While Parque del Buen Retiro (at about 300 acres) is much smaller than New York’s Central Park (840 acres) it is nonetheless magnificent. Filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, a peaceful lake, and a host to a variety of events, it is rightfully one of Madrid’s premier attractions.
The park grounds were once the province of a royal palace of Phillip IV. Evidence of that remains in the form of the Casón del Buen Retiro and the Museo del Ejército. The remaining buildings were decimated largely by the Napoleonic wars around the beginning of the 19th century.
The Casón now houses a collection of 19th and 20th-century paintings, including art by the Spanish painter Sorolla.
The Ejército is one of Spain’s foremost Army museums and it houses the sword of the famous Spanish warrior El Cid. Along with El Cid’s famous La Tizona, there are displays of armor, a cross carried by Columbus on his sea voyage to the New World, and other artifacts.
Though created in 1632, the park was first opened to the public in 1868. Since that time, madrilenos have strolled its sidewalks enjoying views of rolling greenery, street musicians, jugglers, fortune tellers, and just ordinary citizens out for a warm walk.
The centerpiece of that beautiful scenery is the large lake near the northern entrance called the Estanque del Retiro. Visitors can rent a boat and row leisurely across the surface. As they do they can see, along with those on the shore, the statue of King Alfonso XII astride his horse. Erected in 1922, the statue is backed by a semi-circular colonnade that completes the view.
At the southern end is another lake next to which is the extraordinary Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). Completed in 1887 and modeled after a similar building in London, it was intended to house a variety of exotic plants. A short stroll away is the Palacio de Velázquez which once held exhibitions for various industries. It’s now used primarily to house temporary exhibits from the Queen Sofia art museum.
The Rosaleda rose garden is another of the park’s beautiful features, one frequently enjoyed by tourists and natives alike. Among the many rose bushes stands a statue called El Angel Caído depicting Satan as one of the fallen angels. It’s easy to locate by walking down the Avenida de Cuba through the Plaza de Honduras.
Nearby are the equally delightful Cecilia Rodriguez gardens and not far away are outstanding restaurants on Serrano Street. For something less expensive, there are many outdoor cafes near the lake. Only a few minutes walk distant is the Prado museum where you can spend hours enjoying the works housed in one of Europe’s finest art museums.
The Buen Retiro – ‘the good retreat’ – is aptly named. Visit and find out why.