6 Unique Markets in Europe

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Market shopping is one of the more rewarding activities to try when visiting a European city. Across the continent, the best food, collectibles, and vintage clothes can be found not in stores, but on streets. Browse at a leisurely pace while you interact with stallholders and hear their suggestions for what’s essential to see and do in their neighborhood. To get you started, here are six unique markets in Europe you should definitely visit.

Southbank Centre Book Market, London

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At London’s Southbank Centre Book Market, you’ll find trestle tables along the River Thames laden with books of all kinds. Traders gather under Waterloo Bridge to sell vintage editions and secondhand novels as well as maps and prints. The goods stay dry under the bridge, so don't let the forecast scare you away from finding your next favorite novel. If you can’t wait to get started on your purchase, there are plenty of benches nearby, though it will have to be a gripping read to distract you from the view of London and the river that’s in front of you.

El Rastro, Madrid

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Spain’s most famous flea market, El Rastro, is the perfect place to seek out antiques. Open on Sundays and public holidays, El Rastro features eclectic items laid out on side streets or in the antique stalls in Plaza General Vara del Rey. Be sure to come in the morning since the market gets busy by early afternoon.

Kauppatori and Vanha Kauppahalli, Helsinki

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Helsinki’s food markets occupy a prime spot along the quayside and neighboring market hall. Here, you can find plenty of fresh fish, but also the makings of a picnic lunch — bread, fruit, vegetables, and even reindeer meat. Once a year in October, the Market Square hosts the Baltic Herring Market. Merchants bring salted herring, marinades, and other exotic delectables to sell for a celebration of local cuisine that’s been a fixture since 1743.

Cloth Hall, Kraków

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Vendors sell amber in the markets of Kraków’s Old Town Square, Rynek Główny. The UNESCO-listed Cloth Hall has been home to traders since the 14th century. Although a fire destroyed the original building, the present one also dates back centuries. Inside this Polish market, you can purchase amber, jewelry, lace, cloth, woodcarvings, and sheepskins. The market spills out into the square and is especially atmospheric at Christmastime.

Flea Market at Mauerpark, Berlin

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The Flea Market at Mauerpark in Berlin is a sprawling mass of stalls selling vintage clothing and other secondhand goods and collectibles. It’s no surprise this market does well given Germany’s love for a good party. From spring to autumn, the market turns into a festival at 3 p.m., when entertainers take the stage for karaoke and other performances. In winter, the market is much calmer but still worth exploring for unique souvenirs.

Alkmaar Cheese Market, Netherlands

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No one knows exactly when the first official cheese market was held in Alkmaar, but it was probably in the late 16th century. Today, the Alkmaar Cheese Market opens on Fridays in summer and maintains the traditions that continue to draw visitors to this corner of the Netherlands. Traders bargain for cheese by clapping hands. Once a sale has been agreed upon and the cheese formally weighed, two cheese carriers dressed in white carry the cheese on a wooden barrow to the buyer's lorries. If you’re hoping for a piece of the cheese, you’ll be disappointed. The carriers have a knack for walking in such a way that the cheese barrow remains still and those rounds of cheese don’t fall off and roll away.

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