As the capital of Spain, Madrid is a thoroughly modern metropolitan city and with a population of nearly 3.5 million people, it’s also the biggest city in Spain.
So it is not surprising therefore, that Madrid is practically bursting at the seams with interesting attractions, museums and galleries that offer both culture and amusement.
Madrid’s famous Golden Triangle is the nickname given to three art galleries in close proximity to each other: The world famous Prado; The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza featuring works by Renoir and Van Eyck; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a gallery housing a vast collection of twentieth century Spanish art including Guernica by Picasso.
Arguably Madrid’s best known attraction, the Museo del Prado is housed in a gigantic neo-classical building begun by Juan de Villanueva for King Carlos III in 1785. Originally designed to be a museum of natural sciences, by the time it opened in 1819, the Prado was used display the King’s collection of fine art and thus became one of the world’s first public art museums.
In recent years the Prado has undergone a highly ambitious expansion programme but the core is still the royal holdings with masterpieces collected from the 16th and 17th aristocracy of Europe. With stunning Spanish Romanesque murals and Gothic altarpieces; classical and Renaissance sculptures; masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Titian and Rafael; the world’s greatest collection of works by Hieronymus Bosch; plus El Greco, and German paintings such as Dürer’s 1498 ‘Self-Portrait’; works by Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Artemisia Gentileschi among others. But of course El Prado’s greatest attractions are the Velázquez Rooms.
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is mainly dedicated to contemporary Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include great collections of Spain’s two greatest 20th century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Certainly the best known masterpiece in the museum is Picasso’s painting Guernica.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza includes Italian primitives and works from the English, Dutch and German schools.
The recently re-opened National Archaeological Museum of Spain shares a building with the National Library beside the Plaza de Colón. Founded in 1867 by Royal Decree of Isabella II its purpose was to be a depository for numismatic, archaeological, ethnographical and decorative art collections from around the world compiled by the Spanish monarchs. For only €3 you can enter this 40 room extravaganza of Pre-historic, Egyptian, Celtic, Iberian, Greek and Roman antiquities and medieval objects arranged in chronological order, accompanied by both Spanish and English captions video screens. Don’t miss out on a visit to the underground replica of the prehistoric cave paintings discovered in Altamira, Cantabria (northern Spain) in 1868 or the Lady of Elx (“La Dama de Elche”), a bust of a wealthy 5th century BC Iberian woman with elaborate headgear.
The Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (National Museum of Natural Sciences) is situated in the center of Madrid, by the Paseo de la Castellana. Created in 1772 by Charles III of Spain the museum boasts a Megatherium brought from Argentina in 1789 and a Diplodocus donated by Andrew Carnegie to Alfonso XIII of Spain. This museums aim is to promote a greater awareness of the diversity of the natural world and with over 6 million specimens in its collections it succeeds.
The Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) is a national museum of Spain, located in Madrid near the Parque del Buen Retiro. Inaugurated on April 29, 1875 during the reign of Alfonso XII it is the oldest anthropology museum in Spain and each of its three floors is dedicated to exploring the richness and diversity of existing cultures all over the world. The museum displays collections of objects and documents that belong to a wide variety of peoples of Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. The objects are mainly from the everyday life, rituals and beliefs, war and clothing and include a Guanche mummy, a plaster cast and the skeleton of the “Extremaduran Giant”, Peruvian works, Jivaro reduced heads, Andean Carnival masks, and Inuit sun glasses. It provides a global view of culture that enables visitors to compare and understand the objects displayed and find cultural similarities and differences between them.
These are just a few examples of the larger museums you can find in Madrid but with literally hundreds to visit including the Royal Palace Museum, the Lazaro Galdiano Museum, the Museum of America, the Traje (clothing) Museum, the Naval Museum and even the Real Madrid Museum there is definitely something for everyone.
There is a combined ticket for the Prado and Reina Sofía museums that you can take advantage of. You can buy it online on the Museo del Prado website. They are both also free after 18:00 every weekday. Reina Sofía is also free Saturdays from 14:30.