Parque del Retiro is the classic family weekend outing, with boats to row on the small lake, puppet shows, street performers, sandy playgrounds, and lots of green grass for running around. The wide, paved paths are one of the few good places in the city for a family bike ride. You can rent bikes at nearby Rent and Roll, Calle Felipe IV 10 (tel. 91-148-49-67; from €5). The nearby art museums all have activities for children, and free or reduced admission, but the Thyssen-Bornemisza is probably the most child-friendly, with free apps, audio and multimedia guides for kids, and a range of family tours and activities in English. If your children accompany you on a shopping trip to Salamanca, they can run around and touch the artwork at the outdoor Museo Arte Publico, one of the few places where that is allowed. From there, it’s a short walk to the Carrusel Serrano Madrid, Calle Serrano, 47 (€2), a vintage merry-go-round in front of Salamanca’s branch of El Corte Inglés department store. Madrid’s other popular gathering place, Plaza Mayor, is also a good spot for families. Kids will find plenty to amuse them watching living statues posing for change, street entertainers blowing huge bubbles, or caricature artists at work. (Expect to pay €15–€20 if they persuade you to have one done.) Since the traffic-free plaza is enclosed on all sides, you can keep an eye on your children from a café table. For rooftop views of Madrid, take them up to the observatory at CentroCentro or to the rooftop café at the Circulo de Bellas Artes.

Going a little further afield, Casa de Campo (daily 11am–7pm; metro: Batán; bus: 33 or 65), the former royal hunting ground across the river from the Palacio Real, is Madrid’s largest green space. It contains the Parque de Atracciones amusement park (tel. 90-234-50-01), with about 40 rides, and the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid (tel. 90-234-50-14). Prices to both vary, with significant discounts if you book online, but expect to spend at least €30 for adults and €20 for children at each (kids under 100cm/3 ft. 3 in. go free at the amusement park). A good way to reach the Casa de Campo is by the Teleférico, Paseo del Pintor Rosales, s/n (tel. 90-234-50-02; adults €6 round trip, children €5, under 4 free). Built in 1969 to connect the fairground with the eastern edge of Parque del Oeste—and now operated by Madrid’s municipal transport company EMT—the cable car takes passengers on an 11-minute ride high above the city with great views of the parks, the Río Manzanares, and the Palacio Real. Pleasant during the day, the Casa de Campo can be a seedy place at night. 

A more modern, and much less expensive, alternative is the Madrid Río park, Puente de Toledo s/n (tel. 91-529-82-10; free admission; daily 24 hr.; metro: Marqués de Vadillo). A huge recreational zone on the banks of the Manzanares near the Matadero, it has 17 innovative adventure playgrounds for children, with hammocks, bridges and vines in natural, sustainable materials. 

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There are also plenty of museums and exhibitions tailored for children. The Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Calle de José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2 (tel. 91-411-13-28; adults €7, children €3.50; Tue–Fri 10am–5pm, weekends 10am–8pm; metro: Nuevas Ministerios) has lots of dinosaur skeletons and fossils. For younger children, the Casita Museo de Ratón Pérez, Calle del Arenal, 8 (tel. 63-429-72-94; €4, children under 3 free), tells the story of the mouse who is Spain’s equivalent of the tooth fairy, and has a collection of the baby teeth of famous people, including Beatrix Potter and Beethoven. Chamberí’s ghost Metro station, Estación de Chamberí, and the Museo de Ferrocarril, Paseo de las Delicias, 61 (tel. 91-506-83-42; weekdays adults €6, ages 4–12 €4, under 4 free; weekends €3; metro: Delicias), are great for kids who love trains, and soccer fans young and old may insist on touring Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.