Aimlessly ambling around a market is arguably the best way to get a feel for a new city. Interacting with locals, whether it’s haggling over the price of something you had no idea existed until five minutes ago but now can’t live without, or just chatting to a stallholder about his or her craft. But also to soak up the general atmosphere, pick up souvenirs, and explore by foot.
Here are the best of Europe’s markets for you to immerse yourself in.
The historic thoroughfare of Brick Lane
Brick Lane, London
Having become famous as the heart of London’s Bangladeshi and Jewish communities, Brick Lane now refers to an entire area of the city rather than just the original thoroughfare. Even the Brick Lane Market now includes all the smaller markets that splinter off it; traditionally bric-a-brac stalls and bargain fruit and veg but increasingly by-the-kilo vintage fairs, emerging fashion designers, and print-makers. And often the odd impromptu gig at a little cafe.
The whole place is at its most animated on a Sunday, since the days it was predominantly the Jewish quarter and observed Shabbat. The curry houses and fiery Bangladeshi street food are, still, a must try. As is Beigel Bake, serving up fluffy, warm bagels with salted beef, salmon, and a range of sweet fillings (for only a couple of quid) that’s open 24 hours a day.
Just ten minutes’ walk from Brick Lane, Ace Hotel London Shoreditch is a stylish hotel with a youthful clientele who come to enoy the basement bar and restaurant.
The laid-back, leafy Arkonaplatz in Berlin
Arkonaplatz - Berlin
A historic flea market in the leafy residential neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, Arkonaplatz has a laid-back and wholesome feel. Sift through stalls selling second-hand clothes, books, vinyl, various oddities and, if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across vintage jewellery or an old and dusty book from the days of East and West Germany. After a morning browsing through boxes of old letters and books grab lunch at one of the local cafes or try the traditional German dish of Steckerlfisch, a batch of which is always on the market grill.
Take the ferry north to IJ-Hallen
IJ-Hallen - Amsterdam
On the first weekend of every month, a huge industrial space in Amsterdam Noord is taken over by enterprising locals selling their second-hand wares for bargain prices. A short (free) ferry ride from Central Station, this is the kind of market that will truly reward those who really put the effort in. Levi 501s that fit like a glove, a set of three retro cinema seats combined to make a sofa, hilariously weird board games - IJ-Hallen never disappoints.
In winter, it’s confined to indoors but for the rest of the year it’s in the open air. Pay a meagre entry fee and you’re in for the day and it’s so big that strolling slowly in the sunshine round the endless aisles you may not even have time to finish your circuit.
Shopping in Feira da Ladra
Feira da Ladra, Lisbon
Dating back to the Middle Ages, Feira da Ladra was initially a market for stolen goods but now attracts mostly tourists looking for a pleasant way to spend a sunny Lisbon morning.
Open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the market sells a massively broad range of second hand stuff, a large proportion of which is junk. But if you’re willing to haggle, you’ll get a good price for pretty Portuguese tiles, trinkets, vintage tin boxes or whatever else you stumble across.
Find everything from homemade honey to seafood in Vienna's vast Naschmarkt
Naschmarkt - Vienna
This market in Vienna is so huge you could spend hours winding around the tiny stalls. Naschmarkt is mainly a food market, selling everything from exotic herbs, regional honey, and Uhudler (a fruity, Austrian wine), to every type of cheese and seafood.
There are also sections devoted to different cuisines - the Jewish part of the market has lots of moreish breads and baklava. Once you’ve had your fill of the hundreds of delicacies on offer, follow the Wienzeile street along to the flea market area, open every Saturday.
The Schreiners Essen und Wohnen is a hotel with all minimalist, modern rooms facing a quiet, flower-filled courtyard for plenty of calm in the centre of the city.