5 Things to Do in Madrid’s El Retiro Park

All great cities have a great park, and away from the crowded streets of Madrid lies El Retiro. The most well-known Madrid park, El Retiro (or Parque del Buen Retiro to use its full name) started life in the 17th century when it was first laid out by Felipe IV. Originally planned to be the preserve of royalty, the park would eventually open to the public in the late 1800s, slowly expanding over the years to incorporate everything both madrileños and tourists love about it today. 

One of the great things about El Retiro is there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit. This immaculately manicured, historic park is a peaceful sanctuary from the bustling city during the week, but bursts into life on weekends. A visit to El Retiro is absolutely one of the best things to do in Madrid, and it’s one of our favourite spots in the city. 

Watch our handy video below to see a little more of this Madrid marvel: 

So now you’ve got a flavour of what El Retiro park is all about, you’re probably thinking “but what should I do there?” Fear not: We love a list, and we’ve made one just for you. 

1. Feel like royalty

Given that the park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 1800s, it won’t come as a shock to discover the Royal Family left an impression on El Retiro. Glorious remnants of their previous ownership can be found all over the place, from the Palacio de Cristal to the Palacio de Velazquez. 

The Palacio de Cristal (Paseo República de Cuba, 4, 28009 Madrid, Spain) is one of the most iconic buildings in Madrid. This magnificent conservatory was built in 1887 for the Exposition of the Philippines and was designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, the architect responsible for several of Madrid’s most impressive structures. Originally built as a winter home for tropical flowers, it now houses temporary exhibitions. 

Bosco also designed the nearby Palacio de Velázquez (Parque del Retiro, Paseo Venezuela, 2, 28001 Madrid, Spain) , which is also used to house temporary exhibitions. Just a short walk from its neighbour, this imposing building should be particularly appealing to art lovers as it often doubles as an art gallery. 

Best for: Art lovers and families 

2. Meet the locals

The Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez (Paseo Uruguay, 5, 28009 Madrid, Spain) have a very special feature, and it has nothing to do with horticulture. The main reason to flock to these gorgeous gardens is a posse of peacocks, and no – none, as far as we know, are called Cecilio Rodriguez. Señor Cecilio Rodriguez was the city’s official gardener, and the gardens here are a fitting tribute to his work.

Head back to the lake surrounding the Palacio de Cristal and keep your eyes peeled for the many terrapins living there. To find a few non-four-legged locals, head to the Paseo de la Argentina (Parque del Buen Retiro, Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain) for a chance to mingle with some real-life Spanish royalty. Sadly, these locals are all dead. But you can soak up a little history and walk amongst their statues set in – you guessed it – perfectly-pruned gardens. 

Best for: spectacular gardens and landscapes 

3. Go boating

The ‘Estanque’ (lake) (Paseo de Colombia, 228009) is one of El Retiro’s most distinctive features and hiring a rowboat is the best way to see it. Rent a boat from the northern shore of the lake, paddle around for a bit, feed some of the giant groupers in the pond, take in views of the colossal Monument to Alfonso XII and enjoy a quintessential Madrid experience. There’s no ‘bad’ time to be here, but we fully recommend going for a row around sunset. The lake is located close to one of Madrid’s best-known landmarks, the massive Puerta de Alcalá (Plaza de la Independencia, s/n, 28001 Madrid, Spain), and Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia, 28015, Madrid, Spain) built in 1778.  

Best for: views from the water  

4. Take a tour

If you don’t back yourself to get the best from Madrid’s most famous park, then you can always take a guided tour. With so much history (did you know the city’s oldest tree – Ahuehuete – has been growing in El Retiro park since 1630?), unusual (often hidden) features, and things to do in Madrid contained within its grounds, a tour is an especially rewarding way to see the park. Visit Madrid’s official tourism website for an overview of the tours on offer. 

Segway tours are also available, just in case you don’t already feel enough like a tourist.

Best for: history and sightseeing

5. Go for a run

“But… I hate running!” We hear you. So do we, if we’re being completely honest. 

But this tip isn’t for everyone – just those of you who are keen runners and/or want to find a way to burn off all that tapas without locking yourself away in a hotel gym. While El Retiro is the perfect place to relax and unwind, it also offers some of the most scenic running routes in the city and has become immensely popular with joggers and running clubs alike. And if you’d rather swap two legs for two wheels, you can always rent a bike from a number of spots around the park.

Best for: active leisure enthusiasts 

Go Green

If Gran Via is the heart of Madrid, then El Retiro – spanning 350 acres and filled with over 15,000 trees – is the city’s lungs. It might be the best place to go for a walk in the park, but it isn’t the only place. Just about every neighbourhood in Madrid has a park worth visiting. 

Home to both the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid (Casa de Campo, s/n, 28011 Madrid, Spain) and the Madrid Amusement Park (Casa de Campo s/n, 28011 Madrid, Spain) (yes, that is its real name), Casa de Campo (Paseo de Puerta del Angel, 1 (Múltiples accesos) 28011 Madrid, Spain) is Madrid’s biggest park. The riverside Madrid Rio Park (Paseo de la Ermita del Santo, 14, 16, 28011 Madrid, Spain) is one of the city’s newest parks, boasting extensive leisure facilities and 17 play areas – perfect for the little ones. If you’re after more royal connections and flawless gardens, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the Sabatini Gardens (Calle de Bailén, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain) or Campo Del Moro park (Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, 1, 28013 Madrid, Spain).

Looking for more Madrid attractions? We’ve got you covered. If you want to discover the best tapas around, then look no further than our guide to the best tapas bars in the city. Need to know the best spots to catch sunset in Madrid? .We’ve got a guide for that too. We’ve also put together an overview of Madrid’s central shopping street, Gran Via, if you’re heading that way. 

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