Here are a few fun facts for you. Did you know that the market is commonly called “the Thieves’ market” (ladra meaning female thief in Portuguese), but some actually believe its name comes from the word “ladro” which can describe a bug or flea often found in antiques? Did you know that this market, formerly known as the Franco Market, dates back to the 13th century? Therefore, it is the oldest market in the city, and the most well-known too.

So what you can find in this famous market? Literally everything. You can find books (in Portuguese as well as English, French, Spanish, etc), cheap bundles of socks, very unique handmade clothes, used kitchen supplies, jewellery, anything made with cork, azulejo tiles, antiques, old timey post cards, undeveloped film from the 50s, electronics, creepy dolls, adult magazines, and even more random stuff.

Right behind the National Pantheon, the market goes on for about a mile, until Campo de Santa Clara (the fair is also called Mercado de Santa Clara because of its location). The flea market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 8am to 6pm, but due to the Covid-19 restrictions, it’s now only open until 1pm on the weekend. If you want to avoid the crowds of tourists, then Tuesday is best for some quiet, no-hassle thrifting.

I went to the flea market the first Tuesday after the municipality gave their green light to re-open, and besides me and a couple of tourists, the streets were empty. Even some vendors gave up and started packing early, calling it a day after 2pm. If you’re going for the ambiance and want to see a bunch of people after being locked in your house for weeks on weeks, then Saturday is perfect for you to socialise, talk to vendors, and maybe sip your coffee (or beer, no judgments here), while people-watching.

Some stalls – or shall I say blankets where vendors display their products – are clearly aimed at tourists, selling photos and paintings of Lisbon’s famous landscapes, and/or souvenir gifts. Other stalls sell more traditional things like azulejos, old household items, used clothes, and surprisingly personal items like old family photos. You know, just in case you needed pictures of a stranger’s wedding day.

Don’t be afraid to approach the sellers here. Where I come from, we avoid eye contact with vendors unless we’re ready to negotiate like our life depends on it, mastering “the art of the deal”. Here, they won’t harass you into buying something, they really don’t care whether or not you are interested in buying their stuff, but they do answer any questions you might have.

If you’re not looking to buy, it’s also just a nice stroll around the Alfama district. Not far from the Castle of São Jorge and the traditional old district, you might as well take a walk and get lost in Alfama’s narrow cobblestone streets. If you’re not in the mood to walk, right next to the market you’ll find cafés and bars, now allowed to open up their terraces up to six people, offering a variety of brunch menus.

This re-opening of fairs and markets are a great relief to vendors, who “could no longer take this downtime, which was longer than the one in the first lockdown, which lasted for almost two and a half months, causing quite painful situations said the families who live off this activity”, told the president of the Association of Fairs and Markets of the North Region (AFMRN), Fernando Sá, to Lusa.

“After three months at home, and having worked only half a year in 2020, marketers live in the hope that the resumption of activity will allow them to face the losses they suffered, which are high”, said the official to Lusa. The Federation of Associations of Fairkeepers also estimates that around 2,500 markets and fairs will be held every month and calls on municipalities to exempt marketers from paying fees. So if you’re looking for an excuse to resume your shopping addiction post-lockdown, stop by your nearest flea market and tell yourself you are helping out your local marketer by buying some unique and quirky handmade – or secondhand – articles.