El Rastro in Madrid

Category: Madrid

If your upcoming trip to Madrid, Spain is going to include a Sunday stay, you should do yourself a favor and pay a visit to El Rastro, or formally El Rastro de Madrid.  El Rastro is the largest and most popular open-air flea market in the capital city.  It is held every Sunday and on Spain’s national public holidays and is located along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores, between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo, and just south of the La Latina metro train station.
Shoppers at El Rastro can peruse a variety of goods, both new and used, including many antiques dating back hundreds of years in some instances.  Below we will provide some of the details with regard to El Rastro, including its etymology, location and hours of operation, and a description of some of the items that are normally available for purchase.

About El Rastro

The term El Rastro is Spanish for the English phrase “the Trail.”  The flea market is most likely named after the tanneries that once dotted the Ribera de Curtidores, the Spanish name for “Riverside of Tanneries,” where slaughtered cattle were once transported to the tanneries, leaving a “trail” of blood along the street.

According to the bylaws of Madrid, El Rastro is permitted to operate every Sunday and public holiday from 9AM until 3PM, in the barrio de Embajadores, or “Ambassador’s neighborhood,” in the central district of Madrid.  The market is governed and regulated by the town council that allows a maximum of 3,500 stalls.  One of the most unique features in the area in which El Rastro operates is the statue dedicated to Eloy Gonzalo, a Spanish soldier and war hero who fought in the Cuban War of Independence.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a German author, once described El Rastro as the “final border between Europe and Africa,” a market made up of people from many different countries and ethnicities.  Collectively, they sell their wares, search for bargains and hidden treasures, engage in people watching and sightseeing, and sample the delicious and diverse fare.  The market is a far cry from the malls and shops in the more touristy sections of town, providing guests with a true Madrid experience that has to be experienced to appreciate.

Particular areas of El Rastro have become especially renowned, either due to their traditional significance or the specialty stalls located there.  Calle Frey Caferino Gonzales, for example, also known as “Calle de los Pajaros”, or “street of the birds,” was once home to throngs of street peddlers selling domestic animals and local and exotic birds.  On Calle Carnero and Calle Carlos Arniches, sellers offer rare and collectible books, while in the Plaza de Cascorro, locals and tourists can buy the newest fads in clothing and accessories.  Other items for sale at El Rastro include paintings and sketches by local artists; magazines, trading cards and stamps; and a collection of music CDS and DVD movies.

As the afternoon wears on at El Rastro, visitors and tourists can join the local Madrileños as they head, en masse, to La Plaza de Cascorro, where they can enjoy tapas, cocktails and a selection of both domestic and imported beers, all priced very reasonably to attract the local business.