst you’re there.
Pike Place Market, Seattle, USA: Opened in 1907 Pike is officially the oldest continuously operated market in the US and bills itself as a ‘meet the producer’ market. Although it attracts droves of tourists it really isn’t just a tourist attraction. It hosts a full farmers market in addition to a craft market and over 200 independent shops. Feeling peckish? The market boasts over 80 places to grab a bite. If you’re a fan of that Starbucks place I hear people raving about, then Pike Place Market is also home to the first Starbucks (and still has the original logo).
La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain: Just off of Las Ramblas and behind wrought iron gates, La Boqueria is a market for food lovers, incorporating fresh produce and great grab-and-go options. It’s a truly authentic market with floors slippery from melted ice and discarded fruit, and the pungent smell of fresh seafood in the air (come to think of it, probably not the best place to visit if you’ve indulged in a little too much vino the night before). The vibrantly colored fruit stands are a great place to capture photos and get a morning vitamin c fix and there are some great stalls and restaurants inside the market at which you can pull up a stool and watch the buzz of the market.
Rialto Market, Venice, Italy: Markets are often one of the first places I go to get a real sense of how a city truly lives; and Mercato di Rialto is one of my favorites of anywhere in the world. The market is divided into two; half being fruit and vegetables whilst the second is the seafood market. My advice is to get to the market in the early morning (especially if you enjoy photography) as you’ll see the produce coming up the Grand Canal by boat before being offloaded for sale right beside the Ponte di Rialto. By the way, when I say get there early I mean around 5.30am – 6am – yes, I’m aware that’s early when you’re supposed be on a relaxing, romantic getaway! Once you’ve visited the market take the stroll over the Ponte di Rialto; which is probably the most famous of the bridges along the Grand Canal. The bridge is lined by small shops where you can also pick up some undoubtedly over-priced souvenirs.
About the Author: Scott Dicken is a world traveler and amateur photographer on top of being employed full time at an internationally known company. His love of travel is evident – you can read more articles like this at takephotosleavefootprints.com