Buen Retiro Park Walking Tour, Madrid

Buen Retiro Park Walking Tour (Self Guided), Madrid

Buen Retiro Park, which translates to "Park of the Pleasant Retreat", is one of the main attractions in Madrid. Similarly to Central Park of New York City or Hyde Park of London, this former royal retreat is the most popular public outdoor space in the Spanish capital.

A green oasis in the heart of the city, the park has long been a favorite spot for both locals and tourists to go for a stroll, picnic, or just a breath the fresh air. A multitude of fascinating sculptures, beautiful fountains, top notch museums, and well-manicured gardens make it well worth visiting just as much.

Upon entering the park from its northern entrance, you will see the magnificent Monument to King Alfonso XII. Next to the monument, a large artificial lake is where you can rent a rowing boat. The onsite Fountain of the Falling Angel is believed to be the only public monument dedicated to the devil. Also, there is the Crystal Palace, built in 1887, housing a variety of exotic plants.

A visit to Buen Retiro Park is a must-do experience on every Madrid itinerary, and you can discover this historical site at your own pace following our self-guided walking tour.
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Buen Retiro Park Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Buen Retiro Park Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Madrid (See other walking tours in Madrid)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)
  • Glorieta de Nicaragua (Nicaragua Roundabout)
  • El Estanque (Pleasure Lake)
  • Paseo de las Estatuas (Walkway of the Statues)
  • El Parterre (Parterre Garden)
  • Fuente de la Alcachofa (Fountain of the Artichoke)
  • Fuente del Angel Caido (Fountain of the Fallen Angel)
  • La Rosaleda (Rose Garden)
  • Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace)
  • Palacio de Velazquez (Velazquez Palace)
  • Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez (Cecilio Rodriguez Gardens)
  • Monumento a Alfonso XII (Monument to Alfonso XII)
  • Casita del Pescador (Fisherman's House)
1
Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)

1) Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)

This monumental gateway, one of the most iconic landmarks in Madrid, stands as a testament to the ambitious urban improvements led by Carlos III in the eastern part of the city. Created by the architect Francesco Sabatini to commemorate the king's first two decades on the throne, it replaced a smaller Baroque gateway that Felipe III had constructed for his wife's entry into Madrid.

Construction of this colossal city gate, the largest in Europe at the time, began in 1769 and spanned nine years. Crafted from granite in the Neo-Classical style, it features an imposing pediment adorned with sculpted angels and boasts five arches—three central and two outer rectangular ones.

Once serving as the easternmost boundary of the city, the gateway now stands isolated on a small island within the bustling Independence Square ("Plaza de la Independencia"). To fully appreciate its magnificence, visit at night when it is illuminated, casting a radiant glow upon its architectural splendor.
2
Glorieta de Nicaragua (Nicaragua Roundabout)

2) Glorieta de Nicaragua (Nicaragua Roundabout)

In Retiro Park, you'll come across various pathways and circular spaces named after famous Latin American locations, including Glorieta de Honduras and Glorieta de Nicaragua. The latter is home to a stunning fountain called the Fountain of the Turtles ("Fuente de los Galápagos"), which was commissioned by Ferdinand VII to commemorate the first birthday of Princess Isabella, who would later become Isabella II. Originally located in the Red de San Luis, the fountain was moved to Glorieta de Nicaragua in Retiro Park in 1879, where it stands near the large lake and the bandstand.

The fountain depicts three fairies presenting their gifts to the princess, symbolizing well-wishes for her future reign. The dolphins carrying four children on their backs represent intelligence, wisdom, and prudence, while the marine elements symbolize fertility as water is the source of life. The presence of Galápagos tortoises signifies longevity.
3
El Estanque (Pleasure Lake)

3) El Estanque (Pleasure Lake)

A leisurely walk from the northern entrance of the park, shaded by an avenue of trees, brings you to the park's small central lake, affectionately known as "El Estanque" or the Pleasure Lake. This picturesque water body serves as a bustling hub of activity within the park, with one of its main attractions being the availability of rowing boats for hire. Whether it's the vibrant colors of spring or the golden hues of autumn, the allure of gliding across the serene waters of the lake in these rented boats remains a year-round delight for visitors. Please note that the rowing boats are available for hire from 10am to 8pm, or until sunset if it occurs earlier, and there is a charge for each 45-minute session.

