The culture and art in Madrid is famous. Make it your next destination!
This itinerary will show you how to soak up the best art and cultural experiences that Madrid offers. If you’d like to mix your arty activities up with more relaxing or unique ones, see our romantic guide and authentic guide to Madrid.
The Big 3–admire masterpieces in Madrid’s finest art galleries
How to visit the “art triangle” museums of art in Madrid
- Avoid the “free” times. The time slots are too short to explore the galleries and it’s a noisier time of day.
- Buy the Paseo Del Arte ticket online before your trip and collect the ticket at the Reina Sofia ticket desk. You can buy it at other galleries, but the Reina Sofia system is the easiest one.
- If you’re thirty years or younger, get the European Youth Card. This gives you free entrance any time of the day to the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza and entrance to the Prado for half price. The total cost to visit all museums will be €7,50.
- Avoid arriving between 12pm-2pm and 5pm-7pm as these are the busiest times at the Prado.
- You can easily spend hours here if the works of Velazquez, Tiziano, El Greco and Goya excite you.
- If time is tight and you have just three hours to cram in the major delights, see this Prado itinerary of 54 of its most-fantastic works.
- You can buy the Official Guide, or the more compact Visitor’s Guide, to help you appreciate the artworks.
- Recognisable with its lush salmon-hue walls, the Thyssen is the ideal after-lunch museum to visit.
- It is the smallest of the three major galleries of art in Madrid but has an incredible collection of international art, as accumulated by the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, and sold to Spain in 1993.
- Start your visit on level three and work downwards. If you start on the ground floor, you’ll end up queueing to “enter” the galleries twice.
- You can buy a guide to the gallery at their shop.
- The Reina Sofia is home to a striking collection of modern art. Major featured artists include Dali, Gris, Miro and the highlight of the collection, Picasso and his impressive Guernica.
- Photographs are not permitted in the Picasso/Guernica gallery.
- You can explore the artworks before your visit. Select the collection you are interested in, then the room, then the piece of art.
- The Reina Sofia has laminated A4 themed informational sheets in some of the galleries. The sheets are available online, but only in Spanish. However, you can download the PDFs and manually copy/paste the text into Google Translate if you’d like to read the guides before your trip.
Lesser known art galleries in Madrid
- The museum preserves the home and artwork of Joaquin Sorolla, and includes many of his personal notes and drawings.
- The museum is in the Chamberi neighbourhood, so if you’re interested in seeing a preserved Madrid metro station, visit the Chamberi ghost station while you’re in the area.
- Recognisable with its towering living wall with 15,00 plants.
- The most interactive of the galleries in Madrid, with many activities and rotating exhibitions.
See the decoration and art in Madrid’s Palacio Real
- For elaborate furnishings and art, plan a visit to the royal palace, the largest in Europe.
- The palace is still used for state events, but the Spanish monarchs don’t live here so it’s open for visiting almost every day of the year.
- Photographs aren’t allowed in most of the rooms in the palace tour.
- You can download the audioguide as an app. You can listen to the audio guide before visiting and then just refresh your memory using the audioguide as a prompt as you pass through each room.
- If you are in Madrid at 12pm on the first Wednesday of the month, don’t miss the Solemn Relief of the Guard, for an hour of the traditional ceremony. Hundreds of uniformed guards and horses, accompanied by the Royal Band parade in and out of the palace courtyard. You can get a great view from the balcony at the Almudena Cathedral but arrive early to reserve your spot! NB: it’s not held in January, August or September, and it’s worth checking the website just in case they postpone it if it clashes with an official engagement at the palace.
Visit the Palacio de Cristal
Retiro Park’s Crystal Palace features temporary installations by the Reina Sofia. It’s a lovely building to walk into on a sunny day (it’s closed on rainy days). El Parque del Buen Retiro translates to the park of good retreat, so spend a few relaxing hours in the vast park, including the Palacio de Cristal in your exploration.
Get an El Greco fix with a trip to Toledo
Save time in your itinerary to visit Toledo! There is simply stunning art in Toledo that would be a shame to miss. The gothic Primada Catedral and the artwork, museum and house of El Greco are its key highlights. If you are a true art lover, we recommend staying at least overnight in Toledo, as one day barely scratches the surface of the art, churches and museums on offer. We have a full guide on exploring Toledo, if you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.
Experience a cultural evening in Madrid
Spend an evening watching a show or concert:
- El Rey Leon is the stage production of The Lion King in Spanish. If you know the story and the music, the fact that it’s all in Spanish is not an issue for English-speakers (we had a great time here). With excellent singers, dancers and musicians and the costuming and set providing a visual spectacle, you will come out buzzing! El Rey Leon has been running at the Teatro Lope de Vega in Madrid, on Gran Via, since 2011.
- We recommend sitting in the second row of the circle, the views are perfect and there is heaps of legroom in this row (a rarity in many theatres!).
- Teatro Real is home to a variety of performances: orchestras, flamenco, ballet and opera. Check the schedule to see what’s on while you’re there.
Where to stay in Madrid to be near the art spots
For convenience to all the arty spots in Madrid, book a hotel near the Opera metro station or the Atocha metro station. Opera is closer to shopping and restaurants but Atocha makes the most sense if you are arriving/departing Madrid by train and if you are considering a day trip to Toledo (we recommend it!).
Enjoy your trip!
If you’re looking for more inspiration for your Madrid trip, see our guides for romance and authentic experiences. If you’re travelling with a gluten-free companion, see our tips for dining gluten free in Madrid here. For everything you need to pack in your carry-on, consult our checklist.
Have you got any questions or any tips for your visit to see all the art in Madrid? Please share with us. Madrid is one our favourite places and we’d love to hear from you!