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Golden oldies: Belgium's best flea markets and antique houses
Forget Ikea for once: you can pick up fantastic objects in Belgium’s flea markets, antique shops and auction houses. And as you trawl the country looking for the perfect table, or the ultimate lamp, you’ll discover interesting villages and friendly local cafes along the way. Of course, you need to watch out for fakes, and you’ll always pay a little more than you planned, but hunting out antiques is a far richer experience than a visit to a furniture warehouse – and you’ll end up with a unique memento to remind you of Belgium when you move back home.
Anyone looking for odd antiques should take time to poke around Stefantiek’s two cluttered shops in the Marolles district of Brussels. The shops are crammed with unexpected objects, like carved stone angels that once decorated a Belgian castle, a stuffed giraffe from a vanished museum or even a complete vintage barber’ shop interior.
6 Place de la Chapelle & 63 Rue Blaes, Brussels
2. Jeu de Balle
Every day, starting at 6.00, dealers unload boxes of old books, Art Deco lamps and stacks of dusty CDs. The best items are snapped up by professionals who arrive before 7.00, meaning that by midday there is almost nothing left worth buying – unless you’re truly interested in a 1962 reel-to-reel tape deck that no longer works.
Place du Jeu de Balle, Brussels
3. Antiek Depot
This vast antique store is in a former ironworks in the heart of Ghent. The industrial space has been taken over by 15 dealers whose collections spread over two floors. You can find everything imaginable in the cluttered rooms, including cinema seats, Danish designer chairs, children’s toys and doors salvaged from old Belgian houses.
15 Baudelostraat, Ghent
A lively flea market is held in Ghent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings on a cobbled square behind the Sint-Jacobskerk. Dealers set up folding tables piled with ancient electrical appliances, crates of vinyl records, dusty vases and the occasional stuffed boar. You can just watch the action from one of the cafe terraces on the square.
This upmarket Brussels auction house organises sales on two evenings every month. It deals in a wide range of objects, from polished French writing desks to Belgian comic books. You can visit the smart display rooms in advance to examine objects that are due to go on sale and pick up a catalogue to see the price they’re expected to fetch. Then you just need to head down there on auction night and boldly put in your bid.
Avenue de Roodebeek, Brussels
People have been coming to the street auction on the Vrijdagmarkt square since the 16th century. This is where dealers sell off old office furniture, ornaments that once belonged to someone’s grandmother, and plastic bin bags filled with miscellaneous junk. You might be lucky and pick up a crystal vase worth 10 times what you paid. Or you could go home with a box that turns out to contain four old cardigans and a dead computer.
7. Brocante de Saint-Pholien
A lively flea market fills the neighbourhood around the Saint-Pholien church in Liège every Friday morning. This is the perfect place to hunt for old Ella Fitzgerald records, ceramic ornaments and used Belgian army boots. You might even pick up a thriller by Georges Simenon, who spent his childhood in the local streets.
Boulevard de la Constitution, Liège
8. Brocante des Bastions, Tournai
Tournai holds a flea market every Sunday morning from 5.00 in an empty supermarket car park. It’s a friendly, popular market where you might pick up an old carved cupboard from an Ardennes castle, or a rocking horse that’s been gathering dust in someone’s attic for six decades. It’s fun to wander around even if you don’t buy anything more than a single silver spoon.
Boulevard Walter de Marvis, Tournai
Established more than 30 years ago, Tongeren’s antique market is the biggest in Belgium. Seven streets are closed to traffic every Sunday morning as some 350 dealers come here with vans loaded to the roof. Buyers come from as far afield as Germany and the Netherlands to poke around the stands. It’s fun to wander around listening to an Italian haggle over the price of a rococo table, but it’s hard to find a genuine bargain these days.
Leopoldwal, Veemarkt and other locations, Tongeren
This article first appeared in ING Expat Time