Browsing, Bantering and Bartering at Europe’s Largest Flea Market
As September rolls around once again, so the city of Lille, situated in the far northeast of France, gears up for its annual flea market extravaganza known officially as the Braderie de Lille.
Billed as the largest flea market in the whole of Europe, the Braderie dates back to medieval times and takes place over the weekend of 6th and 7th September. And with a 33-hour selling stretch starting at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon (although ‘window shopping’ is permitted beforehand) and running continuously through until 11pm on the Sunday night, this is a rather unique and very special event in the city’s calendar.
Indeed, some 2 million visitors flock to the Braderie each year to browse amongst the 100km of stalls where some 10,000 vendors aim to sell all manner of original vintage curios in amongst more mainstream ‘tat’ to novice tourists and seasoned bargain hunters alike. And far from being a free-for-all, the Braderie is well organised into thematic sections with the more intimate boulevards generally hosting the non-professional vendors (perfect for books, records and smaller antique collectables), whilst the larger thoroughfares are where you’ll find paintings and artworks as well as ethnic items and period furniture, particularly at Deule Canal and la Façade de l’Esplanade. There’s even an area dedicated to antiques originating from the UK, to be found in the streets between l’Opera and La Porte de Roubaix.
As whilst it may be far from small scale, there’s no shortage of ambience, with live music and friendly banter providing an atmospheric backdrop to the more serious bartering going on. There’s even a half marathon pounding through the streets of Lille on the Saturday morning before the Braderie kicks off. What’s more, it’s customary to partake in a meal of moules-frites, with the local restaurants competing to erect the highest mussel shell towers. Indeed, some estimates put the total empty shells at some 500 tonnes!
Of course, beyond the Braderie, where such high demand results in premium room rates, Lille is such an easily accessible destination from the UK (a mere 80 minutes on the train from London by Eurostar, an hour from Paris by TGV and just 21 miles from Calais) that it makes for a fabulously convenient short break setting. With artworks to rival the museums of Paris courtesy of the Palais des Beaux Arts, Roubaix’s Piscine and the arts museums of Tourcoing and Villeneuve d’Ascq just beyond the city borders, in addition to picturesque cobbled streets and striking Flemish architecture reminiscent of Brussels, Bruges or even Ghent, Lille abounds in character and culture alike. Add into the mix some fantastic shopping opportunities and a lively, vibrant nightlife and you have all the essential ingredients for a quick foray into France that will leave a lasting impression.