Europe’s 10 Best Markets

What traveler doesn’t love a great European market? There are few better windows into local life than rubbing shoulders with shoppers, browsing stands piled high with colorful produce, nibbling on street munchies, and being fully immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of the local community.

Over half a lifetime of traveling around Europe, I’ve been collecting my favorite market experiences for travelers — where you can glean some insights into local culture and cuisine, and browse for a good, local, quality meal. This is a mix of old-school covered markets, trendier food halls, and sprawling, open-air markets that take over an entire neighborhood or town. I’ve heavily skewed my suggestions to foodie options, where you’ll find dishes that are creative and interesting (rather than just fill-the-tank), while still being affordable. Happy browsing!

10. Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

Madrid's Mercado de San Miguel

Just steps from the grand Plaza Mayor, in the heart of Spain’s capital, sits this 1915 erector-set market hall. Fully remodeled in 2009, today it’s a bustling showcase of edible Spain. Squeezing between the crowds, you’ll find only the best jamón ibérico (air-cured ham), Manchego and other artisanal Spanish cheeses, powerfully piquant skewered pickles and olives (banderillas), delectable pastries, little skillets of paella, tinned fish and seafood, brochetas (meat or seafood skewers) grilled to order, smoked salmon, sweet vermouths from around Spain, croquetas with various fillings, Mexican dishes from a Michelin-star chef, and robust Rioja wines. It’s a culinary tour of Spain, under one roof.

9. Östermalms Saluhall, Stockholm, Sweden

A classic. Anchoring Stockholm’s posh Östermalm neighborhood, this market hall is simply elegant. Handsome, hand-carved wooden stalls display just-so piles of produce, stacked as if posing for a still-life. The wares here feel…curated. Composed. With Scandinavian precision. There aren’t many bargains in this pricey city, but the Östermalms Saluhall is fun to browse for a high-end picnic, or to settle into a market eatery for a quality deli plate, a delicately composed salad, a sticky Scandinavian sweet roll, a splurgy seafood dish, a gourmet smørrebrød (open-face sandwich), a delectable handmade praline, or a selection of Lebanese small plates. Note: The food hall is undergoing a makeover through 2020; in the meantime, the vendors have set up temporary digs nearby.

8. Markthalle Neun, Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s Kreuzberg district is home to its most cutting-edge, engaging culinary scene — and Markhalle Neun is its flagship. Tucked in a workaday neighborhood away from the tourist sights, it fills a beautifully restored 19th-century hall with greengrocers, cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers, florists, and bakers, all with an appropriately Berlin-hipster vibe. Meanwhile, food stands sell Berlin classics like Buletten (meatballs), Stolle (open-faced sandwiches), Brezel (big doughy pretzels), and Currywurst — but also Italian pastas, French crêpes, Turkish deli meats, Spanish tapas, and even BBQ from the USA. Markhalle Neun scores bonus points for its many special events (listed at www.markthalleneun.de), including its Saturday farmers market and its “Street Food Thursday” — a beloved institution for Berliners seeking a trendy yet affordable dinner.

7. Mercato Centrale, Florence, Italy

For years, I’d peek tentatively inside this cavernous market hall in the center of Florence, which felt dark and foreboding. With tattered stalls and piles of garbage out front, it felt like it hadn’t changed since the days of Vittorio Emanuele II. Then, in 2014, they converted the top floor into a high-end food circus. Just walk past the still-grubby produce stalls on the main floor, and hike up the stairs to a world of Italian taste treats: hand-rolled pastas, prizewinning prosciutto, massive steaks cooked so rare they still moo, melt-in-your-mouth panini, gourmet burgers made from Tuscany’s prized Chianina beef, rotisserie chicken, big juicy wads of mozzarella di bufala, handheld flatbread sandwiches called trapizzini, big slabs of rustic pizza, tender stewed beef cheeks, truffle-infused oils and pâtés, the rustic Tuscan bread soup called ribollita, deep-fried tasties,  cannoli and other Sicilian sugar bombs, and high-end tripe sandwiches (a Florentine classic!). Travelers smart enough to escape the tourist-gouging restaurants on the main drag retreat to this upper level — like pigeons in the rafters — to take a break from intense Renaissance sightseeing with pretty much any Italian taste treat they can imagine. Tuscany is home to many foodie finds — but this is one of the best.

