Shopping: Lisbon’s street markets

You can find the most extraordinary things in Lisbon’s street markets, from antiques to clothes, flowers, organic food and furniture. PDV has decided to share with you four of the best places to go shopping in the city.

Tours What's New — 12 September 2011 by Ana Filipa Magalhães
Shopping: Lisbon’s street markets

Feira da Ladra is the most emblematic and oldest market in the city (Photograph: Carla Canivete)

The idea of shopping in a fair or local market may seem a bit daunting for all the chaos and noise, but Lisbon offers a variety of interesting options for those who are keen to go bargain hunting while rubbing shoulders with the locals. Just pick a sunny day and go out exploring the wonderful, yet often quaint world of street markets. The most important fact to remember: be prepared to bargain!

Antiques: a walk back in time in Belém

Weekends are the best time to visit a local market, and Belém is a great place to go. Once there, you can spend the rest of the day visiting the attractions it is famous for: The Jerónimos Monastery, the Tower of Belém, or simply seek bliss with a mouth-watering pastel de Belém. But let’s get back to markets. Every first and third Sunday of the month an antiques and second-hand market takes place in the gardens in Belém. It is an interesting place for those who collect objects, but also for those who want to buy something in good condition but cheaper than if it were new, as Carlos Nunes, one of the regular sellers at Belém, explains.

Carlos Nunes has been setting up his stall at this market for nearly a decade, right from the very beginning, and his passion for photography is his main drive. Carlos sells photographic material (cameras, lenses and even tiny cameras once used by spies) and admits to PDV that it is a very specific product. Among his clients are younger people – who like photography but want to save some money when buying a lens, for example – but also tourists, who buy cameras to add to their collections or give to a friend who also collects.
Coins, stamps, books, records, cameras… This is just a sample of the items which are sold in Belém.

Walk through the fair a little more and you will eventually come across the Mundo dos Accessórios stand. Owner Rute Diniz has been coming to Belém for five years now and she also tutors a workshop for those who want to know more about the ‘World of Accessories’. In this stall, every item is brand new and handmade by Rute herself.

Although the market in Belém has plenty to offer, from books to records, old calculators, cash registers, coins, stamps, jewellery and old telephones, everything is very well organised and it is easy to walk through the fair without missing anything.

Feira da Ladra: a jumble where you can find anything imaginable

The neat and well-organised stands of Belém would stick out in Feira da Ladra (literally, thief’s fair), Lisbon’s very own flea market, and the most emblematic and oldest market in the city. Here people will mostly just spread a sheet on the ground or over a portable table and try and sell anything they possibly can. And when we say anything, we really mean anything. The place is always packed with all sorts of people selling all kinds of objects, from the most fashionable to the most antique. Literally from trash to treasure.

iPhones, vintage clothing, 1960s cameras, old plates, glasses, napkins, stamps, personal computers, shoes, small wallets, you can stumble onto any of these and plenty more, lying in piles or spread over the ground trying to catch the eye of people with little money or people looking for a good bargain, but also wealthy or keen-eyed collectors looking for unnoticed valuables and vintage curios.

This market with no apparent order is a place where you’ll never come away empty-handed, because everything is there. Despite the haphazard feel to it, it has plenty of space to walk around in. A visit to the Feira da Ladra is as close to the quintessential noisy, smelly medieval-like market you’ll ever get without having to leave Europe.

Opening before sunrise, it draws people from all walks of life, from university students trying to raise some travel money, to the old lady trying to earn some extra money to make ends meet until the end of the month. A veritable world in its own right, and definitely worth a visit. It takes place in Campo de Santa Clara behind the St Vincent Church, not far from Santa Apolónia train station, every Tuesday and Saturday.


