Madrid and Barcelona are the two major cities in Spain, and they are so different in many ways. Barcelona has a sunny and energetic vibe adorned by Gaudi’s lively and modern architecture, and Madrid has a majestic and grandeur quality as a Capital city decorated by historical monuments and buildings, battling sculptures like chariots, carriages, warriors, and knights… all of it reminded me of the Spanish Empire that almost took over half the Americas a century ago – “The empire on which the sun never sets”.
If you’re planning to explore beyond Spain and embark on a journey from Madrid to Prague, you’ll experience a striking transition from the warmth of Spanish culture to the enchanting charm of the Czech Republic, with its rich history and stunning architecture. The contrast between these two European destinations offers a travel experience like no other.
The Golden Triangle and Madrid’s street art
Now, the city still shines in its own way. Madrid has a strong artistic atmosphere, especially in the Retiro district – three major art museums formed a Golden Triangle of Art, which has one of the most prestigious classical art collections in the world. With a Madrid Card, visitors could have free access to the three museums without queuing. I went to the three museums in a day. In fact, it would easily need three days for an art buff to appreciate truly and enjoy the art piece by piece.
Apart from the museums for classical art, Madrid has a vibrant street art culture and there are many street artists (like Muelle, Okudart, Ze Carrion…) that are world-famous and helped to beautify the city at different corners; so if you are an art lover, have walk in the streets and keep an eye on the murals and comment, share, and let us know which mural painting speaks to you!
Places in Madrid to explore street art murals:
- The Tabacalera Area in Embajadores
- The Mercado de la Cebada
Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)
Of all the “must-do” in the Madrid travel guide, The Prado Museum could easily get voted the most important “things to do” in Madrid. Believe it or not, it ranks #1 on TripAdvisor as a top attraction in Madrid. Unlike its fellow museums such as Le Louvre, or the National Gallery in London, the exterior of the Prado Museum may look a little bit subtle. It doesn’t undermine its scale and importance in European classical art. The national museum has an extensive art collection with over 7,000 paintings, standing as one of the biggest classical art museums in Europe among the top 10 museums in the world including Le Louvre, the National Gallery in London, and the State Hermitage Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Uffizi Gallery.
The museum housed paintings from Spanish artists like Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Peter Paul Rubens, along with other famous artists including El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer, Raphael, and many more… (While Diego Velázquez had an artistic eye of making the decisions of purchasing these foreign paintings in the old days) The most iconic masterpiece of them all would probably be Velázquez’s Las Meninas, who brought portraits of Felipe IV’s family to a new level of originality.
Personally, I love Goya’s high contrast and robust color style, the simplistic yet mindfully depiction of people in his paintings impressed and inspired me so much. Since the museum does not allow photography, we had to appreciate these masterpieces by heart. 🙂
Prado’s permanent collection includes:
Spanish Painting 1100-1910. The collection of Spanish paintings ranges from 12th-century Romanesque mural paintings to 19th-century works by Goya. On the ground floor is the collection of Medieval and Renaissance paintings. On the main floor are paintings by El Greco, Ribera, Murillo, Velaquez, and other Spanish painters of the Golden Age. The Goya collection, which includes more than one hundred paintings, is distributed between the ground floor, the main floor, and the second floor.
Italian Painting 1300-1800. The Italian painting section spans a period from the first Renaissance-Fra Angelico. Mantegna, Botticelli- to the 18th century – Tiepolo-. Particularly outstanding are works by Rafael on the ground floor. Works by exponents of the Venetian school – Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Bassano- form one of Prado’s most compact collections. Also exhibited are works by Caravaggio and Gentileschi on the main floor.
German Painting 1450-1800. Small in number but of high quality, the collection of German paintings includes works from the 16th and 18th centuries. On the ground floor re displayed major works by Albrecht Durer, Lucas Cranch, and Baldung Grien. Works by the neo-classical painter Anton Raphael Mengs are shown on the first floor.
British Painting 1750-1800. The Museum holds a select representation of 18th-century portraits, the moment of cultural splendor in England, and the early 19th century. The first floor exhibits work by Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Lawrence.
