Madrid’s Magical Buen Retiro Park

I am irresponsibly spoiled with the best park in the world. Of course, I am talking about Central Park. Located in my hometown of New York City, Central Park is the premier public park. With its expansive lawns and view of the greatest city on Earth, who could ask for more? No one. At least that’s how I felt until I traveled to Madrid and visited the city’s famed Buen Retiro Park…

Consisting of 350 acres and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park (also referred to as “El Retiro” or “Parque del Buen Retiro”) is its very own oasis. With miles of trails and plenty to see – the park definitely gives Central Park more than a run for its money. While I only enjoyed a short afternoon wandering the park, you could easily spend days picnicking, hiking, and adventuring in the park.

The park offers many activities to visitors, but if you happen to be in Madrid and plan on stopping by the park, I would recommend that you make an effort to fit in one or more of the following spots:

Palacio de Crystal/The Glass Palace

Inspired by Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park, the Palacio de Crystal was designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and built in 1887. Currently, the Palacio is owned by the Reina Sofía Museum who use the space for rolling exhibitions.

It was top of my list on our travel itinerary, I went pre-covid, and they had administrators posted outside the entrance to stop people from bringing in food or other prohibited items, as well as to prevent overcrowding. The structure is absolutely beautiful, and I can imagine it’s even more so during the early morning or during sunset. You can see the detail of the cast-iron structure and the beautifully ornate tiles created by the famed Daniel Zuloaga.

Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez

Imagine a perfect Alice in Wonderland-inspired garden. Open your eyes. Welcome to Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez.

Designed by the city’s official park gardener (or “Jadinero Mayor de Retiro”), the Andalusian-inspired Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez is one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Pristine-cut hedges are maintained alongside roman columns and pergolas mathematically twined with vines. All the while peacocks roam the garden freely, preening for pictures along the checkered paths and beside fountains that gurgle with water. In a word, magical.

Monument to Alfonso XII

The monument to Alfonso XII looks over the man-made lake in Buen Retiro. This famous structure was designed by Catalonian architect José Grases Riera. The real attraction for tourists here is not just the amazing view from the statue, but also the opportunity to rent a small boat to row out on the lake. There were a few vendors by the lake and the Crystal Palace who were offering parasols (to protect from the heat) and old-fashioned photographs.

If you still have some time (and energy), you can also visit the El Jardín de Vivaces, Rosaleda Rose garden (also designed by the park gardener) and Parterre Francés. According to the Madrid tourism site, the park holds a Mexican conifer nearly 400 years old and believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree!

If you’ve like to try to fit as much as the park in, in a short amount of time, there are tourism groups on Viator that do Segway, bike, and running tours which can last anywhere from one to three hours.

¡Viajes felices!

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