El Rastro, which means the trail, is easily Madrid’s most famous open air markets. It’s held every Sunday and public holiday from 10am-2pm in the La Latina district just south of the metro station. I don’t know exactly where the name El Rastro came from but one story that a local told me is kind of gloomy but it goes like this. Basically a long time ago there was a slaughterhouse nearby where El Rastro stands today and from that slaughterhouse the workers would take the hides from the cattle and walk them up to the tannery which would leave a trail of blood, hence the name. Gory story? Yes. Should you still check it out at least once? Yes!
First of all you need to prepare yourself before you decide to make the walk through this market. Tourists are a HUGE target for pick-pocketers here. I’ve seen people waiting on the sides just staring at women’s purses waiting until they see one that they can grab stuff out of. Always, always, always keep your bag zipped and hand holding it shut. It’s much easier to wear a smaller cross body bag to keep your hand on and never put money or even your phone in your pants pockets. You’re just screaming for trouble.
Also, be sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. This market is huge and you’ll definitely be doing a lot of walking on cobblestone streets and up and down hills so make sure your feet won’t be hurting after. A little extra deodorant too wouldn’t be a bad idea. Seems like a no brainier but you’re doing a lot more walking than maybe you usually do and you’ll be VERY close to everyone else.
In the streets of the market you’ll find literally everything (including the kitchen sink). Do you need a leather jacket? You’ll find almost every style for around 25-100 euros. Need some souvenirs? The stalls have postcards, magnets, and shot glasses galore! You’ll also find amazing carpets, tools, handmade shoes and bags, clothes, and impressive jewelry. Honestly if I were to name every single item in this post it would be longer than a thesis paper for a Ph.D.
After you’ve done your shopping for the day you can pop into any of the many restaurants around the area for quick tapas and beer or wine or even devour a menu del dia which is the 3 course, wine soaked, 2 hour long lunch that EVERYONE should experience while in Spain. Then grab your treasures and walk some of those extra calories off.
Now even though this market has many unique finds and it’s definitely an interesting zone for people watching it’s not something I’d choose to do every week unless there was something specifically that I’m looking for (faux leather jacket I’m coming for you). It’s incredibly busy and when the weather is hot it just becomes unbearable sometimes but I would say you should go at least once just to see this interesting market.
Let me know some of the treasures you’ve found at El Rastro.