As much as we adore the bustling charm of a city, we are also pulled towards the peace and air of the city green spaces. Especially in countries like Spain where they provide cool shade, whilst still being very much still part of the local culture. So, for your sustenance here are our must see parks and gardens of Madrid.
PARQUE DEL RETIRO
This is the biggest and to my mind the best park in Madrid. It sits on the East side of the central city and you can hardly miss it on a map as it looms 5 blocks wide at its top and more down its side. The area is fairly grand and is the oldest historical urban area in Madrid.
It was in 1767, when Carlos III broke with tradition and the public (well the aristocracy) were allowed in the park as long as they were “washed and suitably dressed”.
It was another 100 years before general riff-raff were given permission.
Today, you’ll find it’s a great place for a picnic, which is a very Madrid thing to do.
We entered by the west side into these formal gardens overlooked by some stunning buildings.
The signs are all in Spanish so unless you are good at interpreting Spanish or have a clever App, it’s a bit of pot luck. I’ve written my sub-titles in Spanish to help.
Striking odd shaped Cyrus trees cast shade on pretty benches.
It became a competition between me and my husband, Andy, who can get a shot of the sun beaming through the mask of Jacinto Benavente’s statue. It was my idea, but as the shorty in the relationship I was doomed to failure! I still can’t work out how he quite did this as the sun was way too high in the sky for me!
Anyway, Benavente was one of the foremost Spanish dramatists of the 20th century and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1922 “for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama”. (I thought it was a girl!)
Walking around you will see lots of activities taking place. Mainly sports of a gentle kind but also skating, cycling and rigorous stamina classes.
We visited on a Sunday and at times it can feel almost carnival like. With 130 hectares of woodland with more than 15,000 trees you can easily find peace and shade somewhere.
A good place to head is the southwestern corner of the park occupied by the Jardín de los Planteles, one of the least-visited sections of El Retiro, where quiet pathways are hidden beneath an overarching canopy of trees.
This is the boating lake. It’s one of the oldest parts of the lake and was actually used during Felipe IV’s reign to hold mock naval battles.
These days you’re more likely to see row boats.
Monument to Alfonso XII
Besides the boating lake sits the enormous monument to Alfonso XII. It was designed in 1898 after Spains humiliating defeat to Cuba.
It’s a nice place to sit for a while.
The rose garden is well worth pottering over to. We had just missed the full bloom by a few weeks but it was still a wondrous place to be in.
There are 4000 rose bushes here of 100 kinds.
Some of them took your breath away.
Others smelt like a dream.
It’s a space where time is forgotten and you walk at a slow pace, breathing it all in.
There were two kinds of folk in the garden that day. Those who wanted to hold onto its beauty through our cameras and those (locals, I suspect) who sat sleepily enjoying the peace and scents.
I’ve just planted a rose garden in my own garden back in England. A nod to Andy’s grandad who’s garden was full of roses.
How emotive roses are.
Cecilio Rodríguez gardens
This part of the garden is along the east side and it’s separated by a wall. We felt as if it was a bit of a secret garden.
Inside is an oasis of calm.
Rows of firs keep guard by the fountains and blossoms.
It’s simply magical.
I love the towering Cyprus trees looming overhead, still neat but loose and free in contrast to the highly structured planting below.
Stunning and private gazebos were everywhere. I thought they were perfect for wedding vows, but while we were there they were mainly used for gentle exercise classes.
Even more romantically, loads of peacocks strutted about. Local cats too, attracted by the food I guess.
Palacio de Cristal
Found near the middle of the park, this crystal palace gleams in the sun and reflects in the lake.
This magnificent metal and glass pavilion was built as a winter garden for exotic plants. Today it’s used for exhibitions, but is also simply a nice place to stop and chill.
An interesting suspended sculpture was hanging ready to swing into action like a pendulum.
But sadly, it wasn’t turned on for another hour, so we missed it!
Fuente de la Alcachofa
The monument features characteristic baroque motifs, including marine deities, plants and water, as an indispensable element for life. At the top of the fountain an artichoke can be seen. Yes, really, but know this, here in Madrid it’s a plant much appreciated for its medicinal properties and culinary use. Flanking a round base, a triton and a nereid are holding up the city’s coat of arms.