6. Belvarosi Piac, Budapest, Hungary

In Budapest, tourists flock to the Great Market Hall, an elegant palace of produce built around the turn of the 20th century. And you really do have to see the Great Market Hall. But don’t eat there — the “local”-seeming food counters upstairs specialize in ripping off naive tourists. Instead, head to a different, smaller, and far more authentic neighborhood market hall, also right in the city center (a couple of minutes’ walk from the Parliament): the Belvarosi Piac on Hold Street. In an atmospheric Industrial Age space that feels like the Great Market Hall’s little sibling, producers occupy the ground floor, while the upstairs is ringed by tempting high end-yet-affordable food stands: massive schnitzels at Buja Diszno(k), gourmet sausage at Lakatos Műhely, Russian grub at Moszkvatér (named for the since-rechristened “Moscow Square”), gourmet burgers at Kandalló, Thai-style khao man gai (poached chicken in garlicky sauce), and updated Hungarian classics at A Séf Utcaja. Anchoring the space, down on the main floor, is Stand 25 Bisztró. Here, celebrity chefs Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll artfully fuse Hungarian classics with international influences (or is it the other way around?). While not cheap by market hall standards, Stand 25 a bargain for a Michelin-caliber lunch in a memorable setting (lunch only, plus dinner Friday and Saturday, book ahead).

5. Ballarò Market, Palermo

The Sicilian capital has some of the best, most vivid street markets in all of Europe. And the granddaddy of them all is Ballarò — seedy, chaotic, bewildering, and invigorating. Come here to jostle with Sicilians who verbally arm-wrestle for the best deals on the best ingredients. The vendors — continuing a tradition that supposedly dates back to Arab rule — warble their sales pitches with an otherworldly cadence, demanding the attention of passersby. Giant slabs of pink tuna perch on marble counters, like cadavers ready to be dissected. Produce stands overflow with vivid-purple eggplants, long, skinny Sicilian zucchini, and tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes. Best of all, scattered throughout this multi-block span of barely controlled chaos are a wide variety of tempting street food stands, selling greasy napkins topped with dirt-cheap taste treats for every level of adventurous eaters — from arancine (deep-fried rice balls) and sfincioni (“Sicilian pizza”) to pani ca’ meusa (spleen sandwich) and polpo bollito (tiny boiled octopus, eaten whole). (For a complete rundown, check out my post on Palermo’s street food.) Go ahead, dive in — this is what real travelers live for.

4. Mathallen, Oslo, Norway

I love Oslo. But I’ve rarely found a memorable meal tucked among the dreary, blocky downtown core along Karl Johans Gate. However, just north of downtown runs the Akers River Valley, where the city has redeveloped a former wasteland of red-brick factories and warehouses into a lively people zone. Its centerpiece is Mathallen (“Food Hall”), filling the scavenged brick skeleton of a 19th-century factory. Norwegians recognize the limitations of their cuisine. And so, in addition to stands selling fresh, whole-grain bread (at Smelt Ostesmørbrød) sweet and savory pies (at Mildrids Kjøkken), and farm-fresh geitost cheese (at Ost & Sånt), you can nibble tapas, pastas, sushi, tacos and tequila, pizza, Asian street food,  gourmet ice cream, and much more. Ringing the outside of the market are a variety of industrial-mod, higher-end eateries. I skipped the fried chicken and “global tapas,” and went a bit more traditional at Vulkanfisk, serving up affordable-for-Oslo, elegantly presented, fresh seafood (the garlic-sautéed scampi were a flavor bomb). Anytime I’m in Oslo at mealtime, I come up with an excuse to head up the Akers River to Mathallen.

