The smell of fresh-baked bread dances through the shuffling crowds, weaving its way around countless vendors selling produce, art, and coffee. It’s like an endless sea of goods waiting to be purchased. Exploring a market is the best way to fully appreciate a new destination. It’s an experience that shouldn’t be rushed, start early with a coffee and people-watch before meandering through the sea of treasures. Visiting a city’s market is my absolute favorite activity when traveling and always the first thing I google when we decide on a destination. I have my own personal favorites that I think are the best, but to truly uncover the best markets in the world that you should explore, I enlisted the help of a few bloggers to share their favorites. Together we have come up with six markets that we think you shouldn’t miss!
The Best Markets in the World to Visit
Portobello Market, London, England
First up on the list of the best markets in the world is one of my personal favorites, Portobello Market in London. I love it for its eclectic mix of items and people. You can find almost anything here.
The market began in the 19th century, in what was London’s farmland, on a country lane selling fresh produce and food to the wealthy who lived in the surrounding area. Today this area is known as Notting Hill. Over the years, the market grew and began trading a diversity of items.
Today, Portobello Market is one of the largest markets in London and the world’s largest antique market. Throughout the week, Portobello Rd. comes alive with up to 1,500 vendors that stretch for a mile down Portobello Rd., selling everything from jewelry and vintage clothing to street food and produce. The market itself is also lined with countless restaurants, cafes, and shops. It is encouraged to start your adventure early, not only because the market does get quite busy, but also because there is so much to see. I suggest arriving just before it opens at 9 a.m., grab a coffee, and sit outside to people watch.
The busiest day of the week is Saturday when the market is bustling with locals and tourists. Even some celebrities like Meghan Markle and Elton John have joined in the market’s hustle and bustle.
How to get there: Take the Tube to Ladbrooke Grove (on the Circle, Hammersmith, and City line) or Notting Hill Gate (on the Central, Circle, and District lines). Notting Hill Gate is about a 20-minute walk to the market.
Hours of Operation: The market is open Monday – Saturday, with Friday and Saturday being the busiest days. Friday and Saturday the market is open from 9 am – 7 pm, Monday – Wednesday, 9 am – 6 p.m. and Thursday 9 am – 1 p.m.
Norwich Market, England
Rachel from Anywayward Travel writes about her travels as an American expat nurse in the UK and shares her favorite English market.
Tucked away in the East of England you’ll find a fine city called Norwich. The city combines its agricultural heritage and medieval history with its multicultural community and status as a UNESCO city of literature to create a vibrant culture. There’s no place that portrays this more than Norwich Market.
Trade has occurred on the site since the 11th century making it one of the oldest outdoor markets in the country and with nearly 200 stalls, it’s also one of the largest. It is overlooked by some of the city’s most important medieval buildings including Norwich Castle, St. Peter Mancroft, and The Guildhall (a medieval building that used to oversee the market trade).
In 2019, Norwich Market was voted Britain’s Best Large Outdoor Market – a very well-deserved distinction. Under the brightly striped canopies of the market stalls, you can find a multitude of vendors to suit a range of needs. For everyday necessities, there’s a haberdashery, florist, beautician, ironmonger, and used bookshop. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here.
Recently there has been a revival in street food, and it’s become a feature of the market. Alongside the British classics, you can find cuisine from across the globe, many of them with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. During the lockdown, it’s been nice to grab lunch and pretend to be in Jamaica, India, Spain, Italy, China, or Southeast Asia. These travel fantasies are even more believable when the British weather cooperates. One note, to keep everyone safe at this time, hand sanitizer is provided, masks are required and there is a one-way system in place. Hopefully, soon that will all be a thing of the past.
How to get there: The market is located right in the center of the city. The bus stop outside the market is Castle Meadow. If you’re coming from the train station, hop on the blue bus line to get there.
Hours of operation: Norwich Market is open from Monday to Saturday (with a handful of stalls open on Sunday). Each stall has its own hours, but to avoid disappointment, go between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Pike Place, Seattle, Washington
Matthew from Kessi World is an expert on all things the Pacific Northwest and shares his love of Pike Place in Seattle, Washington.
Where can you shop for the fresh catch-of-the-day while gazing out at snow-capped mountains above a collection of waterways and inlets — all from the urban core of a world-class city? I’ve been to markets across the globe and have yet to find a setting as inspiring as Pike Place Market, located in the heart of Seattle, Washington — it’s one of the best free things to do in Seattle!
The cobblestone streets leading to the iconic series of historic buildings overlooking the Salish Sea have supported vendor carts since 1907 when the lively market came to life. Underneath the famous neon sign stalls of prolific flowers, specialty jams, local honey, and handmade crafts come together atop a maze of little shops on the lower level. The energy is abuzz with a passionate civic feel — a community that worked tirelessly to prevent the market’s destruction in the 1970s.
