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8 of the Best Markets Along the World’s Waterways

  • List of the best markets and unique stalls in Europe
  • Discover the treasures that each market is famous for
  • Best markets for food, souvenirs, antiques and local handicrafts

by Sue Bryant

Whether you’re there to shop, to taste or simply to sightsee, visiting a market on your travels is a great way to enjoy a colourful snapshot of local life. Here are some of our favourite places to hunt for anything from cheese to spices to antiques, all easily accessible from where you’ll be docked on one of Riviera Travel’s river cruises in Europe and further afield.

1. Mercado Central, Salamanca

Usually a stop on a walking tour of beautiful Salamanca, the Mercado Central is where locals flock to buy their fruits and vegetables, cheeses, hams, fresh fish and meat. It’s housed in a 19th century market hall in the city centre and is a wonderful place to soak up the atmosphere of Spain’s oldest university town. Stallholders are happy to let you taste the tangy Manchego cheese and locally produced pata negra hams, either of which can be packaged to take home. Salamanca is a highlight of any Douro voyage; it’s a day trip from Vega de Terron on one of Riviera Travel’s Douro river cruises. You can also visit this market during free time on our land tour to Madrid, Salamanca and Toledo.

2. Les Halles, Avignon

Provençal produce is irresistible at the best of times so prepare for an assault on your senses in the best possible way at Avignon’s covered market, Les Halles, a favourite of the late Peter Mayle. More than 40 stallholders will tempt you with locally produced olive oil, patisserie, cheese, wine, lavender, sausages, wild mushrooms, macaroons and oysters. The market, located on Place Pie in the city centre, is open till 1.30pm, Tuesday to Sunday, and there are free cookery demos from local chefs on Saturdays at 11am. You can’t miss it as the whole side of the building is a lush, green living wall. There’s a day in Avignon on the Rhône river cruises.

Goats cheese, Les Halles, Avignon Market

Goats cheese, Les Halles

3. Naschmarkt, Vienna

Vienna’s boho Naschmarkt is a reflection of the city’s growing multicultural population, with over 120 stalls offering culinary delights from Indian samosas to fragrant Vietnamese pho, Israeli shakshuka and sticky Turkish baklava. This is a market for serious food-lovers; locals come here as much to sit and enjoy an al fresco meal as to buy. On Saturdays, there’s a flea market alongside the food stalls. The Naschmarkt is so popular that a whole community has sprung up around it, with traditional coffeehouses and vintage stores lining the surrounding streets. You can walk there from the MuseumsQuartier on the Ringstrasse in 10 minutes. Riviera Travel’s The Blue Danube river cruise includes a whole day in Vienna, with free time to explore.

4. Great Market Hall, Budapest

Housed in a dramatic, high-ceilinged iron structure built in the late 19th century, Budapest’s biggest food market is only a few minutes’ walk from the cruise ship docks along the Danube. As well as a dazzling array of fruit and veg, you’ll find entire stalls dedicated to salami, or jars of pickles. The predominant colour is scarlet, from stall after stall selling locally grown paprika in different strengths by the bucketload. This is also a good place to buy Hungary’s luscious, golden Tokaj wines at reasonable prices. Upstairs, you’ll find Hungarian handicrafts and rustic fast food stalls; the market is where locals come for a lunch of spicy goulash with crusty bread. You’ll fly in and out of Budapest, with free time in the city, on the Budapest to the Black Sea river cruise.

Fresh vegetables, Great Market Hall, Budapest

Fresh vegetables, Great Market Hall

5. Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

The Netherlands is famed for its flowers, so check out this gorgeous floating flower market on the Singel Canal, adding a splash of vibrant colour from Monday to Saturday. The market originated in 1862, when flower growers would sail into the city centre to sell their produce from their boats, although the glass-topped barges are fixed structures nowadays. You’ll find everything from peonies and orchids to carnations and the ubiquitous tulips, as well as house plants, bulbs, seeds and Dutch souvenirs, among them cheeses and Christmas baubles. Whether or not you buy anything, a visit is a great photo opportunity. There’s plenty of time in Amsterdam on Riviera Travel’s Amsterdam, Kinderdijk and the Dutch Bulbfields river cruise.

6. Marché aux Puces, St-Ouen, Paris

Way more than a flea market, the Marché aux Puces is actually 15 markets in one location, selling everything from chic objets d’art to lighting, 17th century antique furniture, vintage cameras, valuable books, clothing and art. There are more than 2,000 stalls, so you’ll need plenty of time and it’s a good idea to set out with a plan and a fistful of Euros. Everybody from locals in search of a bargain to serious dealers comes here and there are bargains to be had, although the markets are only open Saturday to Monday. You can get there on the Metro; the market complex is a short walk from Porte de Clignancourt in the 18th arrondissement. You’ll spend time in the French capital on Riviera Travel’s The Seine, Paris and Normandy river cruise.

Paris Market

A stall at Marché aux Puces, Paris

7. The Russian Market, Phnom Penh

There’s nothing particularly Russian about this bustling souvenir and clothing market; it got its name because Soviet expats would shop here in the 1980s. Today, it’s a top place for snapping up Cambodian handicrafts and clothing. This being Asia, you’ll need a keen eye for tat and you are expected to haggle but there are some great souvenirs, from miniature Buddhas to woven place mats, sarongs and silver jewellery. You’ll find well-known clothing brands here, too; some are seconds, some probably fake, so it’s really a question of buying something because you like it rather than for its provenance. The market, Phsar Tuol Tom Pong in Khmer language, is about a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from the cruise ship dock. You’ll have a day in the Cambodian capital on Riviera Travel’s A Journey on the Mekong voyage.

8. Sharia As Souq, Aswan

All along the Nile, you’ll encounter enthusiastic souvenir vendors at every stop and what’s on sale doesn’t really vary: soapstone statues, scarves, ‘spices’ (often not very good quality, especially the saffron) and ‘perfumes’ (ditto). But this local market in Aswan, two blocks back from the Corniche (the bank of the Nile) has some authentic items among the usual wares, from colourful Nubian baskets and skullcaps to quality cotton fabrics, carpets, high quality henna and hibiscus flowers, used to make fragrant tea. Haggling is all part of the fun; it’s expected and is ingrained in Egypt’s culture. You’ll visit Aswan on Riviera Travel’s Wonders of the Nile voyage, or the Spectacular Nile for Solo Travellers.

Aswan market stall, Egypt, Nile

Dried flowers and spices, Aswan souq

We hope this has inspired you to try some of the markets along these famous waterways. We have a full collection of river cruises in Europe and worldwide for you to browse at your leisure. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.