With more than forty public parks and gardens, Madrid boasts an abundance of greenery that rivals most any other major city in Europe. What’s more, these are some of the most beautiful and impeccably maintained parks I’ve seen. Here’s a primer on just a few of Madrid’s most popular sites.
Parque del Retiro
The Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s most famous park. Once the playground for Spain’s monarchs and their guests, it encompasses over 350 acres in Bourbon Madrid. The heart of the park is a large boating lake, where you can rent a rowboat or enjoy a leisurely lunch on the steps of the crescent-shaped colonnade below the equestrian Monument of Alfonso XII.
The boating lake and Monument of Alfonso XII at the Parque del Retiro.
Besides the boating lake, there are plenty of fountains, statues, flowerbeds and walkways. The areas near the entrances (Calle Alfonso XII, Calle Alcalá, Plaza de la Independencia and Avenida Menéndez Pelayo) are particularly well maintained. If you venture off on some of the less traveled paths, however, you’ll find that the foliage is more or less left to its own devices. There are many unpaved walking paths, and if there have been recent rains you can expect to encounter some puddles and general sogginess that may force you to retrace your steps and head for higher ground.
The Retiro reminds me of New York’s Central Park. With children's play areas, numerous outdoor cafes, picnic pavilions, a puppet theater, and exhibition hall, there never seems to be a shortage of activity. We took a leisurely stroll through the park after visiting the Museo del Prado, and returned a couple of days later to enjoy a lunch of bread, cheese, fruit and serrano ham we’d purchased at the Mercado de San Miguel as we sat on a bench overlooking the lake.
Location: Calle Alfonso XII
Metro: Retiro (L2); Ibiza (L9); Atocha (L1)
Parque del Oeste
Occupying high ground above Rio Manzanares, the Parque del Oeste lies at the western edge of Madrid. Designed in the English style by Cecilio Rodríguez early in the 20th century, this is one of the best landscaped and most meticulously maintained parks I’ve ever seen. The area around the park is quite hilly, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to climb stairs and navigate some steep sidewalks.
You’ll find spacious green lawns, large shady trees, and sandy walking paths. It appears to be the park of choice for college students from the nearby university whom, if the weather’s nice, you’ll see studying, sunbathing, or idly passing the time. In the lower half of the park you’ll find the Rosaleda, or rose garden, where a rose show is held each spring.
Looking eastward at the two gateways of the Templo de Debod.
At the southern end of the park is Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century B.C. The temple was recovered from an area flooded by the construction of a dam, and was given to Spain in honor of the participation of Spanish engineers in the project. It’s been reassembled in a stunningly beautiful setting along with two of the original three gateways, which are surrounded by a u-shaped pond. The Templo de Debod alone makes a trip to the Parque del Oeste a must see for visitors to Madrid. As an added bonus, a scenic view of the Palacio Real can be enjoyed just west of the temple. This was probably my favorite park in Madrid.
Location: Paseo del Pintor Rosales
Metro: Moncloa (L3, L6); Argüelles (L3, L4, L6); Principe Pío (L6, L10)
Campo del Moro
The Campo del Moro, or Field of the Moor, just west of the Palacio Real, is highlighted by an enormous lawn and shady walking paths, and offers a spectacular view of the palace. The park gets its name from a Moorish army led by Ali be Yusuf, who camped here in 1109 when his troops fought against the Christian army during the reconquest of Spain. The site has had a checkered past. It’s been a jousting ground for knights and a luxurious playground for children of the royal family. It was closed under General Franco, and was not reopened until 1983.
Immaculately maintained lawns at Campo del Moro, with the Palacio Real in the background.
Today, the only way into the park is from the northwest entrance on Paseo Virgen del Puerto. With just one way in and one way out, either take the metro to Principe Pío or allow plenty of time and energy for a lengthy walk down Cuesta de San Vincente.
With such a gorgeous view of the Palacio Real, the Campo del Moro is a worthwhile endeavor. We planned an itinerary with visits to both Parque del Oeste and the Campo del Moro, since both parks are in such close proximity. We walked from our hotel to the Parque del Oueste, and then headed down Cuesta de San Vincente to the entrance on Paseo Virgen del Puerto. By this time we were ready for a rest, and hung around just long enough to take a few photos and cool off under a canopy of shady trees.
Location: Paseo Virgen del Puerto
Metro: Principe Pío (L6, L10)
Plaza de Oriente
The Plaza de Oriente occupies a small tract of land that lies just east of the Palacio Real. Originally carved out of during the reign of Joseph Bonaparte, the garden as it exists today was constructed in 1930 in honor of an architect who served under Carlos III. An equestrian statue of Felipe IV by Italian sculptor Pietro Tacca dominates the center of the garden. Lining the perimeter walkways are statues of early kings that were originally intended for the roof of the palace until someone realized they’d be too heavy.
Statues of medieval kings stand watch over the walkways at the Plaza de Oriente.
On the perimeter of the garden opposite the palace there are numerous sidewalk cafes. We enjoyed relaxing over a frosty beverage as we gazed at the pristine setting before us. One would expect the cafes here to be overrun with tourists due to the plaza’s proximity to the Palacio Real, but that was not the case, as this seemed to be a watering hole favored by well-to-do locals: all the better. This is a very peaceful and relaxing place. You’d expect more clamor so close to the palace, but it must be that most tourists are on a palace sightseeing mission and blow right by without taking much time to notice.
Location: Palacio Real
Metro: Ópera (L2, L5)