The Best Markets for Local Culture

When wishing to experience a country’s culture, cuisine and crafts, there is no better way than visiting its best markets.

Many popular destinations will have markets primarily focussed on tourism, with cliched trinkets and nicknacks that are far from authentic. But if you watch the locals, follow their footsteps and find yourself in the places where they shop, you will have discovered the beating heart of a community.

The friendly banter, local produce and welcoming of unfamiliar faces are the best way to metaphorically and literally taste the country’s culture.

From the aromas of Morocco to the vibrant fabrics of Peru, these are nine of what we consider to be some of the best markets in the world.

Jemaa el-Fnaa & Surrounding Souks, Marrakech

Google MapsMarrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa is one of the most photographed, iconic and renowned markets of the world. By day, the empty square is a wonderful place from which to observe the surrounding architecture, but as the sun slowly sets, the market materialises and the wonderful aromas of spices and exotic dishes fill the air.

Best Markets

Jemaa el-Fnaa is almost exclusively a food market, and while it is a favourite haunt of tourists visiting Morocco, it is also where many locals will buy their evening meals. Though family dining is a precious part of Moroccan culture, meals are often cooked elsewhere, with dough made at home and cooked at the local bakery, or ceramic pots filled at marketplaces with fresh local ingredients and taken to communal underground ovens to be slowly baked.

At Jemaa el-Fnaa, you can sample a wide array of local dishes, as well as international cuisine, but it is highly recommended that you bring your more adventurous palate with you to truly experience the flavours of Morocco.

Another aspect that makes this one of the world’s best markets is that the laneways that radiate from the square are also filled with souks where you will find handcrafted clothing and jewellery, conical towers of spices, leatherwork and much more.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi

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One of the most frenetic and best markets of the world, Chandni Chowk is also one of the oldest and provides much to the essence of India. Created in the 17th century, treelined canals once wound through its centre, reflecting the skies and giving the marketplace its name – Chandni Chowk translating as ‘moonlight place’.

Here, you will find all manner of stalls and wares. Favoured by locals and tourists alike, one can find everything you might need for the home alongside curios and gifts for visitors, herbs and spices and a selection of food stalls to keep you nourished as you explore the many interwoven lanes.

Best Markets

In Chandni Chowk, you can have a suit or sari handcrafted for you, enjoy chappatis and curry, buy ornate lampshades, jewellery, books, and almost everything else imaginable.

The purpose of Chandni Chowk, which makes it so distinctly different from many of the world’s best markets, is to cater to locals and visitors alike, offering the opportunity to discover a colourful insight into the city’s culture and daily life, as well as find a wealth of wonderful souvenirs.

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

Google MapsFilled with a huge array of Australiana, Queen Victoria Market has been a bustling hive of local produce for almost 150 years. Here, you can find a diversity of arts and crafts, clothing, jewellery, fresh and cured meats and seafood, and locally-grown fruit and vegetables. 

Open five full days a week, the best time to visit is Wednesday evening. Though closed in the daytime (and all day Monday), the mid-week night is filled with the sounds of live music and the smells of international street food, reflecting Melbourne’s profoundly multicultural population.Best Markets

Covering two city blocks, it is easy to while away several hours weaving your way through the aisles and stalls of Queen Victoria Market, and there are few better places to pick up a bag of fresh shrimp to throw on the barbie – though don’t forget that the Aussies call them prawns!

Bay Harbour Market, Cape Town

Google MapsDeclaring itself Cape Town’s most vibrant market, one can only agree when visiting this wonderful collection of stalls in the Hout Bay suburb of South Africa’s capital. Open Friday through Sunday, the wonderful diversity of this canvas-covered marketplace is stunning.

A continually changing schedule of local musicians and performers enhances the atmosphere amongst the numerous stalls of Bay Harbour Market. The smells of South African and international foods waft through the aisles, the happy chatter of visitors is intoxicating, and the vast selection of goods on offer will keep you intrigued and entertained for hours.

Best Markets

Food and drinks, arts and crafts, fashion and jewellery, decor and even health and wellness can all be found amongst the wonderfully cultural market stalls. And if, after a few hours of wandering the laneways, you are feeling somewhat jaded, what better way to unwind than in the ‘magic hands’ of Zuki a traditional Xhosa masseuse offering a wonderful selection of treatments and organic products.

