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If there is one place that brings neighbours and travelers together, it is Retiro Park. Retiro Park is the lungs of the city of Madrid.
A place of leisure and calmness, tourists and neighbours alike gather here to enjoy the outdoors or to practice sports, as its wide avenues and flat terrain make it perfect for learning to skate, run or cycle. Its 125 hectares and more than 15,000 trees form a true oasis of greenery in the heart of Madrid.
From the botanical point of view, its gardens are a landscape architecture and botanical encyclopaedia: gardens of perennials, classical gardens with an Andalusian air, english and japanese gardens, the rose garden and finally, the French Parterre (patterned flower garden) and its ahuehuete (Mexican swamp cypress), the oldest tree in Madrid. It is said that this tree has stood in this place since 1630. Some say that during the Independence War against the French this tree was used by the French as their headquarters. It seems that Napoleon’s soldiers installed a cannon between the branches of this gigantic tree in order to fire without being spotted.
Musicians in Retiro Park
Retiro Park: Botany & History
Retiro Park is a place full of history.
Retiro Park was once the royal garden of the old Buen Retiro Palace, built by the kings of Spain in the 17th century as a place of spiritual retreat, rest and vacation. It is home to many architectural and historical elements such as the great basin (tha lake as we also call it), Velázquez Palace and the Crystal Palace. It houses remarkable sculptures and fountains such as the monument dedicated to Alphonse XII, the statue of the Fallen Angel, the only sculpture in the world that represents the devil (Lucifer); the Fountain of The Galápago Tortoises, the amazing Hermitage of San Pelayo and San Isidoro, the Forest of Remembrance and the Puppet Theater, a unique theater in Europe that offers a program every weekend.
The old “Buen Retiro” Palace
Unfortunately, most of this palace is now destroyed because of the battles of the time. It is still curious that what has survived best so far … is the garden! The gardens were inaugurated in 1630 and although at the beginning its use was reserved for members of the royal family, the park was gradually opened to the rest of the neighbours to become in 1868, one of the most beautiful public parks in Spain.
How to get to Retiro Park?
We recommend walking to the park as it is well worth the effort (lots of nice building and monuments on the way) , but if you prefer to take the metro, the closest stop is Retiro (line 2, red line), which you can get at the Puerta del Sol. The other closest lines are Ibiza (line 9), Serrano (line 4) and Atocha (line 1).
Where is the entrance?
The park has several gates and is accessible from every street that surrounds it, although we recommend that you enter or exit through the Felipe IV entrance (Alphonse XII street, the gate is front of the Buen Retiro Palace). The baroque style door with the year of construction written on it gives access to the park via the parterre de Philippe IV which is undoubtedly the most beautiful French garden of the park.
How much does it cost to enter Retiro Park? What are the schedules?
Although it is fenced in, Retiro Park is a public park with free access. The park opens at 6am and closes at midnight (10pm in winter). Watch out! In the park, there are two gardens that have their own schedule. We’ll talk about them below. The park is criss-crossed by wide avenues that will make it easy for you to find your way around, although – if you have time – it can be fun to get lost among the small winding paths and discover the places at random.
What to see in Retiro Park?
The big pond (the lake)
The so-called “Great Pond” is one of the oldest monuments in the park. It was built in the early seventeenth century, was the heart of the palace garden and served to host naval battles shows but also boat trips of the Kings and his court.
Nowadays, the “lake” avenue is flooded on weekends by musicians, street artists and stalls of all kinds. You can sit at Alphonse XII monument to enjoy the sun or have a coffee in one of the terraces that surround the basin. Currently, it is possible to carry out several activities in the Retiro “Lake” Public Sports Center, such as renting rowing boats (100 boats available, two of which are wheelchair accessible), going on a solar boat ride (wheelchair accessible) and canoe-kayak (which is aimed at children and young people from 7 to 17 years old)
There are many stories about Retiro Park, but we would like to share one in particular. Did you know that John Wayne came to the big pond? It’s true! It was in 1963 for the filming of the movie “the fabulous world of the circus” with Rita Hayworth and Claudia Cardinale. The pond had to be emptied because the production decided to set up the tent at the bottom of it.