On one side of the lake, you'll be captivated by the sight of a semicircular stone colonnade, exuding grandeur and serving as a majestic backdrop. It frames an equestrian bronze monument dedicated to Alfonso XII, who sits atop a towering column, gracefully mounted on his noble steed. This monument was unveiled by Alfonso XII's son, Alfonso XIII, in a memorable ceremony. Interestingly, Alfonso XIII himself survived a bomb attack on his wedding day to Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Victoria Eugenia. It is said that a timely message, carved on a tree within the Retiro Park, played a role in averting the tragedy.

Across the lake, you'll find a lively scene, where portrait painters and fortune-tellers practice their crafts.
4
Paseo de las Estatuas (Walkway of the Statues)

4) Paseo de las Estatuas (Walkway of the Statues)

Despite being officially named Paseo de la Argentina (Argentina Promenade), this section of Retiro Park is commonly known as the Walkway of the Statues. Located between the Gate of Spain ("Puerta de España") and the Large Pond ("Estanque Grande"), it is adorned with 14 sculptures from a series of 114 originally designed by Benedictine friar Martín Sarmiento in 1743. These exquisite artworks were carved by sculptors Juan Domingo Olivieri and Felipe de Castro between 1743-48 and were originally intended for the cornice of the Royal Palace, but fate had different plans for them.

Legend has it that Queen Isabel de Farnesio, the consort and second wife of Felipe V, suffered from nightmares in which the statues would collapse from the palace cornice. As a result, they were dispersed throughout various parts of the city, including the Oriente Square, the Toledo Bridge roundabout, and the Army Museum. Eventually, during the reign of Carlos III, they found themselves in the basement of the palace, as they did not conform to the prevailing aesthetic criteria of the time when Madrid was reevaluating its urban planning. Francisco Sabatini was entrusted with their dismantling and storage.

Around a century later, during the reign of Isabel II in 1842, the statues were restored and reintegrated into various locations, such as Oriente Square, Retiro Park, as well as Aranjuez, Toledo, Burgos, Logroño, and Vitoria. In 1847, thirteen statues of Spanish monarchs were added, spanning from the Middle Ages to the modern era: Fernando IV, Enrique II, García I, Urraca I, Berenguela I, Sancho IV, Alfonso I of Aragon, Suintila, Ramón Berenguer IV, Carlos I, Carlos II, and Gundemaro. The odd number of statues posed a challenge to symmetry.

To address this issue, during the area's reorganization in 1989, an empty pedestal was installed, likely intended for the statue of Alfonso VII, achieving the desired symmetry. Over three decades later, in 2021, the vacant pedestal near the pond was occupied by Queen Juana I of Castile, a tragic figure in Spanish history, known for her mental instability and the complex political struggles surrounding her reign. Her life has been the subject of numerous literary and artistic works, portraying her as a tragic and misunderstood queen.
5
El Parterre (Parterre Garden)

5) El Parterre (Parterre Garden)

Located in the western section of El Retiro Park, the Parterre is a highly frequented area that is sure to captivate visitors who appreciate gardens with geometric patterns. As one walks along the pathways and takes a moment to rest on the benches, they are greeted by an open and serene space that invites relaxation. Additionally, this corner of the park is a haven for photographers, as it is renowned for its picturesque scenery and is considered one of the most photogenic spots within the entire park.

Exploring the gardens of the Parterre evokes a sense of being transported to a different world, with a touch of foreign charm reminiscent of European palaces, particularly those influenced by French aesthetics. The precisely designed paths, neatly trimmed hedges, and creatively shaped cypress trees cast shadows, adding an element of intrigue for those who venture into this space.

