We may not all be born to shop, but Frommer's staffers agree that you haven't really visited a country until you've seen its markets. Pick through designer duds in Cambodia, salivate over stinky cheeses in France, or get lost in the muddy paths of a market in Ghana, and you'll discover that shopping is a great way to soak in local culture. It can also be a surprisingly cheap way to get a true sense of a country's character: You don't actually need to buy anything to stroll through a market, after all, and visiting one is a sure-fire way to interact with locals. And who knows? You might just score a good deal at the same time.
The following is a list of our favorite markets, places where you too can stroll (and shop) 'til you drop:
Australia: Adelaide Central Market
Not for me, the fine art museums, the crumbling historic sites, the holy churches. I believe a destination reveals itself through humbler means: its food. Let me loose in a new city and eventually I'll make it to a grocery store, patrolling the aisles for insights into daily life. So when I visited Adelaide and learned that this Australian city was home to the largest fresh food market in the southern hemisphere -- well, I wasted no time.
And the Adelaide Central Market (most stalls are open Mon-Thurs 9am-5:30pm; Fri 9am-9pm; Sat 9am-4pm; www.cityofadelaide.com.au) did not disappoint, with stall after stall of fresh, grainy breads; unctuous, smelly cheeses; pungent sausages; piles of jewel-hued fruits; and buckets of salty olives. It's the perfect place to do your weekly shopping or simply gather up the fixings for the best picnic in, yes, this half of the world. --Margot Weiss
Guatemala: Chichicastenango Market
The highland city of Chichicastenango might be almost 145km (90 miles) from the hub of Guatemala, but it boasts the country's largest and most popular open-air market. The Chichicastenango Market, held every Thursday and Sunday from morning to dusk, brings together craftspeople from around Guatemala who sell everything from wood boxes, carved masks, and vegetables to medicinal herbs, fruits, and textiles.
Vendors begin setting up shop the night before, and mornings usually open with the sights and sounds of firecrackers and rockets. The best time to visit the market is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when you can avoid large groups of tourists. No matter the time of day, you'll be greeted by bright colors, an array of sounds, and the smell of incense wafting from the Church of Santo Tomás.
Much like the souks of Marrakech, the market is organized by wares, with specific products such as tools, pottery, and flowers sold in specific areas. The central part of the market houses small eateries, or comedores, while butchers can be found on the outskirts. Prices are not marked, so expect to bargain.
While you could get better deals elsewhere (and many of the items here are mass-produced with tourists in mind), a visit to the market is a great way to immerse yourself in a local tradition. The market is certainly easy to navigate on your own, but tours are available through your hotel or companies such as Clark Tours (tel. 502/2412-4700; www.clarktours.com.gt), Grayline Guatemala (tel. 502/2383-8600; www.graylineguatemala.com), and Maya Vacation (tel. 502/233-4638; www.mayavacations.com). Most tours also stop at Lake Atitlán and Panajachel, include lunch, and cost between Q525 to Q675 ($70-$90). -- Anuja Madar
New York City: The Market NYC
Young designers who aren't lucky enough to make it onto Bravo's hit TV show Project Runway hope to get discovered -- or at least make some cash selling their wares -- at The Market NYC (268 Mulberry St.; www.themarketnyc.com), New York City's young designers market in Nolita. Every Saturday and Sunday between 11am and 7pm, aspiring designers gather inside the gym of St. Patrick's Church on Mulberry Street with racks of clothes, bags, shoes, jewelry and other designed miscellany.
Unlike the hoards of mass-produced products carried at stores like H&M, Gap, and Banana Republic, here, everything is one-of-a-kind. In fact, designers -- who pay for the privilege of showcasing their work to the public -- could get ousted from the market for selling any mass-produced items. A vendor at one table peddles ornate trinkets that are tightly wrapped with gold wire while another young designer explains how he reshaped vinyl records into funky hand-painted bracelets. Racks of graphic T-shirts, flow-y tunics, and space-age style boots line the walls, and loud music pumps through the small gym.