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace is for many the most beautiful monument in the park, or at least the most romantic. It was built by the Spanish architect Ricardo Velazquez Bosco, who was inspired by the Crystal Palace in London to design it. It is one of the best examples of the so-called iron architecture and was built for the Philippine Exposition (the last Spanish colony) organized in the late nineteenth century by the Spanish government. Today, it is one of the museum’s headquarters Reina Sofia and hosts temporary exhibitions of modern art. Access is always free!
The Velázquez Palace
The Palacio de Velázquez has nothing to do with the painter, but with the name of its architect: Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who also designed the Crystal Palace. Also built in the 19th century for an exhibition, this time the National Mining Exhibition, the palace is a clear example of the Arab influence on Spanish architecture. Hence the red bricks and tiles are Arab contributions. The Crystal Palace houses a second headquarters of the museum of Reina Sofía and hosts temporary exhibitions of modern art.
The Fallen Angel or the Devil’s statue
The Fallen Angel is practically the only sculpture in the world dedicated to Lucifer. This sculpture, made by a renowned sculptor from Madrid, was the winner of a competition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts of Madrid and acquired by the City Council of Madrid to be finally exhibited at Retiro.
On the roof of a building at number 3 Milaneses Street – very close to the famous Mercado de San Miguel and Plaza Mayor – you will see the work ” accident or crash” confused by many people with another fallen angel.
The Galapago Tortoises’ Fountain
In our opinion, the Galapagos Fountain is the most beautiful fountain in Retiro Park. It was built in the early 19th century by King Fernando VII to commemorate the first anniversary of the birth of his daughter Isabel II. The three fairies of the fountain grant their wishes to the princess and the sculptural elements represent the wishes towards the future queen: the dolphins ridden by children are associated to intelligence, wisdom and prudence. The marine elements are linked to fertility – since water has brought forth life – and the Galapagos tortoises are symbols of longevity.
The forest of memory
The Forest of Remembrance commemorates the 191 victims of terrorism who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of March 11, 2004 in Madrid. It is a beautiful monument and the perfect place to reflect quietly in this busy city.
The King and Queen of Spain were the first to lay flowers at the memorial during their dedication ceremony in 2005 and have since held an annual memorial service. The stone engraving at the entrance reads, “In honor and gratitude to all victims of terrorism whose memories constantly live on and enrich our daily lives.” A beautiful and simple garden. There are 192 trees that make up the small monument at the top of the hill: one tree for each victim.
The Gardens of Cecilio Rodríguez
If the Parque del Retiro is already a quiet place in the busy center of Madrid, Cecilio Rodríguez Gardens are synonymous with peace and quiet. Few visitors enter this fenced area to enjoy this beautiful garden, which is also unknown to many Madrid residents. You will find formal gardens, flowers, water spouts, tall and ancient pines, vines climbing columns, trimmed hedges and peacocks displaying their colorful tails for the pleasure of visitors.
The rose garden
Retiro Rose Garden is one of the two rose gardens in Madrid, it is not the largest but it is the most beautiful and, due to its location, the most frequented. It consists of about 4000 rosebushes arranged in flowerbeds and was built in the early twentieth century by the one considered the greatest gardener of the city: Cecilio Rodriguez (also designer of the gardens that bear his name).
Did you know that? Cecilio took as a model other similar European gardens and in particular the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, where he went to bring the first seeds. Thus, most of the varieties of roses are French.
The Statue Walk
Near the pond and perpendicular to the main avenue, we find the promenade of statues. The promenade, called the Argentine promenade, is lined with statues of ancient Spanish kings. The statues were commissioned by the kings to be part of the decoration of the Royal Palace and to be placed on its cornice, something that could not be done because of its excess weight. Since then, they decorate Retiro, Plaza de Oriente and Sabatini Gardens.
The House of Animals or the old Zoo
We know that from an architectural and tourist point of view this part of the park is not as interesting as the others, but it is interesting for its history. It was the zoo of Madrid from 1780 until about 1970, when the animals (it was time!) were moved to a different place and especially in better conditions.
The pit of the monkeys, the bone, the pool of the penguins… You see this brick building above? Today it is a public library. It was the shelter of the animals! The lower part has kept the original bars from which lions, tigers, jackals and hyenas could be seen. It doesn’t look like the biggest of zoos but there were over 600 animals including elephants and giraffes. We are happy to have this little piece of history here in the Retiro, but we are especially happy for the animals because their living conditions here were atrocious.