I was a little distracted tho’ by the guy beyond, grinding bread on the floor for the birds.
There’s so much more to see, including the Fountain of the Falling Angel (Fuente del Ángel Caído) it’s topped by one of the few statues of the devil anywhere in the world and Madrid’s oldest tree (a Mexican Conifer) planted in 1633 and used in the Napoleonic wars as a cannon mount.
Find it here.
JARDINES DE SABATINI
Now over to Royal Madrid on the west side. Naturally this is where you’ll find the Palacio Real but also this monastery the Monasterio de la Encarmaciôn.
There is a small garden to the right side of the Royal Palace…
It’s peaceful and calm.
But most wonderful of all, the Royal Palace is the backdrop. Ahhhh, how romantic. Guys, if you are looking for a place to propose…
It leads to the beautiful Campo del Moro gardens placed behind the palace, but we had run out of time and left by these grand stone steps.
Leaving the garden we enjoyed the harmonic sounds of a busker.
He played nicely and gave us the famous Madrid attitude (grumpy) which we kind of enjoyed too!
Find this garden here.
REAL JARDIN BOTÁNICO
Not far from the Estación de Atocha.
The original Atocha train station building was mostly destroyed by fire in the early 1890s.
The renewed old building, now predominantly wrought iron, was re-opened for service in 1892. It was in constant use for exactly 100 years when in 1992 it effectively became a shopping mall with the addition of a nightclub and various cafés. Some 4,000 square metres of the centre of the old building also houses a beautiful tropical garden.
But we were heading to the Botanical Garden, which is full of shady, peaceful paths providing a cool escape from the Spanish sun.
Visiting in Autumn meant the summer flowers had passed, but there were still plenty to see.
I think these might be Heuchera. But, I’m not a great gardener so those of you with green fingers please leave a comment and let us know.
Dahlias were still blooming. I know these, I put lots in my garden this year!
It’s a nice way to pass some time and perhaps discover a new love.
I don’t mean this handsome chap, he’s my ‘old’ love, but the burgundy coloured dahlias here.
There are rows of statues, like this big nosed gentleman. It seems that rows of statues are a bit of a theme in Madrid. I read somewhere that many were considered not good enough to make the Palace balustrade.
I have missed feelings about graffiti scratched into the bark of trees. On one hand, leave the tree alone, on the other hand, it’s terribly romantic.
Some of the plants we’d never seen before.
Andy enjoyed taking photos. You’ll find some folk with pretty serious cameras capturing natures beauty.
I took this photo. I love it. You can still see the last signs of the flowers former beauty, despite going to seed!
Hmmm, this might have everything to do with my own stage of life.
This fresh faced beauty defies Autumn and beams like the sun.
Find this garden here.
January, February, November and December 10am-6pm.
March and October 10am-7pm.
April and September 10am-8pm.
May, June, July and August 10am-9pm.
PARQUE DEL OESTE
If you’ve been visiting the Royal Palace there are many parks to enjoy (we’ve already mentioned a couple). However, this one offers something different.
You’ll find the the Templo de Debod, an authentic Egyptian temple which was built in the early 2nd century BC.
This authentic Egyptian temple was reconstructed here between 1970 and 1972.
Due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt between 1960 and 1970, many historical monuments were in danger of being flooded. Spanish engineers helped the Egyptian government to move these monuments to safe areas.
Egypt donated one of these monuments, the Templo de Debod, to Spain in recognition of their support.
Inside you’ll learn all about the reconstruction, about King Adikhalamani, who ordered it’s original construction and also the deciphering of the hieroglyphs inside the temple.
Expect to queue. It’s not all that bad because you’ll be cheered by buskers if you’re lucky.
The Egyptian Temple is not the only surprise here. Head passed the fountain behind the temple…
(appreciate the rainbow…nice)
… aim towards the left side and you get the perfect spot for a selfie with the Royal Palace viewed behind. Boom!
Find this park here.
Tuesday to Friday, 1 April to 30 September: 10am to 2pm and 6-8pm. 1 October to 31 March: 9:45am to 1:45pm and 4:15-6:15pm. Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 2pm. Closed Mondays and public holidays.
Access to the temple is FREE!
If you have any other recommendations on parks and gardens of Madrid please leave a comment, as we always love to hear from you.
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