Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic. Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.
There are several reasons to love flea markets. They include:
- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
- Individuality. Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
- It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
- Phenomenal people watching.
- Sustainability. Keep something from going into the rubbish bin. Recycle it.
- It’s free to go walk around. It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
- In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family. When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
- Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?
Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848. It is not as large as those in some larger European cities. Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality. As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.
Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:
- Old books,
- Kitchen gadgets;
- Dishes and cutlery;
- Decorative and practical household wares;
- Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;
- Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
- Old watches and watch parts,
- Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
- A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
- 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;
You can also find more unique higher end pieces. Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).
People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.
Most items are not marked with a price. You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”? Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy. When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway). I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse. Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.” Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain. Oh yeah, and have fun.