3. Maltby Street Market Rope Walk, London

One summer, my wife and I rented an apartment in London for a week and checked out a different market each day. And at the end of the trip, the Maltby Street Rope Walk emerged as our favorite (every Saturday and Sunday). Tucked along a vintage brick railroad trestle, far from any tourist attractions (roughly across the Thames from the Tower of London), it’s an explosion of foodie energy. Beyond the hole-in-the-wall eateries, wine bars, taprooms, and Mozambique-style burger bars squeezed into the arches under the train tracks, the weekend market adds a world of pop-up food stands: grilled sandwiches oozing with tangy English cheese; little slices of rye bread mounted with melt-in-your-mouth Scottish salmon; slabs of grass-fed, dry-aged, rare-grilled hanger steaks; wild variations on Scotch eggs; Middle Eastern flatbreads with savory toppings; German-style sausages; gyoza steamed in wicker baskets; and a mouthwatering array of gooey brownies. For a more traditional “market hall,” it’s hard to beat London’s famous Borough Market. The funky Camden Market sprawls through a yellow-brick wonderland of old industrial buildings. The Portobello Road Market charms Notting Hill fans. And the Broadway Market feels like ground zero for East London’s hipster baby boom. But if I had to pick just one market that incapsulates cutting-edge London…it’s Rope Walk.

2. Mercado da Ribeira/Time Out Market, Lisbon, Portugal

My favorite European market hall has a split personality. One-half of the market is as classic as they come: traditional, rough-and-tumble vendors selling fragrant herbs, plump produce, and an aquarium’s worth of fish. It’s ragtag, ramshackle, and trapped in the 1950s, with rickety wooden stalls, puddles pooling on cracked tile floors, petticoat-clad grannies selling rough bunches of herbs, and Old World scales with dials that spin imprecisely as if digital were never invented. On its own, this market hall is endearing enough to earn an “honorable mention” on this list. But from there, you can step through a door into La Ribera’s other half: a sleek, futuristic, top-of-the-line, Time Out-themed culinary wonderland (opened in 2014). The two dozen eateries here include stands operated by five marquee, Michelin-rated Portuguese celebrity chefs selling affordably price tastes of their favorite dishes. You’ll also find smaller stands bursting with a variety of local and international meals: the beloved Portuguese steak sandwich called prego, croquetes with fillings both traditional and creative, bacalhau (rehydrated salt-dried cod), fresh-baked pasteis de nata and other pastries, Japanese-fusion dishes highlighting the long-forgotten influence of early Portuguese traders, traditional cheeses and charcuterie, catch-of-the-day, quality steaks, gourmet burgers, artful sushi, and crispy pizzas. Rounding out the scene are a well-stocked wine shop, a place to stock up on conserves (tinned fish with colorful wrappers), and a branch of A Vida Portugesa (a classy vendor of Portuguese-themed products, gifts, and keepsakes that tempt even non-shoppers).  Whether for a meal or a one-stop-shop to stock up on all things Portuguese, Mercado da Ribeira is a winner.

1.  Market Day, Sarlat, France

Sarlat’s street market is hard to top. It’s the refined yin to Palermo’s gritty yang. Twice weekly — on Wednesday mornings, and all day Saturdays — the pristine, lemony-sandstone streets of one of France’s finest towns become a big outdoor shopping mall. Locals pour in from the countryside to browse the stalls, reconnect with their favorite vendors, and bump into old friends. You’ll find baked goods, fresh meat, duck-in-a-can (confit de canard), giant wheels of rustic mountain cheese, tiny pyramids of fine gourmet cheese, nuts and dried fruits, explosively flavorful olives, mammoth chunks of nougat, snail shells prefilled for escargot, fruitcake sold by weight, a rainbow of preserves, salamis and sausages of every shape and size, and whatever produce is in season. When the noon bell tolls, the vendors begin packing up, and the shoppers scramble for café tables that catch just the right mélange of sun and shade. This is where the second phase of the Market Day ritual kicks in: taking some time to nurse a cup of coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a while. It’s all so simple…so sophisticated…so smart. If you won’t be in Sarlat, you can enjoy similar market days all over France; every community has its own, but popular ones include Uzès (in Provence), Beaune (in Burgundy), and several in Parisian neighborhoods. But Sarlat is the one that has left me with the warmest memories of an ideal market experience.

