A Sunday morning at El Rastro flea market, Europe's largest, is a Madrid institution. You could easily spend the entire morning inching your way down the hill and the maze of streets. Cheap clothes, luggage, old flamenco records, even older photos of Madrid, faux-designer purses, grungy T-shirts, household goods and electronics are the main fare. For every 10 pieces of junk, there’s a real gem (a lost masterpiece, an Underwood typewriter) waiting to be found.
The crowded Sunday flea market was, back in the 17th and 18th centuries, largely a meat market (rastro means ‘stain’, in reference to the trail of blood left behind by animals dragged down the hill). The road leading through the market, Calle de la Ribera de los Curtidores, translates as 'Tanners’ Alley' and further evokes this sense of a slaughterhouse past. On Sunday mornings it's the place to be, with all of Madrid here in search of a bargain.
Antiques are also a major drawcard with a concentration of stores at Nuevas Galerías and Galerías Piquer; most shops open 10am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday and not all open during El Rastro.
A word of warning: pickpockets love El Rastro as much as everyone else, so keep a tight hold on your belongings and don’t keep valuables in easy-to-reach pockets.