Mercado da Ribeira: a market that lost part of its life

Mercado da Ribeira, in Cais do Sodré, used to be “bustling all the time”, says Maria Alice Brito, a fishwife who works at the market. The place used to be so crowded, it was hard to walk around without having constantly to say “excuse me”, she sadly tells PDV while recalling the noisier and more crowded version of Mercado da Ribeira, before the city council moved all the main produce markets to a more modern central market away from the centre.

Although it is not the same as it once was, it is impossible to walk by Cais do Sodré without noticing it. Look for a large, two-storey building with a big clock on the façade above the main entrance. It looks like a nineteenth-century market anyway. Found it? Great! Walk right in and experience a different way of shopping.
 At Mercado da Ribeira you can find everything you need regarding food: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Products here are of better quality than in supermarkets, defends Adelina, another seller at the market.

But food is not all. Mercado da Ribeira also houses a flower market (which closes at 7pm), selling all sorts of flowers you can take home to brighten up a room with. Margarida Baptista works in one of these stalls and tells PDV that business has been slumping due to the economic crisis that has hit Portugal and because flowers are non-essential goods.

Though nowadays Mercado da Ribeira is emptier when compared to former times, it is still a place where people gather. The building has a second floor where dance parties, or “bailes”, are regularly organised, and also a large restaurant where big groups of people hold dinner parties.


Organic food: a healthier alternative in Príncipe Real

Whenever organic food is discussed people tend to complain about its prices, and the organic food market at Príncipe Real is no exception: “Although people think organic food is expensive, you end up buying less quantities because you stay full longer”, says Luís Mendes, producer of Quinta do Vale Pequeno. “You will find everything you need to stay alive and healthy here”, he adds.

If we could share with you all the delicious and wholesome smells we came across at Príncipe Real’s organic food market, this article would be very different. Unfortunately this feature is yet to be invented and you will simply have to trust us. Held every Saturday in the garden of Príncipe Real, a walk around the market will fill you with the aromas of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Every stall is mostly sought for a specific product. At Libério Alcobio’s stall there are strawberries all year round, as he plants seven different species of this fruit. In Vasco Pinto’s stall herbs are at the top of his customers’ demands, but he also sells all kinds of vegetables.

On the other hand, oranges are one of the top picks of the customers at the Culturas da Horta stand, where Susana Lima does her shopping every week. Susana told PDV that even when she was pregnant she still managed to come for the “healthier fruit and vegetables” of Culturas da Horta. She went to the market the last Saturday of July and, after her baby was born, she went shopping again on the first Saturday of August.

Biofrade also has its regular customers like Susana, who visit their stall every week. And it was due to their customers’ demand that they started selling other grocery products besides the usual fruit and vegetables.
But the market at Príncipe Real has more than just fruit and veg. At stalls like that of Quinta do Montalto you can find wines, vinegars, olive oils, as well as fruit jams.

These four different markets in Lisbon reflect a different approach to shopping, removed from the frenzy of parking lots, shopping centres, the smell of fast food or the bustle you find at large-scale closed-in hypermarkets where everything is neatly packaged. One thing you are sure to find in these Lisbon street markets is the human element. And plenty of bargaining, of course.

Apart from these four, there are also other weekly and monthly markets around the city, as well as a variety of seasonal fairs and markets all over the country waiting to be discovered and explored.


Useful information:
Antiques – Belém
When: first and second Sunday of the month, from 9am to 6pm
Where: Praça do Império, Belém. Near the Pastéis de Belém and Centro Cultural de Belém
Second-hand/Antiques – Feira da Ladra
When: Tuesdays and Saturdays from 6am to 6pm
Where: Campo de Santa Clara. Near St Vincent Church and the National Pantheon
Food/Flowers – Mercado da Ribeira
When: Monday to Saturday from 6am to 2pm
(flowers close at 7pm)
Where: Avenida 24 de Julho, in Cais do Sodré
Organic Food – Príncipe Real
When: Saturdays from 9am to 2pm
Where: Praça do Príncipe Real. Near Bairro Alto and Largo do Rato

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