The Road Less Travelled: A Flea Market Frenzy in the Marolles (Brussels)

Food aside, there are few things better (in my Intolerant opinion) than wandering around a European capital and discovering all manner of things you may have missed the first time around. Those charming little streets, the wildly popular haunts and the sleepy cafés that are difficult to see if you’re zipping around underground or moving from point A to B in a taxicab. Of course, we don’t all have the luxury of time when on a city break, nor do we care to schlep around when it’s 10-below-zero, in such instances public transport comes in very handy. That said, if I have a pair of flat shoes available and my knees aren’t groaning well into the mid-morning then today (or any day for that matter) is a great day for a long walk.

There’s so much more to see that way.

Walking is my ideal mode of transport as one can uncover a city, layer by layer. I’d say it’s akin to disrobing or – better yet seeing someone else disrobe – though I’m afraid that people will find that a little creepy, so let’s just leave it at: uncovering a city by walking it is a seduction of sorts.

I spent a good 40 minutes at a stand where an old man was selling boxes upon boxes of withering postcards. It was incredible. Rather humbling too.

I spent a good 40 minutes at a stand where an old man was selling boxes upon boxes of withering postcards. It was incredible. Rather humbling too.

A surefire way to get close to a city’s skin.

Brussels is a place that entraps me each and every time I touch down on her soil and I get a quick glimpse under the hem of her skirt. Disclaimer: I hated Brussels the first time I saw her. Locked in the European Quarter for four days I found her to be sterile, technocratic and far too beastly for my taste. She certainly wasn’t Paris, which was the apple of my eye at that time, and when comparing her to the Berlin’s, the London’s, the Amsterdam’s of Europe, poor old Brussels came in a dismal last place. Though, that’s only until I got to know her a bit better.

Until I was shown the beauty that lay within the beast. 

Fresh oysters at a stand just next to the square, people were lining up for these bad boys.

Fresh oysters at a stand just next to the square, people were lining up for these bad boys.

I’ll save my mooning about my ever-growing love for Brussels for another post. Let me get back on track with this one, which is highlighting why walking around Brussels is a fantastic way to discover the Belgian capital. Brussels is so small and accessible (read: its quite flat) that it’s a shame to not take advantage of the geography and walk your way from the tourist traps (some of which are worth a visit with the exception of Manneken Piseugh) to all the other splendid things Brussels has to offer.

One quirky thing that’s good fun to immerse yourself is the eclectic Flea Market at Place du Jeu de Balle. Located in a vast square in the heart of the Marolles, this market takes place from 07:00 – 13:00 every day of the year and is a 15 – 20 minute walk from la Grand Place.

African inspiration in the market.

African inspiration at the market.

While there are other open air markets in Brussels, this is perhaps one of the largest and it’s a place where you’re apt to find a bargain if you’re looking for one, and can source out almost every-and-anything you could possibly need. It may be a bit antiquated, yes…but you might very well get yourself one hell of a deal.

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With hawkers selling everything from vintage clothes to antique porcelain, kitchen silverware to household goods, and extremely old postcards, extremely old typewriters and other dated furniture, it’s a place where you can feel the wisdom of the ages speak. While several items don’t look like they have much of a backstory, I’m fascinated by first edition poetry books by Baudelaire, warped vinyl featuring the husky tones of the still-loved Jacques Brel and authentic postcards that date back to the period between 1890 – 1970 and include snapshots of WWI Antwerp, post-WWII Russia, and the 1960s Belgian Congo.

My kind of machine. What a beauty!

My kind of machine. What a beauty!

If only some of these items could speak.

If you’re interested in purchasing something, make sure to price out similar items in the market and haggle your way to a fair deal. If you’re not looking to take something home, just meander through the “aisles” and marvel at some of the things you’ve possibly never laid your eyes on such as an 8-track player or a classic Nintendo-NES that comes with Mortal Kombat and the Legend of Zelda for good measure (hell yeah!).

Vintage edition of Casino Royal in French? Don't mind if I do...

Vintage edition of Casino Royal in French? Don’t mind if I do…

The beauty of the Marolles Flea Market is the atmosphere. It’s not about what there is to be had, it’s about all the pretty little things that belonged to people who clearly cherished them…at one point. It’s also about the characters who sell and barter the whole morning through. If you get hungry or pine for a drink there are lots of cafés and restaurants in the area, and you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from the antique dealers and vintage clothing shops on rue Haute, and all the chocolate you can eat at the Sablon.

I suggest you lace up your boots and start walking.

Marolles Flea Market @ Place du Jeu de Balle
Open everyday from 06:30 – 14:00 on weekdays and 06:30 – 15:00 on weekends.


  1. Definitely going to keep this in mind when we’re in town – sounds like a perfect Sunday activity.

    1. Do go check it out Jay, even if you do a “walk-by.” I’d be curious to hear what you think about it.

  2. journeyingjoyously · · Reply

    This is an enjoyable way to see part of Brussels, the culture and the wonderful and weird items for sale and pondering about.

    A day I will treasure – I got lost in the moment and caught up in the glimpse into other people’s lives via the old postcards.

    Will definitely visit the flea market on my next trip to Brussels.

    1. Thanks JJ for the comment, it is indeed a lovely way to see Brussels. When do you think you’ll return?

  3. Hi JoAnna, I absolutely loved this post and I cannot wait to take a walk to ‘your’ Brussels when you come in December! Take care, Caterina

    1. Thanks for your comment Caterina! I can’t wait to see BXL through your eyes and spend the days wandering around Belgium’s eccentric and misunderstood capital. We’re going to have a lot of fun…I’m sure of it. 😉

  4. of all my years traveling, I am tempted to say this could be the BEST market in Europe 🙂 I have found some real gem-of-a-nick-nack here! 🙂

    1. I’m glad we agree Eva, I adore this market and have spent many a morning just wandering picking through countless great items! 🙂

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