Furthermore, the Parterre is home to the oldest trees in Madrid, with the impressive Montezuma cypress towering at a height of 25 meters and boasting a circumference of 6 meters, exhibiting an elegant chandelier-like shape. Originating from Mexico, this tree is known as the "nahualte" in the Aztec language, which translates to "watery old man," reflecting its long lifespan and affinity for thriving near bodies of water and waterways. Dating back to 1632, the official planting of this tree holds great historical significance within the garden.

According to legend, the Montezuma cypress is believed to be the offspring of the tree beneath which Hernán Cortés shed tears on the fateful night of July 1st, 1520, when Spanish troops faced a massacre by the Aztecs and had to flee from Mexico City. In remembrance of this somber event, Hernán Cortés is said to have brought back seeds or cuttings of the tree, although the exact method of propagation remains uncertain. Today, the result of his efforts can be witnessed in the presence of the Montezuma cypress.
6
Fuente de la Alcachofa (Fountain of the Artichoke)

6) Fuente de la Alcachofa (Fountain of the Artichoke)

This monumental fountain, also known as the Fountain of the Triton due to the mythological figures of a triton and a nymph that adorn it, was part of the beautification plan for the Salón del Prado, initiated during the reign of Carlos III. However, due to increasing road traffic, the city council decided to relocate it to its current location in the southwest corner of Retiro Park, a century after its creation, in 1877.

The design of the monument by Ventura Rodríguez was complemented by sculptures carved by Alfonso Vergaz, who worked on the triton and the nymph, and Antonio Primo, the author of the cherubs and the artichoke, which gives the fountain its name. The artichoke, aside from its aesthetic appeal, carries symbolic significance as a representation of fertility, while the presence of water itself is often associated with abundance and vitality.
7
Fuente del Angel Caido (Fountain of the Fallen Angel)

7) Fuente del Angel Caido (Fountain of the Fallen Angel)

The Fuente del Ángel Caído, located at the intersection of Paseo de Uruguay and Paseo de Cuba, is arguably one of the most captivating fountains in Retiro Park. Created by Ricardo Bellver in the late 19th century, this sculpture is believed to be one of only three statues of Lucifer in existence, drawing inspiration from verses in John Milton's "Paradise Lost". Bellver crafted the initial plaster mold during his time as a scholarship recipient in Rome, and its fame eventually reached the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, prompting King Alfonso XII to finance its reproduction in bronze.

The statue made its debut at the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris, where it received significant acclaim. Later, the Crown entrusted the monument to the City Council for public display, under the condition that it be mounted on a dignified pedestal. Accordingly, an elegant pedestal was erected, and the ensemble was officially inaugurated in its present location within Retiro Park in 1885, a few months after the passing of King Alfonso XII.

The sculpture depicts a naked figure of a fallen angel, captured in the midst of descent. Resting on a severed tree trunk, one of the angel's legs is entwined by a coiled serpent. It is believed that his fall from grace is transforming him into Lucifer. The sculpture's expression is unconventional, contorted backwards, conveying not only pain but also, perhaps, feelings of hatred or humiliation.

Situated atop an octagonal pedestal at the center of a circular pond, the Fallen Angel is surrounded by eight monstrous heads and other symbolic figures from which water flows. The entire composition is enhanced by the beautifully landscaped area that encircles the pond.
8
La Rosaleda (Rose Garden)

8) La Rosaleda (Rose Garden)

If you're searching for a blooming Madrid, the tranquil gem of La Rosaleda nestled within the Retiro Park is a must-visit. With over 4,000 rose bushes arranged in beautiful flowerbeds, the garden fills the air with a delightful fragrance in the months of May and June. Amidst the verdant landscape of Retiro, this small haven adds vibrant hues to the city's remaining pockets of nature.

The garden's design dates back to 1915, crafted by the city's Chief Gardener, who drew inspiration from similar European gardens, notably the one in Paris' Bois de Boulogne. The location previously housed a greenhouse donated by the Marquis of Salamanca, and before that, it was home to a small pond where visitors could enjoy ice skating during winter freezes.

