Tips for visiting public markets 

Outdoor market at Cours Saleya, Nice

Whether we are looking for market food in London, Paris or Florence, we have visited a number of wonderful public markets over the years.

Here’s a baker’s dozen of tips to help make your visits more enjoyable and rewarding:

  • Before you go, check opening hours, which may vary daily and seasonally.
  • Check online to determine whether written guides or guided tours are available. Some markets, like the one at the Boqueria in Barcelona even offer cooking classes.
  • Bring local currency. Many vendors do not accept credit cards or foreign currency.
  • Bring a recyclable shopping bag to carry your purchases. Or if you forget, see if you can buy one at the market.
  • Start your visit early in the morning, when inventory is plentiful and crowds are fewer.
  • Know the rudiments of metric measurements. Otherwise, you’ll be at a loss for ordering.
  • Because markets can be sprawling, start with a quick once-over to choose the stalls to which you want to return. You’ll find that multiple vendors sell the same products. The “once-over” will help you decide what to buy from whom.
  • Vendors are usually interested in educating you about their products. Take time to speak to vendors and other shoppers. Use your visit as an opportunity to learn about foods and culture. Don’t go when you are rushed.
  • Prices are often displayed; people don’t generally bargain for food in public markets.
  • Since English isn’t always spoken, it’s helpful to learn basic “shopping phrases” in the native language.
  • Don’t come too hungry or you’ll overspend. If you stay for a meal, remember that the food and water in other countries may not agree with your foreign stomach.
  • If you’re traveling by plane or returning from a foreign country, determine which foods are permissible to bring home and what food packaging is TSA-friendly. When I tried to bring home cajeta (a caramel syrup from Mexico, I was disappointed to learn it was considered a liquid.)
  • If you can’t take it with you, take photos.

Do you have any tips to add?


Shopping Bag I Purchased at Mercado Ignacia Ramirez in San Miguel de Allende
Shopping Bag purchased at Mercado Ignacia Ramirez in San Miguel de Allende

[A version on this article appeared in the Sunday Travel Section of the Chicago Tribune.

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