Although the products are not exactly dirt cheap -- prices range from $10 to around $300 -- the merchandise is definitely more affordable than what you might find in nearby Nolita stores. And, most importantly, if you buy products from The Market NYC, you never have to worry about the next person on the street wearing the same outfit. -- Jennifer Polland
Argentina: San Telmo Market
Everything old is new again, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Buenos Aires' San Telmo district. One of Buenos Aires' oldest neighborhoods, San Telmo is evolving into an upmarket destination, where crumbling buildings now house trendy boutiques and bars. Still, antiques rule here; the area abounds with thriving antiques shops and contains the neighborhood's pride, the vibrant San Telmo Antiques Market. The fair is held in San Dorrego Square every Sunday from 10am to 5pm. It's become so popular that vendors now overflow onto the side streets as well; it's best to arrive early, before the crowds descend.
More than 270 booths sell antiques and distinctive wares -- during my visit, one vendor sold old matchboxes and brooches for a few dollars each, while another had an elaborate display of glassware, beautifully stacked in every color. Another favorite spot sold old appliances, and it was amusing to try to figure out each one's use (it took a long time to recognize one contraption from the early 1900s as an orange juicer). You'll find a treasure-trove of leather, silver, handicrafts, and ceramics, and it's the perfect place to buy unique souvenirs (or the usualÂ?ubiquitous gourds for drinking mate are also sold in abundance here). Haggling over merchandise is encouraged, and part of the fun.
Of course, this being Buenos Aires, tango factors in as well, and adds a special flavor to the scene. Dance performances are held in open spaces, with a crowd always forming to watch and cheer couples on, while singers weave through the booths. Performances typically go on into the night, even after the vendors close up shop at 5 pm. San Telmo is a must-see on any trip to Buenos Aires, but come on Sunday and you'll see this once-sleepy neighborhood at its most exuberant. -- Jamie Ehrlich
London: Spitalfields and Portobello Road Markets
The last time I visited London, I brought an entire empty suitcase for all the souvenirs I planned on buying, only to discover that I easily could have filled three suitcases with the wares at Top Shop alone: The shopping in London is that good. When it comes to the city's markets, then, it's impossible for me to name just one favorite. Instead, I've narrowed my favorites down to two.
For unique and trendy clothing, look no farther than the Old Spitalfields Market (65 Brushfield St; tel. 020/7247-8556; www.visitspitalfields.com). This indoor market in Shoreditch sells a wide array of hip clothes by young designers, but also features organic food stalls and stand-alone art galleries. Even if you don't buy anything, it's worth stopping by to check out all the beautiful people, on the hunt for equally beautiful things. The market is open every Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm, but the best time to visit is on Sunday, from 9am to 5pm, when all the stalls are staffed.
For great antique finds, head to Portobello Road Market (www.portobelloroad.co.uk) in Notting Hill. A whopping 2,000 antique dealers cram onto Portobello Road on market days, fighting for space with fruit and veggie stalls, not to mention various clothing and jewelry traders. Although the market has become a veritable tourist institution, if you brace yourself for the crowds and come with an open mind, you just might come away with an amazing find. The antiques area is open Monday to Saturday 7am to 5:30pm; everything else is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm (1pm on Thursday). -- Jennifer Reilly
Ghana: Kejetia Market
The Kejetia Market in Kumasi, Ghana is the mother of all markets. It lies in a dip between the hills of Kumasi, in the heart of Ashanti country in West Africa, and sprawls for 10 hectares. It consists of colonial buildings, barely functioning railroad tracks, and thousands of tin, clay, and wooden stalls. This is not a market for strolling or even browsing: It is cramped, crowded, dirty, and loud. The muddy walkways function as the market's sewage and drainage system and are only occasionally paved. Once you get down inside, it's nearly impossible to see the surrounding hills. Forget your bearings. The best way to see this market is to step right in, and see where the twists and turns of the paths take you. Every step puts you at a cross roads. Count yourself lucky if you make it to the other side, and even luckier if you come back out where you started.
