A young woman sits at her easel under a large shady tree as she captures the scene in front of her, a group of teen boys’ stroll past playing popular music from a portable speaker. A couple embraces on a park bench as one reads out loud lines from a poetry book, and behind them, laughter erupts from friends setting up blankets for an afternoon picnic and a game of badminton. Every great city has a park where people come to escape the concert jungle, walk down tree-lined paths, sunbathe in the grass, and mingle with friends. El Retiro Park was once created as a retreat for the Royal Family, and four centuries later the parks architecture, historical, and popular elements serve as a looking glass of Spain’s dramatic history.
Every park offers a place to gather, to sit under benches on the tree lined paths and breathe fresh air, but Retiro serves as a mesh of open-air sculpture gardens, palaces turned into galleries, a place of recreation and movement, a glimpse into history and culture. So where do you start when one park offers so many options?
Paddle your way across the Pond
As you stroll down Paseo Salón del Estanque the pathway located in front of the man-made lake and massive Alfonso XII monument you will find endless possibilities of things to enjoy. Listen to street artist strum their guitar, a clown and magician entertain the public, feed the ducks and even rent a rowboat for a few euros and paddle across the pond at sunset for a picture-perfect backdrop. While taking in all of the sites and sounds El Retiro has to offer I was approached by two tourist from Finland Joel, 20 and Mikko ,21 who were looking for directors to the lake so they could rent paddle boats for the afternoon. I asked them why they had chose El Retiro Park instead of hitting one of the more touristy destinations. Joel responded “ We really enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible, the park offers so much to do and is really cool especially on a Saturday afternoon.” I defiantly couldn’t agree more with his words, as you could spend one whole day simply exploring the park.
Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane
No trip is complete without a brief history lesson on past royalty, wander down the Paseo de la Argentina also known as the statue walk, a path lined with 18th-century statues of Spain’s past royalty. Visit the statue of the Fallen Angel, the only sculpture worldwide that represents the devil. Stop by the Galápagos Fountain created to commemorate the birth of Isabel ll.
Visit one of the Temporary Art Exhibits
Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, the architect of both The Velázquez Palace built in between 1881- 1883 once served as the National Exhibition of mining held in Madrid in 1883 and The Glass Palace built in 1887 was originally planned to be used as a gigantic greenhouse to contain tropical plants and flowers. The palace is made from mostly glass and displays one of the finest iron architecture in Madrid, located near a small pond and lushes tree’s, the Palace is the perfect backdrop for a gorgeous photo. Both buildings located in the park now are used as temporary exhibit spaces in which change seasonally in partnership with Reina Sofía Museum. Palace Velázquez is currently exhibiting a place for the body, by Franz Erhard Walther a German conceptual artist. His work focuses on the definition of art and the relationship it has with audiences in forms of sculptures, drawings, paintings and photographic documentation. For this artist, art possesses a performativity characteristic in which the spectator truly can become involved into the work, creating a relationship between the materials and actions of the public, focusing on the body, time and space to become sculptural materials. While enjoying the interactive exhibit I asked visitor, Lana 23, a student from the United Kingdom her thoughts on the instillation, “ I love how colorful and bold the pieces feel yet they remain very simple and clean in material and look.” We both became onlookers as a group of friends began to experiment with the many objects in which are available to test and move around, “ they look as if they are truly enjoying themselves, they’re not just looking at art on a wall, instead are creating a feeling, memory and experience with the work.” The exhibit will be available until September 10, 2017 and is free to all visitors.
Fountains, Flowers and Flowing Greenery
El Retiro Park offers no lack of greenery and garden space, with over 15,000 trees, the circular rose gardens La Rosaleda and Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez which feature over 4,000 blooming roses in varies colors, shapes, and sizes and Ivory covered archways and fountains that create the perfect ambiance. The scenery alone will make you feel like you are in a picturesque fairy-tale, perfect for an afternoon picnic or a romantic stroll.
El Retiro Park; Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28014 Madrid Spain; Free; Spring – Summer: April to September 6:00am -12:00 am, Autumn – Winter : October to March 6:00 am – 10:00 pm.
The Glass Palace and The Veláquez Palace; Entry Free; October 10:00am – 9:00 pm, November- March 10:00 am – 6:00 pm, April – September 10:00 am – 10:00 pm; The Glass Palace may remain closed on rainy days due to the characteristics of the building.
Boat Rentals; Monday – Friday €6, Saturday – Sunday and Public Holidays €8, Solar Boat €2; Boat Hire Mon – Sun 10am – 5.30pm – 8.30pm (depending on the time of the year); Solar Boat Tues – Sun 10am – 2pm – 4pm – Sunset (depending on the time of the year).