Get your barter on

From vintage clothes to antique homeware and retro toys, Lille’s legendary once-a-year flea market is a huge event with a stellar stall line-up

For anyone who loves vintage, brocante, preloved, antique or plain old secondhand, La Grande Braderie in the French city of Lille is the place to head. Just once a year, during the first weekend of September, the entire metropolis transforms into one great big flea market where you can rummage to your heart’s content and uncover anything from vintage Joan of Arc china plates to taxidermy badgers, or how about a mountain of Barbie dolls or a mid-century modern glass and steel table that would cost you thousands of euros in a fancy vintage shop?

Here, you’ll spot the serious hunters–up before dawn breaks, prowling the pretty boulevards of Lille with their flashlights and eagle eyes. You’ll see folk pulling along trolleys and suitcases, and vans at the ready to drive off precious haul across Europe and beyond. 

There’s a cool sense of democracy about this grand sale. The professional brocante merchants set up stalls the entire length of the Boulevard de la Liberté and Boulevard Louis XIV, while local inhabitants who want to join in lay out their wares on the pavement in front of their apartments throughout the Vieux-lille, Lille centre and Gambetta street in Wazemmes. A good place to start the hunt is from Gare Lille-Flandres–which is actually the original Gare du Nord brought over brick by brick from Paris.

In a city of 234,000 residents, it's estimated that 2.5 million bargain hunters flood the streets during La Grande Braderie, with 8,000 sellers making this the largest flea market in Europe. And watch out for giant piles of mussel shells on street corners like black and blue art installations. Over 500 tons of moules-frites are eaten over the weekend, which proves vintage shopping is hungry work. 

And you don’t need a large budget. This writer came away with a pair of vintage leather shoes, €20; a gold-plated long chain necklace, €30; large china bowl, €15 and a table lamp, €25, and plans to go back next year in a van for larger items!

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