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Best Food Markets in Southern Europe

One thing the Europeans really have down is the art of the food market. From the Greek agora to the Roman forum to markets that have withstood the test of time and new modern-day food halls, a trip to a food market is a loaded sensory experience. It’s a good place to buy gifts for the gourmet, fill your belly, and gaze at lovely displays featuring precious jewels of produce, cured meats hanging from rafters, rows of homemade goods and mountains of aromatic spices. If you’re searching for an authentic food experience, look no further than these genuine European markets.

Croatia

Dolac Market, Zagreb
Just above the Old Town in Croatia’s capital city, the early bird can catch the worm at this popular urban market. At 5am, the vendors begin to unveil their varied wares, ranging from shining crates of produce to a hodgepodge of home goods. With both indoor and outdoor areas, this is a place where locals come to socialize and enjoy a cup of coffee, and tourists can be found weaving in and out of the stalls under charming red umbrellas that are arranged to provide shade for overflowing tables of local nuts, cheeses, flowers and honey. It may be useful to note that most of the meat and fish, cheeses, herbs and olives will be found inside. Morning visitors will be rewarded for their promptness by fresher bread, neater displays, and surely an interesting crowd of characters.

Gundulićeva Poljana, Dubrovnik
Another time to wake up early, and hungry, is on the morning you plan to go market shopping in Dubrovnik. In Gundulić Square, you will find one of the city’s most scenic and bustling plazas, thanks in part to its daily morning market: Gundulićeva Poljana. The location is ideal, in the heart of the atmospheric Old Town. This market is the spot for purchasing local gourmet products – from fresh seasonal veggies, nuts, olive oils, homemade wine and fruit brandies – and other handmade odds and ends. After scoping out your deals, and everything you need to put together a tasty al fresco breakfast, enjoy the morning people-watching in this lovely square.

France

Le Marché Raspail, Paris
On the city’s Left Bank, you will find one of its most chi chi shopping experiences: Le Marché Raspail. Chances are you will spot some famous locals stocking up on organic goods like jars of paté, fresh croissants and butter. The market is open on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, which is organic, or “Bio”, day. Here you can also find a rare sighting in France – the food truck, where you can try local specialties and more likely mash-ups of French and international gastronomy.

Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Gascony
Gascony, a noted foodie destination in France’s southwest, offers up a gourmet feast on Thursday mornings. Head to Place Notre Dame, the heart of the market called Villefranche-de-Rouergue. You will find the arcaded square and medieval streets come alive with fantastic colors, smells, and tastes. Wander the market stalls and maybe spend some time in a cafe to watch the local activity play out. Don’t forget to make it over to the cathedral for homemade cakes sold by the nuns.

Cours Saleya, Nice
Nice’s popular Cours Saleya market is known for its abundance of flowers, but there is also a food extravaganza going on here under the famous striped awnings. Gourmets can find a variety of different food sellers, from fresh fruit and vegetable vendors to those with hot prepared food ready to grab and go. You can easily enjoy a seaside picnic thanks to the market’s great location. The food and flower market operates from Tuesday to Sunday, and an antiques market uses the space on Mondays.

Greece

Varvakios Agora, Athens
Want to shop like an ancient Greek? You need the Agora, which began in the 6th century BC and was the center of public life, where citizens shopped and discussed key political and social issues. Today Athens has the Varvakios Agora, which is the bustling heart of the city’s commercial center. You will find all kinds of traditional Greek products from butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers and spice and herb sellers. The seafood is beautiful, the meats and cheeses are proudly displayed, and the selection of olives is beyond impressive. The market is swarming with people daily, and several of its tavernas are open all night long, where you can try ouzo, the national anise-flavored liqueur, and sit down to a traditional meal made from the fresh products.

Modiano market, Thessaloniki
If you’re in Northern Greece, you must stop to discover the pride of Thessaloniki, its covered market designed by the architect Modiano. Since 1922, it has housed more than 150 shops, which tell the story of its varied population and their food traditions, including also a strong Jewish community. Wander among the butchers, greengrocers, bars and restaurants and take in the prominent scents of spices and coffee – you may even find a traditional coffee shop or a small tavern serving “mezedes”, Greek delicacies coming in small plates.

Italy

Rialto Fish Market, Venice
Venice’s famous fish market, located at the Campo della Pescaria in San Polo, has been providing the city’s best restaurants with fresh-caught fish for centuries. Here you will find stall upon stall of unloaded fish, and of course you must come early if you want to have the best pick of the day’s catch. The market is open from 7am to about 2pm and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Word to the wise: Venetians resist ordering fish at restaurants on Mondays because they know it’s unlikely to be fresh.

