Welcome to Madrid where there’s so much history. When I first noticed the large, green rectangle on the tourist map, I knew that Parque del Buen Retiro would be a great place to find some tranquility.
After all, it occupied a physical area no less than half the size of the entire Madrid city center.
What I didn’t realize before I made the trek eastward into the park was how grand and spectacular it would actually be. Think Versailles, think Shanghai’s Century Park the way it might look next century. Whatever your usual opinion on city parks, make sure to visit Parque del Buen Retiro next time you’re in Madrid — I promise you’ll be thrilled you did.
Getting to Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro, literally “Park of the Pleasant Retreat,” is less than 30 minutes’ walk from anywhere in central Madrid. It’s so massive, really, that you need only keep one instruction in mind: head east. Specifically, until you get to Paseo del Prado, the massive boulevard that separates central Madrid from the Museo del Prado, which I like to think of as the gateway to Parque del Buen Retiro.
After crossing Paseo del Prado, my favorite route for getting to the park is heading just north of the museum and taking a right on Calle de Felipe IV, a charming street replete with neo-Classical architecture, statues and grandeur. A great preview of things to come.
Plaza del Parterre
If you follow my instructions and head down Calle de Felipe IV, you will enter into Parque del Buen Retiro’s Plaza del Parterre immediately after crossing Calle de Alfonso XII, the next big north-south road after Paseo del Prado. You won’t have any doubts as to whether you’re there, I promise.
Once you clear the wrought iron gates that stand in front of the parterre, walk slowly though the veritable gallery of pruned plants that rises around you. After you arriving at the fountain on the east side of the Parterre, turn around and take in the beautiful view of what you can still see of the city. Notice how small it already seems! Continue heading straight until you reach the first roundabout, then turn right.
Parque del Buen Retiro’s Rosaleda
The walk down Avenida de Cuba (this is the street on which you just turned right) is quiet and serene, defined by massive trees and green everywhere you look. If you haven’t completely forgotten you’re in one of the largest cities in Europe at this point, you should be well on your way by the time you get to the next roundabout, where you’ll need to take a left.
Immediately on your right is the Rosaleda. What does “Rosaleda” mean? That should become evident as soon as you see it. Indeed, Parque del Buen Retiro’s incredible rose garden can occupy at least an hour of your time, if you have a full day to devote to the park.
Roses of literally every shape and color blanket the oval-shaped maze, which is also defined by vine-covered archways, plentiful sunshine and a “fallen angel” fountain inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost. Erected in 1922, it depicts Lucifer falling from heaven and is the only known public monument to the devil in the world.
The Crystal Palace at Parque del Buen Retiro
If you don’t decide to abandon your real life and simply live in the Rosaleda, head straight out of the garden and walk north until you see, well, a massive crystal palace — there isn’t really any other way to describe it. This is (yep, you guessed it) the Crystal Palace of Parque del Buen Retiro.
Inspired by its more famous counterpart in London, the Palacio de Cristal (as it’s known in Spanish) was built in 1887 to showcase animals and plants from the Philippines. When I visited this past October, it had been completely emptied for maintenance. A bit of a bummer, but it’s not every day you come across a palace made entirely of crystal, so I dealt.
There’s also a lovely pond and fountain in front of the palace, where you can find ducks, turtles and even a manmade waterfall, which flows over the stone walkway that leads you away from the palace.
Monument to Alfonso XII
The reason I suggest you follow the trajectory I describe here when you visit Parque del Buen Retiro is that I would prefer you to arrive at the Monument to Alfonso XII after seeing the rest of the park. Although the pictures I post here give you a preview of what to expect, the sheer grandeur of the monument will astound you, particularly if you’ve been calmed as you should be by the rest of the park’s tranquil, understated beauty.
Not surprisingly, the monument to Alfonso XII was erected to in honor of Spain’s King Alfonso II, who ruled from 1974-1885. It was ultimately designed by Spanish architect José Grases Riera, who won the national contest put on by none other than Maria Christina of Austria, distantly (I hope) related to Alfonso through inbreeding. And you thought globalism was a 21st century phenomenon!
Funny as it is, I had Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” stuck in my head the whole time I was visiting this fountain. The lion statues and the presence of water did it for me, although the Monument to Alfonso XII looks almost nothing like Venice otherwise.
Whether you follow my suggested itinerary or visit Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro on your own accord, make sure and spend some time there, even if it’s just a couple hours. It’s a great dose of tranquility without having to leave the city.