Though Madrid is a large, bustling city, the Spanish capital is surprisingly easy to navigate on foot and, in fact, is an ideal place for a pleasant stroll. Better still is a walking tour to become more familiar with the city's charming neighborhoods, like the Retiro, and interesting sights like the park from which that neighborhood draws its name. Night view of Saint Jerome Royal Church — Photo courtesy of Kevin Poh
Start your tour at the Royal Botanical Gardens (Real Jardin Bótanico). The 20-acre, 18th century gardens are a pleasant refuge of flowers, herbs, trees, shrubs, greenhouses, manicured paths and fountains.
Head next to the Prado Museum (Museo del Prado), one of the most important museums in the world. The spectacular collection contains European paintings from the 12th to 19th centuries, including a number of Spanish masterpieces, while the building itself, dating primarily from the 19th century, is not to be overlooked.
Go refresh yourself with a drink at the elegant Hotel Ritz Madrid, the city's first and oldest luxury hotel.
Then walk across the street where you can admire the façade of the Madrid Stock Exchange's 19th century palace (Palacio de la Bolsa de Madrid), where the country's largest stock exchange operates from Monday to Friday.
Circle back towards the other side of the Prado Museum, past the Royal Spanish Academy's headquarters (Real Academia Española), to Saint Jerome Royal Church (San Jerónimo el Real). The restored Gothic church has over the years served as the city's royal chapel. Walk past the Royal Spanish Academy again but now turn right and cross the street.
Enter beautiful Retiro Park, where you'll immediately see one of the manicured gardens contained within the park. Retiro Park was once a royal preserve, but today it is the city's backyard, where locals come to stroll and socialize with their friends and family.
Exit Retiro Park at the Independence Square exit (Plaza de la Independencia) where you can admire the monumental Alcalá Gate (Puerta de Alcalá).
Then follow Alcalá street to the west for two blocks until you reach Plaza de Cibeles. The monumental fountain of the goddess Cibeles in the middle of the roundabout has become an important symbol of Madrid. However, don't forget to admire the beautiful buildings and palaces that stand on this corner: the Bank of Spain, Cibeles Palace (Madrid's City Hall), Linares Palace (which is rumored to be haunted) and Buenavista Palace (the army's headquarters).
As you can see, the Retiro neighborhood is simply one of the loveliest areas in the Spanish capital with its tree-line boulevards, architecture from the 19th century and numerous historical sites.
Trees in Retiro Park — Photo courtesy of Alonso Javier Torres