Without a doubt, Madrid is a museum lover’s dream come true, offering something for just about everyone.
If you want to dig a little deeper into the cultural side of the Spanish capital, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to discover the top museums in Madrid and how to make the most of each one!
You’ve certainly heard of the Prado, right? Additionally, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen may ring a bell. Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art—the city’s three cheek-by-jowl uber-galleries—are impossible to ignore.
And rightly so! They’re each packed with equally wonderful works.
But these three aren’t the end-all-be-all of Madrid’s art scene, and certainly not the only top museums in Madrid. So whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, a science lover or anything in between, there’s a Madrid museum you’ll love. Here are the best museums in the Spanish capital—from iconic spots to hidden gems!
Art Museums in Madrid
1. Prado Museum
By and large, the Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the famous museums in Madrid. In fact, it’s the most famous, and for good reason.
The permanent collection spans multiple styles, time periods and artists. Together, it encompasses one of the most impressive collections of classical European paintings in the world. Additionally, the temporary exhibitions never fail to impress.
Make sure to visit the Goya paintings downstairs, including the room of his Black Paintings. You can also find art by Velázquez (including Las Meninas), El Greco and Hieronymus Bosch, just to name a few!
2. Reina Sofía Museum
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is the Prado’s modern art counterpart. It’s split into two equally important sections: the old and new wings. The former houses the permanent collection and the latter temporary expositions.
The old building used to be a hospital and surrounds a tranquil center courtyard. Every floor of the museum has its own gems. But the must-see piece is Picasso’s famous Guernica, a somber and moving depiction of the bombing of a small Basque town by the Nazis.
In addition to a respectable collection of Picasso masterpieces, you’ll also find works by more legendary artists of the 20th century, such as Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.
3. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Rounding out Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art is the Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza. Its original collection consisted of 775 paintings belonging to the famed art collector Heinrich Freiherr Thyssen-Bornemisza. These pieces, some from artists as famous as Picasso and El Greco, hang in chronological order throughout the Thyssen.
The Thyssen’s collection fills in the gap between the Prado and the Reina Sofía. It provides visitors with more incredible artwork than they may have bargained for!
4. Sorolla Museum
Joaquín Sorolla is well-known in Spain. Overseas, though, the more famous Spanish painters of his time—namely, the Cubists—have eclipsed him. Which is unfortunate, because his work is like a sun-drenched Spanish dream.
Born in Valencia, he had a knack for re-creating the Mediterranean’s gauzy light. He’s famous for his radiant beach scenes and vignettes of local fishermen.
The Sorolla Museum is the artist’s former home-cum-mansion (he moved to Madrid as a young man). It tastefully combines Sorolla’s work with his personal belongings. Memorably, on an easel in the artist’s studio is the unfinished portrait he was working on when he died.
The sumptuous house wraps around an idyllic Andalusian-style garden, an inner-city oasis which you can enter for free. Be sure to get the excellent English-language audio guide.
5. Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
If you’re in Madrid for art, especially Goya, then you’d be mad to miss the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. A two-minute walk from Puerta del Sol, the former fine arts academy (Picasso and Dalí are alumni) is now a sprawling gallery of 15th–20th century masters: Rubens, Titian, Picasso, El Greco, Gris and Sorolla are all represented.
That said, two other standouts are Arcimboldo (a quirky Prague court painter with a penchant for faces formed of fruits and veggies) and Goya. Considered by many to be the first modern artist, the gallery is home to thirteen of his works, including a boisterous madhouse scene, a chilling Inquisition scene and two of the painter’s most poignant self-portraits.
Historical Museums in Madrid
6. Museum of Romanticism
Yet another hidden gem among the top museums in Madrid is the Museo del Romanticismo. This gorgeous gem of a space showcases the various art forms from the Romantic period in Spain, including paintings, models, decorative arts, stamps, drawings and photography.
Each room looks like a different part of a fabulous home—some decorated in shades of light blue, others in pinks and tans. The museum also hosts various concerts and events as well as temporary exhibits. When you’re finished exploring, be sure to enjoy a coffee and a snack in the beautiful courtyard café.
Here’s another one of Madrid’s top museums that might surprise you. The Naval Museum, located just next to the Prado, is a fascinating glimpse into how Spain built (and then squandered) its considerable overseas empire.
Packed with weapons, globes, astrolabes, cannons, shipwreck artefacts and more model galleons than you can brandish a cutlass at, the staggering collection demonstrates just how powerful this nation and its armada once were. The highlight of the collection is the oldest preserved map of the Americas, dating from 1500.
