Paris has one of the best flea markets in the world with an astonishing array of hundreds of specialized vendors selling antique furniture, art, jewelry, etc. It's a fantastic place but entirely overwhelming. Fortunately, my sister Rena is an expert on collecting fine art and was recently in Paris. She gave me permission to reprint her advice:
The best markets are Serpette and Paul Bert. Serpette is inside of Paul Bert which is all exterior. Look for the amazing booth of "designer jewelry" which you cannot miss - she has the best looking booth inside and it is filled with Chanel and coco chanel stuff - it's just a very unusual and beautiful thing to see - not that you'd buy anything.
Dauphine is also great - we found a dealer in orientalism on the far wall inside that was terrific - we bought some prints. There is also a dealer in inexpensive prints of all subjects - he's in the middle and has bins outside his stall - i recommend him. We bought three prints from him of mythological subjects.
In Vernaison there is a dealer of rugs that I loved - there are very few that have affordable rugs. We found his prices to be good - he is outside just at the entrance of Vernaison.
Eat at the restaurant at the welcome sign to Paul Bert - it's great and terrific prices. We especially liked the hot chocolate and french onion soup. everything was terrific. I think it's called Cafe Paul Bert. If you find yourself near Dauphine needing a bite, go to the cafe there - I think called Cafe Dauphine - not inside with the stalls but just outside it - we had fabulous chicken.
So, what is my advice for what to buy and how? I think the flea market is best for those of us from far away for prints and small objects. For instance, we found a small 19th century bronze rectangular medal of Mercury for $150 from a small dealer in Vernaisson who simply had an odd assortment of small objects. Under $500 you cannot go wrong as long as you buy what you like. I think the prints are undervalued - in the US most of that stuff is hard to find and much more money. I recommend finding a set of prints you like of some subject that appeals to you and framing them alike for hanging - especially if they remind you of Paris. We also found stock certificates to be undervalued - in Dauphine upstairs there is a booth that is totally a mess, but he has large books filled with stock certificates from all sorts of things - expeditions into the Congo, World's Fairs (that's what we liked), mining, etc. They are $3-20 and really fun pieces of history and the prints are also usually quite beautiful. But, you have to patiently flip through 20 books of dusty pages to find them.
We find the hunt as fun as owning the stuff. It's a memory of your time in Paris and the story of what a great deal you got is really fun.
If you end up interested in rugs, I think my advice is that for under $2,000 you can't really go wrong if it looks like it is in good condition. We like the more nomadic designs which tend to be bolder and more geometric, but these decisions are totally based on taste. If you spend more than about $2,000 on a rug you are getting into more serious territory and may want to know better what you are buying since there are many fakes out there and overpricing of them.
I suggest that you go in the morning, walk through Paul Bert and Serpette, take a break for lunch and walk through Dauphine and Vernaisson. Take a break for hot chocolate and decide what you may want to buy. We wandered for 2 partial days and bought things on the third morning.
If you lived there, it seems to be a GREAT place for furniture, but we did not spend too much time on that since we could not take it home.