Vintage Tour of Paris
In early November 2023, my daughter and I traveled to Paris together in search of the most beloved of treasures: vintage and antique lockets. I had no plan, had no reference for whether or not Paris was a good place to go, just an idea and some inspiration and the desire to travel with my 9-year-old.
I wasn't just pleasantly surprised by the vintage scene, I was blown away! The flea market, the shops, the little closet-sized boutiques everywhere we turned. It was a joy, it was fun, and I'm sharing the details here.
It’s open Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from about 10am-7pm, depending on which site you read. Many of the shops were closed on Monday, especially in the Dauphine Market.
This flea market is north of the city, easily accessible by train. Just plug "Saint Ouen Flea Market" into google maps and it’ll get you there, including the walking part after you exit the train station.
I was warned multiple times that it was a rougher part of the city, but honestly I never felt unsafe and I even had my 9 year old daughter with me. I live in Minneapolis, MN, so I’m accustomed to using common sense as a safety precaution. I do think I have a different tolerance for what feels safe and unsafe because there is crime often in my neighborhood, but still, I tend to travel by keeping to myself, being friendly-enough but not so overly friendly that I invite engagement (now that I think of it this is also just tactics we women have learned too stay safe — especially that part about not overly engaging with passersby). The more you engage especially in certain parts of the market, the more they’re gonna think you’re interested in a knockoff pair of earbuds or Yeezy’s. I kept my pockets empty and traveled with a fanny pack that was always at my chest/abdomen. Once in a while I’d hook it under my coat. I had bags full of goods I’d purchased. I felt totally safe.
Something I didn’t understand prior to going is that the market is separated into 5-6 smaller markets. Below I’ll tell you about the ones I loved most as a vintage jewelry shopper, but I’ll recommend the maps at these websites to do some leg work ahead of your trip so you can arrive with the best use of time.
Here's a map -- strongly recommend planning ahead with one to make the most use of your limited time. Lesson learned!
The first day at the market we ventured around randomly, with no clue how it worked or where we were or what to do, and into what I now recognize as Serpette Market. I scored so big here within ten minutes of being at Saint Ouen! There were two fellas with a corner shop and soooo much jewelry. We rummaged and found 9 pieces I wanted to buy. I bartered a little, too, which was good to begin and get started since it’s welcome everywhere, even if they keep their original pricing.
My favorite spot to scavenge for jewelry was inside the Versaille Market. There were more alleys to walk, which meant more shops to hunt, and there was a good mix of these tiny little indoor shops and some with their goods spilling into the alleyway, too. I found so many gems here! Everything from all kinds of different collectors — clothes, shoes, housewares, art, furniture, antiques of all kinds, jewelry, luggage, coins and bells and pins, little parts and pieces, books, writings. Everything old can be found int his part of the Saint Ouen Market.
This came highly recommended, but I didn’t enjoy it as much. Maybe it’s because we went in this one on a Monday so many of the shops just weren’t opened. It had some fun clothing shops, but it also was more of records and action figures and things like that. Just not as much my scene, but that’s what’s great about Saint Ouen - there is something for everyone!
One note about the shopowners is that they don’t always know what they have. For example, I went looking for vintage and antique lockets, and often I’d walk in to a shop with a bonjour and a parlez vous anglais? Once it was established that I didn’t speak French and they did speak a little English, and frankly, even if they spoke only Arabic, I’d ask if they had lockets. If they didn’t know what that was I’d pull a sample out from my pocket and show them how it opens and closes. Sometimes that’d bring me to what they had, often they’d so no, no lockets. I’d look around anyway, and so often found some. Dig anyway.
Cash and Credit
I paid with a mix of cash and credit, and was always able to get a receipt upon request (which I needed as a business trip).I think you could probably work a lower price with cash, and while my preferred business credit card is an American Express (which afforded my daughter and I free flights to Paris by the way!) many shops don’t take Amex — about half. Have a Visa or Mastercard ready just in case.
We had sushi one day at a restaurant we stumbled upon - it was fine. Nothing great, nothing terrible. The next day that we came back we went into a little French cafe and had another find experience. Food was good, service was good. Don’t overthink it with eating here - just choose a spot when you’re hungry or in need of a rest. They’ll always have espresso :)
As for Paris itself, I can only speak to the few neighborhoods we had the time to see. My biggest advice is to stumble around, without being glued to Google Maps or another de factor tour of expectation. We found so many shops when we had no agenda at all, just walking arm-in-arm and seeing where we ended up.
The first part of our trip we stayed in the Marais, an old jewish enclave near Notre Dame lined with narrow buildings and cobblestone streets. Our Airbnb was on Rue Reverie near the BHV-Marais (a large French department store with gorgeous everything).
We found probably a dozen vintage shops within just blocks of our apartment, none of which were anticipated and all of which were stumbled upon to/from the train, to/from breakfast and dinner.
On the day we visited the Louvre (which was busy but so crowded and kinda sucked the inspiration out of the art for me) we found on vintage shop that was a little overpriced in my opinion, and I asked him where to find more vintage shops and he said the Marais on Rue Reverie (what are the odds that that’s where we’re staying? DIVINE!).
I noticed that a lot of formal antique shops were closed on Sunday and Monday, so I wasn’t able to see most of them near the Louvre.
After our stay in the Marais, we spent a couple nights on Ile de Saint Louis, a tiny but quaint island on the Seine also across from Notre Dame. It was quiet, maybe a little too sleepy for us, but just fine. We quickly were drawn across the river away from the Marais and into the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain.
In the Latin Quarter we found more vintage shops, including a pair of gold sequined low-heels for 25 Euros that I bought for my sister. The next day we worked our way into Saint Germain, all on foot, and came across the kind of antique shop I envisioned before we came to Paris.
There was a small window with sparkling old gems, so we worked our way inside from a side door and found an older woman sitting in the back with so much paper and boxes and history behind her. In her glass shelves, she had four of the most perfect lockets that I bought for the French Collection that I put together during our week of traipsing Paris.
Right before we found that final, most perfect spot, I told my daughter to choose a street, whichever one she thought we should take, because it would take us where we need to go. She chose one, then at the next intersection chose another, and sure enough, we ended up at the vision I had in mind. By chance? Or something else?
The three biggest takeaways if you’re in the mood for vintage and antique browsing in Paris:
1. stay in the Marais
2. visit Saint Ouen Flea Market
3. and wander the streets aimlessly.
Ground your adventure in fun and joy and you’re sure to have the vintage scavenger hunt of your dreams. I know we did.
We're sharing the French Collection of vintage and antique lockets on Small Business Saturday (feels fitting!). They'll be released here at 10am with descriptive videos in our Instagram stories a little before then. They tend to be grabbed really fast (our collections have sold out in minutes before!) so mark your calendar if you're curious about this collection of 25 lockets.