Obor Market (also called Piata Obor or Piața Agricola Obor) is one of Romania’s biggest and oldest produce halls. For almost as long as the city of Bucharest has existed, peasants have been travelling to Obor to sell their farm produce—and Bucharesters visiting to do their weekly grocery shop. If you’re interested in learning more about Romanian food and culture, Obor Market is a terrific place to start.
This quick guide to Obor Market shows you how to visit this atmospheric Bucharest market independently, including how to get there, what produce to look out for, and other tips for a smooth visit.
History of Obor Market
Obor Market has been around in one form or another for more than 300 years. The market has its roots in a twice-weekly fair called Targul Mosilor, which was well-known throughout Romania’s Wallachia region. Before the surrounding suburb was developed and the communist apartment blocks added, Obor was located outside Bucharest’s city limits and beyond the realm of propriety. In the 18th century, it was a popular site for public hangings.
During in its heyday, Obor Market was comprised of different indoor and outdoor spaces that sprawled over up to 16 city blocks. The old market was completely destroyed in the 1970s as part of Bucharest’s urban renewal project, and two modern halls, a public housing complex and a small park erected in its place.
Obor has certainly changed a lot (and probably lost some of its character in the process), but it remains a Bucharest icon, beloved by locals and visited by the country’s most esteemed guests (including who else but President Nixon in 1969).
Obor Market opening hours
Obor used to be a bi-weekly market, but today it’s open seven days a week from 7am. The official closing time is 8pm, but our guide advised us that the market tends to wrap up earlier than that, around 4 or 5pm in winter and a little later in the summer months. For the best variety of produce and to see the market at its liveliest, I recommend visiting earlier in the day.
Getting to Obor Market
Obor Market is located on Strada Ziduri in Bucharest’s Sector 2, around 4km northeast of the Old Town. The easiest way to travel to the market is by metro.
The market complex (which, as you’ll see, is made up of several buildings) is just footsteps from Obor Metro station on the M1 yellow line. From Piata Unirii, take the blue M2 line three stops north to Piata Victoriei. Transfer to the yellow M2 line (in the direction of Dristor 2) and travel two more stops to Obor.
Take the easternmost exit from the metro. As you emerge from the underground station, you’ll see a large building, Bucur Obor, immediately across the road. To reach Obor Market, enter the building, walk across the ground floor, and exit out the opposite side. In the summer months, there are outdoor stalls set up along the sidewalk, forming an alternative walkway from the metro station to the market.
Market layout & what to see
The first building—the apartment block-slash-shopping mall you walk through from the metro station—used to be a fresh food market. Stallholders were evicted from this area (for ‘sanitation reasons’, according to our guide) to make way for clothing boutiques and jewellery stores.
The main part of Obor Market now lies behind the apartment building, the chaos of the market conveniently concealed from street view, as was the communist way.
Obor Market is comprised of two main market halls connected by a network of outdoor stalls. The first hall, Halele Obor, was built in the 1940s. It’s a cavernous building with a high ceiling, galley level on one side, and built-in shops around the exterior. If you look hard enough, you can just make out the remnants of a massive Soviet-style agricultural mosaic on one of the market walls. Sadly it’s almost completely deteriorated.
During Romania’s communist years, stallholders in Halele Obor traded exclusively in seafood and saltwater fish caught by a state-owned fleet of commercial boats stationed in the Atlantic. After the revolution, the trawlers were sacrificed for scrap metal. Overnight, Obor’s fish traders closed up shop and seafood almost completely vanished from the Romanian diet (although there’s still trawlers in the Black Sea, the haul is a fraction of what it used to be).
The market floor of Halele Obor is now devoted to household goods (think cheap cleaning products and other bits and pieces), clothing, and the like. At the entrance, there are a few bakeries and a handful of stalls selling dried fruit, loose biscuits and nuts.
The produce section
Exit out the back of Halele Obor and cross the road to reach the second building, the farmer’s market (the modern orange-coloured building pictured above). This part of Obor Market is far more interesting for visitors.
There are three levels: Fresh produce can be found downstairs; meat, cheese and preserves on the second floor; and offices on the top floor. The different levels are connected by two sets of escalators. The produce section is made up of long tables stacked with fruit and veg. Look out for vending machines selling fresh-squeezed orange juice and refill stations that dispense unpasteurised cow’s milk (Romania is one of few EU States where raw milk is still sold).
The upper level of the market is more formal and comprised of shops rather than stalls. These include butcher’s shops, bakeries, an excellent Turkish sweets shop (try the halva), wine shops, spice shops, health food stores, and natural pharmacies.
Immediately outside the market building is a demountable and seating area signposted ‘Obor Terrace’. Stallholders break here for lunch (and drinks). If you want a really local experience, buy some goodies from the market and grab a seat inside the terrace to eat (BYO anything is acceptable).
For a few leu, you can buy a plate of steaming hot mici (grilled Romanian meatballs) served with mustard and a bread roll on the side from the terrace canteen. There is also a bar serving beer and mulled wine in winter.
Above one of the tables is a sign that reads ‘Beware of Bears’. It’s a bit of a local joke that refers to the ‘dancing bears’ that until recently could still be seen inside the market.
What to buy at Obor Market
A lot of the fruit and veg sold in Romania is imported. At Obor Market, we spotted Tibetan Goji berries and Tunisian dates, among other exotic products. There is a far better range of fresh produce available during the warmer months; however even in winter, you can still find some noteworthy items on display.
Highlights include a huge variety of apples, garlic sold on braided stems, walnuts in their shells, and jars of horseradish (either plain or mixed with beets). Spices and dried herbs are sold year-round, as are dried chilli peppers and bouquets of marigold flowers.
Honey and bee pollen products are also very popular. Upstairs, look out for the huge blocks of white cheese made from sheep’s milk. They all look the same, but each one tastes different (we sampled slices of three different varieties). Some stalls sell cheeses aged in pork intestines or even in birch tree bark. Pork products (sausages, cured meat) are ubiquitous as well.
Tips for visiting Obor Market
Come hungry! Alongside the produce and preserves, there are dozens of bakeries and sweets shops at Obor. I also highly recommend trying the mici at Obor Terrace—it’s said to be one of the best in Bucharest.
Dress appropriately. Even though the market is enclosed, it’s still quite cold inside in winter. Keep your jacket and gloves on as you exit the metro. I also suggest wearing closed-in shoes to protect your feet from the grimy market floor.
Watch your haggling. Most stalls sell produce by the piece (buc) or kilo. In most cases, prices are clearly marked, suggesting that haggling is probably frowned upon.
Be careful when taking photos. We were approached by a security guard inside Halele Obor and warned not to take photos inside the building. I’m still not completely sure of the reason for this. When we reached the produce market, we noticed we were being closely followed by another security guard. We asked him if photos were OK (via hand gestures) and after a quick call on his walkie talkie, he gave us the all clear. To be on the safe side, I recommend asking stallholders before you photograph their produce. It’s a bit unusual, but we found that people were very suspect of our cameras and needed reassurance that we weren’t photographing them, but rather the food. You should definitely get permission before taking anyone’s portrait.
Visiting Obor Market with a guide
If you prefer to go with a guide, you can visit Obor Market as part of the Bohemian Bucharest: Markets & Mahallas small group tour. I took this tour and can personally vouch that it’s a fantastic way to explore Bucharest’s more authentic neighbourhoods.
Have you been to Obor Market? Do you enjoy visiting local markets when you travel?
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