Buen Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro)#1 in Best Things To Do in Madrid
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park) can be translated as "Park of the Pleasant Retreat," and that's what it is – a sprawling swath of lush greenery filled with formal gardens, lakes, cafes, playgrounds and more. This 300-some-acre park previously housed Felipe IV's palace and gardens, and didn't become open to the public until the late 19th century.
Today, you can still rent a rowboat to the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), which holds regular art exhibitions or stop and smell the roses in the Rosaleda (Rose Garden), which has more than 4,000 roses. Plus, for those traveling with little ones, the Teatro de Titeres hosts puppet shows most weekends.
The overwhelming majority of travelers greatly enjoyed their time at Buen Retiro Park, saying it's a wonderful place to catch some shade and enjoy the lake view. Some compared it to New York City's Central Park, commenting on its size and cleanliness. Others griped about the high price of cafe concessions, but those can be avoided by packing a picnic with ingredients from the Mercado San Miguel.
The park welcomes visitors from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. October to April; and 6 a.m. to midnight, May to September. You can access Buen Retiro Park by getting off at the Retiro, Atocha or Ibiza metro stations. Access to the park, including its restrooms, is free. Several bus lines also service the area. For more information, visit Buen Retiro Park's page on the Madrid tourism website.
More Best Things To Do in Madrid
#2 Plaza Mayor
This square, located in the heart of Madrid, is more a must-experience attraction than a must-see one. Surrounded by cafes and bars, Plaza Mayor practically begs passersby to take a seat, order a coffee or glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and people-watch. Not only do throngs of tourists pass through, but multiple street performers plant their feet here to entertain. The square starts getting busy around 2 p.m. and will grow increasingly busy as night falls. If you find yourself in Madrid during the holidays, locals recommend visiting the holiday markets held in the plaza.
Recent travelers acknowledge the touristy nature of Plaza Mayor – the souvenir shops, the less-than-gourmet yet overpriced restaurants, for instance – but for most travelers, Plaza Mayor still affords a lovely ambience. If you want to learn more about the history behind Plaza Mayor, which dates back to 1617, reviewers suggest you sign up for a walking tour. One of the city's most emblematic pieces of public art, the statue of Philip III on horseback, can also be found here.
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