Aside from typical market fare like fruits and vegetables, anything one could ever need can be found here or custom made. Cars, clothes, furniture, electronics, and caskets are all for sale, and an army of skilled craftspeople cram into the tiny stalls to make anything out of what seems like nothing. Perhaps you'll wind up on a loop through the auto-body section, where workers build buses out of scrap; maybe you'll find the seamsters or seamstresses, who work on antique sewing machines; you might find yourself amidst the cobblers and the smell of molten rubber and plastic; or you might get stuck in the never ending stretch of butchers' stalls. And that is only skimming the surface. However, I don't recommend having anything made here if you're on a tight travel schedule. What are the chances that you'll be able to find your seamstress' stall again? -- Melinda Quintero
Ottawa: ByWard Market
I love perusing local markets for unique souvenirs, quaint bargains, and fresh produce when I travel. One of my absolute favorites is Ottawa's ByWard Market (www.byward-market.com), the oldest continuing farmer's market in Canada. Set along cobblestone streets and courtyards just a block behind the city's iconic Chateau Laurier, this bustling marketplace, established in 1826, is the perfect place to pick up picnic supplies and local crafts. During the peak summer months nearly 175 outdoor vendors ply their trade here, selling everything from honey and fresh fruit to local arts and crafts. Summer visitors are also catered to by the ByWard Market Ambassadors, a bunch of specially trained staff who circulate throughout the market answering questions about the area and the city -- I found them very knowledgeable and brimming with enthusiasm.
You need not, however, visit here only in summer. The market is open year-round except for Christmas and New Year's, so you can stroll to your heart's content, whatever the season or weather conditions. On my last trip, I spent quite a bit of time browsing the outdoor and indoor market stalls and boutiques (and picked up some delicious maple syrup). Another plus: The market doesn't shut down after dark, but instead transforms into one of the major nightlife spots in the city. You can have a meal at one of the many highly-rated cafes and restaurants, grab a beer at one of the bars or nightclubs, or just people watch. -- Naomi Kraus
Avignon: Les Halles Centrales
With food for the famished, drink for the parched, and sleep for the deliriously tired, Les Halles Centrales (Place Pie; no phone; Tues-Sun 6am-1:30pm) in Avignon was a pleasure palace for me when I stepped through its doors after 48 hours in transit.
Thanks to a French rail snafu, my husband and I hadn't eaten or slept right in two days when we pulled into Avignon before dawn -- hours before we could claim our rented Citroën. Like a blessing, the enclosed market opened at six sharp. Just beyond the door, within the medieval city walls, a straight-backed career barista steamed us two cafÃ© au laits apiece, and let us be when we nodded off on his tabletops.
When we awoke we thought we were still dreaming. It was early April, and tiny, densely sweet crimson strawberries were everywhere. So were peak-season asparagus spears, thick like baby tree limbs. From jungly produce stands, we picked up blood oranges; dark ruby lettuce still enfolding a teeny snail in its leaves; meaty ribbed tomatoes; and clear-skinned fingerlings (so creamy when boiled).
Then we followed our snouts to the raw milk cheese. We thought we heard the stuff breathing at the stall where we bought a bright, mouth-puckering chevre and a second goat cheese that was ash-dredged with the pungency of, you guessed it, the nanny goat herself. From the charcuterie, we picked a pork country pate and a veal tongue aspic that my husband is still trying to replicate (sans encouragement from his wife).
For the road, it was back to the baker for cheese beignets and a lemon tart for dessert. We had miles to go before we would sleep deeply, at a cottage in Lourmarin, southeast of Avignon, but we were in for a joyride. -- Maureen Clarke
Ecuador: Otavalo Market
Bargain-hunters love Ecuador's Otavalo Market, 95km (59 miles) north of Quito. Then again, even non-shoppers enjoy the scene in this small Andean town nestled near the Cotacachi and Imbabura volcanoes. Saturday is the official market day, when Ecuadorians and foreigners descend on the city. (If you want to avoid the crowds, come on an off-day -- the Plaza de Ponchos has an artisans' market throughout the week.) You'll hear Otavaleños speaking in their native Quichua, and the languid sounds of Andean pipe music. You'll see puppies and pigeons, hawkers of herbal remedies and stalls selling cuy (guinea pig), an Ecuadorian delicacy. Bring your camera so you can capture some of the images from one of Latin America's most renowned markets.