Not just for tourists, this place is also known for a tasty variety of food. Beecher’s mac-n-cheese is a memorable experience amongst a compact neighborhood of bites from all over the world. Perennial favorites Pink Door and Biscuit Bitch delight the senses. Although the Starbucks empire started here, literally at the market… a number of great little java shops, like Storyville Coffee Pike Place, provide the perfect perk. And, just a few steps from all the commotion of flying salmon, take respite on a terrace overlooking the view of the Olympic Mountains, while enjoying bubbly at French bistro Maximillan.
I make the pleasant hour-long walk from my house to Pike Place Market regularly and always delight in a new nook and cranny to explore. A vibrant, fresh feeling of possibility sweeps over me, and I’m reminded why I love living in the Emerald City.
How to get there: parking is available but expensive and an overall hassle. I suggest walking, riding in an Uber, or taking public transportation. The market is conveniently close to Seattle’s main transit hub, Westlake Center, so look for this stop on the Light Rail or bus lines and then walk two to three blocks toward the intersection of 1st Avenue and Pike Street.
Hours of operation: general market hours are 9 a.m -5 p.m. daily, although many of the stand-alone restaurants stay open later into the evening and some vendors can be seen closing shop earlier in the afternoon
Otavalo Market, Ecuador
Manisha from The Sole Speaks writes about her travels after leaving the corporate world and shares her love of the Otavalo market in Ecuador.
After the busyness of Quito, Otavalo was a peaceful relief. A two-hour drive north of Quito, Otavalo is known for its market, which happens to be the largest market in South America run by indigenous people. Locally known as Plaza de Los ponchos, the market is a blast of colors and is set overlooking the Andes.
The market is popular for its textiles that are known to have existed since pre-Incan times. Apart from the textiles, there are readymade things you can buy like hand-knit ponchos, rugs, blankets, hammocks, the famous Panama hats, and many more creative items in a multitude of patterns. Otavalo is the perfect place for souvenir shopping.
On the periphery of the market, there are food stalls for mid-shopping hunger pangs that serve delicious local cuisines. Do be aware, like any busy place, be mindful of the valuables you’re carrying.
How to get there from Quito: The market is about two hours from Quito and most tourists travel by bus. You can grab a bus ticket at Quito’s Carcelén bus station. There are several bus lines that travel to Otavalo.
Hours of Operation: While the market is open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays are the official market days. On these days there are more artisans from nearby villages.
It is ideal to go as early as possible as many artisans leave early to make the return journey to their village. And while Saturday morning is when one can expect the most variety, by 11 a.m. it gets very busy with tourists from Quito.
St. George’s Market, Belfast Northern Ireland
Meggie Tran from Mindful Meggie is a travel and mental health blogger with OCD and social anxiety, she shares her favorite market, St. George’s in Belfast.
Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, is known for its rough history — that of the Titanic shipbuilding and political tensions between the Catholics and Protestants.
While visiting Belfast is a living history lesson for most travelers, you must also witness the lively spirit of its people at St. George’s Market. Local merchants sell fresh and cooked food and locally made souvenirs. Lovely live music intersperses with the chatter of large crowds.
I visited on a crowded Sunday at noon, the aisles jammed packed with people. At a cooked food stand called Sandra’s Grill, I ordered a hearty Irish breakfast cooked on the spot. On a crowded Sunday, you shouldn’t expect available seats and tables for eating. You can try eating outside typical mealtimes if you want to snag a spot.
One note, this is an indoor venue, so no worries about having rain gear. This is the rainy island of Ireland, after all.
How to get there: It is an easy 10 – 15-minute walk from the city center.
Hours of Operation:
Each day at St George’s Market features its own theme:
Friday: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. – a variety market specializing in fresh foods
Saturday: 9 a.m.to 3 p.m. – city food including ready-to-eat Irish and international food, crafts, and a garden market
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – combines the Friday and Saturday themes, while also selling works of art made by locals.
Marché des Capucins, Bordeaux, France
Shireen from Happy Days Travels writes about living locally through food, books, and culture and she shares her favorite market, Marché des Capucins in Bordeaux, France.
One of the best markets I’ve visited is Marché des Capucins in the UNESCO heritage city of Bordeaux, France. This is everything you imagine a French market to be and will be one of the most authentic French experiences. It is the only place you need to visit to get all your goodies for a picnic or homemade dinner. Bordeaux is world-famous for its wine and Marche des Capucins offers visitors a vast choice of bottles to choose from (with lots of tasters too). The other stereotypical French-ness occurs here too: pungent cheese and the freshest baguettes you can imagine. In addition, the market has fruit and vegetables, snacks, florists, and local cuisine.
To blend in with the locals, bring a wicker basket for your supplies and you’ll feel like a native as you muse around the market.
How to get there: It is a 10-minute walk from Gare Saint Jean or grab the bus, lines 1/11/15/20/58 will get you there.
Hours of operation:
Tuesday to Friday: 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays: 5.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Markets are delightful places to find lost treasures, sample new cuisines, and find souvenirs to take home. What’s your favorite market? Share it in the comments!