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5 great city markets in Europe
A mall with 3,000 shops. More than seven hectares of "fleas." Europe's grand city markets have all this and more
For some it’s the glitzy stores of New York and Paris.
For others it’s the designer ateliers of Rome and Amsterdam.
But for many, shopping is best down on the street, up hidden alleys and in picturesque squares.
Europe has a huge choice of markets selling everything from bric-a-brac to food, from designer lookalikes to books and papers.
Here are our favorites.
1. Great Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
The Great Market Hall in Budapest can be found on the Pest side of the great Liberty Bridge (which links both parts of the city).
It’s a three-story construction that, at the end of the 19th century when it opened, was deemed one of the world's most modern market halls, with state of the art lighting and refrigeration.
Vast and airy, it's been described as a cathedral in iron, with a canal running through its center so that barges could deliver fresh produce to the traders. The canal is no longer there -- it's been replaced by wide elegant thoroughfares between the stalls.
The hall was badly damaged during World War II and was eventually closed when it became a danger to patrons.
In the mid-1990s it was extensively restored and now takes pride of place as one of the city’s great attractions.
It’s easy to navigate with mostly fresh produce on the ground floor, game, fish and a supermarket in the basement and the best of Hungarian arts and crafts alongside bars, cafes and food stalls on the first floor.
A guided tour can help you find your way through the various sausages, hams, salamis and locally revered langos -- a deep-fried doughy confection topped with sour cream and cheese.
If you buy only one thing, make it a packet of smoked paprika, which will add more than memories to your cooking at home.
How to get there: Although it’s quicker from the city center by metro (M3 Blue Line) to Kalvin Ter, the best way is to take a tram, to see the city as you go. Budapest has more than 30 trams -- it's a great way to travel. Take trams 2, 47 or 49 to the Liberty Bridge.
2. Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueira, Barcelona
Barcelona’s great food market is so beautiful that, although it exists to provide fresh produce to locals, it's become an icon of the tourist trail.
In the heart of Las Ramblas, the Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueira is recognized as one of the finest markets in the world, as well as one of the oldest -- there has been a market on this site since the 15th century.
Fresh fruits, fish and shellfish, hams and chorizos, freshly baked bread and pastries -- everything is here.
Traders call you to taste their goods -- around the market's circumference are stalls where you can enjoy breakfast, coffees or tapas throughout the day.
Full of locals buying and gossiping, and visitors viewing and tasting, the market is the soul of the city.
How to get there: From the city center and the Plaza de Catalunya walk straight down La Rambla, the city’s most famous thoroughfare. La Boqueira is half way down on your right. Walk slowly and it should take 8-10 minutes.
3. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It has more than 3,000 shops and 61 streets.
It’s easy to get lost -- but who cares?
The fun is in wandering down lanes of leather wear and works, streets of tiny silver and gold shops, places for carpets and cottons, emporia of spices and herbs, silks and shoes.
The latter are piled high in every color, harking to times when the city's different cultures wore different colors -- Turks wore yellow, Greeks wore blue, Armenians wore red, Jews wore black.
The place resonates with history, but while half of it is as old as time, the rest is as modern as tomorrow with designer clothes and lookalike handbags, purses and furs. Haggle for everything -- it’s expected.
There are tiny cafes serving thick aromatic Turkish coffee alongside apple tea and rose- and pistachio-flavored Turkish delight.
This isn't a place for a quick visit. Just as you think you’ve seen enough, you’ll turn a corner and find more treasures (and trash).
How to get there: While taxi fares are cheap, the traffic is dense. Better to take the metro from Sultanahmet (city center) to the Carsikapi stop. From here, the market is in front of you.
4. Portobello Road, London
Portobello Road runs almost two miles through the heart of London’s Notting Hill, lined with small shops and stalls offering furniture, silver, vegetables, porcelain, paintings and trinkets.
While most shops are open throughout the week, it swells with visitors, stallholders and shopkeepers on weekends.
The top end of the market, nearest Notting Hill tube station (which goes bilingual on weekends, with announcements in Italian), is the place to find antiques and secondhand artifacts as well as vintage designer handbags and furs.
The remaining vintage fashions can be found only on Fridays at the further end of the road near the Westway flyover. This is where designers send scouts to rummage through fashions from the last five decades.
In between there’s a host of shops, stalls, supermarkets, cafes, pubs, fast food outlets, restaurants and musicians; the smaller streets offer specialty stores, such as the Travel bookshop and Books for Cooks.
How to get there: In west London, it's just 10 minutes by taxi from the west end. However, it's quicker (and cheaper) to take the tube. The Central Line goes to Notting Hill Gate. The market is a five-minute walk from the tube station.
Alternately, take the Hammersmith and City Line to Ladbroke Grove and you're just one street away from the thick of things.
There are a number of buses from Oxford Street, Hyde Park and Kensington (7, 23, 52, 28, 328). Ask the driver to let you know when to get off.
5. Les Puces, Paris
Les Puces (The Fleas) is what locals call Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the largest antique market in the world at Porte de Clignancourt.
Covering seven hectares it’s awash every Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday with a heaving mass of humanity. Go early (or at least before lunch) to see it at its best, and to avoid too much of a struggle to see the rest.
Stalls, shops and street traders sell everything from cheap clothes to art nouveau mirrors, from ancient linens to Empire sofas, old books, ecclesiastical kitsch and vintage kitchenware.
If you’re in search of a rococo armoire you may well find it here, or even a hussar’s chapeau. But you’ll need to know your subject.
Amid the conglomeration of traders are a number of serious experts who will take time to take you through their stock. Most will pack and ship larger items.
Paris is often quiet on Sunday mornings, so if you want to avoid crowds, this is the time to be at the market.
How to get there: Take the metro to Porte de Clignancourt or Porte de Saint-Ouen, then follow the signs or the crowd.