If last month's Sunday stroll by Madrid Rio was a relative newcomer to the city's scene, a paseo in El Retiro is a clásico de toda la vida. More formally known as 'El Parque del Buen Retiro', this city-centre splash of greenery has been the madrileños' favourite place for a promenade since it opened to the public in the late nineteenth century. Formally a royal park, there's still a regal feel to El Retiro today, with its well-tended flower beds, fancy fountains and grand monuments.
Located close to the Paseo del Prado, with main entrances near both the Puerta de Alcalá and Atocha station, El Retiro couldn't be much more central. Unlike many parks in Spanish cities, we're not talking about a glorified patch of grass; we're talking 350 acres (or 1.4 square kilometres, if you want to go all modern and metric). Contained in this space are shaded areas ideal for lounging and picknicking, more formal gardens, two exhibition spaces, a large duck pond and the estanque, a miniature lake replete with rowing boats for hire. The estanque is emblematic of the Retiro and of Madrid itself, and it's particularly lively on sunny Sundays when the steps surrounding the monument behind it are carpeted with lounging bodies, musicians and even sometimes demonstrators.
Another key sight is the Palacio de Cristal, a glasshouse which features modern art installations curated by Madrid's Museo Reina Sofia. Whether or not these often curious exhbitions are your cup of tea or not, the Palacio de Cristal is a beautiful late-nineteenth century building modelled on London's Crystal Palace.
Visiting El Retiro on a Sunday, you might feel like you're sharing the park with half of the city (the rest are at the Rastro fleamarket). It's true the area around the estanque in particular can be crowded with a melee of ambling pedestrians, tumultuous toddlers applauding the children's puppet shows, handbag sellers poised to flee at the sight of a police car and rollerbladers weaving through the crowds. But away from this main paseo, you're sure to find a quiet spot to sit. There's no doubt a mid-week wander is far more peaceful, there's something quintessentially Madrid about a stroll in El Retiro on Sunday, rubbing shoulders with families, young couples, abuelos, tourists as you try and capture that perfect shot of the estanque.
Metro: Retiro (line 2) or Atocha (line 1)
El Retiro is open daily from 6am until 10pm in winter, and until midnight in summer. As with any park, be careful when visiting in the evening.
There are several cafés in the park, to be recommended only if you have a penchant for overpaying and/or badly translated menus.