El Rastro, Madrid

Forget about church -- Sundays in Madrid are all about the flea market, El Rastro.

flea market This time-honored Madrid ritual dates to the 15th century, though its form has changed significantly over the years. Nowadays, some call it overrated and unbearably packed with people. But there's still much to enjoy from the experience.

Here are some insider tips on how to make the most of El Rastro:

  • Arrive as early as possible. El Rastro opens at dawn and closes around 2pm. The latter hours can be unbearably crowded, especially if the weather's nice.
  • Don't carry valuable belongings, especially passports and credit cards. Pickpocketing is widespread, so keep a very close eye on what you do take along.
  • This flea market is not really about shopping -- it's more about taking in the atmosphere.
  • Brave the packed local bars for "cañas" - short beers - and traditional local fare like fried sardines, pimientos de padrón and fried calamari. "El Cruz," right on Plaza de Cascorro, is a classic.
  • If you get tired of the Rastro bustle, escape the market's nexus towards Plaza de la Paja and Plaza de San Andrés. You'll find Madrid's cool crowd mixed with hippies and foreigners, basking in the sun or, if it's cold, huddled in the area's great bars.
  • Don't expect to bargain vendors down very much. The influx of tourists has made El Rastro less of a Moroccan market and more of a typical commercial venture.
  • Know where to look for what you're looking for...

el rastroPlaza de Tirso de Molina: political tables, mostly anarchist and communist groups selling books and flags

Plaza de Cascorro: this is the main northern entrance to El Rastro, where you'll find a little bit of everything. Flowers, clothing, souvenirs, jewelry, tapestries... all the way down Ribera de Curtidores.

For Antiques: explore the southern section of Ribera de Curtidores, plus the streets west: Mira el Río Alto, Mira el Río Bajo, Carlos Aniches...