Parque del Buen Retiro

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Parque del Buen Retiro

Once the private playground of royalty, Madrid's crowning park is a vast expanse of green encompassing formal gardens, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children's play areas, outdoor cafés, and a Puppet Theater featuring free slapstick routines that even non-Spanish speakers will enjoy. (Shows take place on Saturday at 1 and on Sunday at 1, 6, and 7.) The park is especially lively on weekends, when it fills with street musicians, jugglers, clowns, gypsy fortune-tellers, and sidewalk painters, along with hundreds of Spaniards out for some jogging, rollerblading, bicycling, or just a walk. The park holds a book fair in May and occasional flamenco concerts in summer. From the entrance at the Puerta de Alcalá, head straight toward the center and you can find the Estanque (lake), presided over by a grandiose equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII, erected by his mother. Just behind the lake, north of the statue, is one of the best of the park's many cafés. The 19th-century Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), southeast of the Estanque, was built to house exotic plants from the Philippines, a Spanish possession at the time. This airy marvel of steel and glass sits on a base of decorative tile. Next door is a small lake with ducks and swans. Along the Paseo del Uruguay at the park's south end is the Rosaleda (Rose Garden), bursting with color and heavy with floral scents for most of the summer. West of the Rosaleda, look for a statue called the Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), which madrileños claim is the only one in the world depicting the Prince of Darkness before (during, actually) his fall from grace.

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