El Rastro is the most popular open air flea market in Madrid. Located around the Ribera de Curtidores, this flea market encompasses a large, almost triangular block marked by Calle de Toledo, Calle Embajadores and Ronda de Toledo, and spreads into various streets in the area.
Comparable with London’s Portobello or Paris’s legendary Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, El Rastro features a huge selection of nearly 3,500 stalls full of all sorts of antiques, books, vintage furniture, second-hand clothing, crafts, and many other little hidden treasures.
They say that it is possible to find almost anything on a visit to El Rastro flea market in Madrid: from an old camera to a lost edition of Cristiano Ronaldo’s collectible stickers.
I’m afraid it’s an exaggeration but you never know… Exploring the best Madrid street market can be a real adventure, and a treasure hunt!
How El Rastro began as a street market
El Rastro (that can be literally translated as the trail) is one of the oldest market street in Europe, dating back to 1740.
The name “el rastro” comes from the trail of blood from carcasses dragged from the slaughterhouse down the Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores to the tanneries, where the leather processing industry was located. In fact, curtidor means tanner in Spanish.
Rag and bone men selling clothes and gypsies from southern Spain selling antiques to dealers were the original traders down this street.
But times have changed…
Some 40% of today’s Rastro offers quality merchandise in the antiques market. In this area you can find 18th-century furniture, glassware, silver, brass fixtures and ornaments, some statuary, chips of 17th-century tiles, and huge Renaissance doors and frames.
The remaining 60% is out in the open. The street merchandise is displayed on tables, in booths, or simply spread on the ground. Sometimes it hangs from ropes strung between poles.
Where is El Rastro?
El Rastro is located between the district of La Latina (which you can explore if you follow walk 4 of my ‘Madrid In 9 Walks’ guide) and the neighborhood of Embajadores.
It starts at Plaza de Cascorro and extends to Ronda de Toledo, with most of the stalls located along the Ribera de Curtidores and the streets to the left and right of it.
When does El Rastro takes place?
El Rastro is open Sundays from 9:00 to 15:00, all year round, including public holidays.
However, the best time to visit El Rastro is between 9:00 and 10:00. So, yes, get up early! Because from 11:00 to 14:00 El Rastro is completely packed and you can barely walk around.
Be particularly careful as there could be pickpockets in the area. Take special care of your personal belongings and read some advice on street safety in Madrid.
What can you find at El Rastro?
The short answer to the question is: a little bit of everything! In El Rastro you will find antiques and objects of decoration, footwear, jewelry, household objects, new and used clothes, handicrafts, household appliances, electrical products, pet articles, perfumery and cosmetics, machinery, furniture, stationery, collectors’ items.
The best bet for more unique discoveries is along the side streets, not on Calle Ribera de Curtidores. That’s where you’ll find shops selling antiques and retro goods, plus individuals who spread out a pile of wares on cloths or makeshift tables. You might spot a treasure there.
The goods are scattered in the 3,500 stalls (yes, you’ve read right… 3,500!) that occupy the whole El Rastro area.
There are several squares and streets where, traditionally, you will find a grouping of stalls selling the same type of product:
- In Plaza del Cascorro vendors sell underground fashion.
- Calle Fray Ceferino González is known as Calle los Pájaros because in this street birds were formerly sold. This practice is now banned in the stalls, but you can still find birds inside the shops.
- Calle San Cayetano is known as Calle de los Pintores, because of the painters who sell their art and articles for painting or drawing.
- Calle Rodas, Plaza General Vara del Rey and Plaza Campillo del Mundo Nuevo you can find stalls where people trade magazines, cards, stickers, stamps and figurines. In addition, in Plaza General Vara del Rey there are several stalls of second-hand clothing.
- Calle del Carnero and Calle Carlos Arniches is full of stalls where you can find used books.
- In Ronda de Toledo all types of music (tapes, CDs,…) are sold.
If you don’t speak Spanish, bargaining is a tricky matter, especially when the true monetary value of the merchandise is in question. So if you are really interested in an item, wait around until a sale determines the going price.
Other goods have P.V.P. (precio venta público) marked on their price tags, indicating a fixed price. In this case, don’t waste your time because you won’t get any change to bargain. It’s either take it or leave it.
How can you get to El Rastro?
The easiest and fastest way to get to El Rastro is the Madrid subway stopping at the following stations:
- Tirso de Molina and Sol stations on line 1 (light blue).
- Sol and Opera stations on line 2 (red).
- Embajadores, Lavapiés and Sol stations on line 3 (yellow).
- Opera, La Latina, Puerta de Toledo and Acacias stations on line 5 (light green).