Some people buy fridge magnets as travel mementos. I buy what my dad describes as “junk.”
We live in a world of instant gratification, where we eagerly replace our clothing, gadgets, and home decor based on the newest and trendiest TikTok recommendations. We buy nonsensical novelty items, sometimes multiple of the same item (just in case), and replace them before they even reach their point of expiry. I mean, do we really need a banana slicer? *Google with algorithmic caution.
There was a time, however, when things were made to last, crafted purposefully, restored, and often passed down from one generation to the other. The objects from by-gone eras are made to serve daily needs in a time where technology didn’t exist. The value of these antiques are often subjective, depending on the collector, its rarity, and most often measured by demand, sentimentality, and time. They hold within them a world of curiosity and charm, of feeling connected to the past, and the sense of nostalgia the items hold.
I love visiting antique stores because it feels like I’m walking through the aisles of time. While some may describe these places as junk yards, I’d like to think of them as historical museums, where you can learn about a city from what’s left behind — the journeys of migrators from far flung corners of the world, the belongings they travelled across the oceans with, and how it found its way to the towns and cities we visit.
So imagine my excitement when I discovered amazing bazaars, flea markets, and cabinets of curiosities in Melbourne and Sydney! I have only ever scoured for them in UK and Europe, but didn’t realise a relatively young country like Australia would have an abundance of vintage goodies from steals to splurges with something for everyone.
Even if you do not fancy yourself as much of a collector, it doesn’t take away appreciation from these historical pieces. You never know, you may find these places eye-opening, or like me, fall down a rabbit hole and in love with the thrill of the hunt.
1. Chapel Street Bazaar, Melbourne
Tucked inside an emporium on the trendy side of town is an Aladdin’s cave of unusual treasures! Chapel Street Bazaar in Prahran is undoubtedly one of Melbourne’s most iconic antique bazaars, serving as the longest-running preloved store with close to 100 stall holders. Here, you’ll find an assortment of retro, vintage, collectable, rare goods and trinkets housed under one roof.
After a day of shopping, you can take a stroll down the busy street, filled with graffiti art, delicious food, and brick and mortar shops. That is, if you have time to spare. This place is a time capsule that will suck you in!
2. The Amazing Mill Markets, Daylesford, Melbourne
Welcome to the Mecca of yesteryear! Perched up a little hill around the corner from the town centre of charming Daylesford, is a massive marketplace with densely packed items, from clothing and furniture to books, toys, and everything you can imagine! I would suggest staying overnight at one of the many boutique hotels as it will take more than a day to browse every stall. Daylesford is popular for the hot springs so you can rest your tired feet here too.
3. The French Antique Store, Melbourne
Calling all Francophiles! You’re invited to sit back in the armoire underneath the grand chandelier, breathe in the scents from perfumery maisons and immerse yourself amongst the carefully-curated pieces of a husband-and-wife duo. It takes a keen eye to spot hidden treasures, and Paul and Felicity do it with finesse. They personally travel to markets in France to scour for buried gems like porcelain, metalware, tables, chairs, paintings, and all things antiquely French to fill their wonderful store with. A true slice of France in the luxury sanctuary of Melbourne.
4. Wunderkammer, Melbourne
Translated from a German word, Wunderkammer means Cabinets of Wonder. How apropos for a store that features all manners of wondrous and exotic objects, leaning toward the peculiar, rare, and borderline macabre. There are cabinets of fossils, antique scientific apparatus, rare mineral stones, dried insects in resin, skeletons, and an assortment of taxidermy. It’s not something you expect to find in the middle of Melbourne’s bustling city. Definitely worth a visit!
5. Mangana Olinda, Melbourne
Take a journey through the hills and trees up to the town of Olinda and into the eclectic old world of Mangana, an enchanting shop nestled in the bushy and scenic cocoon of the Dandenong ranges. The shop is filled with all sorts of wonders. It’s like rummaging through a pirate’s treasure trove filled with maritime instruments, gemstones, magnifying glasses, globes, and quality crafted collectibles!
Some of the items are reproductions, which is perfect for those who want an alternative to often pricey and hard-to-come-by pieces. I highly recommend visiting Olinda, not just for Mangana, but for the quaint shops, cafes, art, markets, and more!
Zafigo tip: Take a 15-minute drive to neighbouring village Sassafras for the best scones in town at Miss Marple’s Tearoom!
6. Mitchell Road Antique & Design Centre, Sydney
This treasure hunter’s paradise is an antique goldmine with floor-to-ceiling collectibles, and rows upon rows of stalls with different themes, styles, and concepts. Some antique shops tend to be a little messy, but this place is organised well.
The pricing here is also a bit more competitive than other shops I visited. There seems to be better quality control and upkeep as well, so while it is dusty, it is not going to trigger your sinus.
It’s important to note that there aren’t any cafes close by, so make sure you have a full stomach and a bottle of water with you in case you get thirsty from wagging your tongue at all the gems! It is one of the ultimate go-to’s for any antique lover. It can be a little tricky getting here, but you won’t regret making the effort!
7. Used pty ltd, Gertrude St, Melbourne
Just off the curb of grungy Fitzroy is this small shop filled with long-forgotten pieces of early Australian furniture. The store is frequently rearranged and restocked with discarded industrial vintage items like tables, work benches, trollies, lighting fixtures, old maps, bar stools, toys, cabinet drawers, and even small items like metal tags from lockers and collectable tins. While the items may be used, the space is beautifully decorated and you’ll find something to appreciate in every corner! It’s also relatively smaller than the bigger warehouses but thoughtfully curated to satiate your hunting itch.
There are also many other stores nearby for you to browse after. While it’s not a destination store and won’t take as long to browse as the other shops on this list, it is certainly worth a visit to soak in the unique vibe of Fitzroy.
PS: Fitzroy’s been voted one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world!
8. Lunatiques, Sydney
I saved the best for last! If I had to pick only ONE antique store from this list, I’d pick Lunatiques. First off, I love a good pun and the name is the perfect portmanteau of ‘lunatic’ and ‘antiques’. This place will truly send you in a frenzy and turn you into a maniac because it is pure sensory overload.
The rustic industrial traders warehouse sits outside the bustling city by a highway, sprawled across 2,300 square meters, attracting hobbyists, collectors, stylists, set designers, prop hunters, and dealers. They sell everything from building signages to furniture, life-size art sculptures, and even French writing desks. But don’t worry if luggage space is an issue, there are also plenty of small knick-knacks like jewellery, books, and ornaments.
Treasure hunting tips:
- Most of the bigger shops and emporiums have unmanned stalls that are numbered by items and cabinets. There will be a few shop assistants around who hold the keys. Take pictures of the items you’re interested in while browsing, so that you can refer to them for inspection when you’re about to checkout. Otherwise it’s easy to lose track as it can get overwhelming.
- Some places allow discounts, so don’t be shy to negotiate. There’s no harm asking, but be careful not to offend sellers by giving low ball offers. They may be old items, but they are also rare and valuable in their own special way.
- Flea markets prefer to deal in cash, so do bring some with you as not every merchant has a card machine.
*All images by Tercia Goh.