El Retiro Park
Step away from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend a few hours relaxing in one of the Madrileños’ favourite spots, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Covering over 125 hectares and comprising more than 15,000 trees, El Retiro Park–recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site–is a green oasis in the heart of the city. In it you’ll find all kinds of interesting monuments and gardens, including the Jardín de Vivaces, the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (Andalusian-inspired classicistic gardens), the Jardines del Arquitecto Herrero Palacios, the Rosaleda rose garden and the Parterre Francés, which holds a Mexican conifer that is nearly 400 years old and is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree.
In addition to its role as one of the city’s green lungs, it is also a popular spot among Madrileños who like to go there for a stroll, to do some sport, visit an exhibition or take the kids to a puppet show. The park is home to a large artificial lake, where you can rent a rowing boat, and to the Velázquez Palace and Glass Palace which are both currently used as exhibition halls by the Reina Sofía Museum. The latter is a beautiful glass pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic plants for an exhibition on the Philippines. It is one the finest examples of cast-iron architecture in Spain.
El Retiro is also filled with interesting sculptures and fountains such as the magnificent Monument to Alfonso XII, which watches over the lake and in spring of 2018 opened to the public an observation deck offering wonderful vistas. Near the Rose Garden, you’ll encounter the statue of the Fallen Angel, the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil which curiously enough sits 666m above sea level. Other spots worth visiting are the Galápagos Fountain, built in honour of the then princess Isabella II, the Teatro de Títeres, the only theatre in Europe that stages puppet shows every weekend, and the large area known as Reservado de Fernando VII which King Ferdinand VII decided to keep for himself and his family when the rest of the park was opened to the public. In this section of El Retiro, between Calle O’Donnell and Calle Menéndez Pelayo, you’ll find some of the king’s “whims”, small buildings or monuments designed as little retreats for the monarchs to rest and relax: Casa del Pescador, the Montaña Artificial and the Casa del Contrabandista, which now houses Florida Park, a former nightclub which has been turned into a multi-purpose space serving top-notch food and hosting shows and other events.
A wonderful green space where you can relax… or work out
A firm favourite with both locals and tourists, El Retiro is a great place to go rollerblading, for a long walk or a jog. Dotted with playgrounds of different sizes, it’s just as popular with the little ones.
The park is also home to La Chopera municipal sports centre, the Eugenio Trias Public Library and the Casa de Vacas Cultural Centre, as well as to what is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree. An exotic species that doesn’t lose its leaves every year, the Mexican conifer known as the Ahuehuete (or Montezuma cypress) has been there since around 1630. Used by Napoleon’s soldiers as a support for their cannons when they turned their park into the army’s headquarters, it was one of the few lucky trees to have survived the Spanish War of Independence against France.
If you fancy pedaling around the park, you can rent a bicycle from one of the bike rentals in the area. You’ll also find a number of outdoor cafés and kiosks dotted around El Retiro where you can get a drink or bite to eat.
Every year the park plays host to popular events such as the Book Fair and the fireworks display held in honour of San Isidro, the city’s patron saint.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
On 25 July 2021, El Retiro Park and the Paseo del Prado, known jointly as the Landscape of Light, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this extraordinary site that boasts “outstanding universal value”.