El Rastro, which means “the trail,” began life as the area where Madrid’s tanneries were located. Hauling the animal carcasses left a “trail” of blood through the streets that today hold the market stalls of Madrid’s biggest and most popular street market.
When and where
El Rastro takes place every Sunday throughout the year from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The market is located around the Plaza de Cascorro and the streets Ribera de Curtidores and Calle de Embajadores, as well as the small side streets leading off these main thoroughfares. La Latina Metro station, on Line 5, is the closest to the market.
Get there early
Spaniards aren’t known for rising early, but make a special exception for El Rastro. The best bargains are snapped up early, so set your alarm and head out for opening time, when you’ll have the best opportunity to spot the stalls’ different wares and there’ll be fewer people jostling to browse.
Avoid the junk
A lot of El Rastro’s stalls around Plaza de Cascorro sell the typical market finds, t-shirts, incense burners, Madrid souvenirs, and other generic products. Explore further into the market to find its real treasures; its side streets and hidden plazas are home to little antique stores and stalls where you might find some excellent vintage homewares.
Pay in cash
Very few, if any stalls accept credit cards, so make sure you take cash to El Rastro.
Eat and drink
Part of the joy and tradition of El Rastro for locals is getting stuck into the food and drink scene of the tapas bars lining the market. The bars get busy early, with locals spilling out onto the streets making for a friendly and sociable atmosphere. Sample a Madrid speciality, caracoles a la Madrileña (Madrid-style snails) at Restaurante Casa Amadeo Los Caracoles, or delicious grilled sardines at the no-frills Bar Santurce. Wash down the food with an ice-cold caña (small beer); the market is the perfect excuse for a drink or two before lunchtime.
Enjoy some post-market tapas
Don’t fill up too much during the actual market, because after hitting the stalls, most locals head to the nearby La Latina for some tapas. La Latina, one of Madrid’s oldest neighborhoods, is renowned for its tapas scene and is home to Cava Baja, the capital’s most well-known streets lined with tapas bars.
As with any busy place in any big city, you should keep your wits about you at El Rastro. Make sure you keep your money in a safe place and use a securely fastened bag, ideally with a zip, and make sure you face it towards your body. Backpacks are generally not a good idea, because they are easy for pickpockets to get into.
Visit on a public holiday
Not many visitors realize that, as well as Sundays, El Rastro is open on public holidays when it is generally a little bit quieter than the manic scenes every weekend. Madrid has many public holidays, mainly falling on Catholic holy days, so make sure to check if one falls during your visit.