If you are lucky enough to be in Madrid on a Sunday, I suggest getting up a little early, and head to the oldest open market in Madrid, known as the Rastro.
The Rastro is located in the oldest part of Madrid, Madrid Antiguo. It is an outdoor flea market that begins at the Plaza Cascorro, and runs down the street Ribera de Cortidores. It continues downhill on this street for blocks. There are many vendors that put up their booths and stands along Ribera de Cortidores street and the intersecting streets, so plan on at least 2-3 hours to stroll , there is so much to look at and barter for. The assortment of merchandise is astounding! Clothing, in every style and size, is usually sold by the gypsies. You can shop for coats, pants, dresses, shoes, lingerie, kids clothing, anything you might need at a low price. There are also artisans selling jewelry , candles, wood sculptures, you name it. You will also find the vendors from Latin America with their colorful displays of scarves and beaded jewelry. Many of the African vendors sell leather goods from Morocco. It’s endless! On the side streets more vendors are selling antiques, some worth something and some just old stuff.
The streets are packed with people by 11:00am. It seems like half of Madrid is out on a Sunday morning! This is when you, as a tourist, can integrate into the culture, shoulder to shoulder with the locals, hearing the chatter and listening to the vendors calling out their wares. As a precautionary note: watch your purse and pockets! The locals recommend bringing a predetermined amount of money and put it deep into a pocket or just keep your hand on your purse. ( I leave my passport in the room in the safe. Who wants to spend their precious vacation standing in line at the embassy?)
Once you make it down to the end of the Rastro, you’ll come upon a little plaza where you’ll find people selling books, trading cards, coins, kitchen utensils, tools and more. After such an arduous shopping experience, if you’ve bought anything or not, you’ll find yourself famished.
There are many small bars (family friendly) open to accomodate hungry shoppers. If you have never visited Spain, it is good to know that Spaniards are notorious for standing at a bar or counter while eating tapas or a pre-meal snack. So, if you don’t have the stamina,, you might seek out a bench after purchasing your food at the bar.
There are many bars and pubs to choose from on the Rastro route, but I would recommend the bar on the north side of this last plaza on the Rastro route.. This family run business is always packed to the gills –ha-ha — their specialty is large sardines cooked on the grill. The matriarch of the bar, a small older woman with perfectly coiffed hair, not a gray to be seen, bright red lipstick and sharply penciled eyebrows, looks so elegant as she flips the sardines on the grill. The son is taking orders, serving beer and calculating the tabs… multitasking would be an understatement. If you accomplish the task of pushing your way to the bar, ask for ‘sardinas’ (sardines), ‘pimientos padron’ (little mild peppers sauteed in olive oil), and una caña (a beer). Absolutely one of the best meals you’ll ever have, even if you have to stand!
After this fabulous snack, you can make your way up to the Plaza Mayor. Follow the street Ronda de Toledo which takes you directly to the Plaza Mayor. Here is a relaxing spot to finish the morning with more tapas and another cerveza. Sit , rest your feet and people watch as you contemplate one of the most colorful strolls through ‘’Old Madrid.” You’ll feel like you’ve been truly immersed in the Spanish culture while visiting the Rastro!