Conveniently located near the art museums and architectural highlights that make Madrid such a visual delight are three fine parks. Whether you’re biding your time before a meal, recovering from an overdose of food or art, or simply seeking some solace from the capital’s boisterousness, the following "art triangle" is a pleasure in every sense.
Parque del Buen Retiro: Located just beyond the Paseo del Prado and the "Big Three" art museums, the "Retiro" was once a royal pleasure garden but today is Madrid’s answer to London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park. Paths named after Spain’s former colonies lead you to the Estanque a vast artificial lake which you can hire paddle-boats to navigate and that is a center of activity of all kinds (you’ll often see street performers in the summer or on weekends) that creates a boisterously festive atmosphere.
Further south, the Palacio de Exposiciones and Palacio de Cristal often host excellent (free) contemporary art exhibitions as well as being attractive in their own right. Further south still is the delightful Rosaleda, a quiet rose garden incongruously watched over by the Monumento al Angel Caído, probably the world’s only monument to Lucifer! It’s best to avoid the Retiro’s eastern edge, which is popular primarily with drug dealers and pickpockets. Unless you’re keen on seeing all of Madrid at play, it’s wisest to visit during the week.
Campo del Moro:Little-visited because it can only be entered from a single entrance along the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, the Campo del Moro takes its name from the Almoravid army that massed here in an unsuccessful attempt to retake Madrid in 1110. Just below the Palacio Real (which stands on the sight of the fortress the Moors sought to take) of which it offers wonderful views, the Campo del Moro’s location illustrates how daunting their task must have been. Seemingly boasting more peacocks (and staff) than visitors, its immaculately kept green lawns are the prettiest in Madrid and its side-paths the safest (as opposed to those of the Retiro), it was originally laid out in 1844 as the Palacio Real’s English-style gardens.
Parque del Oeste: Known to most visitors to Madrid as the home of the Templo de Debod, the Egyptian temple saved by Spanish engineers from the rising waters created by the Aswan High Dam, the Parque del Oeste is even prettier and better maintained than the Retiro, although a bit further off the beaten path, and consequently far less busy. Some of Madrid’s more interesting minor sights stud its sides: the Ermita de Florida (a small chapel whose ceiling was painted by Goya who is also buried there), Museo de America (detailing Spain’s conquests and colonies), and Faro de Madrid(Madrid’s best observation tower). Unfortunately it becomes unsavory at nightfall when it becomes popular with the city’s transsexual prostitutes – at this time it’s best to retire to one of the open-air terrazas of the neighboring Paseo de Pintor Rosales for a evening drink, a Madrileño tradition!