Markets offer so much more than just the occasional souvenir for your loved ones. There is no better place to immerse yourself in the culture, history and traditions of a town or city. Whether you’re looking for a bargain or just people watching, there are some fantastic local markets all over the world. We invited Cox & Kings, the world’s longest established travel agent, to pick their 6 favourite markets.
The Bazar-e Vakil in Shiraz is a perfect introduction to traditional Iranian shopping. Ambling along the labyrinth of streets under a vaulted roof are all sorts of interesting and eye-catching wares, ranging from mundane household goods and kitchenware to beautiful rugs, backgammon sets, ceramics and copper and silverware. There is a seemingly infinite array of gorgeous scarves – these being big business as they are one of the few fashion items where the less conservative Iranian girl or woman can stretch the Islamic dress code a little. Moving further along we marvelled at the dishes piled high with colourful spices and herbs, tempting platters with mountains of sticky sweets and freshly baked biscuits, baskets filled with dried mulberries, raisins, almonds and pistachios.
View Cox & Kings’ tours to Iran.
Luang Prabang Night Market
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is a name which melodiously trips off the tongue and is a small, charming town nestled on the banks of the mighty Mekong River in Laos. Uncharted territory for some, but a true hidden gem and a must on anyone’s itinerary exploring this part of the Far East, is its wonderful night market. Every evening at dusk, the main street welcomes an influx of villagers from the surrounding countryside who make the journey to sell their handiwork and also catch up on the local gossip. Row upon row of colourful fabrics, cushion covers, table cloths, shawls, throws, jewellery, wooden gifts, gimmicky t-shirts, you name it, they’ve got it.
In Asia it’s almost compulsory to haggle. Follow your nose and take a detour to the fragrant food section to try the delicate spring rolls fresh from the wok with a tangy chilli dip.
See Cox & Kings’ tailor-made holidays to Laos.
El Rastro Market
This huge flea market takes place every Sunday morning, as it has done since medieval times, across a number of streets surrounding Plaza de Cascorro in Madrid. The market can be a little bewildering, selling everything from clothes to handicrafts, antiques to electrical items and more, but at a time when most sights in Madrid are closed it offers an excellent insight into Madrid life.
The market gets very busy so it’s a good idea to get there relatively early. Afterwards the neighbourhood of La Latina, one of the oldest parts of Madrid, is an excellent place to go on a tapas crawl.
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Asni, Saturday Market
Atlas Mountains, Marrakech
Moroccan towns and villages have weekly markets, where locals from the surrounding area come to sell their produce and buy goods they don’t grow themselves. They are different from the permanent souks found in larger towns and provide an opportunity to observe the distinct customs of the local communities. The Saturday market at Asni is located in the High Atlas Mountains, around 45km south of Marrakech.
It’s fascinating to observe the local Berber men exchange fruit, vegetables, livestock and home wares and there are even a few stalls selling jewellery, rugs and souvenirs for anyone wanting to try their hand at some bartering. It is definitely worth trying to plan your journey into the High Atlas Mountains to coincide with a visit to one of the Berber village markets.
See Cox & Kings’ range of short breaks to Marrakesh
Near Cusco, Peru
Every Sunday hundreds of people descend on the normally sleepy village of Pisac for the bustling weekly market. Every day there are some permanent stalls selling local artisan products and souvenirs but on Sundays locals sell anything and everything. In the main square there are the usual fruits, vegetables, fresh bread and meat and down the side streets you can buy live goats, sheep and guinea pigs.
Strolling around the artisan stalls you can haggle for colourful blankets, soft hand-knitted alpaca clothing such as jumpers and socks, hand-made jewellery and a multitude of other imaginative souvenirs. It is much cheaper than the shops and stalls in Cuzco or at Machu Picchu, and bartering is the key. You can expect to pay around two-thirds of the original price you are given and it’s useful to take money in as small amounts as possible.
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Souks of Aleppo
The labyrinth-like souks in Aleppo are full of authentic Middle Eastern character and a perfect place to practise haggling skills. Somehow vans, motorbikes with sidecars and even donkeys and carts all share the narrow passageways and navigate around the network of shops and stalls. Unlike in a lot of markets, tourists don’t get too hassled by the sellers and are left alone to wander through the subterranean maze trying to decide which souvenirs to barter over.
Locals go to the souks to buy everything from spices and fresh meat to blankets and clothing and there is a mosque inside for when they hear the call to prayer. The artisans from Aleppo specialise in making silver jewellery but the region is also famous for its olive oil soap, which is a perfect gift to bring home.
Note: According to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Syria is currently off limits. When any change to this is made, Cox & Kings will review its decision to operate tours to the country.
The longest established travel company in the world, Cox & Kings offers tailor-made private travel and escorted small-group tours to a range of destinations spanning the Indian Subcontinent, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, the Far East, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and the Caribbean.
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