This past year, we lived on Calle Toledo, which is on the edge of El Rastro, an open air market that happens every Sunday and public holiday in Madrid. My mom, who spent a semester studying abroad in Spain 30 years ago had told us to check out El Rastro before we left, but since it was on Sunday mornings, and we were hoping to find a church to get connected with during that time, we weren't sure exactly how we were going to work it. Little did we know that every weekend when we went to and from church, we would walk past streets closed off due to El Rastro, and would be secretly glad to have a reason to leave the neighborhood for a while, as hordes of people poured in from about 10am - 2pm every Sunday.
Now, let me preface my typical onslaught of photos by saying that El Rastro is not very photogenic. In fact, when we first wandered around the market, I was kind of shocked. Is this really all that it is, I thought? Much of it seemed (or is) second-hand and isn't all that different from what you can buy from any old chino around Madrid or souvenir shop on the streets off of Plaza Mayor or Sol. That was my impression back in early October, and I don't think we ever intentionally went back. We just went about our business on Sundays and kind of steered clear of the area because it was hectic and crowded and not really worth the trouble.
I added El Rastro to my "Must-See Madrid" list, though, as our time in the city started coming to a close, because I wanted to give it one good chance, so one Sunday that we didn't have church we set off, camera (securely) in hand (apparently pickpockets like to frequent El Rastro). We also promised ourselves pastries from Lidl afterwards since we were looking for any excuse to eat caracolas and jam-filled Berlinas at that point since we knew our days of being walking distance to a Lidl were limited.
Some of our favorite products below: fanny packs (really hot right now in Madrid, although the preferred method of wearing is around the neck rather than the waist), an MP3 player (with a screen!) for only 6€, and the dog magnets (Christmas stocking 2016?). So many gems to be discovered at El Rastro...
I read a funny - but possibly true - statement about El Rastro in Lonely Planet. "For every 10 pieces of junk, there's a real gem (a lost masterpiece, an Underwood typewriter) waiting to be found." The main street, Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, is a mix of secondhand clothes, souvenirs, football scarves, and junk, but a few streets branching off include art, antiques, and furniture.
If you're going to visit the market, though, I'd recommend visiting a few other places in the neighborhood while you're around. The Madrid Río is only about a 15 minute walk away, and well worth a visit if it's nice enough to be outside (which I'm assuming it is, if you're visiting El Rastro). San Francisco el Grande is in the other direction of the Río, but it's a gorgeous church and is free to visit. It also has a courtyard with a garden in it that's a good spot to bring pastries (ahem, not like we've ever done that or anything).
Speaking of pastries, our post-El Rastro treat in the courtyard of San Francisco el Grande...