Flemish Painting 1430-1700. From the 16th century, the Netherlands was governed by the Spanish crown and this explains the wealth of Flemish paintings in the Prado. The collections of paintings by early Netherlands artists – Weyden, Bous, Memlings-, together with paintings by Bosch and Pieter Brueghel are displayed on the ground floor. On the main floor is the collection of 17th-century Flemish paintings, which includes works by Rubens van Dyck and Brueghel.
French Painting 1600-1800. Spanish-French relations during the 17th century and the acquisitions made by the Spanish kings, Philip IV and Philip V, form the basis of Prado’s collection of French paintings, which includes works by Poussin and Claude Loran on the main floor.
Tips and guides for visiting Prado:
- The free entrance period is crowded with long queues outside the Velasquez entrance (2 hours before the closing time each day). Some say it is the worst time to visit the museum and should be avoided. I agree.
- Typically the best time to visit an art museum in Europe would be the opening hours in the morning. Usually, 9-11 a.m. visitors could enjoy the artwork. However, now it seems that everyone knows about this rule, and so everyone becomes an early bird and the morning is the rush hour for visiting. Apparently, the late birds get the worm in Spain and early afternoon would be a better time to view the artworks.
- That said, which period is the best to visit the museum is still unpredictable like the weather. So, it is up to you to be prepared and buy the ticket in advance, or join a skip-the-line tour to avoid the long queue! The museum charges €1 as a commission but it saves the trouble, and the ticket is valid for 12 months (for one entry). Save that buck on shopping or the metro if you want to travel on a budget.
- Furthermore, there are some good deals and discount offers for visiting the museum that visitors could keep an eye on. As I said, I used the Madrid Card for a ‘free’ entrance, and there are also package deals for repeating visitors or free entry during special occasions such as the Spanish National Day.
- The museum is ENORMOUS, and I am serious. In general, visitors are required to check in their bags before entering the galleries anyway, travel light, and don’t forget to get a map in case you indeed plan to get lost in the compound. By the way, the rooms are numbered by Roman numbers, prepare to read some I, V, X, L, and yes… it goes up to C!
- Interestingly, the Prado Museum allows its access to art students and professional painters to mimic the art on display. That’s amazing for art lovers, and I think that’s how to cultivate an art culture for the next generation. It’s only for students and painters with permission – General visitors are not allowed to set up the easel and paint…
Open Hours: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm (Sundays close at 7:00 pm)
Free Entry with a Madrid Card, or two hours before closing time. General Admission €14
How did I get there: On foot! (If you are in the Retiro area), or take the metro to Atocha or Banco de España stations
Best works you must not miss in Prado:
- The Garden of the Earthly Delights – Hieronymus Bosch (El Bosco), 1500-1505
- Las Meninas – Diego Velázquez, 1656
- The Three Graces – Pedro Pablo Rubens, 1636-1639
- La Maja Vestida (The Clothed Maja) / La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja) – Francisco de Goya, 1800-1808
Reina Sofía Museum
The Queen Sofia Museum, or Reina Sofia National Art Museum, on the other hand, housed a contemporary art collection of 17,000 artworks, including the most famous painting Guernica by Picasso, who transposed anger and frustration about a Guernica (Basque village) bombing scene during the Spanish Civil War on canvas and created a masterpiece.
The Queen Sofia Museum has different exhibition halls, with temporary and periodic themed contemporary exhibitions (including my favorite installation art exhibitions), and a permanent art exhibition (like Picasso) on the second floor.
Of course, to me, the permanent exhibition sounded way more impressive with Picasso, Miró, and Dali. But if visitors have the time, explore the top floors for more modern and nowadays art.
