Like many European capitals, Madrid is home to dozens of museums, but what gives the city an edge is its focus on offering a museum for every interest and making them accessible. Some of the best things to do in Madrid include visiting its museums! But that doesn't mean that every museum will be right for you. To start, it's best to think about what you like and any factors impacting your ability to visit a particular museum.
Deciding on Museums
To decide which museums are best for you to visit in Madrid, it helps to think about what you'd like to see and what type of experience you're looking for. Some options are very similar, whereas others offer entirely different experiences. To get started, here are some things to consider:
- Determine your interests. The first step in choosing the best museum is determining your interests. Do you love art, history, science, or something else? Knowing your interests will help you narrow your options and choose a museum that will truly engage you.
- Research the collections. Once you've determined your interests, use this article and/or look at the collections of each museum you're considering. On the museums' websites, you can find more detailed information about collections, including the types of art and artifacts on display and their historical significance.
- Consider the museum's size. Madrid is home to some of the largest museums in the world, but you'll find options that cater to a more intimate and focused experience. Just keep in mind that larger museums tend to offer a more comprehensive overview of a particular subject.
- Look for special exhibitions. Many museums in Madrid have special exhibitions that are only on display for a limited time. If you're interested in a particular subject or artist, check for any special shows of their work.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
The Top Museums in Madrid
Now that you know what type of experiences fit you best, it's time to decide which museum to visit. Perhaps you've heard of Madrid's Paseo del Arte ("Art Walk"), which features 15 institutions within a little over one-half mile (1 km) stretch of the city. The Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums are all essentially neighbors, and you'll find them on a lovely tree-lined sweep not far from Retiro Park.
And with that, you now know the city's three most popular museums, which get the most attention for a good reason. They're filled with historical, modern, and contemporary art from famous creators, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Vincent van Gogh, Hieronymous Bosch, and many more Spanish and international artists.
But you don't have to be a painting-lover to enjoy Madrid's museum scene. Another option includes the sprawling National Archeological Museum that displays the Iberian Peninsula's history, from prehistoric pieces to Roman, Greek, Moorish, and Christian relics. And, of course, fans of one of the world's most popular fútbol (soccer) teams, Real Madrid, can indulge their love for Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, or Ferenc Puskas with a stadium tour.
Read on to discover kimkim's picks for the best museums in Madrid, their fundamental differences, and what you need to know to choose the best options for you and your crew.
Good for Families
You can't discuss Madrid's museum scene without mentioning the Museo Nacional del Prado, which opened to the public in 1819 and is considered one of the most important museums in the world. With its vast collection of Spanish and international pieces, the museum is a sense of pride for Madrileños and Spaniards in general.
The building has its own history, designed by Juan de Villanueva—one of Spain's most treasured architects known for his neoclassical work. More than 2,300 paintings have been incorporated into the museum since its opening, including European art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. The most prominent pieces include "Las Meninas" by Diego Velazquez and "La Maja Desnuda" by Francisco Goya.
Besides favorites like Goya and Velazquez, you'll find art by Spanish creators like Ribera and Zurbarán, plus other international artists like Bosch, El Greco, and Rembrandt. Other must-sees include "The Third of May 1808" by Goya, "The Three Graces" by Rubens, and "The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych" by Bosch. The museum also features temporary exhibits of world-famous and lesser-known artists, sometimes anonymous, that make it worth visiting more than once.
Though you'll probably want to spend all your time inside the Prado Museum, save some time to enjoy its surroundings, including the Royal Botanic Garden and the Monastery of Saint Jerome the Royal. The Prado is an excellent choice if you're new to art, as you can view several famous pieces. And if traveling with your family, there are options for kid-focused tours and activities.
Location: C. de Ruiz de Alarcón, 23
How to Get There: You'll find El Prado Museum along the Paseo del Prado near Retiro Park, Neptune Fountain, and the Royal Botanic Garden. By public transportation, take the metro to the Estación del Arte stop, cross the street, and walk north up Paseo del Prado.
- Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
- Sunday, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Closed on January 1, May 1, and December 25
- Early closure (2:00 pm) on January 6, December 24, and December 31.
Keep in mind that the museum's main collection is free (and temporary collections are 50% off) from Monday to Saturday, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and Sundays and holidays, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. This is best for those who don't want a lot of time at the museum, but it gets busy, and it's not enough time to see it all.
