El Retiro Park, sometimes simply referred to as El Retiro, is one of the largest and certainly the liveliest of all the parks in Madrid. There’s always something happening here, from fitness classes to tours, events, and locals’ gatherings. Not to mention a beautiful lake and several historical monuments to discover.
If you’re planning a trip to Madrid, El Retiro is a perfect place to enjoy some sunshine. And given the city averages around 350 sunny days a year, you don’t need luck on your side to make the most of the park.
In this guide, we’ll help you figure out how to get to El Retiro from wherever you are in Madrid. We’ll take a look at some of the must-see monuments and best attractions in the park, and we’ll lay out some history of the area, too.
Getting to El Retiro Park by train
Madrid is home to a quick and convenient public transport system, so you can get wherever you need to go without a fuss. Whether you choose the bus, train, tram, or metro, how you get around will be up to you. We love the metro for its regular services and speedy journeys.
Which station is nearest to El Retiro Park?
If you’re going to take the metro, there are a couple of stops you might like to hop off at. There’s a station called Retiro on metro line 2 which pulls up right outside the park. Or alight at Ibiza, on line 9, and make your way inside the park. Estación del Arte on metro line 1 is also just a stone’s throw away. If you’re based near a line 6 service, alight at Conde de Casal.
The station you get off at will depend on where you’re coming from. Take a line 1, 2, 6, or 9 train to any of the stops we’ve mentioned above. Or, if you can’t get directly onto one of these, find a service that changes over onto the line you need.
Tip: if you’re less than an hour’s walk away, we recommend heading to the park on foot – it’s the best way to see Madrid.
Exploring El Retiro Park
El Retiro is always buzzing. Whether it’s a sunny Saturday lazing around on the lawns or a mid-week wander between historical attractions, there’s something for everyone here. Let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in El Retiro Park so that you can make the most of your visit.
The lake at El Retiro is one of the most picturesque places in Madrid. Set in the shadow of gigantic columns and statues, the still water of the lake is often peppered with rowboats, which you can rent for yourself for a few euros.
Tip: Head to the lake for sunset, when the peachy coloured sky casts a beautiful reflection on the water.
Monument to King Alfonso XII
Those statues we just mentioned? Primary among them is the Monument to King Alfonso XII, which has been overlooking the lake since 1922. You can’t miss this imposing feature, which consists of a semicircle of decorated columns with a tower at the centre. On top of this 20-metre-high tower, King Alfonso sits on horseback.
From the base of the tower, visitors can enjoy panoramas of Madrid, including the picturesque Salamanca neighbourhood, the Literary Quarter or Barrio de las Letras, and Gran Vía.
El Retiro’s Crystal Palace is a sight to behold, and a must-visit if you’re into architecture or aesthetics. The Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 in a wooded part of the park, home to a small lake of its own. It was initially used as a greenhouse. And a pretty impressive one, we imagine.
Today the breathtaking glass structure is used for temporary exhibitions, which look even more spectacular inside this one-of-a-kind space.
Just around the corner, Velázquez Palace is another beautiful building dating back to the 1880s. Velázquez was designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, the same architect responsible for the Crystal Palace, so it’s a good idea to visit these buildings in succession.
This beautiful building is also covered with a glass roof but features more substantial walls of brick and tile. Today Velázquez Palace belongs to the Ministry of Culture and houses temporary exhibitions for the Reina Sofía Museum.
These two glimmering palaces are free to visit and highly recommended for art-enthusiasts visiting Madrid.
Paseo de la Argentina
Paseo de la Argentina is also known as Paseo de las Estatuas, and it’s easy to see why. This broad stretch is lined by statues of Spanish monarchs. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll and the perfect place to enter El Retiro. Head in through Puerta de España, the intricate 19th-century access gate, and walk along the passage to El Retiro Lake at the end.
As you make your way along the Paseo, say hello to statues of 94 Spanish Kings along the way, including Fernando IV and Carlos II. Landscaped lawns and flower beds stretch out either side of the Paseo de la Argentina, so don’t be afraid to go off-road.
If you’re visiting with little ones, head to El Retiro Park for some energetic fun. The park boasts 11 children’s play areas, with something suitable for all ages. Each playground is designed with a specific age range in mind, so you can find a perfect spot whether you’re in Madrid with a toddler or a couple of older kids.
Visit El Retiro’s Rose Garden at any time of year, but particularly if you’re heading to Madrid in spring. Over 4,000 colourful roses bloom every year, with a variety of colours and sizes on display.
The Rose Garden is also home to beautiful leafy archways, picturesque fountains, and a scattering of perfectly placed benches, so you can sit and contemplate for a while.
The Gardens of Cecilio Rodriguez
There’s no such thing as too many landscaped gardens. And those in El Retiro Park are some of the most beautiful in the city. Just one of the park’s beautiful landscaped areas, the Gardens of Cecilio Rodriquez, or Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, boast rows of low hedges, fountains, and smooth checkered walkways.