Website h http://www.museoreinasofia.es
Open Hours: 10:00 am – 9:00 pm (Tuesday close, different opening hours)
Free Entry with Madrid Card, General Admission €8
How did I get there: a short walk from Museo Nacional del Prado 🙂
Best works you must not miss in Reina Sofía:
- Mujer en Azul – Pablo Picasso, 1901
- Hombre con Pipa – Joan Miró i Ferrà, 1925
- Girl at a Window – Salvador Dalí, 1925
- The Great Masturbator – Salvador Dalí, 1929
The rock represents Dalí, and the lady in the painting represents Gala, the grasshopper represents what he feared.
- Guernica – Pablo Picasso, 1937
Check out the seven groups of symbols and shapes, representing two animals and six persons: There is a woman holding a baby corpse on the left, and moving toward the fire on the right. The bull’s head on the upper left is one of the most controversial parts of the painting, some believe it was flamenco, and some believe it was fascism.
The Museum was originally a private art collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza (and a rather big one, the second largest in the world after the British Royal Collection) and now it is a privately owned art museum in the Golden Triangle.
Interestingly (or coincidentally), Thyssen has a comprehensive survey of Western Art – from classical to modern, impressionism to pop; so the museum kinda filled the gaps and holes of its fellow Prado and Queen Sofia with a new perspective.
The works of art that can be seen at the museum have been collected by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Family over two generations. The largest and most important part was acquired by Spain in July 1993. A selection of medieval, renaissance, and baroque works of art are open to the public at the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluna (MNAC) in Barcelona.
The main collection, approximately 800 works, is presented in Madrid in the Palace of Villahermosa. Built between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the Palace of Villahermosa is a fine example of Madrid’s neoclassical architecture. The building has been refurbished by the architect Mr. Rafael Moneo. It has been specially adapted to its new museum functions.
The collection has been laid out chronologically. The numerical order of the galleries indicates the suggested tour to follow, beginning on the second floor and always turning to the right around the central hall. The Renaissance and Classicism periods are located on the second floor, from Duccio and the disciples of Giotto to the Venetian paintings of the 18th century.
There are also important side galleries, dedicated to Flemish and German paintings as well as French and Spanish works. The end of the tour coincides with the first two rooms dedicated to Dutch Art, which can be seen here in its more Italian aspect. The remaining Dutch Art, which includes some of the museum’s most outstanding pieces, is located on the first floor. The main theme is Realism, which spans from the 17th century Frans Hals to 20th century Max Beckmann.
Here, the visitor can contemplate Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as two of the most significant parts of the collection, 19th-century North American paintings, and German Expressionism. The ground floor is dedicated to 20th-century paintings, from Cubism and the first decades of the Avant-garde movements to Pop Art. Notable artworks are rather random; luckily they are carefully themed and arranged, so the paintings don’t lose focus. My surprising moment would be seeing Pop-Arts at the end of our mini art tour day.
Open Hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Free entry with the Madrid Card or on Mondays between 12:00 – 4:00 p.m., General Admission €12
How did I get there: a short walk from the Queen Sofia Museum 🙂
Best works you must not miss in Thyssen-Bornemisza:
- Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni – Ghirlandaio, 1488
- Piazza San Marco Looking East along the Central Line – Canaletto, 1723-24
- Grand Canal, Looking East from the Campo San Vio – Canaletto, 1723-24
The painting is vividly painted and showcases the breathtaking view of St Mark’s Square in Venice.
- Les Vessenots in Auvers – Van Gogh, 1890
Oh wow. The bright yellow and green in the painting have a wide-angled view. The intensive and panicking brushes of the crops are a reflection of van Gogh’s mental state toward the end of his life.
- Harlequin with a Mirror – Pablo Picasso, 1923
- Dream caused by a flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before waking up – Salvador Dali, 1944
- Woman in Bath – Roy Lichtenstein, 1963
Another special place to go in the district is the Caixa Forum. It is a modern refurbishment of an old abandoned electrical station on the way between Queen Sofia and Thyssen. It has now become a museum and a cultural center.
The site was constructed by Swiss architects – the roof of the old building was lifted up and encased with iron with a sharp color of red. In contrast, a green wall was built next to the building, and it was designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. Love the way how old buildings are revitalized – and how the once abandoned, ignored structure has become popular again!