Exploring El Retiro Park in Madrid

From wide-open green areas to magnificent architecture, El Retiro Park in Madrid has become the heart of the city. This unique park is a popular spot among locals, to work out or to take a stroll and slow down after a busy day.

This comprehensive guide to the most famous park in Madrid provides you with all the information you need for exploring El Retiro and enjoy an unforgettable outdoor activity.

No matter if you are a new visitor or a local, I am sure that in this article you will discover plenty of new things to see in this iconic Madrid attraction.

El Retiro Park in Madrid | General Information

A brief history of El Retiro Park

Originally, El Retiro was not a park and was not public.

The space was a royal hunting ground where the historic gardens of Buen Retiro were built around 1630 as a recreational space for King Philip IV and the members of the court.

The serious damage suffered during the War of Independence at the beginning of the 19th century, when El Retiro was used as the barracks of the French troops, shaped its current appearance.

It was not until 1868 that it became a public park and in 2021 El Retiro Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with Paseo del Prado.

What is Madrid´s El Retiro Park known for?

El Retiro Park in Madrid is known for the numerous statues, fountains, and commemorative monuments that convert this awesome open space into a unique open-air museum.

It is an extremely popular spot among locals, to work out or take a stroll due to its privileged location.

It is especially busy during the weekends and bank holidays when families with children rent boats in the large artificial pond or enjoy a puppet show.

How to get to El Retiro Park in Madrid?

Address: Plaza de la Independencia 7

One of the best things about El Retiro is its incredible location next to the Puerta de Alcalá, the Prado Museum, and other top attractions of the city.

This way, it is really convenient to get to El Retiro walking or using the efficient Madrid public transport.

Metro Madrid is probably the easiest, fastest and cheapest way as there are several subway stations next to the Park: Atocha (Line 1), Estación del Arte (Line 1), Retiro (Line 2), and Ibiza (Line 9).

As El Retiro is located in the very city center, I do not recommend driving to the Park. There are many other easier and cheaper alternatives.

But if you finally do, there is a pretty convenient (but expensive) parking next to the Puerta de Alcala (Serrano Retiro Parking, Calle de Alcalá 73).

Can you enter El Retiro Park for free?

Yes. It does not cost anything to get into the park.

Map

I will include in the itinerary section below, a detailed Google Map with the top attractions in El Retiro.

In addition, the following map of El Retiro shows valuable information about gates, wheelchair-accessible information, restrooms, playgrounds, and drinking fountains, especially convenient during Summer.

Opening hours

El Retiro Open opens daily, from 6:00 to 22:00 in Autumn and Winter (October to March) and with extended hours until midnight in Spring and Summer (April to September).

As you see, El Retiro Park closes its doors reasonably late at night, so you can make the most of your visit.

How big is it? El Retiro Park size

Covering over 118 hectares and with a perimeter of 2.8 miles (4.5 km), El Retiro is smaller than Central Park in New York (341 hectares) and Hyde Park in London (140 hectares).

Furthermore, El Retiro is not the biggest park in Madrid. Here, the Casa de Campo leads the ranking with 1,722 hectares.

However, not being the largest park in Madrid, El Retiro is in my opinion one of the most beautiful landmarks and it should be a must on your bucket list.

Where is the entrance to El Retiro Park?

There are 17 gates to Central Park.

The most popular and iconic ones are the Independence (Puerta de Alcalá), the Philip IV, and the Fallen Angel Gates.

Top-rated monuments and things to see in El Retiro Park

This urban cultural landscape has been carefully designed not just for recreation, but also for the education of citizens in contact with nature. These are the best things to see in El Retiro Park:

The Pond

Close to the Independence Gate and Puerta de Alcalá, you will find a large artificial pond used as a place for recreation and water sports.

This is one of the most popular spots in el Retiro Park where many locals and tourists rent rowboats and have fun while enjoying the sunny weather in the city.

Originally, it was used by King Philip IV to supply water to the gardens. And, although the pond is just between 2 and 6 feet deep, it was also used to hold mock navy battles.

You cannot imagine what was discovered when the pond was last emptied in 2001 for maintenance and cleaning.

The workers found, among others, 92 chairs, 41 tables, 20 litter bins, 20 metal benches, 40 boats, skateboards, supermarket trolleys, shoes, cameras, wallets, cell phones, and even a gumball vending machine.

One of the fun facts about El Retiro many locals do not know is that the pond was also drained to film the American movie “Circus World” with John Wayne, Claudia Cardinale, and Rita Hayworth.

The price to rent a boat for 45 minutes is € 6 (€ 8 on weekends), with a maximum of four occupants. Boat renting is one of my favorite outdoor activities in El Retiro.

The Monument to King Alfonso XII

Erected next to the pond in 1922, this stunning monument features a semicircular colonnade and a tower on which the equestrian statue of the King Alfonso XII stands out.

Few people know that this column is one of the best viewpoints in Madrid.

