Anywhere I go, one of my favorite places to visit are the local markets. They burst with colors and vitality, they are noisy, sometimes messy, confusing and genuine. In a nutshell, they reveal so much of their society that I believe they are often wrongly underrated.
My favorite local markets around the world
Here are some of the local markets I’ve enjoyed visiting the most in many different countries. They greatly helped me grasp the intimate aspects of their country, impossible to perceive in shopping malls or in tourist spots.
1. Tehran Grand Bazaar
One of the major attractions in Tehran, the Grand Bazaar is a huge market spreading over 10 km. It’s a huge labyrinth of alleys, streets, shops and eateries. Here you can find literally everything you are looking for. It’s very busy with Iranians searching, bargaining and trying to cut the best deals for their daily shopping.
At Tehran Grand Bazaar Iranians don’t only buy a carpet once in a blue moon. They come to buy spices, tea, kitchen tools, clothes and what is needed in a house on a daily basis. You will totally feel overwhelmed by the human traffic and shouting, but it’s an experience I always recommend if you are visiting the Iranian capital for the first time.
2. Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, Iran
Historical and very picturesque, the Vakil Bazaar is one of my favorite markets and places to visit in Shiraz.
Vakil Bazaar is part of the Zandieyeh Complex from the Zand dynasty founded by Karim Khan. Karim Khan citadel is also part of the same complex in Shiraz city centre and one of the main local attractions.
Like many of Iran’s traditional markets, also Vakil Bazaar boasts an impressive architecture. Take a tour, admire its finely carved ceiling and stop at the many shops selling everything from tea to spices to carpets, traditional clothes, little mortars for the saffron and more.
READ MORE: When in Shiraz, don’t miss Persepolis and Pasargadae, strongholds of the ancient Persian Empire.
3. Grand Bazaar of Isfahan, Iran
Direct legacy from the Silk Road, when Isfahan was a major trading port, the city’s bazaar lies all around the beautiful Imam Square, or Naqsh-e Jahan, “map of the world”.
One of my favorite traditional markets around the world, Isfahan bazaar is very old. Its most ancient origins built around the 11th century, the bazaar was officially opened early 17th century during rule of one of the main rulers of the Persian Empire, Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty.
One of the world’s most famous markets, today, Isfahan’s bazaar is a major tourist attraction and also pretty expensive. But even if you don’t want to buy anything, don’t miss it when touring Iran. It’s a place that played an important role in the history and economy of Iran.
Explore its shops, its architecture, its decorations. See the local artisans at work and stop at some of the nearby restaurants for a local meal.
READ MORE: Visiting Iran? Check out more Iran bazaars you won’t want to miss.
4. Wangshan Birds and Insects Market and Hongqiao Flower Market in Shanghai
One of the biggest cities in China, Shanghai has a huge range of local markets. From flower to food, to animal to antiques, possibly in every corner of the city you can find the community’s way of displaying, trading, selling, and haggling, of course.
I loved ambling about Shanghai’s Wangshan Birds and Insects Market, a little frightened when passing by the insects’ stalls as I tried not to think I could find some cricket or cockroach on my way.
On metro Line 10, close to Longbai Xincun stop, there is a big and very beautiful flower market, where my flatmate and I bought plants, flowers, two fish and two lovely water turtles. The Hongqiao Flower Market offers a great range of types and colors, any kind of flower, plant and bonsai are widely available. I was mesmerized by the orchids’ shop, so many pots and shades of what are among my favorite flowers.
In Shanghai I soon acquired the habit of shopping for fruits and veggies in the local market of my neighborhood. Every time I went I sensed how much the city was home to Chinese from all the provinces. Each of them brought their own language as well as their own accent when speaking official Mandarin.
I think in Shanghai, nowhere like in its local markets it’s possible to feel the diversity the city holds, enriched by the presence of all 56 ethnic groups that populate China’s mainland.
5. Tim Che in Herat, Afghanistan
One of my favorite places to visit in Herat, I would spend hours wandering around the alleys and shops of this historical covered bazaar.
Close to the intersection Chehar Soo is the Tim Che Arbab Zadeh, a little covered bazaar fully operative in the Middle Ages when Herat was an important stop along the Silk Road. In an effort from the local municipality to protect Herat history, this was recently renovated.
All around the area you can see several covered bazaars and gorgeous ancient caravanserais. Also around the Chehar Soo intersection is the silk bazaar, Tim Che Abrisham, where artisans still make their wonderful creations.
6. Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Istanbul Grand Bazaar is definitely one of the world’s greatest markets, but it’s becoming increasingly touristy. Some shops are still authentic, some are quite tourist traps.
Yet, you can find beautiful things like traditional hookah, clothes, carpets, jewelry. The market is very big, so if you stay a bit far from the tourist path and take some side alley, you can find some hidden gem and a more genuine local vibe. Whatever area you are in the bazaar, bargaining is always part of the experience.
7. Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
Alongside the Grand Bazaar, also the Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s main markets and tourist draws.
Here you will find a huge choice of spices, herbs, teas, concoctions and all types of ingredients for any dish, be it Turkish or international. As a proper food market, you can also buy natural remedies coming from century-old traditions, cakes, Turkish coffee, dried fruits and more.
For sure, this traditional market is an explosion of colors, flavors and scents that bedazzle all its visitors. Just like for the Grand Bazaar, don’t forget to haggle the price!