What to See: There are too many highlights at the Prado to list them all, but here are some of the biggest works of art:
- Angelico, The Annunciation
- Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych
- Dürer, Self Portrait
- El Greco, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest
- Goya, The Third of May 1808 in Madrid (The Executions)
- Goya, La Maja Desnuda
- Juan Sanchez Cotan, Still Life with Game, Vegetables, and Fruit
- Raphael, The Cardinal
- Raphael, The Holy Family
- Rubens, The Three Graces
- Titian, Equestrian Portrait of Charles V at Mühlberg
- Titian, Venus, and Adonis
- van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross
- Velázquez, Las Meninas.
Tours: Consider a privately guided tour or audio tour to learn all the insider information and gain a more in-depth experience.
How Long to Stay: It all depends on your level of interest and the amount of time you have to spare, but for El Prado, try to give yourself at least a few hours to enjoy the museum leisurely. Of course, you can always use the map to beeline it to the highlights and call it a day, but if you'd like to savor the art, take your time. Pieces like those from Hieronymus Bosch require more time to understand what's truly going on!
Perfect For: Art enthusiasts, history buffs, newbies, and even kids can enjoy time at El Prado. For families, consider booking a kids' tour, which includes a fun scavenger hunt.
Let kimkim help you organize your visit to El Prado Museum.
Reina Sofia Museum
Good for Families
Head to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia for a focus on Spanish and international art of the 20th century. Founded in 1992, the museum presents international modern and contemporary art and is Madrid's second most popular institution after El Prado. The building has a long history, serving as a hospital from the 16th century until 1965, when the hospital shut down and the city declared the building a national monument.
Though the building is historical, the museum added a glass-enclosed portion highlighting art about feminism, surrealism, and Spanish history. Its temporary exhibits feature creators from around the world and eclectic modern art styles. Of course, many choose the museum for its wide collections by some of the most renowned Spanish painters like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró.
Perhaps the most famous piece of art is "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso, in memory of the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. You can also enjoy the gardens in the middle of the museum and the top floor with its beautiful views. And if you want to pair your visit with a meal, Reina Sofia's on-site eatery, Nubel, is just as quirky as its art, popular with locals, and often hosts live music.
Not many know that the Reina Sofia Museum is responsible for two exhibits in Retiro Park: the beautiful Crystal Palace and Velázquez Palace. Both are free to enter, though they have different opening hours based on seasonality, so it's best to check online before planning your visit.
Location: C. de Sta. Isabel, 52
How to Get There: The museum is part of Madrid's Paseo del Arte, just across the street from Atocha Train Station and near Retiro Park. By public transport, you'll use the same metro stop as the Prado Museum (Estación del Arte) but walk to the right about one block.
- Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
- Sunday, 10:00 am to 2:30 pm
- Closed on Tuesdays
- Closed on holidays
What to See:
Again, it's tricky to list all the famous art pieces at the Reina Sofia, so here is a list of renowned must-sees:
- Georges Braque, Cartes et dés (Cards and Dice)
- Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí, L’âge D’or (Golden Age)
- Dalí, Face of the Great Masturbator
- Dalí, Figure At The Window
- Juan Gris, The Musician's Table
- Miró, Painting (Snail, Woman, Flower, Star)
- Francis Picabia, Totalisateur (Totaliser)
- Picasso, Guernica
- Picasso, Musical Instruments On A Table
- Saura, Lola
- Joaquín Sorolla, Return from Fishing
Guided Tour: A private guided tour is a great way to maximize your time at the museum. They're available outside regular opening hours, so Monday mornings, Tuesday all day, Wednesday to Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons. You can also book thematic tours or those involving a meal at one of the museum's restaurants.
How Long to Stay: Plan for at least two to three hours, especially to enjoy the gardens, restaurants, or spaces at Retiro Park.
Perfect For: For lovers of modern and contemporary art, the Reina Sofia is the best pick, plus you'll enjoy some of Spain's most famous artists. Though there aren't any kid-focused tours, families can still enjoy the museum, as the art is quite interesting and abstract, and there are many spaces to explore. Kids also love eating inside the museum and checking out the exhibits in Retiro Park.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum offers a vast gathering of pictorial collections. Since the doors opened in 1993, it has become a heritage to the Spanish population. The museum halls follow a historical sequence to appreciate the evolution of the different artistic styles, from the first historical Italian and Dutch paintings to the Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassicism art, and more. The collection is housed in a stunning palace with a historical background, previously owned by the Duchess of Osuna.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has many masterpieces from worldwide painters and is famous for its temporary exhibitions. You can not miss "Christ and the Samaritan Woman" by Duccio di Buoninsegna, "Les Vessenots in Auvers" by Vincent van Gogh, and "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking" by Salvador Dalí.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is perfect for a more adult audience interested in an overview of the art styles from the 13th to the 20th centuries, making it ideal for beginners. You don't have to be an art expert to enjoy the exhibitions!