The access is free but you can only enter the tower with a Madrid Council guided visit. The “Pasea Madrid” program of visits is not always including this viewpoint so you need to pay attention and book as soon as there is availability.

At the bottom of the monument, there are 13 steps to the shore of the lake. There you will discover the statues of 4 mermaids emerging from the water mounted on a turtle, a fish, a lobster, and a triton.

Crystal Palace

Situated on the edge of a small pond, this spectacular building made of glass plates and cast iron was constructed in 1887 as a greenhouse.

Today it is owned by the Reina Sofía Museum and hosts temporary exhibitions.

The Palace, together with the lake and a small cascade is one of the most popular Instagram spots in the Park.

There is a small viewpoint and a cave close to the Palace where you can get amazing pictures.

Velázquez Palace

Just like the Glass Palace, the Velázquez Palace is currently dedicated to temporary exhibitions of the Reina Sofía Museum of modern art.

The palace was built between 1881 and 1883 and is topped by large iron and glass domes that allow natural light to illuminate the rooms.

The exterior of the building shows two-toned brickwork and colorful tiles.

La Rosaleda

Counting more than 4,000 rose bushes, this rose garden is one of the most peaceful and magical spots in El Retiro Park.

Although it was originally open to the public in 1870, it was fully restored in 1941 after it was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War.

Its design was based on the Rose Garden of Bagatelle, in Paris, and the best time to visit is at the end of June.

La Rosaleda also houses two beautiful fountains: Cupid and Faun.

Paseo de la Argentina

It is also known as Paseo de las Estatuas, due to the 14 statues of kings and queens which flank this impressive corridor.

It is believed that these statues, which should be decorating the cornice of the Royal Palace, were removed from their original location after Queen Isabella Farnese dreamt that the Palace could not support the weight.

Some interesting facts are that there are two different statues of the same king, Sancho IV.

Also, in 2022, an empty pedestal has been finally occupied by a new statue paying tribute to Queen Juana La Loca.

One of the most extravagant statues is the one of Alfonso I The Battler stepping on the head of an Arab man.

Casita del Pescador (Fisherman´s House)

I am sure you will love this small but charming structure. I have no doubt this is one of my favorite spots in El Retiro Park.

It was King Ferdinand VII who ordered to build this house in the early 19th century for the exclusive use of the monarchy.

This beautiful structure is surrounded by a pond with ducks and it is the perfect place to sit back and relax.

Currently, it houses the information center for the adoption of companion animals.

Fountains in El Retiro Park

The Fallen Angel fountain represents Lucifer falling from Heaven and being encircled by a serpent.

It is believed that the statue is located 666 meters (the number of the beast) above sea level.

It is one of the few monuments to the devil in the world, together with the ones in Turin (Italy), Quito (Ecuador) and Liège (Belgium).

The Artichoke Fountain was built in 1782 and you can admire a group of children sheltering underneath a huge artichoke plant.

This plant is much appreciated for its medicinal properties and culinary use.

The Galapagos Fountain was built in 1832. The fountain shows four children riding on dolphins, two frogs, and two Galapagos tortoises that symbolize longevity.

The Monument to the Republic of Cuba represents the history and wealth of the island as well as the recognition of its constitution as a republic after its independence from Spain.

Forest of Remembrance

This area of El Retiro Park commemorates the 191 civilian victims of the 11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings and the special forces agent who was killed by the suicide bombers.

It is a peaceful and quiet monument that consists of 192 trees (22 olive trees and 170 cypresses), one for each person killed. There is a path to the top of the small hill.

Ruins of San Isidoro Chapel

Visitors to El Retiro Park can also admire the ruins of this Romanesque church dating from the 11th century.

This historic place was originally built in the city of Ávila, but in 1896 the ruins were moved to Madrid.

Former City Zoo

Few locals remember that until the 1970 decade El Retiro had its own urban zoo. There were more than 550 animals of 83 different species, including tigers, elephants, hippos, and even a polar bear.

One of the most famous was Pizarro the Elephant which was acquired for the fights against bulls that were so famous at that time.

The noise and unhealthiness of the animals led to its closure after the opening of the Casa de Campo Zoo.

The venue was even used to exhibit a “Human Zoo” with indigenous tribes from around the world.

In 1985, a small statue of a goblin was erected on the upper side of the cage of the polar bear.

According to legend, King Felipe V was stunned by the plants and flowers in El Retiro, as they seemed to move from place to place every day so that the walk of the monarch would always be different.

The only explanation found was that there was a goblin living in the park!

The Parterre

The Parterre is one of the most visited spots in El Retiro, and it is accessed through the monumental Philip IV Gate.

It is a pleasure to walk along its paths and take beautiful pictures.

It is worth mentioning that in the Parterre you can admire the oldest tree in Madrid, an Ahuehuete with an estimated age of over 400 years.

Cecilio Rodríguez Gardens

This area is probably one of the hidden gems of El Retiro Park. You can contemplate archways, ponds, fountains, sculptures, and even peacocks.

Although it is open to the public, this place is not visited by so many people.