8. Carpet Souk in Abu Dhabi
In Abu Dhabi I have visited the carpet and the fish markets, one beside the other, close to the port. Convenient location especially for the carpet traders, most of the times foreigners sailing from other Middle Eastern countries.
I went to the carpet market because my friend was looking for a nice carpet for his new house, and that was the best place to find great rugs with the unique possibility to bargain the price. I wasn’t living in China yet, so I was totally new to the phenomenon of price haggling, but to be honest, even if I was already an expert, I couldn’t have helped my friend since the whole negotiation (that ended up with no deal) happened in the loudest Arabic I had ever heard.
As a great example of solidarity, we saw that when we changed shop looking for the same carpet at a lower price, none of the other traders offered a better negotiation than the first one. From the moment we entered his shop, we were his customers.
I don’t know where our swarthy carpet seller came from, but he certainly held a very strong personality. I imagined him traveling throughout the desert on his way to glitzy Abu Dhabi. He did have the air of belonging to a nomadic clan, so between listening to his obscure arguments and looking at his beard, I was completely lost in thoughts involving desert, camels, tents and oasis.
9. Fish Market in Abu Dhabi
After getting livid for not completing the deal, my friend felt like ordering fresh fish for dinner, so we crossed the road and headed to the fish market. Mainly Indian-run, in this market I saw some of the weirdest and most mysterious creatures coming from the abyss.
This market was divided in three sectors: the area where they sell fresh products, the one where they clean, cut and prepare for cooking the same products just sold, and the place where they cook them according to customers’ instructions.
After going through these three steps and leaving your fish to the cooking shops, you can carry on with your daily activities and go back to pick up your dinner in the evening on your way back home.
Abu Dhabi fish market is very clean, and despite what they are selling, by no means smelly. Some of the creatures on sale are a little creepy, and to vegetarians or animal lovers might look a bit upsetting, but there, like in all local markets, it’s possible to experience some of the hidden aspects of today’s Emirates society, not all flashy and loud, but authentic and genuine.
10. Sardar Market in Jodhpur at the foot of the clock tower
My first time in India was devoted to visiting the region of the Rajasthan, and Jodhpur was where I could take some pictures of a local market in which they were selling just about everything.
In the very city center, where all seemingly unfinished lanes join together in the main square, at the foot of the town’s imposing clock tower, lies Sardar Market, a street bazaar where anything from exquisitely Rajasthani style clothes, to embroidered leather shoes, to jewellery, handicrafts, fruits and veggies, is sold.
Every morning, this is the liveliest part of the city, where citizens go for shopping or just pass by on their way to school, work or any daily activity, both on foot or on Indian typical tuk-tuk that I think every tourist should experience at least once.
A genuine sample of humanity is to be found in Sardar Market, where Jodhpur slowly wakes up and faces a new day. Sounds, voices, colors, flavors, smells and spices are the ingredients for this unique experience of real rural India.
11. Chandni Chowk in Delhi
A huge and hectic bazaar in Old Delhi, Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi’s oldest markets. Get intoxicated by the spices, herbs and plenty of fried street food local delicacies.
Chandni Chowk is also clothes, pashminas, jewelry, perfumes and all types of artisan products.
Nearby, you can visit the Red Fort, Jame Mosque, Hindu temples, and enjoy local lunch at one of the traditional restaurants all around the area.
12. Cavaillon Monday Market, lavender, olives and French grandeur
The French region of Provence is very popular for its local markets, every town has one, in tourist offices it’s even possible to find a calendar of where and when they take place.
From Cavaillon, the main town of the district, to L’Isle sur la Sorgue, to Lacoste, to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, every day of the week townspeople and citizens love spending their time in their markets.
READ MORE: Check out our guide to the wonderful towns to visit in Provence, France.
I visited the one in Cavaillon, that takes place every Monday, spread out along the main street Cours Bournissac and side alleys, where locals and tourists alike share a seductive way of shopping in typical French style.
The smell of freshly made bread dominates the scenario and attracts customers from the early hours, totally motivated to buy also the tasty tapenade, Provençal delicacy consisting of finely chopped olives, anchovies, capers and olive oil.
This market is the perfect place to find shoes, clothes, swimwear during summer months, and jewellery at affordable prices, but it’s also an invaluable selling point for all the most delicious local products, such as lavender honey, spices, French cheese best eaten with the irreplaceable baguette, and olives in every sauce.
Apart from olives and lavender honey, I bought also natural Marseille soap, dried lavender and fresh baguette bread.
The sellers boast their attitude redolent of a die-hard French grandeur, inevitably making it for lively start of the week with style.
13. Mercato Trionfale in Rome
This huge covered market has been renovated a few years ago. When I went to university in Rome, it was the old style, an open-air local market selling fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese, meat, delicious freshly baked bread and pizza, and much more.
Now it’s a whole new, modern complex, but the shops are still the same than before, and so are the products.
Here, you can buy a great range of Italian typical foods like mozzarella, olive oil, pizza, focaccia, and seasonal fruits and veggies. One of the best food markets in Rome, find it in Prati area, in Via Andrea Doria.
14. La Boqueria in Barcelona
A fantastic place along Barcelona La Rambla, La Boqueria is one of my favorite local markets and definitely one of my favorite places to visit in the Catalan capital.
Here you can find all types of products, food and ingredients, both to cook and to enjoy a ready meal on the go.
Luckily, my hotel was nearby and every day after my sightseeing I would make a yummy stop at La Boqueria and filled my dinner bag with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and a juice or smoothie.