THE BLOG

I Love Fleas - No, Not That Kind, the Parisian Flea Markets!

05/04/2015 02:31 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2016

Ok, yes, les Puces means the fleas. But how many fleas have you seen in flea markets? Most likely none. In Paris, going daily or weekly to the markets for fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, meat, flowers and all sorts of food is a ritual very cherished, as nothing beats the freshness of farmers' food. Who likes supermarkets?

On the other hand, a weekend trip to the flea markets ("Les Puces") for second-hand clothing, vintage finds and collectible treasures is a ritual most welcome when the weather cooperates, by being nice. Since this is only a Saturday-Sunday trek, the thrill of it is associated with relaxation and semi-exercise, as one must walk for miles in the maze-like market.

Sometimes, you get lucky and find the boots you were looking for or the dress you had perfectly settled on in your mind, and sometimes, you go home empty-handed, as everything you saw that day seemed ugly, dirty and of zero value. The fries you had while walking were good comfort food, the kind you would never have in a restaurant during the week - greasy and too salty, served in a paper cone.

Sellers at the "official" Puces make a living out of their sales and stands. At some smaller markets, piles of untended clothing make you wonder if they got that stuff in garbage bins. So the best is to scour those secondary Puces with a discerning eye and gloves if the weather permits it.

Many "doors" of Paris have flea markets on weekends. Most are small and consist of fruits, vegetables, homey things and some clothes. The doors of the city are the entrances where the original boundaries of the capital used to stand, with actual massive doors of wood between arches of stone. The doors and arches are now mostly gone, but the names have endured.

When you look at a map of Paris, you will see that the somewhat oval shape enclosed within the "périphérique" (the loop) is limited by doors, or entrances, such as: Porte de Clichy, Porte de Clignancourt, Porte des Lilas, Porte de Vanves, Porte d'Auteuil, etc....When you look at the Paris Métro map, the many subway lines makes it look like a medusa, with more hair streaks than the Starbucks head.

Les Puces of Saint-Ouen.

Since 1885, covering seven hectares, hosting over 3,000 traders, this is likely to be the largest flea market in the world. The fleas have left long ago, and the market is the best place to find all those things you did not even know you wanted. It is located Porte de Clignancourt, in the North part of Paris: undeniably the most famous, most expensive, and most rewarding in terms of finds, this one is not to be missed. The boundaries and definition of what you want and/or need to buy will here be sublimated, and the experience will leave you elated.

Technically the market is in the suburb of Saint-Ouen, but so close to the limit of Paris that when you get there by subway, it takes you right in the middle of it. The official name is Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen, so there, now you know, don't think I have been sending you to a less than chic outer city.

It's a very typical past time to go to the Puces. Even a meeting point for friends. Just like the wonderful markets of Portobello Road or Spitafield in London, the nec-plus-ultra of bohemian spirit. In Saint Ouen, the most important traffic concerns the antiques, from furniture to jewels, linens to décor, rare prints to coins, oriental rugs, silver, and anything you can possibly dream of - It's there.

It takes quite a while to go through it all, and at a tardigradous pace, the day will fly with no effort. You may want to limit yourself to the clothing sellers, or to the small furniture vendors, without getting inside the more massive stands, which are more like real stores with closing doors and solid walls. There are more than a dozen of different markets within the market itself. It's a little confusing, but rest assure than nobody can do it all in one day.

From street food to established restaurants, from corner solo musicians to organized group ensembles, music is also everywhere in the streets, and the ambiance is utterly satisfying for all senses. Better take some cash with you, smaller vendors will only take cash, and foreign credit cards might not be welcome outside of large sellers with store outfitting. After all, you might find a tee shirt for a quarter or shoes for $1. Certainly do not expect anybody to have change for 100 Euro bill.

If you were to buy a large piece of furniture, several taxi services will pick you up and take you and your piece to your apartment/hotel/shipping company. If you are to make a habit of this, better hire a shipping company that will take care of all transportation for you. Certain sellers also offer delivery services; or international shipping. Those can get quite expensive and would probably only be valuable if you purchased something very unique that cannot be found anywhere else.

Details:
There is no address needed, it covers a large area and is very well known and easy to find.
Open Saturday (samedi) from 9 to 6
Sunday (dimanche) from 10 to 6
Monday (lundi) from 11 to 5, but for some stands only
August 1 to 15, the hours are reduced, varying for each market
Métro stop: Porte de Clignancourt (line 4)

Les Puces of Montreuil.

This is where the definition of Puces (fleas) might still stand. A favorite of mine, this location is surely much smaller that Saint Ouen, so then it's almost possible to walk it all in one day. This one is only street vendors in stands, no established stores here. The headache is to find something. The thrill of the hunt must overtake you seriously to allow you to find something you will positively adore and fall in love with at first sight. This market is disheveled, to say the least and surely merit its flea name.

But this where I bought the most unique bomber jacket from a WWI jet pilot in mint condition for $2, stylish wedding boots in cream suede with tiny lace shoelaces for $1, an antique cardboard suitcase, green and red, with the image of Babar the elephant painted on it. Plus, many dresses, many bags, a few necklaces. At the end of my day there, I had to stop shopping as my little suitcase and my arms were full. I had spent $20.

And this one is in Paris, even though its name says otherwise, go figure! It is at the limit of Paris and the suburb of Montreuil.

Details:
Open Saturday + Sunday + Monday 7 to 7
Avenue du Professeur André Lemierre; 75020 Paris
Métro stop: Porte de Montreuil (line 9)
(Be careful it's Porte de Montreuil, not Mairie de Montreuil)

Les Puces of Vanves.

This is the third large flea market of the city. It has less than the other two, but is also a lot less crowded. More like a giant garage sale, this one is also cheaper. People here want to get rid of their stuff, there are not permanent sellers and may not be there if you were to return another weekend - so if you see something you like, just get it there and now. It's a nice walk with plenty of cafés with terraces where you can sit and watch the incessant foot traffic of families of all colors.

This is where you can also find new things, such as scarves and shoes, but for a lesser price than in regular stores. It is possible to find art déco pieces from collectors who don't want to fight the crowds and traffic of the other Puces. I like to sit at a café and eat my croissant and pet all the walking-by dogs who come sniffing for crumbs. This market is only open Saturday-Sunday mornings.

Details:
Open Saturday + Sunday 7:30 to 2
Intersections of avenue Marc Sangnier and avenue Georges-Lafenestre; in the 14th arrondissement.
Métro stop: Porte de Vanves (line 14)

If you happen to visit Paris in May, check the hours before you go to any market, as the pretty month of May has long holiday weekends all month long. Normally the markets should stay open, but it's always better to check. The best guide to every events and happenings of Paris is a small format magazine called Pariscope, and that should be the first thing you buy when you get to the city; it's a weekly and is an incredible resource for everything happening, from movies to theaters listings, excursions to markets, museums, attractions - it's quite complete, the bible of Parisians who buy it each and every week.

Remember that all sales taxes are always included in the asked prices, whether they are printed or verbally announced. And don't forget to haggle, or at least try to, it often works!