In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also features special exhibitions, lectures, and concerts, making it a cultural center in Madrid. And if you're hungry, the museum's on-site restaurant, Café de París, offers a gourmet menu and is a popular spot for locals. Visitors can also enjoy the stunning views from the museum's terrace and stroll through the lush gardens in front of the palace.
Location: P.º del Prado, 8
How to Get There: You can reach the museum by taking the metro to the Banco de España station, or by taking a taxi or walking from nearby landmarks such as the Prado Museum or Retiro Park.
- Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Wednesdays and weekends, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm.
What to See: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum boasts an extensive collection of over 1,000 works of art, including masterpieces from the Renaissance, Baroque, Impressionist, and Modern periods. Highlights include:
- Bellini, Saint Francis in Ecstasy
- Caravaggio, Saint Catherine of Alexandria
- Degas, Portrait of the Bellelli Family
- Hopper, Hotel Room
- Monet, Water Lilies
- Picasso, Harlequin with a Mirror
- Rembrandt, Portrait of an Elderly Woman
- Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Cypress Trees
- Vermeer, Woman with a Balance
- Zurbarán, Saint Serapion
Guided Tour: Exploring the museum with a guide is great for getting in-depth information and insights into the museum's collection and history.
How Long to Stay: Visitors typically spend between 1.5 to 2 hours exploring the museum, though you might want to stay longer if you'd like a more in-depth experience or want to stay for a meal or stroll through the gardens.
Perfect For: Art lovers, history buffs, and those interested in exploring Madrid's cultural heritage. It also offers a comprehensive and engaging educational experience for families.
National Archeological Museum
Best for History
Good for Families
The National Archeological Museum is located in a beautiful historic building in the heart of Madrid and is an excellent choice for those interested in history, culture, and archaeology. Founded in 1867, it's one of the oldest museums in Spain and home to a vast collection of artifacts from different civilizations, including ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Islamic world. The museum also has a rich collection of pre-Columbian art from the South American continent and treasures from Spain's medieval period.
Visitors can marvel at the Roman mosaics, Greek vases, Egyptian mummies, and the famous "Treasure of Guarrazar," a collection of Visigothic gold considered one of the most important archaeological finds in Spain. Additionally, the museum's Iberian and Roman exhibitions are world-renowned and showcase the diverse cultures that have inhabited the Iberian Peninsula over the centuries.
In addition to the exhibitions, the museum also has a research center and library, making it a hub for scholars and students of archaeology. You can take guided tours and attend workshops and educational programs to deepen your understanding of the history and culture of these civilizations.
Location: Calle de Serrano, 13
How to Get There: The museum is located near Retiro Park, so you can easily reach it by public transportation, with the metro being the best bet—the Serrano Station is just a few minutes walk away. You can also take a taxi or walk from other popular attractions such as the Prado Museum or Retiro Park.
- Monday to Saturday, 9:30 am to 8:00 pm
- Sunday, 9:30 am to 2:00 pm
- Closed on public holidays
What to See: The museum has many fascinating exhibits, including Roman mosaics, Egyptian artifacts, and medieval ceramics. Some of the most popular pieces include:
- Bust of the Lady of Elche, an Iberian sculpture from the fourth century BCE
- Dama de Baza, an Iberian sculpture from the fourth century BCE
- The Egyptian art collection, including a coffin of Henutmehyt and a funerary mask of Psusennes I
- Lady of Ibiza, a Phoenician statue from the fifth century BCE
- Roman mosaics from various regions, such as the Medusa mosaic from the House of the Dolphins in Empúries
- Treasure of Guarrazar, Visigothic votive crowns, and crosses from the seventh century
- Treasure of Villena, an Iberian hoard of gold jewelry from the fourth to third centuries BCE
- Warrior of Mogente, an Iberian sculpture from the fourth century BCE.
Guided Tour: Booking a tour isn't necessarily a must here, though they're a great way to learn more about the exhibitions. You can choose from 45-minute options to one-hour options.
