Market Therapy

World's Top Markets: Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, Chatuchak & More (Photos)

From textiles and spices to local handicrafts and street food, Nina Strochlic rounds up the best markets.

Shopping malls are fine and all, but in-the-know citizens of the world are more likely to visit their local markets to get their retail fixes. And for good reason. From the vintage treasure trove of London’s famous Camden Market to the sensory overload in Turkey’s Grand Bazaar, these shopping hubs are attractions in their own right—and the perfect places to find local goods and handicrafts. Here, we’ve rounded up the best of the best with a guide to which local specialties to look for at each. A word of warning: make sure to bring an extra suitcase. The checked-bag fee will be well worth it when you see the looks of jealousy on your friends’ faces.

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Chatuchak

Bangkok, Thailand

Buy: Knock-off Designer Duds, Street Food, Thai Massage

 

This sprawling open-air market, made up of 8,000 stalls covering 35-acres and often seeing over 200,000 visitors in a weekend, is a budget shopper’s paradise. Divided into 27 sections and reported to be the largest weekend market in the world, Chatuchak is just a 15-minute train ride from downtown Bangkok. Before you go, come to terms with the fact that you’ll probably only be able to comb through a small segment of the wares. But no matter; the booths you browse—with Thai iced tea in hand—will be jammed full of all the clothes, crafts, animals, furniture, knock-offs, and, of course, food that you can handle.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor via Getty

Chandni Chowk

Delhi, India

Buy: Fine Jewelry, Spices


Soon, global shoppers will be able to peruse the offerings of this dense marketplace online. But until then, you’ll have to trek into the heart of Old Delhi to check out the myriad of goods peddled at Chandni Chowk. The iconic four century-old market plays host to 2,500 shops in multiple sections that sell such varied items as musical instruments, textiles, pearls, photography, and even medical equipment.

Streeter Lecka/Getty

Camden Markets

London, England

Buy: Vintage Duds, House Decor

 

By popular demand, the Camden Market has evolved over the years from a weekend shopping trip to a seven day-long affair. Camden is actually made up of a variety of specialty areas – a market for everyone, you might say. There’s furniture, bookshops, palm readers, and, catering to London’s ever-thriving underground scene, lots of alternative-clothing and vintage ephemera. The setting is about as historic as it gets: the area used to be home to stables and a horse hospital. You can even shop underground in what were once secret catacombs.

Denis Doyle/AP

La Boqueria

Barcelona, Spain

Buy: Fresh Juices, Jamón, Fruit

 

Eight hundred years does a market good. In the 13th century, what is now Barcelona’s famous Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria served as a humble open-air fruit and vegetable market for local traders. Now it’s that and much, much more. Fishmongers, greengrocers, butchers, bars, and artisanal restaurants line the famous covered culinary bazaar. Right off Las Ramblas, the imposing stained-glass gates welcome you to a culinary experience that was once dubbed “a temple of gastronomy” by famous Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.

Murad Sezer/AP

Grand Bazaar

Istanbul, Turkey

Buy: Mini Water Pipes (Hookahs), Spices, and Sweet Pastries

 

If watching Skyfall's James Bond fly over the rooftop of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar on his motorcycle didn’t give you a clear picture of the market’s vast size, spending five minutes inside will. Originally the site of a Byzantine marketplace, the Grand Bazaar was constructed by the Ottomans as the first-ever shopping mall; five hundred years later it has upheld its importance as one of the largest covered markets in the world. With 5,000 shops lining its 60 ornately-arched streets, the complex even plays host to two mosques and two hamams (Turkish bath houses), along with multiple restaurants and cafes. Make sure to explore the market’s fringe where the real Turkish authenticity can be found. Just beware of the crowds; between 250,000 and 400,000 people visit the Grand Bazaar each day, and the narrow passageways are a pickpocket’s dream.

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Marrakesh Souks

Marrakech, Morocco

Buy: Leather Bags, Jewelry

 

While the world-famous Jemaa el Fna center square is well known as the place to shop in Marrakech, the entire old town area functions as an incredible marketplace, with various winding alleys having specialized in the same crafts for generations. Depending on which side path you choose, you’ll encounter souks featuring jewelers, leatherworkers, perfumers, carpet weavers, and coppersmiths—along with a good mix of your typical souvenirs. When you get hungry, wind your way back to Jemaa el Fna, where dozens of food stalls set up shop surrounded by snake charmers, storytellers, and magicians.

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Kejetia Market

Kumasi, Ghana

Buy: Colorful Fabrics, Second-Hand Clothes

 

From the outside, the Kejetia Market, one of West Africa’s largest, resembles a shantytown of epic proportions…until you realize it’s really a sprawling bazaar. Six days a week, 20,000 traders come to the ramshackle stalls and sell just about anything you could imagine: textiles, pottery, drums, and clothes, many of which are made right where they’re sold. While satellite markets have taken off over the years, the central location remains the most impressive. And if you’ve ever wondered how a woman could balance three-dozen eggs on her head, this is your chance to find out.

Nik Wheeler/Corbis

Tonala and Mercado Libertad

Guadalajara, Mexico

Buy: Pottery, Handicrafts

 

Two of Mexico’s most famous markets are located in and around Guadalajara. In the city’s center, the Mercado Libertad is a three-level, traditional market offering a mix of utilitarian goods, like cookware and leather saddles, freshly made tacos and torta ahogadas, local handicrafts, and silver jewelry. Ten miles outside of town, the colorful Tonala market encompasses an entire central area of suburban Guadalajara. Here, the rainbow of oddities on display ranges from textiles and ceramics to toys and artwork.