Parque de Atracciones
This amusement park in the Casa de Campo has the usual collection of high-adrenaline rides, shows for the kids and kitsch at every turn. In the Zona de Máquinas are most of the bigger rides, such as classic roller-coasters, the Lanzadera (which takes you up 63m and then drops you in a simulated bungee jump), La Máquina (a giant wheel that spins on its axis) and the favourite, the Tornado, a kind of upside-down roller-coaster that zips along at up to 80km/h.
After all that gut-churning stuff, you’ll be grateful for the Zona de Tranquilidad, where you can climb aboard a gentle Ferris wheel, take a theme ride through the jungle or just sit back for a snack. Of course, tranquillity is relative – El Viejo Caserón (haunted house) is not for the nervous among you (in our experience, it’s the adults who get spooked). La Zona de la Naturaleza (Nature Zone) offers, among other things, dodgems and various water rides.
Finally, in the Zona Infantil, younger kids can get their own thrills on less hair-raising rides, such as a Ford-T, the Barón Rojo (Red Baron) and Caballos del Oeste (Horses of the Wild West).
The park has all sorts of timetable variations, so it is always a good idea to check before committing yourself, and it’s always cheaper to buy your entrance ticket online. Long queues form on weekends, both at the rides and to get in, so either get here early or come another day if you can.
Parque del Buen Retiro
The glorious gardens of El Retiro are as beautiful as any you’ll find in a European city. Littered with marble monuments, landscaped lawns, the occasional elegant building (the Palacio de Cristal is especially worth seeking out) and abundant greenery, it’s quiet and contemplative during the week but comes to life on weekends. Put simply, this is one of our favourite places in Madrid.
Laid out in the 17th century by Felipe IV as the preserve of kings, queens and their intimates, the park was opened to the public in 1868 and ever since, whenever the weather’s fine and on weekends in particular, madrileños (people from Madrid) from all across the city gather here to stroll, read the Sunday papers in the shade, take a boat ride or nurse a cool drink at the numerous outdoor terrazas(open-air cafes).
The focal point for so much of El Retiro’s life is the artificial lake(estanque), which is watched over by the massive ornamental structure of the Monument to Alfonso XII on the east side, complete with marble lions; as sunset approaches on a Sunday afternoon in summer, the crowd grows, bongos sound out across the park and people start to dance. Row boats can be rented from the lake’s northern shore – an iconic Madrid experience. On the southern end of the lake, the odd structure decorated with sphinxes is the Fuente Egipcia: legend has it that an enormous fortune buried in the park by Felipe IV in the mid-18th century rests here. Hidden among the trees south of the lake is the Palacio de Cristal, a magnificent metal-and-glass structure that is arguably El Retiro’s most beautiful architectural monument. It was built in 1887 as a winter garden for exotic flowers and is now used for temporary exhibitions organised by the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Just north of here, the 1883 Palacio de Velázquez is also used for temporary exhibitions.
At the southern end of the park, near La Rosaleda (Rose Garden) with its more than 4000 roses, is a statue of El Ángel Caído. Strangely, it sits 666m above sea level… In the same vein, the Puerta de Dante, in the extreme southeastern corner of the park, is watched over by a carved mural of Dante’s Inferno. Occupying much of the southwestern corner of the park is the Jardín de los Planteles, one of the least visited sections of El Retiro, where quiet pathways lead beneath an overarching canopy of trees. West of here is the moving Bosque del Recuerdo, an understated memorial to the 191 victims of the 11 March 2004 train bombings. For each victim stands an olive or cypress tree. To the north, just inside the Puerta de Felipe IV, stands what is thought to be Madrid’s oldest tree, a Mexican conifer (ahuehuete) planted in 1633.
In the northeastern corner of the park is the Ermita de San Isidro, a small country chapel noteworthy as one of the few, albeit modest, examples of Romanesque architecture in Madrid. When it was built, Madrid was a small village more than 2km away.
Warner Brothers Movie World
Disney World it ain’t but this movie theme park, 25km south of central Madrid, has much to catch the attention. Kids will love the chance to hang out with Tom and Jerry, while the young-at-heart film buffs among you will be similarly taken with the Wild West or remakes of the studio sets for such Hollywood ‘greats’ as Police Academy.
Entrance to the park is via Hollywood Boulevard, not unlike LA’s Sunset Boulevard, whereafter you can choose between Cartoon World, the Old West, Hollywood Boulevard, Super Heroes and finally Warner Brothers Movie World Studios.
It’s all about the stars of the silver screen coming to life as life-sized cartoon characters roam the grounds, and rides and high-speed roller coasters distract you if attention starts to wane. There are also restaurants and shops.
To get here by car, take the N-IV (the Carretera de Andalucía) south out of Madrid and turn off at Km 22 for San Martín de la Vega, about 15km east of the exit. Follow the signs to the car park.
Opening times are complex and do change; check before heading out.
Madrid’s Oldest Tree
Just inside the Puerta de Felipe IV stands what is thought to be Madrid’s oldest tree, a Mexican conifer (ahuehuete). Planted in 1633 and with a trunk circumference of 52m, it was used by French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century as a cannon mount.
Here is a centre to get to know the cosmos and its history. Concerts beneath the stars, exhibitions, and observations under the supervision of experts…All the activities organized by this institution, with its more than 20 years of experience, have a single goal: discovering the universe in a fun way.
This outstanding facility was created in 1986 by the Madrid City Council with the purpose of increasing knowledge of the sciences of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Since then, hundreds of students visit it each day. On the weekends, mostly adults attend, to enjoy the presentations on the cosmos, attend a concert surrounded by the celestial sphere of stars, look through the telescopes, or watch an exhibition that narrates history from the beginning of the world to the most current discoveries.
Puppet Theatre in El Retiro Park
Within the El Retiro park, very close to the entrance from the Plaza de la Independencia by the Puerta de Alcalá, is the Teatro de Títeres, an institution for young audiences in Madrid.
This permanent puppet theatre offers a show almost every Saturday and Sunday where art, interpretation, music and literature come together in a spectacular way. An open air stage to which the loyal public keep returning weekend after weekend. Also, during the summer months, the Titirilandia Festival completes its program with particularly relevant productions.
The only indoor ski slope in Spain offers the opportunity to ski 365 days a year. 100 m long and 40 m wide, it’s ideal for people who are still learning and more than sufficient to perfect your skills. In total, 18,000 m2 dedicated exclusively to the world of snow, with shops, restaurants and a ski school, and all of this as if you were high in the mountains.