While landmarks and monuments will tell you the history of a destination, museums and art galleries will tell you about its heritage, and national parks and reserves will tell you about its flora and fauna – what’s the best way of learning about its culture? For every city, big or small, there’s a place where people come together to shop, to gossip, to while away the hours and that place would be the local market. From the bustling hubbub of Djemma el Fna in Marrakech to the intoxicating smells of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, read on for our favourite marketplaces.
1. Chatuchak Market, Bangkok
Whether you’re in Bangkok for a week or a weekend you must set aside a few hours to wander through the vast Chatuchak Market. And when we say a few hours, we mean it! Spanning over 35 acres with more than 8000 market stalls, this colourful marketplace is anything by sparse of wares to browse and buy. With over 200,000 shoppers strolling the aisles here on a typical weekend it is a must-see destination for any traveller to Bangkok. The sheer size of Chatuchak Market may make it daunting at first, but come prepared with a wallet full of small notes and your negotiation skills perfected to a tee and you’ll go home with some real bargains.
2. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Self-proclaimed as the world’s most exciting shopping experience, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul may not be far off the mark. Another marketplace of monumental proportion, this Istanbul landmark is spread over 60 streets with over 5000 shops selling everything from jewellery and tea, to ceramics and carpets. There’s so much more to the Grand Bazaar than the shops too, under its coverage there’s also mosques, fountains and hammans, as well as restaurants and cafes. At the heart of this covered market is Cevahir Bedesten where you’ll find the more precious wares on offer, including priceless antiques, furniture and inlaid weaponry.
3. Khan el Khalili, Cairo
At the heart of Cairo you’ll find the marketplace of Khan el Khalili. Not only is it thronging with travellers looking to pick up a souvenir of their time in Egypt, but it’s also a popular hangout for the locals who sit in cafes with a cup of tea and puffing on shisha pipes. You’ll find a bit of everything in Khan el Khalili, however there are three areas where you’ll find more specific ware and those are the gold, copperware and spice districts. While wandering through the narrow alleys of Khan el Khalili, it can be easy to forget that you’re in a modern Arab city as the exotic aromas, dusty wares and warm greetings of the locals transport you to a different time.
4. Djemma el Fna, Marrakech
No stay in Marrakech would be complete without spending a couple hours trawling through the famous marketplace of Djemma el Fna – a saying you’ve probably heard a million times, but nevertheless as true as the first time. In the morning there’s not much to see here, but in the early afternoon vendors start to set up their stalls, and by dusk the market is fully underway. Djemma el Fna is more than a marketplace; it’s an experience in itself with snake charmers, belly dancers, musicians and more. If you’re looking to buy, haggling is more than welcome so be sure to brush up on your skills before you go and be assertive. If the price isn’t right then simply walk away – you’ll be sure to feel a tap on your shoulder and your purchase wrapped and ready to go.
5. Izmailovsky Market, Moscow
When approaching the entrance to Moscow‘s Izmailovsky Market for the first time you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you were entering an amusement park rather than a marketplace, with colourful whimsical buildings reminiscent of a Candy Land board game welcoming you to Russia’s most famous marketplace. Once inside is a different story as you’re met by row after row of market stalls selling everything from fur hats and Soviet-era memorabilia, to Russian nesting dolls and Faberge eggs. Despite the sub-zero temperatures of winter Izmailovksy is open year-round, with vendors inventing unique ways of keeping themselves warm, however the weekends are the best time to visit when the market is at full capacity.
6. Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem
Known locally as The Shuk, Mahane Yehuda Market is a Jerusalem landmark and a popular shopping spot for locals purchasing their everyday essentials and travellers curious to get a taste of local flavour. And what better place to do just that! Mahane Yehuda Market is a great destination for foodies with plenty of street fare on offer as well as pricier establishments. If you’re a people watcher then you’re best off visiting Mahane Yehuda Market on a Thursday or Friday when you can watch as the locals stock up on their supplies for Shabbat. If you’re looking for somewhere to venture after dark then The Shuk is a great choice too as it has become a popular place for night owls with busy restaurants and live music.
7. Johari Bazaar, India
There is no shortage of marketplaces in The Pink City of Jaipur, but our favourite is Johari Bazaar. Here Indian families are known to stock up in preparation for weddings with an ample selection of beautiful jewellery inlaid with precious semi-precious stone, gorgeous saris of every imaginable hue and much more. Nicknamed ‘The Jewellers Market’, it definitely is the place to be if you’d like to pick up some beautifully handcrafted, yet fairly priced, jewellery to take home as gifts for family and friends. You’ll also find the usual trinkets and souvenirs too. If you’re planning to visit just bear in mind that most shops close on Sundays, so be sure to pop by another day of the week.
8. Chichicastenango, Guatemala
The charming Guatemalan mountain town of Chichicastenango, affectionately referred to as Chichi, may only have a small population most days of the week, but on Thursdays and Sundays this number grows significantly as people arrive from surrounding regions to shop at its handicraft market. A riot of colour, aromas and sights, with the friendliest vendors you’ll ever meet, there’s nothing not to love about this vibrant market experience. On show are bright textiles as well as traditional masks as worn by Guatemalan dancers. It is these masks in fact and the craft of woodcarving to create them that has put Chichi the map. If you plan of stopping in for a visit then be sure to come up the night before so that you can make the most of the experience.
9. Dong Hua Men Night Market, Beijing
Just a hop and skip away from Wangfujing Dajie, one of the most popular shopping streets in Beijing, is the famous Dong Hua Men Night Market. While the market may mostly be overrun with tourists and doesn’t exactly offer an ‘authentic’ local experience, it still offers a fun night out with guaranteed laughs all round. While there’s plenty of the usual street food on offer, what often ends up on social media are snaps of travellers chowing down on scorpions on skewers, locusts on sticks or fried sea horse. Dong Hua Men Night Market is a great bit of fun, but if bugs aren’t your thing then you’re best off food hunting elsewhere as prices are often hiked here.