What’s your favorite market in Europe?

50 Replies to “Europe’s 10 Best Markets”

    1. We loved the Aligre market in Paris.
      Just wished we had been staying in an apartment rather Than a hotel so we could take some cheeses and Foie Gras back with us ! Flowers too

  1. No favorite because we haven’t been to enough of them. But, every time we are in a Europe & go to one our reaction is the same. We wish there were markets like these all over America! They are wonderful.

    1. There are many local farmers, bakers and other wonderful vendors all across the US at small farmers markets working hard to support themselves. Check out Soulard Market in St Louis, and Pike Place in Seattle (though it’s touristy). And any local market in your community. We can grow our own with community support!

  2. We drove around France last year but missed market day when we were in Sarlat. We did catch the one in Arles. It was just amazing.

  3. I would rate the Mercato in Livorno as a much better choice in Tuscany (All locals, extensive fish selection) Mercato Centrale in Florence is now just for tourists …

    1. I agree about Firenze. I lived here in 2005 just around the corner from the Mercato Centrale, and I loved the market, both for shopping and eating. I spent many hours just photographing the interesting people and beautiful food displays. Now it isn’t a real market, but just a “food court” for tourists. A real disappointment.

      1. I agree that the market is very touristy, but thought the food choices were still very good. I was just there a few months ago.

    1. I second this one. Over several adventures abroad, I loved L’Isle Sur la Sorgue the most. It was simply huge, and there was just so much fun in the air. We spent hours there, not wanting to miss anything. I won’t go to France again without heading here. I’m pretty sure we were here for the Saturday market, but can’t recall for certain.

      1. One more vote for L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Even on non market days, L’Isle is filled with antique shops. This is where sophisticated Parisens come to furnish their Ile St Louis apartments with quirky Provencal antiques.Sort of the way New Yorkers flood Vermont on fall weekends, cruising for antiques. It seems every other shop in the town is an antique store. On market days, the locals from miles around crowd the streets with stalls & tables filled with their own finds from barns & attics. A beautiful town, built around a network of canals (“Venice of Provence”), great eats, many working water wheels, & fascinating knick-knacks, art, & furniture.

  4. So many to coose from. Barcelona’s la Boqueria is famous but I vote for that city’s lesser known Santa Caterina market. Beautiful outside, too, with a brightly coloured tile roof!

  5. Hi, all, and thanks for the great comments and suggestions! A few follow-ups:

    Amsterdam’s Foodhallen is great…it was my #11!

    And I agree Munich’s Viktualienmatkt and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue’s street markets are definitely “honorable mentions.”

    However, knowing full well that I’m courting controversy, I must admit Barcelona’s La Boqueria was an intentional omission. It’s wonderfully atmospheric. But the last couple of times I visited, I struggled to find anything to actually eat there that wasn’t a tourist-gouging rip-off. I’ve gotten burned enough trying to find a good meal at La Boqueria to keep it off this list (unlike the others mentioned). I agree with Robin that Barcelona’s Santa Catarina is a great, much more local alternative.

    That’s my take, with no apologies. If you love La Boqueria, we can agree to disagree. Keep the comments and other nominations coming!

  6. A little off the beaten path, but one of my favorite markets is the big open-air market just a few steps from the ferry dock in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Superb produce, great little eateries including the world-famous Ciya. So wonderful! I booked a hotel near there this year (fourth visit to Turkey) just to be near that market. You could explore for days.

