When I first visited Paris back in 2013, I was recommended by a friend to visit her favourite flea market – the infamous Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen. Affectionately known as Les Puces by locals, it is the largest antique market in the world, a sprawl of alleyways and covered halls filled with the most amazing of treasures. On my first visit I returned to my hostel with arms full of 1900s sheet music, risqué vintage photos, costume jewelry, and Austro-Hungarian military pins.
Now firmly installed in Paris, I still make regular trips up to Les Puces year round. Whether you’re looking to invest in a great piece of art, hoping to pick up some bargain couture, or simply looking to window shop all the great pieces that can be found there, it’s an excellent way to pass a day in Paris.
How to get to the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Given the gargantuan size of the market, there is no shortage of metro stops and access points. That said, there is one route I regularly take that gives me the quickest access to my favourite markets, as well as let’s me make a pit stop at one of my favourite haunts in the area, La REcyclerie.
My route entails taking Line 4 and getting off at the end of the line, the stop Porte de Clignancourt. From there, there will be a clearly marked exit sign specifying that it’s the one to take to access the flea market.
Once outside, you will want to walk past La REcyclerie towards a market consisting of dozens of different tents. This is not Les Puces! Many people mistake this area – which mainly consists of counterfeit goods and cheap souvenirs – for the flea market and head back before even reaching it. Instead, you should walk past this, through the underpass, and one block down.
To your left you will see two markets (and my personal favourites): Dauphine and Vernaison. To access Dauphine you will want to walk down the block to the building. To get to Vernaison, keep to the right and pop into any of the hidden alleyways that dot the street.
Alternate ways of getting to the market, as well as additional helpful information regarding Les Puces, can be found on the Seine-Saint-Denis tourism website.
When to Visit Les Puces
While opening times vary depending on the market and even the seller in question, in general the times are as follows:
Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Monday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
When to go depends on the experience you’re after. If you’re looking to buy or do some serious browsing, it’s recommended to go on the weekend as that’s when the majority of the sellers will be working. However, this is also when the market is the busiest. If you’d like to go on a more calm day, Monday is a good option, but keep in mind that the selection will be more limited as not as many stalls will be open.
Different Markets in the Puces de Saint-Ouen
The Saint-Ouen flea market consists of 15 markets that each boast their own unique selection and atmosphere. Some are more posh and curated and sell lavish pieces at top dollar, whereas others are chock full of curiosities sure to excite any bargain-lover.
As visiting one market alone can eat up a few hours of your day, I would not recommend trying to visit all in one trip. Instead, I would read up on the descriptions of each market on the official website to see which ones best suit the purpose of your visit.
To give you an idea of what to expect, I decided to highlight my two favourite markets.
Vernaison is a historic open air market that was founded in 1920 and contains more than 300 stalls. It has a true village spirit: the sellers are friends that frequently lunch together and chitchat, it’s filled with gorgeous old stalls shaded by greenery, and it’s made up of twisted alleyways that seem to take you somewhere new each visit.
Vernaison is a mix of high-end and low-end prices and items. Some stalls are shrines to vintage couture and French crystal and ask top dollar. Others are full of knick knacks that are great fun to browse and buy; you will find everything from ashtrays, to old magazines, to decorative prints, to fishing baskets.
The market is even home to Chez Louisette, a classic brasserie with a festive atmosphere. There you can take a break from your shopping to eat some French classics and listen to live music – I almost always see a performer singing an homage to Edith Piaf there!
Across the street from Vernaison is Dauphine, a two-story building inspired by the Pavillon Baltard. It houses 180 stalls and specializes in antiques and second-hand goods. The different sections of the market are neatly organized, with one area for clothing, another for music, another for books, and so on.
If you are looking for an original vinyl of Serge Gainsbourg’s or France Gall’s, cheap cashmere sweaters, antique corsets, or French classics for a mere two to three euros a pop, you must make a visit to Dauphine. These types of items can be found on the second floor – the bottom floor is more for antique furniture showrooms and art galleries.
Like Vernaison, Dauphine also has its own restaurant. Tucked into the corner of the building, Les Gastropodes is a semi self-service restaurant, where you order at the front before finding a table. Waiters are quick and friendly and the food is delicious and friendly on the wallet.
Etiquette and Bargaining
When visiting a stall at the Saint-Ouen flea market, one should say hello to the shopkeeper and ask before touching or picking up anything. Too many times I have seen tourists barge into a stall without so much as a “bonjour” and begin to manhandle the items, which are often old and delicate. I have even seen people break items only to scurry off before they’re caught! For many of the merchants, this is their livelihood, and so visitors should respect their wares and behave politely.
If you’re interested in an item but want to knock a few euros off its asking price, you’re in luck: bargaining is socially acceptable at the flea market. However, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to ask for more than 30% off, with most sellers only permitting a 10-20% discount. Bargaining tends to be more successful when it comes to items that have no price tag, as opposed to ones that are clearly marked.
At times, bargaining is not even necessary. If you buy more than one item from a single merchant, they sometimes round out the price to a lower number. I also find that if I’m polite and make small talk with them in French, they offer me a smaller price for the item I’m eyeing.