The Ultimate European-Living Shopping Experience

Tucked away in southeastern corner of Flemish Belgium lies the quaint town of Tongeren. The city propagates itself as “Belgium’s Oldest City,” but what truly makes it notable is the Antique Market that happens every Sunday morning. The historic town center stumbles from the sleepy stupor of the night into a bustling marketplace well before the sun peaks over the horizon. The vendors are busy setting out their treasures for hopeful buyers as the route of antiques slowly fills with socialites and shoppers alike. By the time the 7 o’clock church bells chime, the market is in full swing and the early birds have already filled their bags with unique finds.

What Does Tongeren Has to Offer?

Tongeren’s Sunday morning streets are filled with antique booths ranging from small, rare items to large pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time. This antique market is not just another flea market. I comically refer to some flea markets as “sell your junk” markets, but the vendors here have some truly exceptional finds. Many Europeans these days seem to be shifting from the heavier, bulker furniture that we Americans think of a classically European to a more modern-clean line-simple living style, so lots of family heirlooms, antique furniture, and vintage pieces are finding their way to these markets. Since Tongeren, Belgium is situated between France, Germany, and Holland, there is this melting pot of treasure troves from times long ago in these distinct lands and cultures all converging on the busy streets and stalls on Sunday morning. I love strolling the path and seeing all the eclectic merchandise. Sometimes, the trinkets like wine crates, bread bowls, old medicine bottles, and old Italian wine bottles look just like they appeared out of a magazine and are set before you, but at a mere fraction of the cost!! And one of the best parts is, since all the items are second hand, there is a story that goes with each piece. Now, not all sellers know the story, but when you can find out the history that goes with your purchase, it adds to the experience of antique buying!

There are over 350 vendors plus antique stores spread out over the route of antiques. There are sellers who specialize in certain items like clocks, old post cards, or rustic furniture. I recommend starting your route along the old Roman wall; it really sets the mood for antique shopping as you meander along this iconic structure that is reminiscent of a time long ago; plus many of the permanent antique dealers are found along this street, too. From there, the market path is easily followed through all the crowd of people and dealers as it winds around one of the city’s main retail shopping areas. There are two covered structures that house many vendors, so the market goes on rain or shine! See the Tongeren Antique Market Magazine here. (You need to download the PDF, and it includes a map.)

Unique Finds

Are you looking for the perfect piece to add to your home? If so, it is best to visit on more than one Sunday to get a better feel of what’s really at the market because it can vary greatly. Like I said earlier, all the pieces have a story, but they aren’t all known. I love finding a piece that has a great story, as it becomes a “conversation piece” for our home. As an example, our most recent purchase was an armoire for one of girls. It was made from the deck of Old Dutch ships out of teak wood and now joins our furniture collection with a pretty neat place of origin. I can just see my oldest daughter’s imagination wheels turning with that little bit of information about her “new” piece of furniture, and it will become a launch pad for a myriad of play about pirates and the high seas in her very own bedroom.

Some of the unique finds I have seen from different venues include:

·      Adolf Hitler’s original Mein Kampf (his autobiography). It was in German, obviously, but I just had to stop and look at it. So much painful history evolved from that book! I didn’t buy it though.

·      Beautiful manuscripts in French with legal insignias signifying official legal paperwork. We did buy a couple of these--old French house deeds from the 1800s--as décor for our girls’ room.

A little something for everyone

So not everyone catches the antique bug, but this place still has lots to offer regardless of your desire for antique hunting or not. On the first Sunday of the month, the retail stores are open in the afternoon. Its kind of a big deal for a store to be open around here on a Sunday, so this is a definite score for non-antique shoppers. But a day in Tongeren wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the outdoor cafés that line the route of antiques while slowly savoring a Belgium waffle with café or tea. For your more hardy shoppers enjoying a true Belgium experience, there is all kinds of Belgium beer on tap for the taking. There is just something relaxing about sitting in the outdoor cafes and taking in the moment of a leisurely Sunday morning.  And for the anti-shoppers, the trip to Tongeren wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Gallo-Roman Museum, which our girls thoroughly enjoyed, or Basilica of our Lady, and more places of interest can be found here.

Coming Back For More

My first trip to Tongeren had me wanting to come back again, and this time, with the hubby. When you have an experience you really enjoyed, you want to share it so others can enjoy it as well, and that is exactly what I did with my husband. I had him come back with me and see the pleasures that the Tongeren experience has to offer. And we left the market again, with a car load of treasures found and experiences had!

So tell us campers, have you caught the antique bug? What interesting pieces have you found? Do you have a favorite antique market?? Share with us on our Facebook page!