A Complete Guide to Sri Lanka Flea Markets

Picking up the magnificent scent of culinary spices in Sri Lanka flea markets is what first blew my mind. It was a unique discovery that came quite unexpectedly because I did not plan to go to the market that day. I was walking in Kandy on a sunny day in December when I decided to visit the large central marketplace building located in the heart of the city.

This article comprehends a complete travel guide to Sri Lanka flea markets, tips & tricks included. It’s a good idea to visit a Sri Lankan street or flea market at least once on your casual holiday or backpacking trip in Sri Lanka.

For other essential tips & tricks in Sri Lanka, take a look at this other article.

A vegetable shop outside the central market hall in Kandy.

Wandering around in the hallways of the Kandy central market made my day. Day fresh vegetables, colorful exotic fruits, and interesting arts and ambitious crafts are there to be bought for a healthy snack or perhaps a great souvenir. The local flea markets in Sri Lanka are recommended for all kinds of travelers. Either off-the-beaten-track kind of backpackers or casual travelers who want to interact with the local culture in Sri Lanka will highly enjoy the experience of walking in one of Sri Lanka’s street or flea markets. These markets make the perfect location for buying affordable and best-quality souvenirs.

Something to think about

Understanding that at first sight, Sri Lanka flea markets might not seem like the most exemplary places to visit for most tourists. It also means the marketplace will not be too overcrowded by tourists. This can be considered a good thing because you’ll be buying your products in tranquility for a much lower price and you’ll be buying them from local shopkeepers instead of large tourist companies. So you’ll support the families of the local Shopkeepers if you buy your goods at the Sri Lanka flea markets.

In fact, mostly local Sri Lankans visit these Sri Lanka flea markets to buy their wares, so get ready for a real local Sri Lankan experience on your journey on the island.

Tip: Keep in mind that its best to haggle for a good price when you attempt to buy goods in these marketplaces. Bargaining is the most common habit in Sri Lankan culture and it helps to reduce your expenses when you buy your goods.

Sri Lanka flea markets and their stock

Sri Lanka flea markets stock a grand range of delicious foods, lovely spices, fruit, textile, herbal brews, crafts, and tea. Whilst the shopkeepers in the markets mainly focus on selling their products to local Sri Lankans, they also love to sell goods to tourists. I highly advise you to visit at least one Sri Lanka flea market on your journey on the island. These markets will definitely offer you something of quality value to take back home. All Sri Lanka flea markets are packed with an amazing offer of goods like tea, fish, fruit, any kind of Sri Lankan vegetable or textile.

Sri Lanka flea markets. Market outside Kandy market hall. - Unnavigated
Outside the central market hall in Kandy you’ll find any kind of Sri Lankan fruit, vegetable or fish.

Tip: The average cost of goods in Sri Lanka flea markets can be two or three times lower compared to the higher prices in tourist shops.

Top local markets in Sri Lanka

Here is a list of my top 5 recommended Sri Lanka flea markets for you. When you find yourself in the area close to one of these markets on your casual holiday or backpacking trip, don’t hesitate to give one of these marketplaces a try. You might come back with your hands full of nice and affordable souvenirs to take back home with you.

1. The main fish market in Negombo

This market is well known in Negombo for an abundant supply of daily caught fresh fish. Every early morning, local fishermen get up and take their boats and go out in search of fish in the Indian ocean. In the lagoon next to Negombo, the fishermen catch fresh lobsters, prawns, and crabs that also get sold at the Negombo fish market. This Sri Lanka local market is recommended for all kinds of travelers who like seafood and fresh fish. In conclusion, a short visit of 30 minutes max will be enough to explore the fish market.

2. Pettah Market in Colombo

Offering anything from jewelry & electronics to fresh produce, the Pettah Market in Colombo sure is worth a visit. The location of the Pettah Market is in a quite busy district of Colombo and every street of this local market is dedicated to a different trade. Make sure to be able to spend at least half a day if you consider giving the Pettah market a good try.

3. The good market in Colombo

This Sri Lanka local flea market mainly sells quality arts & crafts and organic fresh produce. This market labels itself with the motto “good for the planet, good for the country, and good for you”. It has a well-deserved place in this list of recommended Sri Lanka flea markets. Also, it’s a good choice for backpackers and travelers that want to buy healthy, socially responsible and eco-conscious goods. You will need at least 1-2 hours to explore the whole good market in Colombo.

4. Jaffna market

The Jaffna local market is a unique market in the North of the country. This Sri Lanka flea market is famous for the many sweets and other local goods like tea, fish, fruit, maybe a vegetable or textile. You will need at least 1-2 hours to explore this market in the list of all Sri Lanka flea markets. It is a good place to visit when you are in the Jaffna region.