Khan el-Khalili Market, Cairo

Google MapsThough certainly catering to a tourist market, there is an underlying authenticity to one of Cairo’s most popular sites that makes it more than worthy of a visit. Among the best markets and souks to be found across Egypt, Khan el-Khalili is brimming with locally-crafted souvenirs, as well as numerous artifacts that locals, too, visit the winding alleyways to purchase. The city’s craftspeople display a vast selection of wares, and shops allow their interiors to colourfully spill out onto the streets.

This is also one of the oldest markets in Africa, if not the world, dating back to the 16th century.

Though most popular as a destination for purchasing trinkets and souvenirs, there is also a selection of food stalls, giving you the perfect opportunity to snack on local cuisine as you wander the lanes and peruse the bazaars.

Maasai Market, Nairobi

Google MapsNairobi’s Maasai Market is a spectacular display of Kenya’s crafts and creativity. It’s also a wonderful way to try out a handful of Swahili phrases or learn one or two more, despite English being widely and fluently spoken.

One of the joys in this interaction is that you will often save a few shillings. Though offerings are incredibly reasonable by western standards and more than worthy of the price, a quick ‘Habari bwana’ (how are you sir?) will often see the price immediately drop significantly.

Best Markets

From soapstone sculptures to local artwork, wooden carvings and bracelets made from hand-beaten discarded telephone cables – far more beautiful than they may at first sound – there is a wealth of wonderful products to choose from. What also makes this one of the best markets in Africa is the ingenuity of creativity displayed. Drink bottles are repurposed as wine glasses and tumblers, discarded construction material is crafted into sculptures and soda cans are carefully cut, bent and reformed into airplanes, bicycles and more.

Oranjezicht Farm Market, Cape Town

Google MapsCape Town’s Oranjezicht Farm Market began as a non-profit, supporting local farms, producers, culture and community. Though now independently owned and run, at its heart nothing has changed, and Oranjezicht continues to promote organic farming, sustainability and community support.

Though focussing on produce, with a complete harvest of fresh fruit and vegetables on display, you can also find other products including biltong, wines, cheeses and a selection of edible goods.

Best Markets

Oranjezicht is all about the food, so you won’t find any crafts or clothing, but the wonderful, radiant sense of community is infectious, and one can sample a wide variety of culinary delights, knowing that all profits go towards supporting and encouraging a sustainable economy, both financially and environmentally.

Huancaro Market, Cusco

Google MapsThough Cusco’s San Blas market is exquisitely picturesque and the highly popular San Pedro market by far the largest, the more intimate Huancaro is arguably one of the best markets. Stepping away from the more touristy regions of the city and favoured by locals, here you will find a far greater sense of cultural immersion.

Though about a 30-minute walk from the centre of Cusco, this amble along ancient Incan and Hispanic-inspired laneways is well worth it alone, and the marketplace is brimming with Peru’s distinctive colourful woven fabrics. These are crafted into ponchos, blankets, bags and belts, and you will find many locals topping up their wardrobes from this truly authentic emporium.

Best Markets

If you wish to purchase Incan apparel, there are many places throughout Cusco that cater to tourists, but at Huancaro you will find the products that the locals buy, for that truly Peruvian experience.

Market on Main, Johannesburg

Google MapsSet in Johannesburg’s Maboneng district, Market on Main has brought together locals and visitors alike for the last decade. As with many of South Africa’s more contemporary markets, Market on Main holds a strong message of community and sustainability, with the region’s producers selling there fresh crops, chefs providing a wide range of delicious sustenance and craftspeople offering upcycled, sustainable and highly creative crafts.

Best Markets

With plenty of live music and a vibrant atmosphere, Market on Main is as easily a two-hour visit as it is an all-day affair. Over its ten-year lifespan, it has established itself as Johannesburg’s leading urban food and design market, and on your first arrival, it is easy to see why. Thriving, fun, diverse and delicious, Market on Main makes it worth your while to take your time in Johannesburg.

Best Markets

Wherever you may travel in the world, seeking out a town or city’s marketplaces allows you to peek behind the curtain, or beneath the surface, of the more familiar traits and sights of a locale. You walk with the residents, taste their foods, experience their culture and uncover a world that few guidebooks can allude to.

This is where the heart of a country lies, and where, with a little guidance, you may find yourself sharing an afternoon with a family, savouring delicious traditional dishes or finding a wealth of products that can only be found in a truly authentic marketplace.

Ask your Travel Designer which local markets you may be able to find on your next itinerary.