Twelve countries. One road. The Black Sea Ring Highway is a recently formed blacktop highway that encircles the coast of the Black Sea for about 7,700 km and touches major cities in both Europe and Asia. That’s a lot of ground for travelers to cover.

Shoppers peruse the stalls of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

Still, whether you’re peddling your way on a bike, cruising in a Soviet-era Polski Fiat, or hogging the road on a motorcycle, traveling this highway is a must for the adventurous spirit interested in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) has famously run a caravan of trucks around this highway to promote international commerce, bridging gaps among bickering nations, and testing the efficiency of the border crossings. So if you’re up for a little adventure and a lot of memories this summer, follow in BSEC’s footsteps and start your own caravan around the Black Sea. Avoid getting caught up in touristy clichés and get to know the people and culture of the countries you are visiting by supporting local markets in these key cities along the highway. Smell the spices, devour the baklava, and learn to haggle with the best of the babushkas.

Chişinău, Moldova

Central Market

Enjoy traditional Moldovan goods along MitropolitVarlaam Street, where thousands of people come every day to purchase fruits, vegetables, and other fresh goods at the farmer’s market. Men and women walk with their arms laden with wares, and other locals sell produce out of buckets on the side of the street. After a morning at the market, head up the road to Cathedral Park and have a picnic with your freshly purchased produce. The central market is a great destination: Even if you don’t feel like haggling down the relatively affordable prices, you can watch the motley crowd of shoppers and experience the local color of Chişinău.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Dry Bridge Market

In this weekend flea market, you’ll find absolutely everything you never knew you needed. In the stalls of the Dry Bridge Market, both history buffs and travelers with a penchant for kitsch will be satisfied with the array of knickknacks. Get yourself a medal from the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics or perhaps a freshly printed “old” photograph of Charlie Chaplin in prison stripes. As long as you don’t concern yourself too much with which antiques are strictly authentic, you’re bound to find a souvenir that will double as a great conversation piece.

Odessa, Ukraine

Privoz Market

Dates and other dried fruit are sorted at the Privoz Market

Diana Nyad of NPR described the Privoz Market as “a cross between a recycling center and a department store.” In Ukraine’s largest open-air market, which is also one of the largest markets in the world, tourists can find anything and everything. Products range from high-end luxury items such as caviar and perfume to bargains like fresh produce and building materials. Locals suggest that confused foreigners who don’t speak the language look for the starushki, elderly vendors who will usually work with you and treat you well.

Thessaloníki, Greece

Louloudadika and Chalkeon Markets

Treat yourself to some summer blooms in the flower district of Louloudadika, near bustling Aristotelous Square. This tiny picturesque gem is tucked away on a street just around the corner from the Thessaloníki Hagia Sophia, one of the oldest churches in the city and a replica of the one in Istanbul. After meandering among the flowers, wind your way over to the Chalkeon copper market where the artisans still craft their goods in the traditional way. And be sure to check out the Church of the Panagia Chalkeon, also known as “the Virgin of the Coppersmiths.” The domed, multi-level church boasts frescos from the eleventh century and has provided a home and inspiration to copper artisans for centuries.

Bucharest, Romania

Targul Taranului Market

If you’re looking for authentic, traditional Romanian goods, look no further than Bucharest’s Targul Taranului farmer’s market. This “slow food” market is a venue for local farmers to sell their goods in the city. After you’ve indulged in local honey and pastravafumat (smoked trout preserved in pine branches), enjoy a visual feast at Bursa Marfurilor (also known as the “Ark Building”) just around the corner. Once the site of the Bucharest stock exchange, the building now celebrates architecture, design, and contemporary art.

Istanbul, Turkey

Grand Bazaar

Rugs, tiles, lamps—this place is Ali Baba’s cave on steroids.

A rather macabre sock display in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

Constructed in the fifteenth century, the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world, claiming sixty streets, five thousand shops, and between 250 thousand to 500 thousand visitors a day. The mad crush of people will be well worth the experience. Although there are tourist traps, local vendors also provide authentic and varied goods and food. Keep in mind that haggling is expected and required in this maze of shops. Go ahead, get yourself that belly dancing costume. We know you want to.

—Brooke Randell


“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants

“Rasputin” by Boney M

“Zorba the Greek” by Mikis Theodorakis

“Back in the USSR” by The Beatles