On Sunday, Paris Goes to the Birds

It's all about birds of all types one day a week at the Marche aux Oiseaux. (Photo: Elena Dijour/Shutterstock).

Paris has a plethora of markets. Some tourists manage to hit one or two of these traditional retail spots during their visit to the City of Lights. Others might cross the major tourists sites off their list and then spend the rest of their time wandering through a dozen or so of the city’s best street markets.

Every Paris travel aficionado has a favorite market or two. The Marché de Montreuil, for example, is a popular spot for serious bargain hunters and collectors of curios. Clothing and textile shoppers, meanwhile, head to Marché Saint-Pierre.

Choosing your own favorites is quite simple. Virtually every neighborhood in the city has a food market, and most arrondissements feature a couple of worthwhile flea markets or street-side retail spaces selling antiques, collectables, handicrafts, clothing and bric-a-brac.

One of the most buzz-worthy markets according to Paris insiders is the Marché aux Fleurs, which is also known as the Paris Flower Market. The market is a long standing institution that is located on the Île de la Cité, an island right in the middle of the famed Seine. It is not far from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Admittedly, this is not a place to find souvenirs that you can take home with you, but if you are seeking atmosphere, colorful scenes and photo ops, it is second to none.

Though it might be tempting, it is not practical to buy flower bulbs or live plants unless you live in Paris. However, it is possible for someone with even a passing interest in flowers to spend hours here window-shopping, taking snapshots, and inhaling the many different scents.

shoppers at paris bird market look at birds in cages

Birds on Sunday

Actually, many people miss the most interesting aspect of this market altogether because they come during the week. On Sunday, the flower vendors take a break from their market stalls and the birds take over.

The Sunday Bird Market, or Marché aux Oiseaux, is one of the last remaining street pet markets in Europe. You would probably have to travel all the way to East Asia to find something that has a similar scale and feel.

If you are in Central Paris on Sunday, the market will prove easy to find. You will be able to hear it before you can see it. Passengers leaving the nearby Cité Metro subway station can usually make out the chorus of tweets before they have even gotten above ground.

The reason for the cacophony is obvious once you reach the market itself. Numerous species of birds are housed in cages that are stacked several layers high. The market’s winged residents include parakeets, finches, canaries, doves and more exotic would-be pets such as parrots and macaws.

The smaller “house birds” are usually found in cages stacked on tables. But market visitors who look down at the ground will see a different type of avian life. Game birds, chickens and roosters sit inside larger cages that are often placed right on the pavement.

colorful bird cages at the Paris Bird Market

More than just birds

For bird-keeping enthusiasts, the birds are the main reason to visit Marché aux Oiseaux on Sunday. You will be able to tell that a specimen is particularly rare or valuable if you see a number of people engaging in animated conversation in front of its cage.

For causal sightseers, however, some of the cages themselves will prove as interesting as the animals who are housed inside them. You can see fine antique models made from metal or wood as well as more-standard pet-store variety cages.

Though it is known as the Bird Market, you can find other creatures as well. Domesticated rodents like gerbils and guinea pigs are for sale, as are different varieties of fish.

Fortunately (or unfortunately for people with a limited amount of time and lot of sightseeing ambitions), the weekday flower market at Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux is as interesting as the Sunday market. Rare flowers such as orchids are sold here, with the most valuable ones protected by heavy plastic curtains. Instead of tweeting and flapping wings, the weekday market is defined by sweet scents and colors.

The street markets are part of what makes Paris attractive to visitors. These places can be seen as sightseeing spectacles, but they are also examples of a kind of traditional casual community retail that most of the rest of the world has long since forgotten about.