How Long to Stay: Plan for at least two hours to fully explore the museum and its exhibits.
Perfect For: History enthusiasts, students, and families looking for an educational and fascinating experience. The museum is great for anyone interested in learning more about Spain's rich cultural heritage, from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. If you're primarily interested in history, consider taking a guided history, tapas, and taverns walk in Madrid to learn more about the city.
Official Tour Bernabéu
Good for Families
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium dates back to 1947, but the official tour wasn't opened to the public until 1999. It's Madrid's third most popular museum, after the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum. Unlike the other museums on this list, visiting Bernabéu requires a guided tour, as you'll need an official to take you into the different areas of the stadium. This lets you see behind the scenes and learn about the history and stories of Real Madrid.
As you walk, your guide will review the football club's history, including the collection of trophies that Real Madrid Football Club has won. This magnificent hall presents the Champions League trophy collection, which the football club has won more than any other club in the competition's history.
You'll also visit the team's locker room, the press room, and the tunnel leading to the pitch. Enjoy panoramic views of the stadium from the stands, sit in the presidential box, and imagine what it's like to watch a game with the VIPs. The tour ends at the club's museum, where you can see artifacts like old shirts, photographs, and trophies, plus the team's recent achievements: the 33rd La Liga title and the 13th Champions League Trophy.
Location: Concha Espina, 1
How to Get There: The stadium is located in the north of Madrid, away from the other museums on this list. Still, you can easily reach it by metro, bus, or taxi. The closest metro station is Santiago Bernabéu.
- Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Sunday and Holidays, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
- Closed on match days
What to See: The tour includes the following:
- Real Madrid Museum
- Trophy Room
- Presidential Box
- Locker Room
- Press Room
- Panoramic views of the stadium
Guided Tour: Tours are mandatory and included in the ticket price, lasting approximately one hour.
How Long to Stay: Plan to spend at least one hour on tour and an additional hour in the museum. The tour ends at the museum, where you'll have free time to continue perusing the artifacts.
Perfect For: Soccer fans, especially fans of Real Madrid, will enjoy this tour. It's also an excellent opportunity for families and friends to explore the club's history and see behind the scenes of one of the world's most famous stadiums.
Best for Contemporary Art
Budget Travelers Pick
Head to the CaixaForum Madrid for a focus on contemporary art, architecture, and social and cultural issues. The museum, located in a beautifully restored electrical power station, is a part of the "la Caixa" Foundation and presents thought-provoking exhibitions from around the world. The exhibits are highly interactive, providing a hands-on experience for visitors to engage with the art.
The building itself is a work of art, with its modernist architecture and innovative design, making it one of the most unique spaces in Madrid. The museum also has an impressive vertical garden, which provides a beautiful backdrop for exhibitions and events.
Whether you're interested in contemporary art, architecture, or social and cultural issues, there's something for everyone at the CaixaForum Madrid. From exhibitions of photography, film, and visual arts to debates and workshops on social and cultural issues, the museum offers a truly unique experience.
Location: Av. de la Ciudad de Barcelona, 41
How to Get There: The museum is located in the heart of Madrid, near the Atocha Train Station and Retiro Park. It's easily accessible by public transport, with several metro and bus lines stopping nearby.
- Monday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
- Closed on holidays
What to See: The exhibitions at the CaixaForum Madrid change regularly. Still, you can expect to see thought-provoking and interactive exhibits exploring the world of contemporary art and architecture, plus social and cultural issues. Some popular collections include photography, film, and visual arts, as well as debates and workshops on social and cultural issues.
With the exhibits changing so much, writing a list of the best artwork to see is tricky. Still, you can always enjoy some of the permanent pieces, including:
- Kandinsky, Improvisación 7
- Miró, Mujer y pájaro en la noche
- Monet, Los nenúfares
- Picasso, El viejo guitarrista
- Rembrandt, Autorretrato con dos círculos
- Rodin, El pensador
Guided Tour: If you'd like an experience catered to your interests, you can book a private guided tour. They offer a more in-depth look at the exhibitions and provide additional insights and information about the displayed works. Still, as an interactive museum, you'll enjoy visiting on your own, too.
How Long to Stay: Plan for at least an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the exhibitions and events you plan to attend.
Perfect For: Those interested in contemporary art and social issues will surely enjoy CaixaForum. It might also be a good choice for families since the exhibitions are interactive, but perhaps for older children and those seeking a unique cultural experience. And since admission is free, it's perfect if you're traveling on a tighter budget.