5. Kandy central market hall

The central market in Kandy is an important shopping place amongst local Sri Lankans. This authentic flea market is situated on Kandy’s oldest market square and sells many interesting goods. Hence, you will be able to read about more details of the Kandy local market further below in this article. Mind that you will need at least 1-3 hours to properly explore this market from the list of Sri Lanka flea markets.

Something extra: become overwhelmed by the beauty of Sri Lanka with the travel pictures in this other article.

Buy your tea at the local markets

A few local Sri Lankan people advised me to buy my tea at the Sri Lanka flea markets. The reason for this is that as a tourist you pay a much larger amount of money for the same tea at the tea factory shops. The tea is of high quality and you get to choose from many different variations. Ask the local stallkeepers in Sri Lanka flea markets for more information and they will be glad to tell you more about their products. The same principle applies to buy your spices, ayurvedic herbal balms, oils, and many other local products in Sri Lanka flea markets.

Sri Lanka flea markets. Market outside Kandy market hall. - Unnavigated
Sri Lanka flea markets: Marketplace outside the central market hall in Kandy.

The market stall keepers in Sri Lanka flea markets will be very happy to see you passing as a traveler. Keep in mind that they can be quite convincing sometimes wanting you to buy something. They have quite persuasive sales skills and will do a lot to convince you to buy something like tea, fruit, a vegetable, fish or textile. Keep in mind that you better bargain your way to a good price. The stall keepers will almost always ask a much higher price for every product at first. After a while of bargaining, they will probably lower their prices. The habit of haggling at Sri Lanka flea markets is considered as a standard. Shopkeepers expect shoppers to bargain about the price of items in order to bring down the cost to a reasonable amount for both parties, but of course, they also enjoy selling their products for a much higher price to tourists.

Like I wrote before: When you buy your goods at Sri Lanka flea markets, you are supporting local people and their families by buying goods from them directly. As a result, you will be supporting a much better cause compared to buying goods at the bigger supermarkets or tourist shops owned by large companies in Sri Lanka.

The central market hall in Kandy

The cultural heritage city of Kandy has a splendid market hall right in the center of town. It’s located next to the clock tower bus station across the central plaza with tropical trees. This central market hall in Kandy is a splendid place to buy cheap, best-quality goods and for shopping amongst friendly locals. I highly recommend you to visit it when you are in Kandy for your casual holiday or backpacking trip. The local market in Kandy was one of my favorite Sri Lanka flea markets.

I visited the Kandy Central market hall quite often when I was staying in Kandy for 3 months in 2016.

Sri Lanka flea markets. Inside the central market hall in Kandy. - Unnavigated
Inside the central marketplace hall in Kandy.

The first floor of the market hall offers goods such as quick bites (snacks), tea, spices, fruit, a vegetable, fish or textile. The top floor offers a wider variety of clothing, textile, books, souvenirs, and gifts. On the back of the first floor, there is a section for meat and fish. Outside the back of the market hall, there are market stalls that sell many fresh fruits and colorful, tasty vegetables; wonderful ingredients for delicious rice and curry. The Kandy central market hall is my personal favorite option in the list of all Sri Lanka flea markets. You should definitely go there when you are in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka flea markets. Pineapple shop in Kandy. - Unnavigated
Sri Lanka flea markets: A pineapple shop outside the central market hall in Kandy.

Tips and tricks for bargaining at Sri Lanka Flea Markets

  • Shop around the Sri Lanka flea markets to find out what locals pay for certain products like a vegetable, tea, fish, fruit or some textile. In such a way, you will have a clear idea about the correct cost for a product before you start bargaining your way to a good price.
  • Mind refraining your enthusiasm when you start talking about a price for a vegetable, tea, fish, fruit or some textile. Bargaining in Sri Lanka flea markets is all about remaining neutral. This method will help you to get a good price for your souvenirs.
  • Ask for a deal on multiple items. Hence, you might get a better price per product.
  • Show the merchant the money that you want to spend on the vegetable, tea, fish, fruit, textile or another item in the marketplace. They might accept your offer in lesser time.
  • Name a price that is 20%-50% lower than the original price the shopkeeper suggested. After that, he probably will come back to you at a lower price. That’s the moment when the real bargaining process begins.
  • If the requested cost remains too high, say “no, thank you” and leave. The shopkeeper might run after you and might offer you a lower price. if this doesn’t happen, you can always go back later and try again. Or you can accept the original price if you don’t want to put too much effort into bargaining your way to a good price in a marketplace.

See more travel guides and articles about Sri Lanka.

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