The Retiro is the city’s green lung and the Madrileños’ favourite weekend retreat. The aristocracy was admitted to the former royal grounds in 1767 but it was another century before the gates were opened to the general public. Visitors can enjoy the decorative features, which include statues, follies, a formal French garden and a boating lake, as well as the numerous amenities. Children will make a beeline for the puppet theatre, while adults may prefer the concerts at the bandstand. Sunday, when there is almost a carnival atmosphere, is the best day to enjoy everything from circus acts and buskers to pavement artists and fortune-tellers.
Puerta de Alcalá • 915 30 00 41 • Open Apr–Sep: 6am–midnight; Oct–Mar: 6am–10pm daily
The boating lake is one of the oldest features of the park (1631). In the days of Felipe IV, it was the setting for mock naval battles. Rowing boats are available for hire from the jetty. Once in a while the lake is drained for cleaning and 6,000 fish have to find a temporary home.
The handsome Independence Gate does not rightfully belong here. It was designed by Antonio López Aguado as the entrance to a palace built by Fernando VII for his second wife, Isabel de Bragança. It is, however, the most important of the 18 gates.
This huge monument was conceived in 1898 as a defiant response to Spain’s humiliating defeat in Cuba, but the plans were not realised until 1922. The equestrian statue of the king is by Mariano Benlliure. The most impressive feature is the handsome curved colonnade, lined with bronze sculptures. It is a popular spot with sun-worshippers.
The Retiro’s exhibition centre is the work of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. The tiled frieze perfectly offsets the pink and yellow brick banding.
This line of Baroque statues, representing the kings and queens of Spain, other Iberian rulers and Aztec chief Montezuma, was intended to impress.
The rose garden holds more than 4,000 roses of 100 different varieties. Designed in 1915 by the city’s head gardener, Cecilio Rodríguez, it is modelled on the Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris.
The “fisherman’s house”, a typical capricho (whim) of the era, was a part of the re-landscaping of the park in the 1820s. A water-wheel, concealed by the grotto and artificial hill, creates a cascade.
The “artichoke fountain” was designed by Ventura Rodríguez, and made of Sierra de Guadarrama granite and Colmenar stone. The artichoke at the top is supported by four cherubs.
This beguiling sculpture, the work of Ricardo Bellver, is said to be the only public monument to the “fallen angel” (Lucifer) in the world. It was unveiled in 1878.
Mirrored in a lake and framed by trees, the Crystal Palace was inspired by its British namesake in 1887.
The park’s full title, Parque del Buen Retiro, is a reference to the palace built for Felipe IV in 1630–32 near the Jerónimos Monastery – retiro means retreat. It was vandalized by French troops during the War of Independence, and eventually demolished. The only parts to survive – the ballroom and the Salón de Reinos – have been earmarked as annexes of the Prado.