Shopping around the World
Markets have long been gathering places, mixing people as well as goods. They make for wonderful places to visit: the bigger and more exotic, the better. In these eight markets around the world, you can eat like a local or like a pro chef in Paris, watch intense tuna auctions in Tokyo, wander the twisting alleys of the Marrakech souks, travel to the past in Boston, and do some shopping while you're at it!
Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
This 35 acre market is the biggest in Thailand; its 5,000 stalls host some 200,000 shoppers every day. As the name implies, it's mostly a weekend event, though some stalls stay open all week. Compared to some of the other markets on this list, Chatuchak is young, established in 1982 as part of the celebration of Bangkok's bicentennial. Not surprisingly, the many vendors sell just about everything you could think to buy, and then some- it's also a hot spot for the illegal sale of exotic and endangered species.
Pushkar Mela, Rajasthan, India
If you're in the market for a new camel, the Pushkar Mela is the place to go. Over five days every autumn during the Hindu holy month of Kartik, some 25,000 camels are sold at the market in northwestern India. In addition to other livestock (like cows, sheep and goats), visitors can purchase jewelry and clothing. But there's more than shopping to do at Pushkar, which is centered around the sanctified Lake Pushkar, where Hindu pilgrims come to bathe. The market, really more of a festival, opens with a camel race, and also includes a longest mustache competition, parades, dancing, and Hindu ceremonies.
Technically, the Rungis International Market is located in a Paris suburb. For centuries, the capital's main market was Les Halles, in the centrally-located 1st arrondissement. As Paris grew, so did the amount of food being brought in; the marketplace was sporadically enlarged from 1183, when it was established by King Philippe II Auguste, until 1971, when it was demolished and replaced by an underground mall. Today, if you want to see where French chefs go to supply their restaurants, head to Rungis, where the market was moved so it could have space to grow. It's the largest wholesale market for fresh produce in the world, but it's not easy to get to. It's a 90 minute trip from the center of Paris, and so big that you need a car to get from one hall to the next.
When it comes to buying fish, forget Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market: Tokyo is where it's at. Unlike the French, the Japanese have kept their enormous market in the center of their capital, making it easily accessible to tourists. The 700,000 tons of produce that move through Tsukiji's halls every year are worth some $6.8 billion. The most popular event for visitors is the tuna auction that takes place early in the morning, but it's not always open. A few years ago, the crush of tourists was so intrusive to the fish mongers and sellers that the auctions were closed to the public for a month around Christmastime.
Khan al-Khalili, Cairo
Like Tsujiki, Cairo's Khan al-Khalili is both an enormous market and a major tourist attraction. Although Lonely Planet notes that it's something of a tourist trap, it adds that it's still a real market- and thus worth a visit. The souk (Arabic for market) was first established in 1382, and has been going strong since. When you get tired of shopping, you can sit down for some Arabic coffee or shisha in a coffee shop, or grab a bite to eat from a street vendor.
Faneuil Hall, Boston
The shops and restaurants in Boston's Faneuil Hall aren't especially original or eye-opening, but their setting is. On the waterfront, the building has served as a meeting hall and marketplace since its construction in 1742. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, Faneuil Hall is known as the "Cradle of Liberty" for its role as a meeting place for colonists in the lead up to the American Revolution. Today, the mostly indoor market is the perfect place to duck out of the Boston winter and enjoy a hot cup of clam chowder.
Marrakesh Souk, Morocco
Located behind the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central (and very busy) square in Marrakesh, the souk has lots to offer both locals and tourists, and is one of the best things to do in Marrakesh. There's a huge amount going on, and the lines of stalls form labyrinthine winding alleys. For many, the fun part is haggling with vendors to drive down the price of whatever they want to buy. Usually the asking price starts around double what it's worth, so be prepared to get tough if you don't want to burn a hole in your pocket.
La Merced Market, Mexico City
Sprawling over nearly the entirety of the La Merced neighborhood, this market got a permanent home on the grounds of an old monastery in the 1860s. It was the central wholesale market of Mexico City for more than a century, until the larger Central de Abasto opened in 1982. Its history is not without tragedy- a 1981 fireworks explosion killed 61 people. Still, La Merced is a thriving hub for vendors of all sorts, and warrants an afternoon wandering from stall to stall.