A College Tourist’s Guide to Shopping in Open-Air Markets
Open-air markets are some of the best places to shop while abroad.
When studying abroad, every college tourist looks out for beautiful souvenirs to commemorate their trip. Whenever I travel abroad, I make a great effort to do as much shopping as possible in open-air markets, because I know that they are the best places to find local treasures and incredible deals. Visiting a new open-air market can almost be a cultural event in itself, because each one takes on the spirit of the community you find it in.
Here are some of my tried and true tips for shopping at an open-air market:
Take a look around first.
Before you do anything else, be sure to walk around the entire market to take in all of the products. This may seem obvious at first, but it can be far too easy to fall in love with one of the first items you see, and purchase it far too soon. If you hold off on making any purchases until you’ve finished taking a walk around, you’ll find that often, multiple vendors will either sell the same product, or very similar ones at varying prices. By taking time to observe, you allow yourself to become familiar with all of your options to decide if you would rather spend more money on one item rather than another; and you also set yourself up to find the best deal.
Bartering is your best friend.
After you have taken a look around the market and assess prices to find a good deal. However, often even the written prices aren’t final. You can probably get your favorite item at an even better price. In several cultures, it’s wise and appropriate to barter, even if you may not be entirely comfortable with doing so. Offer up a price that’s slightly lower than what you’re willing to pay, and wait for a response. You would be surprised at how often vendors are willing to negotiate, and by just how much you can save.
Be friendly, but firm.
This is a rule for studying abroad, in general, but becomes even more important while shopping and interacting with vendors. Be sure to be friendly while browsing. Greet vendors politely, and make conversation. Being approachable and kind will lead to sharing great stories, and might even result in a demonstration. When I visited Granada for a day trip, an artisan that I spoke to appreciated our conversation so much that he decided to make me a ring on the spot, both to thank me for my patronage and for the engaging conversation. Politeness will go a long way in an open-air market, but you should also be firm when necessary. You know what you want, as well as what you do not. You should never hesitate to be assertive, when necessary because you may come across vendors who can be forceful.
Throughout your travels, you’ll begin to notice that open-air markets embody the lifestyles and local culture of the towns you find them in.
Over the years, I’ve found quite a few notable favorites:
The Rialto Bridge in Venice
The Rialto is considered to be the commercial center of Venice. Surrounding the famous covered bridge is a huge open-air market, where you can find local artists selling their paintings of local landscapes and vendors with Venetian masks for sale. If you look closely, you might even find some bracelets made from Murano glass.
Marché Parisien de la Création in Paris
This market has taken place on Boulevard Edgar Quinet in Montparnasse every Sunday for the past 20 years. Here you’ll find contemporary sculptures and jewelry. At times, you might even find handmade clothing items and bags.
Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh
Marrakesh is home to some of the largest open-air markets in all of Morocco. As you explore the winding passageways, you’ll come across saffron, homemade lip rouge, and intricately hand-woven fabrics.
The best part about shopping in an open-air market is how the environment allows you to explore. Use these pointers as a general guide, and you’ll be on your way to experiencing a culture in a new way, all while finding some unique souvenirs.
For all of you angliophiles, here’s a great guide to the markets in London.: Guide for market lovers in London.