Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art
Are you planning a visit to Spain’s capital? Don’t leave Madrid without visiting at least one of the city’s fantastic art museums, often referred to as the Golden Triangle of Art.
“The Triangle” is made up of three Madrid art museums: the world famous Prado, the contemporary Reina Sofia and the unique Thyssen-Bornemisza. All three museums are located in the city center within walking distance from each other. Our family visited all three while we were in Madrid last summer, so here is some information and helpful tips on each based on our experiences.
Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)
One of world’s most famous art museums, Prado is to Madrid what the Louvre is to Paris or the Met to New York City. Originally established in the early 19th century to show off the Spanish Royal family’s art collection and promote Spanish art, today the museum boasts over 7,600 paintings as well as a large number of sculptures, prints and drawings.
Prado’s most famous possessions are paintings by Spain’s great masters Velázquez and Goya, but the museum is also known for spectacular artworks by other prominent Spanish and European artists including El Greco, De Ribera, Tiziano, Rubens, Rembrandt, Dürer, and Rafael. It also houses an outstanding collection of Flemish art.
Due to its size, visiting the Prado can be overwhelming, especially for families with children, so I suggest you plan ahead. To get the most out of your visit, it is helpful to have a personal list of “must-sees” based on your interests and ages of your kids. The museum website lists all the artists as well as their works to help you prepare for your visit. An alternative is to pick up a copy of the museum floor plan listing 50 of Prado’s most famous works along with the corresponding floors and rooms at the Information Desk when you arrive and then plan your visit.
Must See: Las Meninas, the famous family of King Felipe IV by Velázquez. Perhaps too predictable, but you would not visit the Louvre without seeing the Mona Lisa, right? Equally impressive and conveniently located nearby are the rest of the artist’s royal portraits. Also, El Dos de Mayo/El Tres de Mayo and Las Pinturas Negras by Goya should not to be missed.
Our Family’s Favorites: We really liked all of the above, but also got a kick out of comparing the Naked Maja and the Dressed Maja by Goya. Another favorite of ours was Prado’s modern wing, dedicated to temporary exhibits. During our visit we were lucky to see some fantastic and lesser known works by Picasso.
Free Hours: Monday through Saturday from 6 to 8 pm; Sunday and holidays from 5 to 7 pm. Kids under 18 are always free.
Good to Know: It pays to buy your tickets in advance, online. You won’t save on fees, but it can save you a lot of time standing in line. Know that the free hours are extremely popular, which means the museum can get VERY crowded. Be prepared (and bring your patience) if you are planning to take advantage of this option.
Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)
Madrid’s second most famous museum, named after Spain’s Queen Sofia, represents the country’s premier collection of modern art, and it is considered to be the largest museum of contemporary art in the world.
Interestingly, Reina Sofia is situated on the site of the first General Hospital in Madrid, although the building as seen today has undergone many renovations and additions, including its recognizable glass towers. The big names you will find here, and for which the museum is famous, are Picasso, Dalí and Miró.
The museum’s most famous masterpiece is Picasso’s La Guernica, a giant somber painting inspired by the Spanish Civil War and which some refer to as Spain’s single most important artwork. Not without controversies and with several different interpretations of the artistic intent, this art piece, often used as an anti-war symbol, has a very colorful history. If you are not familiar with it, I highly recommend a quick read on the historical context and artist’s motivation (more suited for families with older kids) before your visit. You will have an even richer experience as a result.
Reina Sofia’s collection is mostly focused on Spanish artists, thought there are a few international ones displayed as well. The museum is also known for its excellent national and international temporary exhibitions taking place throughout the year.
Must See: La Guernica by Picasso, no question. It is huge, truly spectacular and alone worth the visit.
Our Family’s Favorite: Picasso’s preparatory sketches for La Guernica, as well as photographs of his work in progress showing revisions and steps to final masterpiece located in the rooms surrounding La Guernica, offer a fantastic “behind the scenes” look into the creative process of this amazing painting. It made us appreciate the giant masterpiece and its artist even more.
Free Hours: Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 7 to 9 pm; Sunday from 1:30 to 7 pm. All-day free admission is also offered on certain days of the year; check the website for up-to date information.
Good to Know: The museum is closed every Tuesday, so plan your visit accordingly.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza)
Named after its founder, Barron Thyssen, the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum is actually one of the largest private art collections in the world, boasting over 1,600 paintings. It is less well known than the Prado and Reina Sofia, and many visitors tend to skip it because…well, there is simply so much to see and do in Madrid.
Trust me, it would be a shame to miss out on this gem. Truth be told, it was not on our family’s initial agenda either, but luckily, a good friend of mine who is a native of Madrid convinced us to pay a visit. I’m happy we listened, because we absolutely loved it!
The extraordinary art collection, displayed in a beautiful, light-filled palace, spans art work from the 13th through 20th centuries and showcases an eclectic mix of artists from Rubens, Rembrant, Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, to Degas, Picasso, Matisse, Andy Warhol and Henry Moore. Because this is a private collection, there are many interesting stories behind some of the art pieces such as the Portrait of Henry VIII which was purchased from the late Princess Diana’s grandfather who supposedly used the money to buy a Bugatti sports car…
Must See: This is a tough one because the collection is so diverse and eclectic in nature. Try to see it all, this museum is much smaller than the Prado or Reina Sofia and therefore very manageable.
Our Family’s Favorite: Family Thyssen, an educational art tour for kids that was offered in English on alternating Saturdays or Sundays during the time we visited. We had a seriously fantastic time touring the museum with our wonderful guide Andrea who planned stops at certain art pieces to discuss the artistic intent, the artist and the art period from which it originated. Our kids, who had limited attention spans at Prado and Reina Sofia, simply loved it and asked us to stay longer, something which almost never happens when we visit art museums. Check the Activities area on the museum website to see what unique experiences are available during your visit.
Free Hours: Mondays 12 to 4 pm (for permanent collection)
Good to Know: The museum is located across the street from the Prado museum and very close to the Retiro Park. There is a rooftop restaurant serving tapas and drinks which can be a nice way to wrap up your visit.
You may also enjoy:
- A Tasty Tapas Tour in Madrid
- Flamenco in Madrid – Experience the Soul of Spain
- Looking for a place to stay? Consider Hilton Madrid Airport.
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Lead photo courtesy of Museo Nacional del Prado