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Braderie de Lille: The Biggest Flea Market in Europe

Published by Connie Motz, Writer

Country: France

The Experience

Just an hour outside of Paris by TGV, the town of Lille is home to one of the most anticipated events in France: the annual two-day Braderie de Lille. As the largest flea market in all of Europe, this vibrant event dates back to medieval times and now attracts almost two million visitors each September.

The “Braderie” (French for “sell at a low price”) offers over 10,000 exhibitors hawking their wares with everything from knick-knacks to treasures. Saturday kicks off the Braderie de Lille, and as with any yard sale, the first day offers the best selection. Note that “window shopping” is allowed on Saturday morning, but the sale does not officially begin until 2:00 p.m.

Although the streets will get crowded and may even come to a standstill at times, it pays to do your research to know what you want to purchase ahead of time. There are tons of original pieces to be had, but there are also many items that are seemingly mass-produced just for the Braderie.

With over 62 miles of vendors, the Braderie de Lille is divided up into sections: the smaller boulevards, the friendlier non-professional vendors (where you’ll find smaller antiques, records, and books), and the larger streets where there’s a huge selection of new ethnic items for sale, including fabulous artwork and paintings.

Antiques are displayed along Jean-Baptiste Lebas Boulevard, while décor furniture can be found at la Facade de l’Esplanade and Deule Canal. There’s also a large gathering between the streets of La Porte de Roubaix and L’Opera where professional vendors specialize in antiques from the U.K.

The Braderie de Lille brings about a carnival atmosphere where participants enjoy bargaining for deals as well as eating their fill of “moules” and “frites” (mussels and French fries). The traditional competition among local restaurants is to build the highest pile of empty mussel shells from their own restaurants. Everywhere visitors go, they are met by huge mounds of shells piled in the streets of Lille to the tune of an estimated 500 tons.

Reminiscent of Mardi Gras, the Braderie comes to a close on Sunday night at midnight when the official street cleaners make their way along the boulevards. But before you leave Lille with your memories and great finds, take the time to explore the charming town by walking or via a minivan tour. Visiting the local restaurants will bring forth tasty culinary delights (besides mussels) like “waterzoi’ (veggies & chicken), or “carbonnade flamande” (beef stew with beer).

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When to Go to Braderie De Lille

The only time of year to take part in Braderie de Lille is in early September, which is also a perfect time to visit Paris. Only an hour away by TGV, it's possible to visit both cities easily. Lille offers a lot of charm and makes for a great extension to your vacation after visiting the more chaotic Paris.

Odds n' Ends

Some tips for shopping at the Braderie de Lille:

1) If you see something you love, buy it! If you wait and go back, the chances are that it may already be gone.

2) Bargain, bargain, bargain.

3) Know your pieces and your prices so you don’t get ripped off (or feel like you’ve been ripped off).

4) Prices tend to come down on Sunday, the last day of the sale.

5) Bring cash.

6) Many vendors speak English, so don’t worry about any language barriers.

7) Shopping can go on late into the night, so bring a flashlight to inspect and view items.

8) If you’re driving into Lille, note that vehicles are not allowed into the downtown area during the Braderie de Lille.

9) On Saturday morning, a half marathon takes place prior to the opening.

10) Beware that after the Braderie de Lille closes on Saturday night, the partying in the streets begins. There are many portable toilets and garbage cans onsite, so by Sunday morning the streets can give off a rather unpleasant odor.

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Language Guides

French , Italian , Lao , Portugese , Spanish , Turkish , Vietnamese are some of the languages spoken in France. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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