With over 125 hectares and over 15,000 trees, El Retiro Park has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a green oasis in the heart of the city. Within it are all kinds of interesting monuments and gardens, including the Jardín de Vivaces, the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (Classicist Gardens in the Andalusian Style), the Jardines del Arquitecto Herrero Palacios, the Rosaleda Rose Garden and the French parterre. It is a Mexican conifer that is almost 400 years old and considered Madrid’s oldest tree.
As well as being one of the city’s green lungs, it is also a popular destination for Madridites who love to walk, play sports, visit exhibitions or take their children to a puppet show. Within the park is a large artificial lake where you can rent a rowing boat, the Velázquez Palace, which is currently used as an exhibition hall for the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Glass Palace. The latter is a beautiful glass pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic plants for the Philippine Exhibition. This is among the best examples of cast iron architecture in Spain.
El Retiro is also full of interesting sculptures and fountains, such as the magnificent monument to Alfonso XII, which towers over the lake and opens an observation deck offering spectacular views to the public in the spring of 2018.
Next to the rose garden is the statue of the Fallen Angel, the only statue dedicated to demons in the world, strangely located at an altitude of 666 meters above sea level.
Other places worth visiting include the Fountain of the Galápagos Islands, built in honor of then-Princess Isabella II, the Teatro de Titeres, the only theatre in Europe that hosts puppet shows every weekend, and the large square known as the Reservado de Fernando VII. King Ferdinand VII decided to keep it for himself and his family when the rest of the park was opened to the public.
In this area of El Retiro, between O’Donnell and Menendez-Pelayo streets, there are royal “whims”, small buildings or monuments designed for the monarch to rest: Casa del Pescador, Montaña Artificial and Casa del Contrabandista are former nightclubs in Florida that have been converted into multipurpose spaces offering first-class food, shows and other events. Currently accommodating Florida Park.
History of el retiro park
In 1505, during the reign of Isabella I (reign 1474–1504), the Jerónimos Monastery was moved from an unsuitable location to another on the present Church of San Jerónimo el Real, and the new monastery was built in the Gothic style of Isabellina. The royal family built a mental hospital as part of the church.
King Philip II moved the Spanish court to Madrid in 1561. Philip commissioned his architect, Juan Battista de Toledo, to expand Retiro and lay formal tree-lined avenues. The gardens were expanded in the 1620s when Philip IV’s favourite, Gaspard de Guzmán, Count of Olivares, granted the king several nearby estates for the court to rest.
A beautiful green space to relax or exercise in the el Retiro Park
Popular with locals and tourists alike, El Retiro is a great place to rollerblade or go for a long walk or jog. There are playgrounds of various sizes throughout, making it popular with children.
The park also houses the La Chopera Municipal Sports Centre, the Eugenio Trias Public Library, the Casa de Vacas Cultural Center, and a tree considered the oldest in Madrid. The Mexican conifer known as an athlete (or Montezuma cypress), an exotic species that does not shed its leaves annually, has been growing here since around 1630.
Used as a prop for cannons by Napoleon’s soldiers when they turned the park into an army headquarters, this tree was one of the lucky few to survive the Spanish War of Independence against the French. Every year, the park hosts popular events such as a book fair and fireworks honoring the city’s patron saint, San Isidro.
UNESCO World Heritage of el Retiro Park
On July 25, 2021, El Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado, collectively called the “Landscape of Lights,” was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Culture, science and nature have been fused since the middle of the 16th century in this special place of “Outstanding Universal Value.” This area is home to attractions such as the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums, the Cibeles Palace, the current seat of the Madrid City Council, the Puerta de Alcala and the Botanical Gardens.
Top 5 attractions at the el Retiro Park
- Estanque (Lake):
The garden has a large man-made lake where many locals and tourists can rent rowboats to explore “Estanque” or take a large boat around the pond. Very close to the entrance to Puerta de Alcala.
- Monument to Alfonso XII:
This massive monument sat on the shore of an artificial lake and was inaugurated in 1922. On Sundays, musicians usually gather near this attraction to play various instruments.
- Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace):
Built in 1887 in a forested area with a small artificial lake full of baby turtles, the Crystal Palace is home to numerous modern exhibitions. At the time of construction, it was originally used as a greenhouse.
- Palacio de Velázquez (Velázquez Palace):
Very close to the Palacio de Cristal, this art gallery always hosts temporary art exhibitions and is free to visit. Highly recommended for art lovers.
- Paseo de la Argentina:
Also known as Paseo de las estatuas (Sculpture Walk in English), this wide promenade has two rows of statues honoring the Spanish monarchs. King Ferdinand VI commissioned the first statue to decorate the palace.
El Retiro Park is great for kids
El Retiro is one of Madrid’s most visited neighborhoods and an ideal place if you are travelling with children. Almost every Saturday and Sunday, puppet shows give great performances for the kids, actors dress up as cartoon characters, boat rides on the great lake, and there are plenty of games and swings too.
Where is el Retiro park
It is between the streets of Alfonso XII and Menéndez Pelayo.
Features of the el Retiro Park
Near the park’s northern entrance is the huge man-made Estanque del Retiro (“Retirement Pond”). Its circumferential colonnade and the equestrian statue of the king perched atop a tall central core identify it as the monument to King Alfonso XII.
Rosaleda (The Rose Garden) is an early 20th-century work inspired by the Bagatelle rose garden in the Bois de Boulogne. Next to the rose stands the Fountain of Fallen Angels, built in 1922. The main sculpture, El Angel Kaido (above), is by Ricardo Bellver (1845–1924), inspired by an excerpt from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Represents Lucifer falling from the sky. This statue is said to be the only public monument to Satan.
The best hotels near Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain
- MIT House Prado en Madrid
- Petit Palace Lealtad Plaza
- Petit Palace Savoy Alfonso XII
- Lujoso apto Paseo Del Prado
- Apartamentos Los Jerónimos