Of course, you'll want to take home more than just photos. Buy an Alpaca sweater or a hand-woven blouse. Colorful straw bags are on offer, as are ceramics, carved figurines, and multihued textiles. Mittens, carpets, and ponchos dyed with agave juice -- you'll find more here than you can possibly fit in your luggage. The Otavaleños are not only master craftspeople; they also know a thing or two about business. They'll bargain with you, but they won't drastically lower their already-reasonable prices. You might save a bit more if you're fluent in Spanish, or -- better yet -- if you're accompanied by an Ecuadorian who can do the haggling on your behalf.
From 5am to 10pm, buses leave Quito's Terminal Terrestre every 20 minutes for Otavalo. You can also hire a taxi for under $50. If you're planning to attend the Saturday market, consider going to Otavalo the night before so you can rise early (5am) to beat the crowds. -- Matthew Brown
Cambodia: Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong)
I've shopped everything from shady Moroccan souks to bustling Chinese night markets, but Phnom Penh's Russian Market stands in a class of its own. Perhaps owing to Cambodia's general lawlessness and poor economy, one can find nearly anything in the Russian Market, from exquisitely carved jade figures to military contraband and all manner of pirated goods, all of it at unbelievably low prices -- bring $60 and you can finish your Christmas shopping early. From bronze Buddhas to brand-name clothes that seem to fall off the racks at nearby factories, you can score some truly amazing deals. Weaving your way deep into the increasingly dim labyrinth, you come across different specializations. Moving from vulgar tourist knickknacks, to more tasteful souvenirs and past intricate religious carvings to the central core, where locals sell strange-looking fruit and vegetables as well as meats (unrefrigerated, and fragrant, of course), and other edible goodies, which in Cambodia, constitutes just about anything. If you're feeling brave, have a seat at any of the foodstalls serving something that looks appetizing. Whether you choose deep-fried morning glories or a variation of the national dish, amok (fish cooked with Cambodian curry and coconut milk), you probably won't go wrong. And at just 50 cents a plate, the price is most certainly right. -- Marc Nadeau
Budapest: Central Market Hall
Don't judge Budapest's Central Market Hall, or Központi Vásárcsarnok, at IX. Vámház körút 1-3 (tel. 1/217-6067), based on my first bite of food there -- Griebenschmalz, a German pork fat spread, on toast. It looked and tasted pre-digested.
Fortunately, I filled up on decidedly more palatable fare elsewhere at this spectacular three-story market. The Central Market Hall was built by Gustave Eiffel in 1897 (and beautifully restored in 1995), so it feels a bit like a Parisian train station, albeit one where you can purchase everything from handmade scarves to fresh cow stomachs. Locals shop here for produce, and tourists hunt for bargains on souvenir delicacies such as paprika ($1 a tin), saffron (.35oz for about $2.75), dried mushrooms (including truffles), caviar, and foie gras (starting at about $25 for 7 oz.). You'll find these items on the ground floor, while the basement has some prepared foods, pickles, fishmongers, and an Asian specialty food shop. The more nosh-friendly upper level has a few cafes tucked amongst booths of folk art, tablecloths, and porcelain. I ate the Griebenschmalz at Fakanál Restaurant, which otherwise offers a tasty -- if old world -- menu of meats, cheeses, and hearty stews. Near Fakanál, you'll find a stand selling the awesomely excessive lángos, a frisbee-sized pie of fried dough topped with garlic, cream, and cheese. There's no point in dieting on a short trip to Hungary, so indulge. You can always sweat out your lángos at a bathhouse.
For more markets in Budapest, our Born to Shop series author Suzy Gershman swears by the weekend flea markets. Try the Ecseri or the PECSA. For a fascinating (but slightly sketchy) Chinese marketplace -- where vendors frantically shutter and padlock their booths when government inspectors arrive -- try the Józsefvárosi Piac. -- Stephen Bassman
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