If you’ve ever asked madrileños why they love living in Madrid, you’ve probably gotten a lot of different answers. Food may have featured prominently in the explanation—while I was living there more than one Spaniard pointed out to me that their food was the best in the world. It’s true that jamón ibérico is delicious, and the giant calamari bocadillo is quite unique. Perhaps they’ve mentioned the community and lifestyle—summers spent sipping tinto de verano on terrazas, the Sunday flea market El Rastro, and exhibits at the slaughterhouse-turned-arts center Matadero Madrid.
Something you’ve almost certainly heard was that Madrid has the best of two worlds as far as nature goes, with snowy mountains and sunny beaches both on offer if you’re willing to do a bit of driving. But even if you don’t want to get too far out of town, you’ve got options. Here are five things for nature lovers to do in Madrid.
Next—Watch Animals in Faunia Nature Park
This nature theme park holds thousands of species divided among 15 sections that recreate different habitats on the planet. Faunia Nature Park features special animal exhibits and four recreated ecosystems, along with the opportunity to interact with the animals that are allowed to roam the park freely. Cute baby seals, anyone?
Next—Picnic in El Retiro
El Parque del Buen Retiro, or simply “El Retiro,” is a centrally located park with over 15,000 trees. Pack up a picnic of wine, olives, bread, cheese, and fruit for an inexpensive but filling food break during your visit to this green space, which also holds not-to-be-missed features like the Rose Garden, a statue of Lucifer (the only sculpture in the world depicting the devil, according to the park’s website—though this is surely false, right?), and the majestic Palacio de Cristal made of glass and metal.
Next—Take a Boat Ride in Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo, the largest park in Madrid, is five times the size of New York’s Central Park and covers 1,700 hectares, or 6.6 square miles. For a handful of euros (5.80 on weekdays and 7.50 on weekends and bank holidays), you can take a romantic boat ride through the park’s “oversized pond” that dates back to 1563. After you’ve paddled your heart out, walk over to one of the restaurants along Paseo de la Gastronomía for some traditional Spanish fare and una caña.
Next—Go Running along Madrid Río
Madrid Río, also known as Madrid Riverside Park, is the result of a project that was unveiled in early 2008 to convert space after the excavation of ring road M-30, the city’s main motorway. After moving the roads into underground tunnels, the space running along the Manzanares River has been freed up for green space, sports and recreational facilities, and an urban beach. Why not check it out on a long run? You’ll have 10 kilometers to choose from.
Next—Watch the Sun Set at Jardines de Sabatini
The Sabatini Gardens are part of the Royal Palace, or Palacio Real. They were opened to the public by King Juan Carlos I in 1978 and named for the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini, who heavily influenced the design of the Palace. Before the gardens existed, they were stables. The site is considered one of the best places in Madrid to watch the sunset.