During the first weekend of September every year, Lille hosts Europe’s largest flea market. I’ve read that two million people descend on Lille for the Braderie, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I thought it was too crowded – certainly more crowded than the last time I was there, about five years ago.
The Braderie is supposed to begin at 2pm on Saturday, but some sellers had started as early as Friday night! And if you’re there until Sunday afternoon when most stalls are being dismantled, you can get some great bargains.
The Braderie has its origins in the Middle Ages, when servants were granted permission to sell their masters’ old possessions once a year. This merged with the city’s fair where townspeople as well as outsiders could bring their goods to sell. Local poultry merchants then came up with the idea of providing food for vendors and buyers … and voilà!
You can buy just about anything at the Braderie, from valuable antiques to utter rubbish and everything in between, at over 10,000 stalls covering some 60+ miles. Some sellers are professional dealers/traders and others are just local families who’ve cleared out their houses (car boot style).
As well as the Braderie, there’s food, drink and music non-stop, making for a real festival atmosphere. Most of the restaurants and cafés in Lille scrap their usual menus and serve only moules frites at big family-style tables in the streets. Each restaurant piles up their empty mussel shells outside and there’s a competition to see which has the highest mound of shells by the end of the weekend.
To get to Lille, either take the ferry from Dover to Calais (Lille is just over an hour’s drive from Calais), or take the Eurostar from St. Pancras in London directly to Lille. If you decide to go, book your hotel early. You’ll want to be in the heart of things so you can walk easily, and those hotel rooms go very quickly.