Are you a haggler? Do you love to grab a bargain? Or do you simply enjoy soaking up the atmosphere of daily life? If so, you'll love this list of our favourite markets around the world.
Mutrah Suq, Oman
Oman's largest suq is a treasure-trove of exotic items © Imrandr, Dreamstime
The largest suq in Oman, Mutrah is in reality two suqs: the eastern area under the fort is the wholesale market, while the western area is for retail. Walk the colourful passageways and you'll find yourself immersed in real Arabia as the aromas from spices and incense burners fill your nostrils. You'll find a serious wealth of items here: coffee pots, rose-water sprinklers, henna, the ubiquitous pashminas, dishdashas, antiques, gold, silver, chests, rugs, handicrafts and even the essential animated toy camel. Khanjars, the Omani man’s ceremonial dagger, are popular but expensive souvenirs. Friendly haggling is expected in all of the suqs. Try one of the fantastic milkshakes or fruit juices in the coffee shops just outside the suq on the corniche.
Forodhani night market, Zanzibar
Forodhani Gardens have been transformed in to one of Stone Town's best eating areas © Pajac Slovensky, Shutterstock
Once a ramshackle collection of waterfront stalls, the renovation of the gardens in Stone Town has led to the creation of a purpose-built, hard-standing food area. The smarter surroundings, organised litter collection and arrival of chefs’ hats for the traders have certainly improved the market’s hygiene and image, although in many ways the experience is unchanged. The food stalls remain a social gathering place for both locals and tourists, and as the sun sets the stallholders fire up their braziers and hurricane lamps, serving fish and meat kebabs (mishkaki), grilled squid and octopus, samosas, chapattis and ‘Zanzibar pizzas’ – akin to a filled savoury pancake. Try the nutritionally challenged chipsi mai yai: an omelette filled with chips, sometimes served with shredded cabbage.
Mercado del Puerto, Uruguay
This vast covered market is home to many parrillas and restaurants © kabby, Dreamstime
This 3,500m² market is an unmissable stop on a trip to Montevideo that shelters a variety of restaurants specialising in fish and, of course, asado. They are not cheap but are very popular with locals and tourists alike, especially at weekend lunchtimes. There’s no smoking inside, of course, but thanks to all the parrillas grilling away inside, the cloudy vaults could almost belong to a steamera railway station after all. There are also restaurants outside, which remain open into the evening when the market itself is closed, and there are buskers and other entertainment, especially at weekends.
Hargeisa camel market, Somaliland
Grab yourself a camel, goat or sheep to take home at this lively market © Africa Image Library
This bustling market, 30 minutes’ walk south of the town centre, is well worth a visit, ideally between 08.00 and 11.00 when it is busiest. Multitudes of camels, goats and ‘fat-tailed’ sheep are all on sale here, and visitors are welcome to take photographs or to sit with the traders and sip a Somali tea in the shade. If you are thinking of buying, bargaining is de!nitely the order of the day, and word is that a camel might cost anything from US$1,000 for a strong fully grown stud to around US$300 for a punier three to four year old. By contrast, you can pick up a sheep or goat for a mere US$60–80.
Chorsu Bazaar, Uzbekistan
This ancient trading dome is the heart of Tashkent's daily life © Sitara International
The modern incarnation of Silk Road trading posts now long gone, this market buzzes with energy and everything conceivable (and, like the cow heads, a few things normally inconceivable) is for sale. You can of course buy a trailer-load of watermelons and 300 plastic buckets, but the real delight comes in spending an hour or three exploring the trading domes, drinking bowls of fragrant black tea, smelling the shashlik grilling and engaging in an animated, good-natured haggle for a bag of salted pistachios and a fresh, pink pomegranate. Come here for some well-placed souvenirs, including a wide selection of ceramics, and the best peoplewatching in Tashkent.
Kejetia Market, Ghana
Kejetia is arguably the best of Ghana's many colourful markets © Jim O'Brien
Ghana is well known for its colourful markets, but Kejetia really is the cream of the crop. Sprawling over 12ha immediately southeast of Kejetia Circle, this is reputedly the largest open market in West Africa, hosting around 10,000 traders within its confines (a figure that excludes the innumerable stalls that spill out along the surrounding streets). Aside from the decidedly smelly part of the market where fish and meat are sold, this is a fascinating place, well worth dedicating an afternoon or morning to, and a great place to buy curios and crafts in an environment where tourists form a fraction of the clientele. Getting lost is part of the fun – the market isn’t so large that you are likely to lose your bearings for long – and there is little cause for concern about hassle or theft, though many travellers do prefer to explore the market with a local guide.
Tripoli’s souks, Lebanon
The souks in Tripoli stand in contrast to the glitzy shopping malls of glamorous Beirut © Bertramz, Wikimedia Commons
The contrast with the glitz and glamour of Beirut couldn’t be more pronounced in Lebanon’s second city as the ubiquitous boutiques and shopping malls of the capital are largely absent in Tripoli, giving way to a much more antiquated and authentic Arab shopping aesthetic. It probably goes without saying that the best and most satisfying shopping, unless modern designer labels are your thing, is in the city’s old-style souks and khans. Each has its own special character and goods, which are well worth a look even if you are not intending to buy, just to watch the craftsmen at work. Tripoli has long been famous for the manufacture of soap and sweets, and the two shops below are well worth searching out, both for the products themselves and the still-traditional processes involved in making them.
Albert Market, The Gambia
Handicraft enthusiasts will love this Banjul market © Africa Image Library
This Banjul started life in the mid 19th century and is still going strong today, albeit behind a relatively modern façade constructed after it was razed by a fire in 1988. For curio hunters, it is the site of the excellent Banjul Craft Market, an excellent place to buy everything from sculptures and traditional musical instruments to tie-dyed batik clothing and locally made jewellery. But even if you are not interested in buying, it is a fascinating place to stroll around, with different sections devoted to clothing, fish, meat, fresh produce, fetish stalls and hardware, all of them catering mainly to local buyers rather than tourists.
Inspired? Get 10% off all our guides, all the time: