Retiro Park is the most highly-visited park in Madrid, and this has a lot to do with its all around appeal. There are a number of things to do in Retiro Park. During the day, you can expect to see Spanish grandmas pushing their grandchildren around in strollers, joggers taking advantage of the paved and unpaved trails, lovers lying intertwined on the lawn, and people rowing around the central lake, among any other number of typical things. Sundays are when the park is especially crowded, as this is when Madrid locals like to get out and enjoy a stroll in the open air. It's a magnificent park indeed, and while there's never a bad time to visit, summer might be best due to the fact that the renowned Rosaleda rose garden is at its most impressive.
The 350-acre Retiro Park is located on the eastern edge of the city center near the famed Prado Museum, and in many ways, it is a museum itself. There is more to the park than just trees, grass, and flowers, and you might be interested to know that in the early days, it was a playground for royalty. The history of Retiro Park in Madrid starts back in the early 1500s, when the royal family built a retreat to go with the medieval San Jeronimo el Real Church. The church/retreat would eventually be enlarged and renamed as the Palacio del Buen Retiro, and other palace structures were also erected.
When it comes to the history of Retiro Park in Madrid, it is worth noting that the original palaces were destroyed during the Napoleanic era. A couple of structures from the 1600s remain on the park grounds, however, and they include the Cason del Buen Retiro and the Army Museum. The former houses some interesting nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings and is sometimes used for special events, while the latter is mostly known for displaying the sword of El Cid.
After Napolean's reign ended and Spain got a break from fighting with France, the Retiro Park started to receive a number of improvements that were implemented by various royal members. In fact, this might be the most dynamic period in the history of Retiro Park in Madrid. In the mid-1800s, for example, Queen Isabella II had numerous shade and fruit trees planted. By the late 1800s, it became a public park, and several emblematic buildings, such as the dazzling Crystal Palace were erected. The Crystal Palace in Retiro Park was modeled after the Crystal Palace in London, and it makes a fine venue for the occasional exhibition or event.
When you're not checking out the spectacular Crystal Palace and other emblematic buildings such as the colorful Casita del Pescador (Fisherman's House), there will be plenty of other options for things to do. There are numerous gardens to enjoy as you stroll among the paths, and no visit would arguably be complete without a walk along the Paseo de las Estatuas. Also known as the Paseo de la Argentina, this ample walkway is adorned with statues of kings that were originally on display at the Palacio Real. These statues date back to the mid-1700s. Beautiful fountains and marble monuments only add to the attractiveness of the park, not to mention the sightseeing opportunities, and one of these monuments is the Monument to Alfonso XII.
The Monument to Alfonso XII is one of the most beautiful manmade additions to the green expanse that is the Retiro Park. This large mausoleum was erected in 1922 and stands over the park's main pond. Numerous steps flank the Alfonso XII Monument, and they tend to serve the needs of park visitors who want to sit down for a while and take it all in. One of the other more popular things to do in Retiro Park is enjoy a boat ride in the main pond, so you might wander over to the rental area when you finish relaxing on the mausoleum steps.
If you're not up for a boat ride during your Retiro Park visit, you might see what the park's often-present street performers are up to or find a good tree to sit under and unwind with a good book. From May to October, the list of things to do in Retiro Park is at its longest, as this warmer time of year sees the park hosting free concerts and a number of other special events, such as an annual book fair. It's also when the park's cafes and snack stands tend to be open. As for the park hours, the grounds can be accessed around the clock, and visitors will be happy to know that admission is free.