History of Fiera de Ladra, Lisbon’s Thieves Market
My first trip to Lisbon is one big blur; instead of remembering everything I experienced, just a few distinct ones stand out.
Taking a day trip to Cascais is definitely one of them (it was so nice that I went again the following day), dinner at the LX Factory is never far from my thoughts, and walking through the Fiera de Ladra is definitely one I won’t forget.
The Fiera de Ladra is something I encourage all travelers to Lisbon to make time for. My first visit moved me to learn the history of this market, and it’s absolutely fascinating.
Read on if you’re interested in learning more. And if you’re planning on a visit, you’ll need patience, comfortable walking shoes, an empty tote bag and cash on hand.
OPENING HOURS: Tuesday and Saturday — 9am to 6pm
ADDRESS: Campo de Santa Clara, 1100-472 Lisboa, Portugal
METRO STATION: Lisboa Santa Apolónia
What is the Fiera de Ladra in Lisbon
The Fiera de Ladra is also sometimes referred to by locals as the Mercado de Santa Clara. If you’re taking a taxi or tuk tuk to get there, you’ll have to use the latter with your driver.
Fiera de Ladra translates to “market of the thieves”; and many know it as Lisbon’s thieves market.
It is Lisbon’s oldest market and it takes place in Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, the Alfama. Every Tuesday and Thursday in Lisbon, hundreds of vendors arrive at the crack of dawn to set up their individual stalls, encompassing a massive parking lot and a few surrounding streets.
The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” really comes to life at this market. It’s an absolute lottery when it comes to what you may find; as well as what junk you’ll have to sift through to find said treasures.
My first visit I walked away with a vintage bikini top that cost me €1, a Calvin Klein perfume for €10, a Portuguese tile for €2 and a vinyl record of one of Bowie’s first records… this one was a bit more than just a few euros.
If you’re at all interested in art, trinkets, cameras, antiques, cosmetics, tools, shoes, clothing, furniture… then the Fiera de Ladra will likely be one of your own most memorable days in Lisbon as well.
What’s wonderful about this spot is it is probably frequented by more locals than it is tourists. It’s one of the least tourist saturated spots in the Alfama, even though it still is full of them!
The History of the Fiera de Ladra in Lisbon
Being the oldest market in Lisbon, the Fiera de Ladra dates back to the Middle Ages, when it is thought to have also taken place religiously twice a week.
Back then, anyone could show up and trade in this parking lot, of course at that time it was just a public square. It slowly became a bit of a black market, where the nature of things was to never question a seller on how he or she came to acquire a specific item — if you like it, you simply buy it.
It is though that this is how the name “market of thieves” first came to light. Presumably half of the vendors back then were honest traders, and the other half were quick fingered gypsies and pick pockets who could acquire valuables five days a week, and sell them off at the market the other two.
Looking at some of the stalls today, you might be included to think there is a still a bit of that age old thievery going on. Some stalls are nothing more than an old sheet on the ground with dozens of cellphones spread across them. Working, not working, stolen, not stolen —- you won’t know until you buy, I suppose.
Something else I was thrilled to learn is that there is no coordinating body for the Fiera de Ladra. One does not have to register, or pay, to be part of this event twice a week. Any old thief can simply show up the morning off, claim a space and make it their shop for the day.
This adds to the beautiful chaos that this market embodies. I truly have yet to experience anything like it in Europe, a continent that so embraces order and organization.
How to get to the Fiera de Ladra in Lisbon
The Fiera de Ladra is up a very steep hill in the Alfama. Walking from the Santa Apolónia train station on the coast is possible, but can prove quite a feat on a particular hot day.
Your best bet is to just pay for a taxi, Uber or tuk tuk. Remember, the drivers know this event as the Mercado de Santa Clara; most get very confused when they hear Fiera de Ladra.
You’ll see that the market opens at 9am and closes at 6pm. When you should arrive depends heavily on what kind of market shopper you are.
If you, like me, enjoy getting the pick of the lot and like to see everything before it has a chance to be sold then you’ll have to go early. Before 11am would be the safest; by midday this parking lot is an absolute ocean of people.
If you’re planning on attending later in the day, try not to arrive after 4pm latest. This market is simply too big and too slow for you to experience sufficiently in anything less than two hours, three would actually be better!
The Fiera de Ladra and the Alfama are two of the oldest attractions in Lisbon; needless to say this area holds a boat load of history, architecture and tradition. A free guided walking tour comes highly recommended.