The 4 Best Open-Air Markets in the World For Jet-Setting Shopaholics

The 4 Best Open-Air Markets in the World For Jet-Setting Shopaholics

Pro tip: Pack an extra bag just for souvenirs.

By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Shopaholics all around the globe swoon over artful displays and one-of-a kind buys — but nothing beats the glamour of snagging gifts in distant lands. (Just ask The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, who couldn't help but go all Carrie Bradshaw, scooping up jeweled shoes in the souks of Dubai.)

From the sands of Morocco to the mountains of Guatemala, the most exotic gifts can be discovered in bustling, open-air markets. Check out these famous outdoor markets for the ultimate in shopping experiences — and seriously conversation-starting souvenirs.

1. Marrakesh, Morocco Souks

The mother of all open air markets, the souks unfold from the Djemma El-Fna or the Central Square, like an array of colorful and loud butterflies. A serpentine labyrinth of hundreds of shops offer everything from diamond-encrusted slippers to safety pins... and anything else you can be enticed to buy. The souks are organized according to products so you can spend hours perusing different varieties of one item. The key to shopping Marrakesh souks is to embrace the chaos. With that being said, these shops carry everything you really want, but the most notable goods are the pointy-toed slippers called babouches that are hand crafted in bright silks and often blingy sequins and rhinestones, leather items  including purses and belts, traditional jewelry fashioned from silver and stones, fragrant spices, and copper and brass lanterns.

2. Mumbai, India Chor Bazaar

India is a shopper's paradise, with hand-crafted wares sold on every other street corner — but Chor Bazaar lives up to the popular local saying of “sab kuch milega,” which means, "you’ll get everything." One of Mumbai’s biggest and oldest markets, Chor Bazaar translates to Thieves Market. True to the name, you’ll find designer knockoffs in many of the stalls that cram the market, but most of the goods are vintage. Surrounded by South Mumbai’s crumbling Muslim architecture and filled with alleyways overflowing with antiques and brassware, Chor Bazaar has been featured in several Bollywood films. Check out Mini Market, an area in the Bazaar that sells Bollywood posters and figurines. The Bazaar is also a great place to scoop up wooden carvings of Indian deities, brass statues, antique jewelry, and embroidered silk saris. Bring your best haggling skills because that’s an expected part of the experience. And keep in mind that the market is located in a Muslim area so conservative dress (no shoulders or knees showing) is recommended.

3. Istanbul, Turkey, Grand Bazaar

With 3,000 shops spread over 61 streets, this sprawling mini-city called the Grand Bazaar earns its name "grand." Technically not currently an open-air market, it started out as a swarming trading space of open streets in the 15th century but grew into one of the world's largest and oldest covered markets. You need to pace yourself inside the maze of 57 interconnected passageways and be armed with a strategy. The Grand Bazaar not only displays an overwhelming mass of products but the merchants are some of the most skilled in the world. Don’t appear too interested in anything and be prepared to bargain if you are. Accept the cup of tea that you’ll most likely be offered if you linger in one of the shops. All of the stalls are grouped together according to the type of goods so you’ll be able to compare and negotiate. Search out hand woven carpets, brightly colored silk pashminas, olive oil soaps, belly dancing gear, silver and gold jewelry and cini, traditional Turkish pottery and tiles covered with intricate designs.

4. Chichicastenango, Guatemala, Market

Photo: Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

High up in the mountains of Guatemala, Chichicastenango is a small colonial town marked by ravines, valleys, and cobblestone streets. Most famous for the twice-weekly market held in the main plaza, Chichi transforms into a riot of colors and sounds on market days. Maya craft sellers come from all over the country to set up stalls that cover the sidewalks and side streets. Although it might look like chaos, the market is arranged with products in designated sections. This is a lively market full of Maya in colorful traditional dress and local fruits and vegetables. Snap up handwoven Guatemalan textiles, carved wooden masks and figurines, traditional instruments, local ceramics, and jewelry.
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