Paris Flea Markets and Thrift Stores
When I lived in a small apartment, I had to pass on many of the great things I would find at flea markets and antique sales in Paris. As Parisians say: “Something in…something out” – meaning that if you brought something into your apartment, you had to get rid of something else to make room for it. Which can be a challenge when there’s so much good stuff to find out there!
What a difference a few years, and a few extra square meters, make. Now that I’ve got some more space in my apartment after moving a couple of years ago, I’ve resumed scouting the vide-greniers and brocantes again, scooping up odds and ends. When I put photos on my Instagram stream, as I wander through the pop-up flea markets in Paris, the invariable question comes up: “Where are you?” So in response to folks that want to know where I shop, this listing is for you.
There’s plenty of stuff that people get rid of because it’s old-fashioned or not needed, so it is possible to pick up vintage cookware, linens, and other things that locals cast off. And I’m happy to buy them! In a city like Paris, you won’t find people giving away stuff (like you’ll find out in the countryside), but you can still score plenty of bargains if you look.
I’ve developed a bit of a “bottom feeder” mentality and avoid the traditional flea markets, the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (usually referred to as the Marché Clignancourt), and the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, and stick to the brocantes that pop up in Paris during nice weather in the various neighborhoods. (On the other hand, if you’re in Paris for a short time, the Clignancourt market can be interesting to poke around in.) Prices are much lower and it’s more fun to see what pops up as people are unloading their trucks. Below are tips on how to find them, since it’s not as obvious to visitors when and where they’ll be.
It’s good to know the nomenclature. Flea markets (Marchés aux puces) refers to the larger, fixed-location flea (puces) markets in Paris, but it’s the brocantes and vide-greniers that I find the most interesting. Vide-grenier means “clean your attic,” which refers to the bric-a-brac nature of the market, where people are emptying out their attics, basements, and if you’re lucky…their kitchens!
A brocante is an open-air sale that includes professional dealers, but they’re lower priced than the fancy antiquaire markets and exhibitions. Most brocantes in Paris are a mix of dealers and particuliers, or individuals, who are non-professionals.
A braderie refers to a sale where things are marked down and there are rarely professionals, and a braderie often refers to a sale when things are sold rummage sale-style. (For the sake of discussion, I’m just going to refer to outdoor flea markets as brocantes, as they are referred to in Paris. Braderie is a term used more in the countryside.
Garage sales and sidewalk sales aren’t permitted in France, so vide-greniers are the closest equivalent. These are collective sales held in various neighborhoods and folks in the neighborhood bring objects that they want to sell. These can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s a lot of plastic children’s toys, other times, people are cleaning out their kitchens and you can score.
At the brocantes, the best deals are in the boxes (and boxes) of stuff that people just bring out and let shoppers have a go at. You can find great stuff, from pâté molds and butcher knives, to well-loved tart pans, French cake molds, and colorful gratin dishes, often priced as low as fifty cents. In order to find the good stuff, you need to carefully pick through them – often on your hands and knees . . . and I have the bruised knees to prove it!
Each brocante in Paris has a different personality. At some, the dealers are brusque and expensive. Professionals might stock their stands with vintage linens and beautiful French dishtowels, while others may specialize in ‘60s to‘80s cookware or household items. Then there are the people that just show up with a van and put everything out willy-nilly.
I also like to explore the thrift stores, some outside of Paris. You’ll need a car to get to some of them as they’re not located near public transit. But if you have the urge to go, you can rent a car, or use Google maps to figure out how to get there by using public transit, and hit one (or all) of the three Emmaüs stores I give below.
Emmaüs is a benevolent organization that performs a number of services in France, including operating places where people donate items for sale. Proceeds from the items sold in their stores across France go to helping the less fortunate. In Paris, there are Emmaüs shops dotted throughout the city, selling everything from clothing to cookware. Because they’re in the city, bargains get snapped up quickly, although I scored a €5 cassole for making cassoulet at the one on Boulevard Beaumarchais (#22), right next to the trendy Marais. So it pays to stick your head in if you’re walking y.
