El Rastro: hone your haggling techniques

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There are few things as traditional and typical of Madrid as El Rastro, an open-air flea market set up on Sundays and public holidays on Calle Ribera de Curtidores and adjacent streets. The stalls offer all kinds of stuff, rare objects and antiques. In the taverns and bars on the neighbouring streets, you can have your vermouth and whet your appetite.

Madrid’s El Rastro fleamarket is held on Sundays and public holidays between Plaza de Cascorro and the streets leading off the wide Ribera de Curtidores to Ronda de Toledo and Embajadores. This market got its name from the trail of blood (rastro) left by the animals that would be carried down from the slaughterhouse. As to the market’s main street (‘Riverbank of Tanneries’), it probably owes its name to the tanneries that once stood there.

It’s best to arrive before 11am if you want to avoid the crowds, but if you’d rather feel the characteristic cheerful atmosphere of El Rastro, come at midday and stay until closing time at 3pm. Don’t miss the man who peddles wafers dressed in a chulapo costume nor the old lady playing a hurdy-gurdy, both typical characters from El Rastro and the most traditional Madrid.

What can you find at El Rastro?

What you can buy at El Rastro you’re not likely to find in traditional stores: vintage furniture, curious objects, collector’s items, antiques, second-hand goods, antique books, electrical appliances, clothes, accessories, etc. Just go for a walk and let yourself be surprised.

Although the market has no fixed pattern, stalls tend to be grouped by the types of products they trade. Around Plaza del General Vara de Rey, for instance, you may come across second-hand clothes, while on Calle del Carnero and Calle Carlos Arniches there are many antique book stalls selling at bargain prices. The dynamics is that of a typical street market; you’re expected to bargain!

From Monday to Saturday, too

Many stalls and specialty shops on the wide and steep Ribera de Curtidores are open on weekdays too, for more relaxed trading. They sell mountain sportswear (new and second-hand gear from such top brands as Makalu, +Montaña, OS20 and El Rincón de la Montaña, among others), handmade furniture, and photo and video devices (Fotocasión, one of the largest photography shops in town). There are also antiques and furniture restoration shops (especially in the two carefully designed courtyards located on both sides of the street), booksellers, fabric remnant dealers, ironmongers and pet stores.

To complete a hectic morning at El Rastro, you may enjoy an aperitif and a snack in one of the typical tapas bars, or you can have lunch in a traditional restaurant, which the area abounds with.


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