The quantity of blossoms may vary depending on the season, yet you'll always find the garden meticulously maintained, with pruned rose bushes, ensuring a clean and enjoyable experience. Each flowerbed is labeled, revealing the specific type of rose it showcases. The low hedges are meticulously trimmed to provide excellent visibility.

At the heart of the garden, a small pond awaits, flanked by two elegant white limestone fountains. The gentle flow of water from these fountains creates a serene and relaxing atmosphere throughout the surroundings.
9
Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace)

9) Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) (must see)

Perched by a small artificial lake and encompassed by the majestic chestnut trees of Retiro Park, the Crystal Palace stands as a remarkable example of iron architecture in Madrid. Initially conceived as a colossal greenhouse to showcase tropical flora during the 1887 Flora Exhibition of the Philippine Islands, it was closely modeled on the building of the same name in London's Hyde Park.

Adorned with expansive glass panels, the palace creates an ethereal ambiance, complemented by delicate ceramic embellishments in the form of friezes and decorative accents that enhance its allure. The ingenious use of cast iron columns and generous glass surfaces allows for a spacious and grand interior. In 1975, a restoration project was undertaken to preserve and revive its original splendor.

Today, the palace serves as one of the prestigious venues of the Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre in Madrid. Managed by the museum, the space hosts a diverse range of temporary exhibitions and artistic installations, enriching the city's cultural landscape.

Why You Should Visit:
The exterior is lovely, particularly when seen next to the fountain at the front, and of course, the building itself is a beautiful design.
Upon entering, you are free to explore the interior and look around, as admission is free (including access to occasional exhibits).
As the sun sets, the lights come on and it takes on another life again.

Tip:
For a picture-perfect moment, capture the palace's intricate iron architecture reflecting in the nearby lake. The optimal time to snap the perfect shot is at sunrise, when the light beautifully dances off the numerous glass panels.
10
Palacio de Velazquez (Velazquez Palace)

10) Palacio de Velazquez (Velazquez Palace)

Designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, this architectural marvel was built between 1881-83 for the National Exhibition of Mining, Metallurgical Arts, Ceramics, Glassware, and Mineral Waters. It stands today as the sole remaining structure from the exhibition.

The rectangular edifice boasts impressive features such as large glass panels and iron vaults, showcasing Velázquez Bosco's remarkable design skills. The palace consists of three interconnected quadrangular sections, with a central portico serving as the entrance. This grand entrance features a magnificent marble staircase adorned with sphinxes and topped by a striking barrel vault made of zinc and glass. Complementing the central section, two quadrangular bodies with sloping zinc roofs complete the architectural composition.

The exterior of the palace is constructed using recocho brick from Zaragoza, resulting in a distinct appearance characterized by varying tones and subtle deformations. To enhance its aesthetic appeal, ceramic cladding from the reopened Moncloa Porcelain Factory was added, adorning the arches and spandrels. The combination of materials, including granite, brick, ceramic, stucco, iron, zinc, and glass, reflects the diverse range of construction materials prevalent in the 19th century.

On May 30, 1883, King Alfonso XII and King Luís I of Portugal jointly inaugurated the exhibition housed within the palace, marking it as a significant event in Spain's history. Today, the palace serves as a temporary exhibition space for the renowned Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre, showcasing a variety of artistic displays.
11
Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez (Cecilio Rodriguez Gardens)

11) Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez (Cecilio Rodriguez Gardens)

From 1914, Cecilio Rodríguez, the Chief Gardener of the City of Madrid, implemented a nominal fee for entry to the Casa de Fieras ("House of Beasts") and the gardens to fund the paving of the central path, the installation of shrubs, and the improvement of animal enclosures. These gardens now seamlessly blend with the adjacent Herrero Palacios Gardens, which were established by Rodríguez's successor.

