In Madrid, a visit to El Retiro is definitely a must. Here’s our El Retiro Park guide where you’ll find our top highlights and things to do in the park.

Spain’s capital has some incredible green spaces. Located close to the city centre and within walking distance to Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art, El Retiro is the most renowned and most visited. Originally a retreat for the Spanish Royal Family, it opened to the public in the 19th century.

El Retiro Park: Madrid’s playground

Although most refer to it simply as ‘El Retiro’, the park’s full name is Parque del Buen Retiro, which means ‘Park of the Good Retreat’. For Madrileños and visitors alike, it certainly is that!

El Retiro’s vast landscaped gardens, lakes, fountains and picturesque paths provide a space to retreat to as well as a space to play in. Andt that’s not all… The park is also home to a couple of palaces and a puppet theatre!

Whilst it’s not Madrid’s biggest park (Casa de Campo in the west of the city has that title), it’s still pretty sizeable at 125 hectares! So there’s plenty of space for all sorts of activities.

El Retiro Park Guide

With many of the capital’s attractions nearby, El Retiro is the perfect place to rest your weary feet from all the sightseeing. On a sunny day, you’re spoilt for choice for picturesque spots to roll out a blanket for a picnic. There are also 15,000 trees to seek shade under if you’re there during one of Madrid’s hot summers.

As you might expect, weekdays in the park provide the best opportunity to enjoy the park at its quietest. On the weekends – especially on a warm day – the park has a more festival mood and really becomes the city’s playground. The puppet theatre hosts regular shows on the weekends and you’re bound to find street performers performing to crowds at popular spots. There will also be people boating, playing sports, strolling and chilling.

Eating at El Retiro

If you haven’t brought a picnic, there are also several small cafes with outdoor seating serving snacks and refreshments dotted around the park. For something more substantial in El Retiro, there is Florida Retiro. Located between Puerta de Reina Mercedes and the Monument to Martinez Campo, Florida Retiro comprises three dining spaces (one on the rooftop) and a bar in the evenings.

Top highlights

Boating lake

Boating lake - El Retiro Park Guide, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Boating lake with the monument to King Alfonso XII

The boating lake in the northern half of the park is easily the top highlight. It’s a beautiful spot to relax as well as to row, row, row your boat around. On the east side of the lake, there is the iconic monument to King Alfonso XII.

Palacio de Velazquez and Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal - El Retiro Park Guide, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Palacio de Cristal in the Autumn | Image: Clara Caballero/Flickr

Located in the centre of the park, a couple of hundred metres apart, the Palacio de Velázquez and Palacio de Cristal are absolutely worth a visit. Both are stunning buildings that function now as exhibition spaces for the Reina Sofia Museum. They’re also free to visit.

The buildings alone (especially the Palacio de Cristal, which is an iron-framed glass palace) are wonderful to gawp at – from inside and out.

Walking paths

There are numerous walking paths around the park. For a wander around the park that takes in many key sights as well some of the park’s most significant trees, it’s worth following the Botanical Path in this map and guide to El Retiro Park. Another notable (but much shorter) path is Paseo de Argentina, which is also known as Statues Walk. The path, which starts at Puerta España is lined with 18th century sculptures of figures from the Spanish royal family.

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel - El Retiro Park Guide, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Fallen Angel

Another iconic monument in the park is the Fallen Angel (Angel de Caido) sculpture, located in the southern half of the park. The statue and fountain pays homage to the devil. It’s both a beautiful and haunting monument. An interesting fact about it is that the Fallen Angel is placed 666 metres above sea level…

Gardens: Roses, Peacocks and a French style garden

There are of course also some really beautiful gardens in the park. But if you’re in Madrid in May and June, don’t miss the Rose Garden (Rosaleda) in the southern half of the park. Located close to the Fallen Angel, the months of May and June are when the roses are in full bloom.

Rose Garden - El Retiro Park Guide, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Rose Garden | Image: Mike Norton/Flickr

Peacock, El Retiro Park Guide, Madrid | Travel Blog | DriveSpain

Peacock in Cecilio Rodriguez Garden

Over on the east side of the park, the Cecilio Rodriguez Garden is home to a number of peacocks. And close to Puerta de Felipe IV, the Parterre Gardens, a French style garden also offers a stunning setting (see top image).

Visiting El Retiro Park

El Retiro is open everyday of the year and free to visit.

The park is bordered by four main streets: Calle de Alfonso XII, Avenida de Menendez Pelayo, Calle de O’Donnell and Calle de Alcala. Of the 18 gates to the park, five of which are along Calle de Alfonso XII. If you’re in Madrid’s city centre, you’re likely to use one of these gates.

The nearest Metro stations are: Retiro, Atocha and Ibiza.

Top image © Gregorio Puga Bailón/Flickr