As well as its plants, flowers, and ornaments, these gardens are home to a pavilion building where visitors can enjoy shows, screenings, and temporary exhibitions.
Fountain of the Fallen Angel
Madrid is sometimes said to be the only city in the world to display a monument to the Devil. And you can see it, the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, here at El Retiro Park. The fountain, which curiously sits 666 metres above sea level, represents Lucifer being dramatically cast down from heaven. The scene is inspired by a famous passage from John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Ricardo Bellver is responsible for the statue, which is considered to be one of the artist’s masterpieces. Bellver initially cast the bronze figure for the World’s Fair. Afterwards, it was acquired by the Museo del Prado, then donated to the city and set on its pillar in 1885.
Be sure to visit this unique addition to El Retiro and form your own opinions.
El Retiro Park History and Facts
Like many of the parks in Madrid, El Retiro began life as a royal greenspace. Translated into English, El Retiro means ‘retirement’, with the park’s full name, ‘Parque del Buen Retiro’ translating to ‘Park of the Pleasant Retreat’. Let’s take a look at the history of the place, so you can visit with a little more context in mind.
Building the park
In the 17th century, the Count-Duke of Olivares decided to donate some private land to King Philip IV. This was the land we know as El Retiro today. It was favoured for its excellent spot on the outskirts of the city. Of course, the Madrid we know today has grown a lot since the 17th century, with the park now sitting near the centre.
Ten years after he donated the land, the same Count-Duke of Olivares commissioned a park to be built on the same spot. Garden designer Cosimo Lotti was brought in on the project and was responsible for the chapels, sweeping pathways, and some of the impressive sculptures which remain to this day.
A royal greenspace
Once it was finished, El Retiro became a favourite spot for the royals and their guests. From plays and operas to warm-weather walks, the kings and queens of Spain would frequent the park as their private space for some generations.
Open to the public
King Charles III was the first to open the park to Madrilenians, with rules for tidiness set out to keep order among the gardens. The King dedicated part of the park to cultivation and established a farming school among the grounds.
After the Peninsular War, King Ferdinand VII tried to recover the beauty of El Retiro for the people of Madrid. He added new elements including the Fisherman’s Cottage or Casita del Pescador.
After the Revolution in 1868, ownership of El Retiro passed from the Crown to the Madrid City Council. Some of the park’s most impressive modern features were added, including the Crystal Palace and the Palace of Velázquez.
And there you have it. The El Retiro we know today has been loved by Madrid locals and visitors ever since. Join the crowds relaxing and enjoying the sun at El Retiro whenever you’re in town. This might just be your new favourite spot.
The Best Restaurants and Bars in El Retiro Park
If you’re planning to spend the entire day in El Retiro Park — and why wouldn’t you? — you’ll want to eat and drink while you’re there. And you’re in luck! There are plenty of great cafés, restaurants, and bars in and around El Retiro. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
Tip: These are the bars, restaurants, and cafés you can find inside El Retiro. There are also lots of excellent spots just outside the park, so explore until you discover something that suits you.
- Las Estatuas – translating as ‘the statues’, this small café boasts a large outdoor terrace overlooking the lake and Monument to King Alfonso XII
- Bar Mirador – with similar vibes to the above, Bar Mirador has a large terrace where you can enjoy hot, cold, and alcoholic drinks and light meals
- Terraza El Ancla – also overlooking the water, Terraza El Ancla is another excellent choice for coffee, ice cream, or beer in the shade
- Bar Mirador La Rosaleda – another easygoing terrace area, this time near the Rose Garden
This is a more substantial spot. With comfortable seating and plenty of space both outside and in, Florida Retiro serves delicious food and tempting drinks from lunchtime until after dark. Enjoy tapas and live flamenco or book a table in the à la carte restaurant. Fancy some cocktails? Head out onto the terrace, one of the best spots in the city.
Opening Times and Ticket Prices
El Retiro is a public park, which means it’s always free to visit. That being said, this is a gated park, with set opening and closing hours. This helps ensure the space is always treated with respect and remains free from vandalism and trouble after dark.
Throughout spring and summer (that’s April to September), El Retiro is open from 06:00 to 00:00. In autumn and winter, the park is open between 06:00 and 22:00. So you can always visit with your morning coffee or for drinks in the evening.
Whenever and for whatever reason you visit El Retiro Park, we’re sure you’ll fall in love with this picturesque corner of Madrid. There’s always something
Taking the train to Madrid
Thanks to the efficient service run by Renfe – Spain’s national train company – it’s easy to reach Madrid by train. High-speed AVE trains can get you from Barcelona to Madrid in 2h 30m on the fastest services, Valencia to Madrid in 1h 40m and Seville to Madrid in 2h 30m. Trains to Madrid arrive into one of the city’s two main stations – Madrid Atocha or Madrid Chamartín; look out for the botanical garden if you arrive into the former!
Want to learn more about travelling by rail in Spain? Read our guide to trains in Spain, your one-stop-shop for all things rail. Our Renfe page also gives you the lowdown on Spain’s national train operator, including how to find the cheapest tickets.