Mercato Centrale, Florence
If you consider yourself a gourmet, the Mercato Centrale should be a priority for your visit to Florence. All of those things Italian cuisine is celebrated for – pizzas and pastas, cheeses, olive oils, fresh breads, gelato, wine and beer – you’ll find them all here in this impressive structure. You can buy products for immediate consumption, also gifts to take home and anything you need to cook up a genuine Italian feast. Visit between Monday and Saturday from 7am to 2pm, with extended hours on Saturdays.

Sant’Ambrogio, Florence
In one of Florence’s oldest neighborhoods, about a 12-minute walk from the Duomo, you will find an authentic daily market visited by the locals. Not only can you satisfy any food needs here, but you can also buy clothing and furniture and see how the residents go about their day. The atmosphere here is much more relaxed than the popular Mercato Centrale. Like most of the local neighborhood markets, it’s open every day but Sunday, until 2pm, and Wednesday and Friday it remains open until 7pm.

Campo dei Fiori, Rome
The most colorful and eye-catching market in Rome’s historical district must certainly be the Campo dei Fiori. You could never guess this square was once a site of public executions, as today it is beautiful and alive with the activity of vendors hawking produce, oils, vinegars, spices, and a hodgepodge of other random goods. Beginning bright and early, this outdoor market goes until the early afternoon. Located in the piazza of the same name, this market is open every day except Sunday.

Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, Rome
In 2012, Rome’s historic Mercato di Testaccio relocated to a sleek modern building. Now called the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, it boasts an even wider selection of vendors selling anything from horse meat to made-to-order cannolis to fresh produce. Even if you’re not on a mission to buy anything, a visit to this daily market is a fun trip, and you might end up grabbing lunch from one of the yummy street food stalls.

Portugal

Mercado do Bolhão, Porto
When in Porto, foodies and non-foodies alike must enjoy a visit to the Mercado do Bolhão, the city’s glorious 19th-century wrought-iron covered market. In this colorful atmosphere, vendors efficiently trade their fruits and vegetables, olives, cheeses, bread, smoked meats and sausages. You will also find a sprinkling of inexpensive stalls where you can purchase nibbles such as warm pastries, sardines or fresh-caught and flaky Atlantic fish, and also sip on some local vinho. Friday and Saturday mornings are the liveliest times for a visit.

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon
The most famous food market in Lisbon is located in the city center nearby the river and a short walk from Cais do Sodré station. Now it is separated into two spaces – the traditional covered market area selling fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and local products as it has been since 1892, and a new food court concept, owned by Time Out Lisboa, opened in 2014. Now a favorite among Lisboans, this shiny new area hosts around 35 different food stands, where you can try dishes from renowned chefs and regional specialties– such as Azeitão sheep's cheese , plates of ham from the Alentejo region, and custard tarts from award-winning cafe Aloma. Gourmets can easily spend a few hours here eating their way through a gastronomic journey of Portugal. The original market stalls are open every day except Sunday, until the early afternoon, while the food court is open daily from 10am until midnight, and later on weekends.

Spain

Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona
A true food-lover can’t possibly complete a trip to Barcelona without a visit to La Boqueria, one of the most famous food markets in the whole of Europe, dating all the way back to 1217. This interesting modern building on La Ramblas hosts a covered market lined with food stalls piled high with colorful fruit and vegetables, fresh seafood, and rows of hanging chorizo. You can snack on a paper cone stuffed with sliced jamón, try the best tapas in the city – some say – at the tiny Bar Pinotxo, and sample a variety of unique Catalonian cuisine: calçots (a sort of leek-onion eaten chargrilled and whole); cargols (snails that are especially delicious when baked); peus de porc (pig's feet that are often stewed along with snails); or percebes (goose-necked barnacles that are favored nationwide).

 

Mercado Central, Valencia
Considered to be one of the longest-running markets in Europe, Valencia’s Mercado Central covers a vast area over 8,000 square meters. Before you even step inside, admire this masterpiece of modernist architecture designed in 1914. Then prepare to be amazed by the sights and smells as you enter to find a gourmet paradise: a variety of stalls spilling over with the typical fresh meat and seafood, beautiful produce, spices and canned items to stock your pantry, as well as ready-to-eat local delicacies. You can also find other odds and ends such as kitchen items and paella pans. Open Monday through Saturday from 7am until 3pm, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to discover this foodie wonderland.

Turkey

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul
Istanbul’s cavernous Spice Bazaar, or Egyptian Market (Mısır Çarşısı) as it’s known in Turkish, offers vivid displays of colorful pungent spices and pyramids of sweet, sticky lokum (Turkish delight). This was once the last stop for laden camel caravans traveling the Silk Road from the East. Although you will also find an increasing number of stalls selling repetitive trinkets to tourists, this remains the top place to stock your spice shelf, as well as purchase a range of traditional Turkish products such as dried herbs and fruits, nuts, cheeses, honey and coffee from the most renowned supplier in Istanbul: Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. Embrace the hustle and chaos as you wander this endless maze of sellers, finding everything from edibles to kitchenware to souvenirs to pets.

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