Even better are their massive stores outside of Paris; the best being Emmaüs Bougival, close to where many well-off people live, to the west of Paris. Also near Paris is the bi-annual Foire de Chatou, an open-air flea market and ham fair, that takes place in the fall and in the spring, and has a free shuttle from the RER A station.
There are a few other Emmaüs stores to the east of Paris, outside of the city, that I’ve been rummaging through as well. I always rifle through the silverware, looking for interesting things.
Plates are stacked and stacked on top of each other. Some aren’t pretty or are new, but digging through them, you can likely score – well, sometimes!
And sometimes they arrange things along a theme, like Provence.
I recently found a much-used butcher knife, that’s been pretty honed down to almost nothing over the years…and a glass to add to my cocktail glass collection (which they threw in my bag – for free!)…
My latest obsession was trying to find a cool salad serving set. Until I find the perfect one, I’m collecting pieces one-by-one, hoping to find their mates. [Update: I found them!]
I did come upon a salad server set for just €3 (below), which was a good value considering the size, which just I might have to use in the meantime. Well, after a good scrubbing.
Paris Flea Markets
There are two well-known flea markets in Paris; the massive Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, or Marché Clignancourt, which is open Saturday (9am-6pm), Sunday (10am-6pm), and Monday (11am-5pm). It’s said to be the largest flea market in the world, although it tends to feel (and be priced) more like a series of antique stores, rather than a flea market. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a genuine bargain here but there are interesting things.
(Tip: Leave valuables at home. To get to the flea market, you’ll exit the métro is what isn’t the best part of Paris and it’s no fun to discover that you’re passport was lifted while you were shopping. You can also take a taxi or ride-sharing service, like Uber or Kapten, to the market.)
To get there, take the line 4 métro to Porte de Clignancourt. Upon leaving the métro station, there are a lot of stands selling clothing and cheap imported junk. That’s not the flea market. (There are excellent directions here.) The main markets are on the Rue des Rosier, the Marché Serpette and Marché Paul-Bert, and the Marché Jules Vallée. The latter is more likely to have bargains.
(Tip: For those interested in culinary items, Bachelier Antiquités specializes in copper cookware, pottery, and culinary tools. You won’t find bargains but they stock some rather amazing items.)
The other weekly flea market, located on the other side of Paris, is the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves, which is an interesting jumble of things in many categories. It takes place Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 2pm. To get there take the métro to Porte de Vanves (line 13) and follow folks walking a couple of blocks to the flea market. For the best selection, arrive early in the morning.
There are two smaller flea markets that get less attention than the major ones. The first is in the center of the open-air Marche d’Aligre, which takes place daily (except Monday), and also happens to be one of Paris’ best food markets. There is a lively mix of items from small-scale dealers, and particuliers, who haul out cases of various things set up on makeshift tables in the square, adjacent to where the market is held. Most are eager to sell, and you’ll often find me picking through the boxes on the ground for the best deals.
Another flea market, although less interesting, is the Porte de Montreuil, which takes place Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, from 7am to 7:30pm. I’ve not found this to be a great flea market unless you’re looking for old tools, electrical extension cords, t-shirts, dicey designer knock-offs, and tube socks. But as they say…ya never know.
Brocantes, Vide-Greniers, and Braderies in Paris
These are roving flea markets and each one has its own personality, with items at various prices points. At most of them, you’ll find plenty of low-priced things as well as mid-range and up. They don’t have fixed weekly addresses but occur at various times throughout the year (except in the winter) and you’ll need to look them up. Sometimes signs are also posted in advance in the various neighborhoods, which you’ll see around town. Generally speaking, if they list the sale as Antiquities (only), the flea market will be more established dealers. When they use (or add) the word Brocante, it’ll be a mix.