Remember that the opening hours are from 10:00 to 18:00 from October to March and from 10:00 to 20:00 from April to September.

The Waterwheel

If you walk through Huerto del Frances, next to the Fallen Angel Fountain, you will find this curious waterwheel.

It is a recent reconstruction of one of the original waterwheels used to bring water to the former Royal Porcelain Factory. The porcelains made in Madrid competed at that time with the best in Europe.

Unfortunately, the army commanded by Wellington destroyed the Factory when liberating Madrid from the French troops.

The Royal Observatory

Located on a small hill inside El Retiro Park, the outside of the building represents one of the highlights of Spanish neoclassical architecture.

Inside, you can visit the reconstruction of the 25-foot reflecting telescope designed for the observatory at the end of the 18th century by the famous astronomer William Herschel. The original device was destroyed in 1808 during the Napoleonic occupation.

Cat Mountain

The artificial hill and waterfalls were built around 1816 and the structure is completely hollow inside.

The Madrid City Council has proposed to restore this area of the Park and open it in 2023, after 18 years closed and fenced.

How to explore El Retiro Park

Itinerary

As you can see, there are numerous attractions in El Retiro Park.

In order to make the most of your visit I recommend you to follow this itinerary along the main points of interest.

But, as I always recommend, enjoy the whole route, not just the monuments. This is an amazing park and you will discover incredible spots along the way. Leave your comments below and share with other visitors your favorite places of El Retiro Park.

My itinerary starts at the Independence Gate, this way you can also admire the renowned Puerta de Alcalá:

How long does it take to walk El Retiro Park?

It obviously depends on every person. How fit you are and more importantly how much time you dedicate to contemplating the monuments and taking some beautiful photos.

If you follow my itinerary, my best guess would be at least 2-3 hours for a complete visit to El Retiro Park.

What is the best place to eat in El Retiro Park?

Inside the park, you will find several bars, restaurants, cafes, and food trucks where you can get some quick snacks and drinks.

Most of them are located next to the Pond where you can sit back on a terrace to restore your energy before you continue your walk.

El Retiro is a great place to picnic too.

However, if you want to really taste some delicious Spanish foods I recommend you to eat in the surroundings of El Retiro Park before or after your visit.

Seafood rice in Madrid

El Retiro and Salamanca districts stand out in Madrid due to their incredible variety of dining options.

The list of excellent restaurants is unlimited. I have tried many but there still are a lot on my bucket list.

To be honest, most of the restaurants in this area are a safe bet.

And if you are searching for a unique dining experience, Bianca terrace is one of the most exclusive rooftop bars in Madrid. And it is a prime setting to enjoy epic views of the Salamanca neighborhood.

Is El Retiro Park safe?

Yes. The capital of Spain is a safe city and El Retiro Park is not an exception.

However, pay attention to protect yourself from pick pocketing and scams. Do not leave your belongings unattended, especially if you are traveling alone.

In addition, don’t interact with the characters of El Retiro Park unless you plan on tipping them.

And if you ever feel you’re in danger, be sure to call the police. There are several security patrols throughout the park to guarantee your safety.

Taking the usual safety measures, I am sure you will spend an unforgettable day in El Retiro Park.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get from Madrid airport to El Retiro Park?

The best way to get to El Retiro from Barajas Airport is by subway. Take Line 8 and get off at Colombia Station. Then change to Line 9 to get to Ibiza Station next to El Retiro Park.

Is alcohol allowed in the Park?

No, alcohol consumption is not allowed in any public space but in authorized areas such as terraces.

Are there public restrooms in El Retiro Park?

Yes. There are several public restrooms located throughout the Park, mainly around the Pond. You can check their location in the map attached at the beginning of the article.

Is there wildlife in El Retiro?

Yes. Apart from birds and fish, you could come across some ducks, swans, peacocks and squirrels. Respect the wildlife in the Park and never feed or approach a wild animal.

Where is the Retiro Park Rose Garden located?

The Rose Garden is located close to the Fallen Angel Fountain. The opening hours are from 10:00 to 20:00 (April to September), and 10:00 to 18:00 (October to March).

Are dogs allowed in El Retiro?

Yes. In general, dogs must be on a leash inside the Park.

However, there are some specific times when your dog will be able to enjoy running on its own. Off-leash hours are from 6:00 to 10:00 and from 20:00 (19:00 in Winter).

Besides, there is a great fenced area where you can always let your dog run loose. It is located close to La Rosaleda and the Fallen Angel Fountain. You can check it on the map at the beginning of the post.

When was El Buen Retiro built?

The historic gardens of Buen Retiro were built around 1630. But it was not until 1868 that it became a public park.

Are there toilets in El Retiro Park?

Yes. You can check the right location of the toilets on the map attached to this article.

Where can I find peacocks in El Retiro?

You admire the beautiful peacocks of the Cecilio Rodríguez Gardens on the East side of the Park.

Remember that the opening hours of the Gardens are from 10:00 to 18:00 from October to March and from 10:00 to 20:00 from April to September.

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