  7. La Boqueria was a disappointment when I visited — but for a different tourism-related reason than food selection: it was so jam-packed with tourists that my husband and I could hardly get near the food stalls, so we hurried out. Santa Catarina offers a great market experience with no crowds and is part of an interesting walking tour in the RS Barcelona guidebook.

  8. My wife and I did Rick’s “21 day Best of Europe tour” 4 years ago. We started in Haarlem, Netherlands. I feel in love with Europe visiting Haarlem’s Saturday Farmer’s Market. It was so charming. 4 years later, it is still my favorite.

  9. When touring the South of France, our itinerary is expressly built around the market days of the towns and villages we wish to visit.
    Market Day is a regular celebration of all that holds these often ancient communities together, only to be topped, when our timing is right, by the town’s annual festival. At each, we have found the palpable, beating heart of a village.

  10. The Hamburg Fish Market, open only on Sundays from 5am to around 11am, is the best market I’ve visited in Germany since moving here 5 years ago. It sells more than fish and all the produce on offer is literally fresh off the boat. The famous herring sandwiches, breads and pastries, and great coffee make it worthwhile getting up early on Sunday. In fact, some of the Reeperbahn partiers never go to sleep Saturday night, so you’ll see some interestingly dressed folks in the coffee lines.

  11. I know it’s jammed with as many tourists as locals, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rialto Market in Venice, and when I lived there, I shopped at the market many times a week. Good local produce and wonderfully squirmy fish (the eels!!) make it a great place to wander. The nearby cheese shop and various bakeries provide all that one could need for a wonderful dinner. Drogheria Mascari around the corner from the market is a wonderland of wine, dried fruit, exotic bottled goods- all kinds of treasures.

  12. Whatever Mercat la Boqueria might once have been, it isn’t that any more. What it is now is jammed packed with tourists so such a horrible extent that one can’t even walk around. I’m afraid its central location, once a draw, has ruined the place — that and camera-toting cruise passengers who won’t (or can’t) purchase anything. No purchase? No photo — in any market. Locals who might still want to shop at Boqueria must get up early and beat the hoards or visit late and risk lesser produce. Shame – but don’t visit Boqueria thinking you are seeing anything genuine or even local any more.
    On target with Budapest, however. Why tour buses disgorge tourists at the Central Market is beyond me. This place really is for locals who want to shop. The market on Holo is a good destination to eat local. SLM

  13. Where ever I go I like to visit colorful markets. A few years ago we spent half a day at the open market in Cascais near Lisbon. Besides loads of fabulous local foods they had just about everything under the sun for sale, including Madonna figurines, plastic Tupper wear and underwear for young and old. We enjoyed watching a very old lady in the fish market section, filleting unusual long fish. My husband bought some eggs and a slab of what looked like bacon for the next day’s breakfast. To see all the bustling, the colors and smells visiting a market is time well spent on your travels.

  14. What about the Naschmarkt in Vienna? Fabulous cafes, ethnic food stalls, and surely baklava heaven——and then the enormous and Excellent flea market extension on Saturdays- what more can you want?

  15. I have great memories of being at the Viktualien Market in Munich and the Great Market Hall in Budapest.
    I would also like to mention a market in the United States. The West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio . It reminds me of the Great Market Hall in Budapest the way it is designed and set up .
    This market began operating in 1840 to provide all the ethnic groups who had immigrated from various countries with foods and products they were familiar with. The market in its current location opened in 1912 and still offers a huge selection of foods for people of a wide variety of nationalities. Visit it on line or in person -not as good as going to a real European market, but it is a great market that has been going for 107 years!

  16. The Market in Olhao, Portugal probably deserves at least an ‘honourable mention’. The many varieties of fish and other foodstuffs in the waterfront market stalls make for a delicious and non-crowded shopping/sightseeing experience. The freshly-caught fish on offer there are the same fish we ate for lunch at Vai e Volta, one of the best lunch experiences I’ve had in all of Europe.

Leave a Reply to Manya Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *