Nothing beats a market experience in Europe or the Middle East for festivities, fun and food.
When you travel to the great cities of the world, instead of thronging an outlet mall or dining at restaurants, savour the true essence of the place by visiting the local markets. These are the heart of a city or town, around which the everyday lives of the locals revolve. Here are some amazing markets for you to explore.
Khan Al-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt
Dating back to the 14th century, Khan, as it’s simply known, is located in the historic centre of Cairo. It was a hub for the trading of gold, copper, spices and more back then. It is no less bustling now, with many workshops still boasting of artisans working on traditional crafts such as stained-glass lamps, silverware, gold artefacts and jewellery. One tenant in the market is one of the oldest cafes in the city, El-Fishawi, which opened way back in 1797! It has a rich ambience imbued with history, having been a popular meeting place for intellectuals and writers, who would sit around drinking tea and coffee and playing rhyme games. On the streets in front of the market, enjoy the many carnivals that take place every now and then, and if you get the chance, take in a beautiful spiritual Tanoura performance, where dancers whirl about wearing colourful skirts.
San Lorenzo Market, Florence, Italy
In the beautiful city of Florence lies its largest and arguably its most famous market, the San Lorenzo Market. It has an outdoor section, which runs along several streets, with scores of vendors selling anything from pottery and leather goods, to clothes and souvenirs. In the Central Market, known as Mercato Centrale in Italian, you will find all things food-related. Built somewhere around 1870–74, this cast iron-and-glass building has become a cultural centre that showcases the rich culinary traditions throughout Italy. With specialty items made using old Italian production methods, visitors get to not only taste amazing pizzas done the traditional Neapolitan way and savour the famous bufala cheese, they also get to experience and watch the production process. For the adventurous, why not indulge in some fine Italian cow stomach, brains and tongue? If not, there’s an amazing plethora of cured meats, vegetables and condiments for you to try. The market has some of the freshest produce, which are grown, harvested and marketed by the farmers and growers themselves.
Izmailovsky Market, Moscow, Russia
For a taste of local charm in Russia, why not visit the Izmailovsky Market? Situated next to the fairytale-like Izmailovsky Kremlin cultural area, the market’s colourful wooden structure reflects the area’s Russian Revival style of architecture. Though the market dates back to the 17th century, it was rebuilt in 2005 after a fire, and has since regained its former glory. The labyrinthine space hosts a slew of local-led activity and handmade products. You may witness a local wedding ceremony there, or earn a medal for elbow bending in the Vodka museum, or even sew your very own Russian doll. Go treasure hunting for antiques or Soviet memorabilia in the flea market section, or banter with the local craftspeople and listen to their stories of old Russia.
Kirkgate Market, Leeds, United Kingdom
Opened in 1857, Kirkgate Market is the largest indoor market in Europe. A Leeds institution, the market is home to some of the most characterful traders in the city, where businesses span multiple generations. A shopper’s paradise, where one can find anything from fresh seafood, meat and vegetable produce to jewellery, flowers and fashion. With its impressive Victorian-era domed glazed roof, the market is home to some 800 stalls, including restaurants and cafes, and attracts more than 100,000 visitors a week. Kirkgate Market is also the birthplace of Marks & Spencer (M&S), which was originally a penny bazaar stall! The Market Clock bearing the famous M&S name is testament to this heritage. Updated and revamped in the last decade, Kirkgate Market has been transformed into an iconic performance and event venue as well, with live music and specialty markets that entice and entertain.