Tips for Visiting a French Market

Jess McGlynnNovember 17, 2015

There’s something quite special about French markets.  I can’t decide whether it’s the authentic use of wicker baskets balanced on the front of bicycles, the attack on your senses as you see brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, smell the aroma of freshly baked croissants wafting from tucked away boulangeries whilst hearing the constant chattering and bartering of the French locals or simply just the fact that you are in France and there’s just something so romantic and pleasing about that aspect as opposed to battling the cold winds and freezing cold sheets of rain that can make up a visit to a market in Britain.

Whatever the reason whenever we go to France I always have to find out when the local market is taking place and then strong arm everyone into attending with me.

I just love it.

This also means that I have picked up some tricks along the way which can help you when visiting a French market for the first time and I will start by saying that there IS an etiquette.  Going to a market (or le marche) is part of the French way of life and many will choose to head here to pick up their weekly groceries rather than going to the supermarkets.  For that reason there is a sense of etiquette which should be followed and although I have found French people to be genuinely quite tolerant of my bumbling attempts to ‘fit’ in (and I know they can see us coming a mile off) it still pays to take some time to try and get it right.

Go early
I know that the idea of having to get up early when you are on your holiday might fill you with dread but it has to be better than fighting your way through the crowds which will have descended by mid-morning.  Make like a local and go for the start of the market, typically between 8.30am-9am.  Not only will you get the freshest and best produce, but you can use your buys for a delicious traditional picnic…and you are very unlikely to see hoards of tourists.  You might also find that by lunchtime the market has started to wind down so if you wait until the afternoon to arrive, there might not even be a market to visit.

Patience is everything
I can’t count the number of times I have approached a stall only to see a snaking queue of locals waiting their turn.  Although this is a good sign, it also is a sign you’ll need patience.  Vendors don’t like to hurry, they will often spend time chatting with the person they are serving and this means you can be waiting a long time for your turn.  Likewise people just don’t rush around markets in France the way we do in England and you are very likely to end up frustrated if you don’t take a deep breath and slow down.  It’s almost inevitable that you will get stuck behind the oldest, slowest moving couple on the circuit so try not to get to harried.

Don’t touch!
It isn’t considered good form to handle the fruit and veg, even to test for freshness.  That said, most Vendors don’t mind if you want to bag your own selection, just ask!  Many will speak some English (although I always recommend at least trying out some French) and will be happy to hand over a bag for you to fill yourself.

Learn some phrases
My Spanish is a million times better than my French but that doesn’t mean I don’t at least try and give it a go.  Yes, they will probably know you are English a mile away but I have never yet met a person from abroad who doesn’t appreciate the effort to speak their language.  Key words to keep in mind include ‘mûr’ (ripe), ‘moins‘ (less) ‘plus’ (more), ‘pour aujourd’hui’ (for today…tell the stall holder if you plan to eat today and they will give you a suitable piece of fruit/veg), and ‘un petit goût’ (a small taste…I’ve not yet met a French vendor who wasn’t happy to let me taste a small piece of what they were selling),  then of course there are the basics such as excuse me, please and thank you which go a long way.

Assert yourself
Sometimes it is obvious that there is a line at a stall and other times it can be a bit of a free for all.  Don’t be afraid to assert yourself if needed.  ‘C’est moi!’ exclaimed loudly should ensure that you get your turn.  I have been ousted by enough miniature old French ladies to know that sometimes you just have to go for it.  There’s no need to be rude but you will need to be firm.

Bring your own bag
A lot like the new rules in England, you won’t find many stalls offering bags so it pays to bring your own.  On our last trip to France James bought me a gorgeous lined basket at Brantome market which not only made a fantastic souvenir but also means that when we went down to the market for the rest of the holiday I blended in, just like the locals.  Always bring your own bag or basket.

And remember, finally to enjoy yourself.  There’s nothing like strolling around the French market and taking in the sights and sounds, even if you don’t buy anything.  Many markets take place right in the heart of the town which usually means there are plenty of cafes dotted around to stop and enjoy a hot drink when you’ve had enough of the bartering for one day.  They are also often in beautiful surroundings so don’t forget to take a moment just to appreciate where you are, rather than being caught up in the stalls right in front of you.

Travel Monkey


  • Kara

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    We are off to France next year and a french market would be the perfect place for the teen to practice his french

  • Stephs Two Girls

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    Oooh love the idea of a stroll/amble round a French market… especially if there is bread and cheese involved 🙂

  • Cass@TheDiaryofaFrugalFamily

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    Thanks for the tips – we're planning a trip to France next year so I'll definitely keep them in mind x

  • Oana Chirila

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    We love French markets, and you have described them so, so well, the freshness and the aroma of the produce, the slow pace, the language tips that would take you a long way and the enjoyment, most importantly!xx

  • Mikencharlotte Cobb

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    Looks lovely, I have often seen the French markets visiting some of the Dorset seaside towns maybe I will have a visit next time, although the real thing would be lovely!

  • Sarah Bailey

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    This sound like some great tips – I would love to visit a French market one day. x

  • Twinsplustwo

    November 18, 2015 at 09:09

    Great advice! I am visiting the Christmas markets in Berlin next month, I'm really excited!

  • Angel Eden Blog

    November 24, 2015 at 11:31

    Great tips, it sounds like a lot of fun to visit 🙂

  • Jen Walshaw

    November 24, 2015 at 11:31

    Fantastic tips. It is a long time since I went to a French market. In fact the boys were tiny. My husband speaks pretty decent French thankfully as I am useless

  • Jaime Oliver

    November 24, 2015 at 11:31

    Great tips Jess, I would love to head back to France now i am an adult as i loved the markets as a kid so have no doubt i would love them now

  • Pitter Patter Travelers

    December 1, 2015 at 10:57

    The markets really are such a part of the experience! I've run afoul of the no handling rules before! Good to have some other tips to follow. #mondayescapes

  • Cathy Winston

    December 1, 2015 at 10:57

    Lovely tips – I definitely agree that going to the markets is such a part of the experience when you're in France. Even if I don't buy, I love wandering around. #mondayescapes

  • Trish @ Mum’s Gone to

    December 1, 2015 at 10:57

    I have tended to be the bumbling tourist in French markets so these tips are brilliant. I promise now not to touch but to assert myself. I could try this at home too!

  • Ickle Pickle

    December 1, 2015 at 10:57

    I have never been to a French Market. I love your basket, it is gorgeous! Kaz x

  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

    December 7, 2015 at 10:16

    The real thing is very different and infinitely better than the visiting ones.

  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

    December 7, 2015 at 10:16

    There are markets every day locally, Kara so your teem will have no excuse not to practice his French!

  • Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault

    December 7, 2015 at 10:16

    Definitely get there early if you can and certainly all our local markets are finished by 1pm …. however if you are there as they start to wind down you can pick up some great bargains. #MondayEscapes

  • Clare Thomson

    December 7, 2015 at 10:16

    I really love your tips. It makes me want to head off to France right this minute. I've never been very good at getting up at the crack of dawn to be there early but you're right – it's definitely worth it. And I love that bag! #mondayescapes

  • Packing my Suitcase

    January 6, 2016 at 11:29

    This is such a great post, the tips are very useful! I love going to markets, and I love that in France things work in a slow pace. 😀

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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