Madrid has plenty to feed the heartiest appetite for culture. Here’s our guide to the best museums around the Spanish capital.
In terms of fine art, the main galleries to showcase the best that Madrid has to offer are the ‘Golden Triangle’ – Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Located on the Paseo del Prado, these three operate together with the Prado offering fine art through the ages, Reina Sofia offering 20th Century art and the Thyssen-Bornemisza pretty much filling in any gaps. You can buy a ticket for all three that gives a 20% discount.
To round off the ‘basic tour’ of Madrid you won’t want to miss the Royal Palace. A magnificent building, the former home of the Kings of Spain is richly decorated and provides an excellent inside view of Royal splendour, including the Royal Pharmacy, Royal Armoury and Royal Library.
Outside of these main highlights, Madrid also has a great wealth of other fine art museums. The Museo Lázaro Galdiano houses an important collection of Iberian jewellery, ceramics and paintings dating from prehistory to the 19th century.
If Romanticism is your cup of tea then Madrid has a whole museum dedicated just for you! The Museo del Romanticismo is set up like a mansion house that attempts to show what life was like for the bourgeoisie during the Romantic era.
For more modern fayre you’ll likely want to head to the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo which, like the Reína Sofia, houses a collection of the finest 20th Century Spanish art. The Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, similar to the V&A Museum in London, houses a fine collection of decorative arts from the Industrial age such as furniture, textiles, ceramics and glass.
Art & cultural centres
Beyond the formal galleries, Madrid also has a number of Art and Cultural Centres offering varied programmes of events, exhibitionsand talks. You should check out the websites CaixaForum, the Matadero, the Circulo de Bellas Artes and the Casa de America to see what’s going on.
Outside of the arts, Madrid also has a great wealth of Science museums to promote curiosity and learning. The Museo Arqueológico Nacional has a great wealth of archaeological artifacts, the Museo Geominero has rocks, fossils and minerals from the Iberian Peninsula, the Museo de Ciencias Naturales has an excellent collection of Natural science exhibits and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia will tell you everything you need to know about the Anthropology of Spain and Spanish peoples throughout the ages.
Museo del Ferocarril is a railway museum that has an excellent collection of rolling stock for the delight of anybody, and not just trainspotters! Set in an old railway station, you can see various items from the history of railways in Spain. Even more excitingly, you can catch a steam train from Madrid to Aranjuez – the second rail line built in Spain – to truly get a sense of rail history.
The Museo del Aire is an aviation museum as the Cuatro Vientos airport. Extending over a huge area, including several hangars and outdoor displays, the museum has around 150 planes and helicopters for eagle-eyed plane enthusiasts to enjoy. Both military and civilian aircraft are present and includes such aircraft as the plane used by Franco to fly from the Canary Islands to Morocco at the start of the rebellion that led to the Spanish Civil War.
Rounding off Madrid’s transport museums is Anden 0, a disused Subway station that shows the history of the Madrid Subway system. You can hear trains going past, blissfully unaware that this time capsule is there, and whilst it won’t take you a long time to see what it has to offer, it will certainly prove a delight to most people.
The Espacio Fundacion Telefonica, a museum run by the Telefonica Foundation, can be best described as a museum of communication. Including everything from film, photography and audio history, the museum shows how humans have communicated with each other throughout the ages.
The Museo Casa de la Moneda is the Royal Mint museum. It showcases the history of coins and banknotes in Spain and is a must-see for any numismatists or people interested in money.
The Museo Naval de Madrid provides a comprehensive history of the history of the Spanish navy. Collections include navigation instruments, weapons and maps. One particular highlight is the map of Juan de la Cosa – the oldest preserved map of the Americas.