The Retiro park is probably Spain´s most famous park. Enjoying a boat ride in the Retiro lake is one of the top things to enjoy in Madrid with children.
Among the many interesting things you will be able to enjoy in El Retiro park you will be able to take some pictures of trees, squirrels, ducks, and beautiful fountains.
This will allow you to take home beautiful memories of a legendary place in the Spanish capital. This park is not to be missed in Madrid and it is one of the best things to do with children in Madrid.
Madrid highlights by bike
Retiro park guided tour
History of El Retiro park
El Retiro is one of Madrid´s largest parks but its history, beauty, and location make it the most famous park in Madrid, and probably in Spain.
The Retiro Park once surrounded a summer residence laid out by Philip II. This residence was destroyed by a fire in 1734. The area was established as a preserve of kings at the end of the 17th century when Felipe IV was king. The park became a public park in 1868 and since then it has become park for all madrileños to enjoy a stroll, sit down in one of its many terraces for a cold drink like horchata, or even enjoy a boat ride in the lake.
How to get to the Retiro Park
There are four main entrances to the park with monumental gates. The first one if in Plaza de la Independencia, a second one in Calle de Alcala, a third one in Calle O´Donell and a fourth one at the Calle de Alfonso XII. There are more entrances, but these four are the main gates and the ones with artistic value.
Top things to do in El Retiro
Palacio de Cristal. Retiro´s crystal palace
The crystal palace in Retiro Park looks almost like a huge bird´s cage. Most visitors to El Retiro consider the palace one of their favorite things due to its beauty and the contrast of glass, iron, and ceramic with trees, water, and plants. Architect Ricardo Velazquez Bosco based its structure on a similar palace from London. It has a cross shape like most churches in Spain and also a dome at its center.
At its top, the structure has a height of 22 meters. The building was inaugurated in 1887.
Its history is somehow connected to the botanical garden in Madrid and the effort of this institution to develop natural sciences. The construction of the palace had the purpose of containing tropical plants for the Spanish colonies in the Philippines. Later the exhibition it contained was used in different areas of the park.
The Palacio de Cristal is today part of the Reina Sofia modern art museum and it holds exhibitions from the museum. They can be enjoyed not just from inside the palace, but also from outside, and the inclusion of art within its crystal walls provides a fantastic contrast with nature and the palace´s environment.
Our favorite moment to enjoy the crystal palace in El Retiro is when the light gets reflected in the glass walls.
The crystal palace is a jewel that makes us think about days in which things were built to accomplish beauty. Its presence at the edge of a small pond with fantastic trees takes us to a distant and romantic world.
The Retiro Pond
You will enjoy the view of the monument dedicated to King Alfonso XII, opposite a beautiful lake where people have fun rowing in small boats.
The Retiro Lake, which has a length of 280 meters and a width of 140 meters, had at its center an oval island that served as a stage for theatrical works. The pond is large enough to enjoy a boat ride, it is great fun, especially on a rather hot day when some other boats may decide to splash water and initiate a water fight!
There are different theories about the origin of the pond. It is believed that it was an existing marsh that consisted of a network of canals, artificial lakes, and ponds that made it possible to water the gardens.
Estatua del Ángel caído. Fallen angel statue
The bronze statue of the Fallen angel is one of the few statues in the world dedicated to the devil. The statue represents the moment in which the angel falls down from paradise or heaven. Lucifer means the “light bearer” and only once the angel is spelled out of heaven it becomes satan (which translates at the opponent). This is the precise moment depicted by the statue.
This statue is the work of artist Ricardo Bellver. It was finished in 1877 but before it was placed in El Retiro park it spent time in different museums. It was made in Italy, not in Spain. His work became famous and the Royal Academy of San Fernando bought it in 1878 and they paid the price of 4.500 pesetas, some 27 Euros for it). One year later, the statue was taken to the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1879 as part of the Spanish delegation. It was finally placed in El Retiro in 1885.
The statue is located at the top of a fountain. At the bottom of the fountain (under the feet of Lucifer) you will find eight heads. These are demons that spit out lizards and snakes into the water of the fountain.
To endarken the story of the statue a bit, there is speculation about the height in which it is located. It is said that it lies 666 meters above sea level. This could be true since the average height in Madrid varies from 500 to 700 meters above sea level depending n the area!
Casita del Pescador y ruinas de la ermita de San Isidoro
We love this área of El Retiro. It is very quite. La Casita del Pescador (the fisherman small house) looks like a toy house next to a small pond. The house is located next to the ruins of a Romanesque hermitage (San Isidoro). The origin of this house is actually connected to fishing.
It was built there, next to the water, so king Ferdinand VII and his family and relatives could enjoy fishing without too much trouble.
La rosaleda or rose garden
La Rosaleda or rose garden holds over 4,000 roses and is one of the most visited areas in El Retiro (especially during springtime). The rose garden is good proof of the evolution of Retiro Park through time. It was opened in 1915 following rose gardens in other cities in Europe.
The idea originated from the major at the time, Carlos Prats, who desired to provide a more elegant look for this part of the park. The rose gardens is located in an area where in the past there was a pond that was used to ice skate in winter and the statue of Marquis of Salamanca which was removed and taken to the square of the same name.
The rose garden has an elliptical shape and it is decorated with trimmed hedges that do not prevent however to enjoy a glimpse of the roses from outside the rose garden.
Winding paths, fountains ad rose s of many different colors make this one of the top sights in Retiro park. There are information labels in different areas so you will be able to learn about the different types of roses planted. If you enjoy roses and also plan to visit Barcelona we recommend you the Cervantes park in Barcelona, with over 10,000 roses in it!
Restaurants near the Retiro Park
Due to its location near some of Madrid´s top attractions (The Prado Museum is just 5 minutes walk from the Retiro) many people decide to enjoy a bit of fresh air, a drink or a picnic in the park. But another interesting option is to enjoy a tapas meal or early dinner.
The park is located near one of the best districts in Madrid for tapas. Calle Menorca or Calle Emilio Castelar is amongst the best tapas streets in Madrid. These streets are next to the Retiro and exist on Avenida Menendez Pelayo. We leave here also a post with some of our recommended restaurants by the Retiro park. The Florida park restaurant is also an interesting option worth considering.
The streets near the Retiro park is actually a great location also to stay in Madrid. You will be able to walk to nearly all of Madrid´s top attractions and be able to enjoy a relaxing walk at the end of each day. You can find in this article our list of best hotels near the Retiro.
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