01 May Not Your Grandma's Guide: Retiro Park, Madrid
Retiro is insanely pretty and a must-see while in Madrid. Here is our guide to some of the hot spots in the park, and, no, we are not talking about Wifi hotspots. We will provide you with where to go and why to go. If you aren't so into walking, you could also rent a bike or break up your exploring with a picnic... or you can rock your best Gigi Hadid Athleisure look and get walkin'.
Retiro: The Basics
Retiro Park is one of the biggest in Madrid, but it didn't become a public park until the 19th century. Before that, it was VIP only AKA only the royal family and their guests. Now, its open to everyone- democracy woohoo! When it was reserved for royals only, there were sometimes royal balls and parties and sometimes even bullfights. There even used to be a zoo where exotic birds were kept. One famous animal was a little elephant named Nerón who lived at the zoo and fought in one of those bullfights- lets just say Dumbo isn't the only sad elephant story.
Here is a map to help you get oriented. We recommend entering through either the entrance by Puerta de Alcalá or through the gardens off of Calle de Alfonso XII.
Puerta de Alcalá
If you enter through here, be sure to take a couple pics of the big arch that was once the entryway to the city. Remind you of anything? See the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. If you were to leave the city through this gate, you would be heading in the direction of the small town, Alcalá de Henares. If this name sounds familiar, it might be because it is the birthplace of the Spanish literary giant, Miguel de Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, or because of the famous university there. Anyway back to the "Puerta," the gate has 4 statues of children on it, which represent Justice, Temprance, Fortitue, and Prudence. Ok, now you have your facts, take a pic, and head across the street to the park.
Palacio de Cristal (#Instaheaven)
The Crystal Palace, designed by Ricardo Velázques Bosco, is made out metal and glass. It looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Outside there are intricate tiles with floral and animal designs in bright blues and greens. Some of the tiles are red, which creates a nice contrast. Sometimes there are art exhibits inside that are organized by the Reina Sofia and outside, there is a small pond with swans and ducks. The building was actually designed in 1887 to hold exotic flowers during the winter from the Philippines.
Right nearby is the Velazquez Palace that is also used for temporary art exhibits from the Reina Sofia. It features similar tiling and was also designed by Bosco.
Retiro is like what your dinner plate should look like: very green with lots of variety. In comparison to other parks, like Central Park, Retiro is very well-groomed. There are numerous gardens and open spaces that are divided by small hedges where you can sit and relax. Take advantage of the wide expanses to play frisbee, have lunch, or just hang out. There are also some more hidden enclaves that are slightly more wild. Below, are some of the special green places that we recommend exploring (on your own, with friends, or *cough* on a Tinder date -- no shame!.
- The entrance from Alfonso XII on the way to the Prado Museum has an incredible garden, which has an amazing view of the city. There are big cypress trees that look like they were taken out of a Dr. Seuss story.
- Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez is an awesome garden off to one side of the park that has beautiful gardens with big fountains in the middle. Why bother making the trip? Um, because there are peacocks!?!? What more do I need to say? Oh, and FYI, peacocks are called royal turkeys, or pavos reales, in Spanish.
- There is a Rose Garden, which has more than 4,000 roses, beautiful arches, and a small, bubbling fountain in the middle. It is best to go in early summer when the flowers are blooming.
- There is also a Forest of Remembrance that was designed in commemoration of the 191 victims who were killed in 2004 during the terrorist attacks at Atocha. The Forest is full of olive trees, a universal symbol of peace, as well as cypress trees.
Lake and Alfonso XII's Monument
Hit up the lake first, its usually crowded, but its a must see. The lake was actually used for water games (think old school wet t-shirt contests) and sometimes used to do re-creations of famous Spanish naval battles. Now at night, there is a male only rowing team that practices there.
There are ducklings in the spring and otherwise, there are just huge weird fish swimming around. On one side of the lake, there are tons of people selling ice cream and jewelry, and sometimes there are salsa dancers, magicians, and other performers. The rowboats are actually kind of a steal, if you feel like taking one for a spin like our PINC students love to do!
On the other side of the lake is a marble monument to one of the Spanish kings. The monument, designed by José Grases Riera and later Teodoro Anasagas, has a statue of King Alfonso XII, and as well as Peace, Freedom, and Progress, mermaids, and lions. The project was so big that it took more than 20 sculptors!
If you have time, walk down to see the nearby Egyptian Fountain that was rumored to be the location of buried treasure!
El Angel Caído
Last but not least is the famous statue of El Angel Caido or The Fallen Angel. This statue is one of very few in the world that actually depicts the Devil and, weirdly, is located exactly 666 meters above sea level- so definitely not an accident!
Have fun exploring Retiro with this guide to our favorite spots, but we're sure you'll find your own as you wander this massive green space of Madrid!