Top 7: Italy market destinations

Markets are the lifeblood of metropolises around the world. Pulsing with activity and throbbing with sights, smells and chatter, they provide a glimpse into a city’s long-held traditions and rituals — as well as its soul.

Italy’s markets are a sensuous delight. From charmingly ramshackle flea markets to lavish food halls, Italy’s street markets have it all — and then some. Quality can vary, but fossicking through junk to strike gold is part of the fun. What’s more, you can browse at your leisure while swigging an espresso. Bellissimo.

Of course, Australian customs regulations dictate what can and cannot be brought back into the country. Counterfeit designer goods (including handbags, cosmetics, and pirated material such as DVDs) can be seized by customs and border protection. Fully tanned leather goods are allowed as are wooden and woven handicrafts free of insect contamination, but fresh food like meat, fruit and veg aren’t—but then the food in Italy is so good, it’s hard getting market produce back to the hotel without devouring it first.

Porta Portese, Rome

A colossal flea market held every Sunday in the charming, quaint district of Trastevere, it’s easy to get lost here — in fact, it’s guaranteed that you will. A labyrinthine maze comprising thousands of stalls, the intrepid shopper will find second hand books, chandeliers, posters, clothing, leather goods, antiquated stamps, vintage bicycles, and electronic goods (and other items) of dubious origins. Bargaining is encouraged, so don’t be afraid to haggle. It’s not for the faint-hearted; Porta Portese beckons those willing to rummage through mountains of bric-a-brac to find a preloved treasure. It’s also a high traffic tourist destination, so keep an eye on your valuables and be mindful of pickpockets.

San Lorenzo Market, Florence

Meanwhile, at the San Lorenzo Market in Florence, the focus is on high-quality, handcrafted leather goods — much of it at very competitive prices. But be prepared to negotiate with vendors, as the marked price on items tends to be inflated significantly. If you’re feeling less confident, simply walking away from negotiations is a handy strategy — there are bound to be other stalls offering what you desire for a better price.

Poggoioreale, Naples

In Naples, some of the best markets and stalls are tucked away in winding, cobblestoned streets. Shoe fetishists will find rock-bottom prices for designer overstock and cheaper imports at Poggoioreale, a market specialising in shoes, handbags, and leather goods. It’s open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and is three kilometres north-east of the Stazione Centrale.

Arezzo Antiques Market, Arezzo

Some 20,000 antique lovers descend upon Tuscany’s ancient town of Arrezo, an hour’s train ride from Florence, for its famed antiques market. Open on the first Sunday of each month, the Piazza Grande overflows with old furniture, vintage brooches, silverware, violins, coins, fine china and various esoterica. Crowds are a certainty, particularly in the warmer months.

Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples

Sometimes a more unusual souvenir is in order. In that case, head straight to Via San Gregorio Armeno, also referred to as Christmas Alley, for Neapolitan handicrafts, nativity figurines, as well as kitschy Christmas gifts. Despite its festive name, it’s open all-year round.

Mercato di Ballaro, Palermo

The Mercato di Ballaro, open every day, has served residents of the Sicilian city of Palermo for over 1,000 years. Nestled in the heart of the city’s historic quarter, its rattletrap tables brim with fruit, vegetables, cheese, olives and seafood. If you smile at the vendor, you might even score a free bite. It’s also renowned for its stalls hawking Sicilian street food, including panelle (a crispy, golden chickpea fritter) and pani ca'meusa (paninis stuffed with offal).

Mercato di Testaccio, Rome

In Rome, fresh produce and regional delicacies abound at the Mercato di Testaccio, an indoor market that attracts much fewer tourists than the centrally located Campo de’ Fiori market. Open from 6am to 3pm on Monday to Saturday, it’s a popular gathering spot for locals, who grab a cannolo or glass of wine after grocery shopping.

Bear in mind that the majority of market vendors are unlikely to accept foreign-issued debit or credit cards, so come prepared with cash in hand: monitor exchange rates and order euros online or at participating Australia Post stores. Keep track of spending with an Australia Post Travel Platinum MasterCard®, which can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted1 — online or in-store.