Royal Palace of Madrid
Good for Families
The Royal Palace of Madrid is a beautiful historic building that has served as the official residence of Spanish royalty since the reign of King Felipe V. The palace was built in the 16th century and has undergone numerous renovations and expansions over the years, making it one of the largest palaces in Europe. Stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, and grand courtyards are just a few of the features that make this palace such a popular and beloved site in Madrid.
In addition to its impressive history, the Royal Palace is home to many works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. Some of the most notable pieces include works by Goya, Rubens, and Velázquez. You can also view a collection of antique furniture and decorative arts displayed throughout the palace. The Royal Armory is a popular spot, showcasing an array of weapons, armor, and other military equipment from various periods of Spanish history.
The palace is the setting for various annual cultural events, including concerts, exhibitions, and performances, so keep an eye on the website for any closures and restricted access. Once finished in the palace, don't forget to enjoy the free extras, including the Sabatini Garden (perfect for photos of the Royal Palace) and Campo del Moro (where peacocks roam). You can also pop into the Catedral de la Almudena, a Baroque Catholic cathedral with colorful ceilings, a Romanesque crypt, and a museum.
Location: Calle Bailén, s/n
How to Get There: The Royal Palace is on the edge of Madrid's historic center, so you can easily walk to the monument. It's just a six-minute stroll from Plaza Mayor, for example. If using the metro, the closest station is Opera, as it's directly across the Plaza de Oriente from the Teatro Real.
- Daily, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (October to March)
- Daily, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm (April to September)
- Closed for special occasions and events.
What to See: Visiting the Royal Palace is best done by walking from room to room. The following areas are open to visitors:
- The Royal Armory: An extensive collection of armor and weapons dating back to the 16th century
- The Royal Pharmacy: A stunning collection of ceramic jars and medical instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries
- The Porcelain Room: A collection of porcelain pieces from the Royal Factory of La Moncloa
- The Royal Chapel: A beautiful example of Spanish Baroque architecture and home to a collection of religious artworks
- The Throne Room: A grand hall with an ornate ceiling fresco and impressive chandeliers
- The Gasparini Room: Decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Alexander the Great
- The Banquet Hall: A large table set with beautiful china and crystal
- The Hall of Columns: Adorned with marble columns and a stunning ceiling decorated with frescoes
You can also view temporary exhibitions, which are held regularly in the palace's various rooms and galleries, showcasing a variety of themes and artists. And if you're interested in viewing some famous masterpieces, you'll find the following inside the Royal Palace:
- Bayeu, Adoración de los Reyes Magos
- Caravaggio, David vencedor de Goliat
- Giordano, Alegoría de la Felicidad y la Riqueza (fresco on the ceiling of the Throne Room)
- Goya, La Familia de Carlos IV
- Mengs, La Gloria (fresco on the ceiling of the Throne Room)
- Tiepolo, Apolo y las Musas (fresco on the ceiling of the Gasparini Room)
- Velázquez, Las Meninas
Guided Tour: What makes the Royal Palace such an interesting monument is that visitors can choose from several different types of tours, including a general tour of the palace, a specialized tour of the Royal Armory, and a tour of the gardens. Audio guides are also available for an additional fee.
How Long to Stay: The time needed to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid depends on your interests and pace. However, most visitors spend two to three hours exploring the palace and its exhibits.
Perfect For: Families, history and art lovers, architecture enthusiasts, and anyone interested in the culture and heritage of Spain will enjoy time at the Royal Palace.
When planning a trip to Madrid's famed museums, there are a few other details and FAQs to consider.
Should you reserve tickets online?
Yes, reserving tickets online is recommended to avoid waiting in line and ensure you have a guaranteed spot. This is especially important during peak season (typically April through September).
When is the best time to go?
The best time to visit a museum in Madrid is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds. However, remember that each museum has its own schedule, so check the notes above or consult the museum's website. Some may have specific days or times with fewer or more visitors. For example, the Prado is free after 6:00 pm, so it can be extra crowded in the evening.
Is it best to take a tour or visit on your own?
Whether to take a tour or visit on your own is a personal preference. A guided tour is recommended for those who want a more in-depth understanding of the works and history. However, a self-guided visit is ideal for those who prefer to explore independently and focus on their interests. Both options offer different experiences and benefits, so just choose what works best for you. Remember that some museums (like the Bernabéu Stadium) require a guided tour.