Located near the main entrance, visitors will encounter the striking sculptural group known as the Fountain of the Seagulls. Unveiled in 1962, it depicts a flock of seagulls taking flight above a stone menhir. The gardens retain their original charm, with magnificent iron arches, pergolas adorned with foliage, and serene ponds. Alongside the wall, on the left side, stands a bust honoring the visionary behind these gardens. Created by J. Algueró and erected by the Madrid City Council in 1949, it serves as a testament to his contribution.

At the far end of the gardens, a covered gazebo hosts various social events organized by the municipality. To preserve the tranquility and security of the space, an iron fence with two gates is closed at night and during official receptions. As you wander through the gardens, keep an eye out for the graceful presence of peacocks.

In the 19th century, this area was famously home to the "Elephant Bath", a privately operated facility that, when not used by the elephant, was rented out for dog bathing. The rental income helped fund the purchase of animals and the maintenance of the House of Beasts.
12
Monumento a Alfonso XII (Monument to Alfonso XII)

12) Monumento a Alfonso XII (Monument to Alfonso XII)

Retiro Park's Estanque ("Pleasure Lake") is a top attraction, housing the park's largest preserved monument dedicated to King Alfonso XII, unveiled in 1922. Its construction began 20 years prior, initiated by Queen Maria Cristina and financed through a popular subscription. Renowned Catalan architect José Grases Riera, known for his work on Madrid's Palacio de Longoria, won the design competition.

Situated on the eastern edge of the Estanque in Retiro Park, this architectural marvel showcases the collaborative efforts of up to twenty sculptors, whose creations adorn the monument. Exploring it up close allows you to truly appreciate its grandeur, including the prominent stone lion sculptures flanking the pond and captivating artworks depicting mermaids, as well as allegorical representations of Sciences, Agriculture, the Army, and the Navy.

The centerpiece is an impressive equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII himself, cast in bronze. Adjacent to it, a majestic staircase descends towards the pond, providing a popular vantage point for admiring breathtaking sunsets.

Tip:
For those interested in ascending to the monument's viewpoint, guided visits are available during specific periods throughout the year as part of the Pasea Madrid program organized by the city council. These visits offer fascinating insights into the monument's history, along with excellent panoramic vistas of the surrounding area. Viewpoint visiting hours are scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3pm to 5:30pm. To secure your spot, it is recommended to book early, as availability fills up quickly. Keep in mind that visits to the viewpoint are also available during other periods, such as September and October.
13
Casita del Pescador (Fisherman's House)

13) Casita del Pescador (Fisherman's House)

Picture yourself leisurely strolling along the dirt pathways of Retiro Park during your visit to Madrid. The park's lush greenery surrounds you until a contrasting presence catches your eye. You glance at it repeatedly, ensuring its reality, and discover a charming little structure with vibrant hues. Unbeknownst to you, you've stumbled upon the Fisherman's House, one of Retiro's many hidden treasures.

Like most things in life, this place has a purpose and an explanation. Nestled in the northeast area of Retiro, it sits near the Artificial Mountain. To uncover its history, we delve into the early 19th century. After the War of Independence, Retiro Park suffered extensive damage, prompting King Ferdinand VII to undertake its reconstruction. During this revival, exquisite and exotic structures were erected, including the Persian Salon and this small cottage. Such creations, aptly called "caprices", added a touch of whimsy.

The mastermind behind the Fisherman's House, Isidro González Velázquez, surrounded it by a pond that served its intended purpose. This was where the king and members of the royal family sought respite from the rigors of palace life, indulging in peaceful days of fishing, rod in hand. Can you envision Spain's past monarchs seated on a small chair, casting their lines here? Because that's exactly how it was.

The Fisherman's House is a delightful surprise that brings a smile to your face. Its coquettish charm emanates from its rosy facade adorned with Pompeian-style paintings and frescoes. Though the niches once held Roman busts, they now stand empty. The house exudes a distinct kitschiness. After years of abandonment, it found new purpose as a Tourist Information Office, and now, the City Council has announced its transformation into the Municipal Pet Adoption Center.

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