There are so many reasons that Europeans are cooler than the rest of the world, but one of my favorite things about their cultures is their obsession with open air markets. Don’t get me wrong, the markets are dingy, dirty, and at times downright gross, but for some reason those Europeans really tricked me into thinking all the crap they sell is more authentic than the products in places that actually have a roof and can’t be rolled away at night.
Regardless, I spent most of my money on things I will never really need at multiple open air markets throughout Europe, and you know what? I am alright with that. Open air markets are less about the buying and more about the experience. Where else are you going to eat unidentifiable meat on a stick in your right hand while using your left middle finger to haggle for a leather purse? If you do that in America you are considered trashy and fat. I am telling you, Europeans know what they are doing in life. Here is a mixed list of noteworthy food, flea, and goods open air markets in Europe.
Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall in Budapest is one of the most interesting markets around. It is not exactly an open air market – instead, it is a beautiful large warehouse-type building where vendors set up their kiosks. The market is mostly made up of stationary food vendors who sell Hungarian delicacies from strings of paprika and garlic to sausages, goulash, and sinful pasties. There are other vendors who move in and out of the market who sell Hungarian dolls and other souvenirs. The one Hungarian souvenir I could not figure out was the painted egg. If anyone understands that one, please enlighten me. One thing that makes the Hungarian market different is that they have days dedicated to featuring foods from other cultures.
La Boqueria in Barcelona is similar to the structure of The Great Market Hall (which is really making my article on open air markets lose credibility). Unlike many of the open air markets though, La Boqueria is dedicated solely to food. Bring your appetite, people, because there is no way you will be able to walk through the stalls without trying something. The array of fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, and other goodies will make it hard not to find something for everyone to eat. It is a good thing you can’t get fat by just looking…
San Lorenzo/Mercato Centrale
For all the haters who say Florence is too small of a city to be in for more than two days (ehem, I get defensive since I lived there for three months), you clearly never spent the proper amount of time in the market place. Yes, Florence is a small city, but when visiting, at least one full day should be dedicated to visiting the San Lorenzo and Mercato Centrale. My best advice, walk through the San Lorenzo market first. See all the leather, scarves, hats, and paintings that you will spend at least two hundred euro on, on a good day. DON’T BUY ANYTHING. After you do one walk, enter the Mercato Centrale, which is the food market connected to the San Lorenzo markets. Relax and have yourself a nice biscotti and a espresso, maybe even buy some wine and olives to bring home. After that, go and reexamine all that leather you swore you needed before. I just saved you arm and a leg.
The Flea Market
There is no official name for this flea market, but it is held in the car park of the Carrefour every Sunday morning (the vendors need a week to sift through old junk in their basements to sell to customers). The stalls are set up in a straight line, so no need to worry about getting lost – especially when you tell a vendor you will be back, when in all reality you are just trying to be polite. This open market is a flea market so it is filled with antiques as well as new finds.
Lille, Northern France
This flea market is particularly special because it is the largest in Europe, but it only takes place once a year on the first weekend in September. If you are not in Lille that one weekend, that is just tough. But really, this flea market commandeers the entire town and attracts between one and two million people annually. The flea market features all things imaginable from books to furniture, but the one must do during that weekend is to indulge in Moules-Frites, which is French for mussels and fries. The market vendors compete for who has the most mussel shells at the end of the weekend.
Don’t even try to pronounce it, just enjoy the food. This is legitimately an open air market with all the freshest fruits, vegetables, breads, and meats in Germany. Over 160 booths are open six days a week for chefs and just plain hungry people alike to attend. If you aren’t hungry, no worries: the Beer Garden should keep you busy enough. Take a load off with Bavarian beer and sauerkraut. Appealing, right?
Again, the pronunciation is not important, because you will be stuffing your face with food and it is rude to speak with food in your mouth. This Austrian market is a large stretch of food vendors, except for on Saturdays when the local flea market joins in the selling. One of the great things about this market is that it attracts the thousands of foreigners who actually live in Vienna. Make sure to try Vienna’s famous ApfelStrudel or Sacher tort!
Lastly, for the coolest of the Europeans: the Dutch. Of course they would come up with the greatest market of all time. Bloemenmarkt is a flower market, but not just any flower market. This flower market floats on the houseboats that are so common in Amsterdam. For some of the most beautiful flowers and fragrant markets, Bloemenmarkt is the place to be. (side/personal note: I stumbled upon this market when I was in Amsterdam by accident and I spent the rest of my day there…it’s that great).
I may have come back to America twenty pounds heavier and a hundreds of dollars broker thanks to open air markets, but I still think they are a crucial part of travelling in Europe.