These sales are often listed on the Paris.fr website under Fairs & Trade Shows and some of the more upscale ones are listed at the website of Joël Garcia, an organization that sponsors large antique expositions in Paris. Dates are listed on their website, and their antique fairs feature middle- to high-end items, although they can be worth a look, especially the ones that take place in the Bastille. I scored a great old French metal pastry shop sign at one for €100 a while back, which wasn’t dirt-cheap, but there was no way I was leaving that behind.
The best way to find when the roving brocantes and vide-greniers take place is to check the listings at Vide-greniers.org, L’Agenda des Brocantes, SPAM, Points de Chine, Brocabrac, and especially the city of Paris’ web page for antique and flea markets in Paris, which lists them by date and neighborhood.
(Tip: if using another French website to find listings, Paris is in the Île-de-France region, and départment 75 is where Paris is located.)
In addition, Brocbrac has an app, as does Vide-Greniers.org, to help find the brocantes on-the-go. And you can also set email or SMS alerts at L’Agenda des Brocantes and Brocabrac, to notify you of upcoming brocantes and flea markets.
(Tip: Particularly good is the biannual brocante that sprawls out in the streets around the Marie de 3ème, or City Hall in the 3rd, which takes place the first weekend in June and the last weekend in November.)
During the summer months, many towns and villages outside for Paris, on the Île-de-France (within a 1-2 hour radius of Paris), hold flea markets, which they will list as a braderie or brocante, and those are listed on the above websites as well as on signs posted around the city or village. They can be great for unearthing treasures.
Paris is not a city teeming with thrift stores. True, there are plenty of antique stores and dépôt-ventes (stores where sometimes people drop things off on consignment – but are not always run that way anymore), but due to lack of space, there are not the giant warehouse-like thrift stores you’ll find in some cities elsewhere.
(Tip: There is an antique collective, Belle Lurette, located in what is called the “Village Popincourt” at 5 rue Marché Popincourt, in the 11th. In the Village Saint-Paul, in the 4th, there is a cluster of antique shops in the courtyard. Nearby is Au Petit Bonheur La Chance, which sells vintage housewares.)
Emmaüs has small stores scattered around various neighborhoods in Paris. (Yelp has a good listing of their addresses.) Because they are in the city, anything good gets snapped up quickly. Bargain hunters might want to rent a car and visit their large shops outside of the city. The best are:
–Neuilly-Plaisance (38, avenue Paul Doumer)
–Neuilly-sur-Marne (15, boulevard Louis Armand)
–Bougival (7, lieu dit Île de la loge)
The Emmaüs stores just outside of Paris span several buildings, each one featuring a different category, i.e.: housewares, hardware, kitchen supplies, children’s toys. In addition to regular housewares, they have a special section of “better quality” tableware and glassware, at higher prices than in the other areas of their stores, but you can score sets of very nice wine glasses, flatware, and dinnerware at still-reasonable prices.
(Tip: The Bougival Emmaüs is accessible by the RER A train, which stops 1km, or a half-mile, from the store. A map and directions are on their website.)
Other benevolent organizations hold braderies and brocantes from time-to-time: Secours Populaire Française is one, and the other is the Armée du Salut (Salvation Army). Both sites require a bit of digging, so you might be better off typing the name of the organization and the word “braderie” or “brocante” into a search engine, along with “Île-de-France,” which includes Paris and the surrounding area. Almost all of them are outside of the city.
In Montreuil is Neptune, which is outside of Paris but walkable from the Mairie de Montreuil métro station. Opening hours are on their website. For those interested in used restaurant equipment, there is La Brocante d’Epinay (Etablissements Bravo). It’s roughly 10-20 minutes from Paris (accessible by ride-sharing service or taxi, although there are also trains that go out there), and filled with used restaurant equipment. There’s a lot of stuff that’s probably not of interest to a someone who doesn’t have their own restaurant (need a used oven?), but there are some finds if you poke through. (Tip: Ask if they’ll open the back door to the area where the used baking stuff is, if it’s not open.)
