As a TEFL teacher in Madrid, an ABSOLUTE must do is visit El Rastro.  It’s a giant open-air flea market which stretches from neighborhood (barrio) Embajadores to La Latina and hosts approximately 3,500 stalls (casitas). It’s open every Sunday from 9am to 3pm.  Although it is now known as a place to find just about anything, it is believed to have began as a market for leather.  A slaughter house close by would sell leather and other animal products there on certain days of the week.  Over time the commercial activity and success attracted other vendors, which eventually made  ‘El Rastro’  what it is today.

TtTip: El Rastro is infamous for pick pocketing so please be aware of your belongings while you make your purchases.

Although it doesn´t seem like it, there actually is some organization amongst the stalls.

According to the market was once broken up into these sections.

  • Calle Fray Ceferino Gonzales is known as “calle de los Pájaros” (‘street of the birds’) as it was where peddlars and travelling sellers would sell domestic animals and birds and associated paraphernalia.
  • Calle San Cayetano is also known as “calle de los Pintores” (‘street of the Painters’), as its permanent stalls sell paintings and drawings and art supplies.
  • Stalls around calle Rodas and the Plaza de General Vara del Rey (formerly Plaza de Antonio Zozaya) and Plaza de Campillo del Mundo Nuevo specialise in buying and selling magazines, trading cards and stamps. A frequent sight in this area is young children swapping and trading with each other.
  • Calle Carnero and calle Carlos Arniches are where bouquinistas sell old, rare and collectible books.
  • The Plaza de Cascorro specialises in selling funky clothing and accessories.
  • Calle Mira el Sol is for the movie buffs with everything from Andrei Tarkovsky to Pajares.

Because of its wide selection and cheap prices the Rastro is very popular.  One tip that all of the locals give is to go early in order to beat the heat and the tourists. Even though it is still a bit crowded you have a better chance of taking your time to haggle with the shop keeper. Now go get shopping!


Contributing Writer: Monica Bixby