Something specific will stir your senses the second you enter an indoor market. Perhaps it’s the aroma of freshly baked muffins, or the sound of a woodworker scraping the last strip of maple from a handcrafted cutting board, or the bright reds and yellows glowing in meat and cheese showcases. Depending on the size and scope of the market, you may be able to purchase everything from fresh lingonberries from a nearby farmer, to locally made soaps, to hand-carved chess sets or walking sticks, all under one roof. Always on the lookout to purchase something unique to the place I’m traveling through, I’ve done my fair share of scouring dozens of indoor markets around the world. These are my favorites.
#1 Pike Place Market (Seattle, Washington)
When the fishmonger pitched an entire halibut to his colleague 12 feet away for him to wrap up for a customer to take home, and the gathered audience applauded, I knew I was somewhere special. Although they’re the clear cynosure of Pike Place Market, the fish throwers aren’t the only attraction that lures 10 million tourists and locals alike per year to one of the city’s most popular destinations. Opened in 1907 along the Seattle waterfront, Pike Place is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. The nine-acre national historic district is home to hundreds of local farmers and craftspeople, as well as dozens of specialty food stores and about 80 restaurants, who sell their products 362 days per year. Buskers along its arcades kept me entertained as I snacked my way through the market on a cinnamon donut, some red velvet fudge, and the best nectarine I’ve ever had. Past the original Starbucks, I delved into the labyrinthine interior, where I was able to find just about anything, from kimchee to comic books, vinyl records to truffle oil, artisanal cheese to antique maps, hand-sewn wallets to ink drawings of the Seattle skyline. No matter what time I went, crowds made maneuvering around a bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed every moment of the bustle inside the most interesting market I’ve ever visited.
#2 Harrods Food Hall (London, England)
When I entered Harrods for the first time, in November 1997, images of the recently deceased Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, as well as of the Spice Girls at the height of their popularity, seemed to be emblazoned on everything, from collectible dishes to pen barrels. The seductive Food Hall on the lower level of London’s signature — and Europe’s largest — department store, however, made a greater lasting impression. Wonderfully constructed and designed with columns, coffered ceilings, and ornate chandeliers, the massive Food Hall lured me in with irresistible aromas from the bakery and cheese sections and the enticing glass showcases filled with high-end foodstuffs from around the world. Food shopping here transcends your regular run to the convenient grocery store; at Harrods, it’s an event. From smoked salmon pillows to Mediterranean olives to rhubarb and custard brûlée, continental sausages to cous cous salads to Thai duck with red curry, white chocolate chip and pecan cookies to steak and parsnip pies, the Food Hall vends every basic culinary ingredient or elaborate concoction you can imagine. Prices were high, even back then, when I wasn’t flush with pounds and credit, and I wasn’t about to start roasting some seasonal lamb legs in my hotel room, so I settled for easy takeaway snacks — a wedge of Isle of Mull cheddar, lemon biscotti, and a slice of decadent chocolate cake. Even if you just completed a seven-course meal right before arriving here, the visual feast you’ll be treated to will immediately make you feel hungry all over again.
#3 Östermalms Saluhall (Stockholm, Sweden)
After a morning visit to the Army Museum and the Hedvig Eleonora Kyrka in the Swedish capital, I felt a bit peckish, so I was delighted to stumble upon the Östermalms Saluhall a couple of blocks away. Opened in 1888, Stockholm’s historic food hall, with its brick towers and pillars, and glass roof — a castle-cum-greenhouse — presents a striking façade to the Östermalmstorg it fronts. Inside, blue and yellow Swedish flags hang above the handsome carved-wood stalls laid out underneath the cast iron columns and ceiling braces. Nearly 20 family-run traders serve up high-quality ingredients, from fish just hauled from the sea to wheels of fragrant cheese to savory cured meats, as well as prepared foods to take with you after you’ve roamed around and completed your food shopping experience. A few restaurants invite you to linger over a longer meal, but you can also just pop into one of the cafés for a fika and savor the atmosphere and aromas all around you.
#4 Mercado Artesanal (Salta, Argentina)
The taxi from Plaza 9 de Julio in the heart of Salta to the Mercado Artesanal on Avenida San Martin, two miles away, cost next to nothing, so I had plenty of pesos to spend at the artisan market. Housed in a colonial-style estate with whitewashed lime walls from the mid-1800s — complete with arched arcades surrounding a peaceful courtyard of brick paths, terracotta flowerpots, greenery, and black cast-iron lanterns — Argentina’s oldest crafts market, started in 1968, sells terrific handmade local arts at exceptionally attractive prices. A certificate of authenticity guaranteeing the quality and origin of craftsmanship accompanied my purchases, each one revealing the techniques that local artisans have been practicing for centuries. Silver jewelry, hats, vibrantly colorful ponchos and alpaca scarves, and hand-carved wooden toys, Nativity scenes, and musical instruments line the shelves and cabinets within the market. An on-site café can replenish you with an empanada or alfajore (a sweet cookie sandwich with a caramel filling) before continuing on your quest for that perfect purchase, whether it’s a lovingly crafted piece of pottery or a set of hand-carved gourds for drinking yerba mate tea.
#5 Christchurch Arts Centre (Christchurch, New Zealand)
The cluster of attractively uniform neo-gothic buildings of the old University of Canterbury caught my attention. Their cohesive appearance was particularly impressive, as they were constructed over the course of 40 years, between the 1880s and 1923. Since the 1970s, the complex had been the home of the Christchurch Arts Centre. Used for a variety of arts-related activities, the center was a hub for locals and travelers alike, filled with cinemas, theaters, restaurants and cafés, and terrific studio spaces where I watched artisans manufacturing their wares by hand, and then selling them in the shops right there to customers beguiled by their talents. A couple of years after I visited, the devastating earthquake that hit the core of Christchurch badly damaged all of the buildings, closing the center indefinitely. Bit by bit, restored buildings will reopen in 2016, with full accessibility anticipated in 2019. Talented stonemasons from around the world have been restoring the complex’s gorgeous stonework and its fine columns and arches. When complete, once again you’ll be able to watch artists, potters, chandlers, goldsmiths, and leatherworkers create their merchandise and then purchase their goods directly from them in one of the world’s most pleasant shopping settings, complete with an inner quadrangle, highlighted by a pool of cobalt-blue water.