Covering over 125 hectares and comprising more than 15,000 trees, El Retiro Park is a green oasis in the heart of the city. In it you’ll find all kinds of interesting monuments and gardens, including the Jardín de Vivaces, the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (Andalusian-inspired classicistic gardens), the Jardines del Arquitecto Herrero Palacios, the Rosaleda rose garden and the Parterre Francés, which holds a Mexican conifer that is nearly 400 years old and is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree.
In addition to its role as one of the city’s green lungs, it is also a popular spot among Madrileños who like to go there for a stroll, to do some sport, visit an exhibition or take the kids to a puppet show. The park is home to a large artificial lake, where you can rent a rowing boat, and to the Velázquez Palace and Glass Palace which are both currently used as exhibition halls by the Reina Sofía Museum. The latter is a beautiful glass pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic plants for an exhibition on the Philippines. It is one the finest examples of cast-iron architecture in Spain.
El Retiro is also filled with interesting sculptures and fountains such as the magnificent Monument to Alfonso XII, which watches over the lake and in spring of 2018 opened to the public an observation deck offering wonderful vistas. Near the Rose Garden, you’ll encounter the statue of the Fallen Angel, the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil which curiously enough sits 666m above sea level. Other spots worth visiting are the Galápagos Fountain, built in honour of the then princess Isabella II, the Teatro de Títeres, the only theatre in Europe that stages puppet shows every weekend, and the large area known as Reservado de Fernando VII which King Ferdinand VII decided to keep for himself and his family when the rest of the park was opened to the public. In this section of El Retiro, between Calle O’Donnell and Calle Menéndez Pelayo, you’ll find some of the king's "whims", small buildings or monuments designed as little retreats for the monarchs to rest and relax: Casa del Pescador, the Montaña Artificial and the Casa del Contrabandista which accommodates Florida Retiro, a modern venue with a restaurant that hosts all kinds of events.
A firm favourite with both locals and tourists, El Retiro is a great place to go rollerblading, for a long walk or a jog. Dotted with playgrounds of different sizes, it’s just as popular with the little ones.
The park is also home to La Chopera municipal sports centre, the Eugenio Trias Public Library and the Casa de Vacas Cultural Centre, as well as to what is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree. An exotic species that doesn’t lose its leaves every year, the Ahuehuete (or Montezuma cypress) has been there since around 1630. Used by Napoleon’s soldiers as a support for their cannons when they turned their park into the army’s headquarters, it was one of the few lucky trees to survive the Spanish War of Independence against France.
If you fancy pedaling around the park, you can rent a bicycle from one of the bike rentals in the area. In the Retiro you’ll also find a number of outdoor cafés and kiosks when you can get a drink or bite to eat.