– Although thrift stores take credit cards, sellers at open-air flea markets usually only take cash.
– When searching for flea markets on websites, note that some specialize in single items: Fripperie and vente de vêtements or bourse aux vêtements means the sale is vintage and/or used clothing. Timbres are stamp (and often coin) dealers, cartes postales are postcards, livres anciens et d’occasion are used and rare books, and biffins are cast-offs, such as used electrical cords, sneakers, and other odds-and-ends that the sellers usually have picked up off the street. (Usually the items at these sales are not of interest to visitors.)
– Bring small bills and 1 and 2 euro coins. Few have change, and if they do, it may seem like a herculean effort to give any back to you. (Sellers like taking money, but not giving it back?) In addition, if you’re haggling and whittling someone down in price to save a few euros – then hand them a €50 for a €3 purchase, it can be awkward. I bring a lot of €2 coins, which makes me a “golden” customer. ATMs may not be conveniently located so come prepared.
– Be aware that just because something in France looks old, it may not be. Many things, including café items (wine carafes, beverage glasses, water pitchers, jam jars, etc) that look retro, might have been re-issued or in continuous production since the 50s or 60s. So some things that look “vintage” may be new. A reputable dealer will know the difference and let you know, but not everyone selling items knows (or will tell you.) As always, it’s buyer beware.
– Bargaining is acceptable. At outdoor markets, you can sometimes negotiate a 10-30 percent discount. Chances of successful bargaining happen later in the day, before closing time…although don’t let something slip away from you over a few euros if you really want it. (Trust me.) In a shop, you could ask if there is a better price. If want to buy a number of things, you’ll have a little more leverage.
– Keep an eye out for pickpockets. It’s unfortunate, but some work the flea markets.
– Don’t carry a fancy handbag or dress too smartly. A Vuitton bag or Patek Philippe watch reduces your bargaining leverage.
– Prices seem to go up when antique dealers hear an American or foreign accent. I will often mumble “Combien?” (“How much?”) rather than use a longer phrase, which will give me away. (Or I have my French partner ask.) An opposite strategy (heck, there’s no science to this) is to immediately greet the dealer with a polite “Bonjour monsieur” or “Bonjour madame” when entering their booth, which might give your provenance away, but you score points for politesse.
(Tip: No matter what the price, high or low, if you want to act like a local, always respond as if the price is too high – even if it isn’t. Stand there and hesitate their response before offering to buy something, especially if you want to buy other items from the same dealer. French people don’t part with their money easily, and dealers know that. French shoppers know that if they are over-eager, they’ll pay more than they want to.)
– Never, ever put anything down if you actually want it – the moment you do, it’s considered fair game for someone else to grab it. Other buyers will want something if someone else has shown interest in it.
– Restrooms are rare to non-existent at outdoor markets, so you may need to use one in a café. Expect to have to buy a beverage to use the restroom. A coffee at the counter (€1-2 euros) is enough.
– Bring a sturdy, large shopping bag when heading out on the hunt. Some dealers may offer a flimsy plastic bag, but they aren’t comfortable for long-term bargain hunting. Thrift stores outside of Paris may expect you to bring your own. Most supermarkets in Paris sell large, reusable shopping bags suitable for the purpose. The best are at the large Leroy Merlin hardware shop, located at Beaubourg in Paris. Their bags have regular-sized handles, as well as shoulder straps, and are wide enough to hold large items, and sturdy and comfortable enough to carry heavy – or multiple – objects. Other hardware stores, like Bricorama, Mr. Bricolage, and Castorama, carry good ones. (Tip: They make great souvenirs and gifts, too.)
– Good luck!
Brocantes and Flea Markets in Paris (Paris.fr)
French Flea Market Vocabulary (French Today)
Antiquing Outside of Paris (A vintage kitchenware store that’s about an hour from Paris by car.)