Alongside games of football and couples in pedalos, the art galleries, buskers and 17th-century palace give El Retiro a different flavour to your average park.
El Retiro, or El Parque de Retiro, was once a place of retreat for the Spanish royal family who had a palace in its grounds. Although it was opened up to the public in the 1860s, many of the original features have been retained, making this a remarkable place to visit as a sightseer as well as a nice, quiet spot to relax in. There are all sorts of interesting sites dotted about the grounds here so you’re sure to find plenty to keep you occupied over its 140 hectares.
While some areas have been left relatively wild, others are managed and tended to. The Rosaleda del Retiro is a beautiful rose garden and offers a feast for the senses when the flowers are in bloom. The Forest of Remembrance is another landscaped part of El Retiro, and was established in memory of the victims of the 2004 terror attacks in Madrid.
A wonderful feature of this park is that you’re likely to come across some impressive statues and monuments unexpectedly. For instance, Paseo de la Argentina is adorned with a number of statues that once stood in the Royal Palace. There is also a striking monument to Alfonso XII right by Retiro Pond. The king sits on his horse in the middle of a semi-circular colonnade, accompanied to his left and right by allegorical statues. Even if you're wandering around aimlessly through El Retiro, it probably won't be long before you come up against a statue or a fountain or a well-tended garden.
You can also catch some art exhibitions at the Palacio de Velázquez or the Palacio de Cristal, both monuments to neoclassical architecture in themselves. The Casón del Buen Retiro is also an interesting building and one of the only remaining 17th-century structures in the park. Having served as a ballroom once upon a time, it is now home to the Prado Museum’s study centre.
El Retiro is within easy walking distance of the Paseo del Prado and Plaza de Cibeles. The main entrance can be found next to Puerta de Alcalá although you can also access the park from Retiro, Principe de Vergara, Ibiza and Atocha metro stations. The park is open every day, although opening times depend on the time of year so it’s worth checking before you make the trip.