Madrid is flush with parks and gardens, many of them originally built for Spanish royalty. Some of these places were opened to the public only very recently, allowing Madrileños and tourists a verdant taste of the good life. So when you’re in need of some nature, a perfect picnic spot or just a break from the hustle of the city, head for one of these outdoor spaces.
Spring is one of the best times to visit Madrid’s magical botanical garden, flush with endless rows of blooming tulips, lilies and roses in a kaleidoscope of colours, but the grounds are open year-round. The garden has been in operation since 1755, thanks to King Ferdinand VI. It is split into seven outdoor areas, along with five greenhouses full of plants that are not endemic to the hot Mediterranean climate. The park has some 90,000 plants and 1,500 trees, plus a library dedicated to educating guests about the collection.
Felipe IV designed the Parque del Buen Retiro in the 17th century as a retreat for royalty, but it was eventually opened to the public in 1868. It’s since become a sanctuary for Madrileños, who curl up under the canopy of the green trees, glide across the lake in blue rowing boats, enlist in public yoga classes and sip drinks at the outdoor cafés. The grassy lawns are meticulously manicured and elegant marble buildings are dotted throughout, including the Palacio de Cristal, a palace made of glass that often houses temporary modern-art exhibitions. Make sure to head to the eastern edge of the park, home to a rose garden overrun with peacocks.
Once a retreat for the Duchess of Osuna and her royal friends and family in the late 18th century, the Parque de El Capricho is now open to the public. The park flaunts a mixture of French, Greek, Italian and English architecture: you might stumble upon Greek columns and ruins or a tiny house called the Casa de la Vieja, which is like something straight out of a fairytale, complete with a slanted roof, sandy stones and minute windows and doors fit for elves. A skinny lake curls through the park, bobbing with black swans. There are a number of interesting sights throughout, including a peaceful rose garden and a labyrinth formed out of pristine trees and bushes.
You’ll know you’ve reached the Parque de Juan Carlos I when you see the little train that circles here every half hour. This park has been open since 1992, catering to families with an entertainment-packed auditorium, skating and fishing areas and bike rentals. There are modern sculptures scattered throughout, all conceived in the early ’90s by artists such as Mario Irarrázabal and Toshimitsu Imai.
The Jardines de Sabatini were part of the Royal Palace of Madrid before being opened up to all of Madrid in the 20th century. They were built in a Neoclassical style, replete with manicured hedges, trees position in symmetrical patterns, a shallow reflecting pool, sandy paths and marble statues and fountains. Although the gardens were designed in the 18th century, they were only opened to the public by King Juan Carlos I in 1978.
The capital’s largest green space at nearly 21 square kilometres (eight square miles), the Casa de Campo is just right for a long, leisurely bike ride or a quick hike – long ago, it served as a hunting estate for the royals. Many people choose to enter the park by getting a ride on the Teleférico (Madrid’s cable car), which carries passengers some 40 metres (130 feet) above the ground. The cable car picks up passengers at the Rosales station on the eastern side of the Manzanares River, dropping them off in the park, close to playgrounds, hiking trails and a restaurant with stunning views of the city. The Casa de Campo also has a zoo, an aquarium and an amusement park.
A quick trip outside the city leaves you in Torrejón de Ardoz, a sleepy suburb that is home to the Parque Europa. This free-to-enter park is filled with giant replicas of European monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Trevi Fountain and Tower Bridge, all commissioned by the town of Torrejón de Ardoz to bring tourists to the suburbs of Madrid. You’ll also find an Ancient Greek amphitheatre, a Dutch windmill, Lisbon’s Bélem Tower and Brussels’s Atomium here.
The Parque de las Siete Tetas – meaning the Park of the Seven Breasts – gets its name from the seven small grassy hills dotting the landscape. It’s located in the Vallecas neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, and its many hills are an ideal place to camp out and watch the sunset. You’ll also spot the domes and turrets of Madrid’s many churches, the Telefónica building and the towering Torres de Colón.
Madrid Río Park stretches across the bank of the Manzanares River, and is replete with rollerbladers, bikers, joggers and skateboarders. A playground space is reserved just for kids and families, jammed with bridges, webs, hammocks, vines and swings created from sustainable materials. The park also has a small beach, which is filled with fountains to cool off in. Finish off the day at one of the slew of terraces perched over the water that offer drinks and small plates for when you get hungry.
This park has been around since 1630, but it was opened up to the public only in 1954. Hidden away in the northeastern residential quarter of Madrid, it brims with fountains, waterfalls gushing into ponds and intricately carved statues, one of the most famous being of the Spanish writer and poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. The park also has a café and an art gallery.
Back in the 19th century, Queen Maria Cristina was greatly inspired by romance and nature and suggested turning this area into an English-style garden. It’s placed on the western side of the Royal Gardens and is home to a verdant green lawn, monumental fountains (the Fountain of the Tritons and the Palace of the Shells) and plenty of shady paths and trees.