Displays are only described in Spanish, but English-language cards summarize each room. Note that this is a military location (it’s inside the Armada’s offices), which means you’ll need photo ID to get in.
8. Cerralbo Museum
Just beside Plaza España in downtown Madrid, the Museo Cerralbo is the former mini-palace of an absurdly wealthy early 20th century Spanish marquis. He died in 1922 and bequeathed his house and belongings to the state.
But there was one condition: the authorities weren’t allowed to move or remove anything. Which means the marquis’s home is just as he left it, making this an eye-popping insight into the life of the mega-rich in Belle Époque Madrid.
His priceless art collection covers the walls, his hoard of weapons and armor crams a long hallway, sepia-stained photos of family members decorate dressers. And the marquis’ office—his desk cluttered with an inkwell, sheets of paper and other workday paraphernalia—suggest the long-dead grandee has just popped out to lunch.
9. Madrid History Museum
Discover the story of Spain’s capital at the Madrid History Museum. Housed in a breathtaking Baroque building, the museum documents the city’s history from its designation as the national capital in 1561 up to the early 20th century.
As you make your way through the permanent collection’s three unique spaces, you’ll get a peek at how madrileños have lived, worked, dressed, and eaten throughout the centuries. A few standouts among its collection of 60,000+ objects are a scale model of the city built in 1830, porcelain pieces from the Buen Retiro factory, and of course, a handful of Goya paintings.
10. National Archaeology Museum
Founded in 1867 by Queen Isabel II, Madrid’s National Archaeology Museum is a stunning testament to prehistoric and ancient times. It is one of the best museums of its kind in Spain, with an impressive collection of artifacts from around the world.
Here, you’ll find prehistoric cave paintings, Greek vases, Roman mosaics, Egyptian mummies, and Spanish pottery all under one roof. Don’t miss one of the museum’s greatest treasures: the Lady of Elche, a stone sculpture of an ancient Iberian woman that has capitvated experts and visitors alike for more than a century.
11. Railway Museum
The Museo del Ferrocarril, or Railway Museum, is one of the top museums in Madrid for kids, history lovers, and all curious visitors. Here, you can step back in time to discover the history of train travel in the Spanish capital.
Housed in a stunning old wrought-iron train station built in the 19th century, this museum is one of Madrid’s most visually stunning. From early steam engines to electric locomotives and beyond, the museum offers an up-close look at train travel in a time when it was still considered a special luxury. You can even enjoy a meal in a gorgeous old dining car from the 1930s!
Science & Technology Museums in Madrid
12. National Museum of Natural Sciences
If you’re eager to learn more about the world we live in, the National Museum of Natural Sciences is the perfect Madrid museum for you. This place is dedicated to helping visitors gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diversity of the natural world, and it does an excellent job at fulfilling its mission.
Within its sprawling complex in the Salamanca neighborhood, you’ll find thousands of specimens representing the biodiversity of the Mediterranean area. It’s one of the oldest museums of its kind in Europe, and one of the few places in Madrid where you can get an in-depth understanding of everything from fossils to climate change all under one roof.
13. Robot Museum
At the other end of the STEM spectrum is Madrid’s Robot Museum, showcasing the development of this fascinating technology throughout the modern age. Discover the past, present, and future of robotics as you enjoy a guided tour (available in Spanish or English) throughout this cutting-edge space.
From replicas of famous movie robots (Star Wars, anyone?) to Europe’s largest collection of robot dogs to the famous NOA humanoid robot, this museum makes robotics easy to understand and accessible to all. It’s an especially great choice if you’re visiting with kids, but sure to thrill adults as well!
More Great Museums in Madrid
A relative newcomer on Madrid’s museum scene, the up-and-coming CaixaForum exhibition space sits just down the street from the Museo del Prado. If you get lost, just look for the impressive vertical garden out front!
Housed in a repurposed former electrical plant, CaixaForum has quickly made a name for itself as one of the top museums in Madrid. It hosts an impressive agenda of temporary exhibitions showcasing art, design, photography, archaeology, and more, including regularly scheduled kids’ programming.
15. Convent of the Barefoot Nuns
Spitting distance from Puerta del Sol, the 16th century Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Nuns) is a spooky treasure trove of bony relics, priceless art and a few dozen cloistered nuns.
Founded by a Spanish-born royal in 1559, over the centuries the convent attracted a bevy of unmarried or widowed noblewomen, all of them well-endowed. And when each of these wealthy countesses and duchesses joined the order, they donated their dowries and priceless possessions to it.
The upshot? The eerie convent also houses tapestries designed by Rubens, a magnificent Titian, one of St John the Baptist’s fingers and a surfeit of glittering religious artefacts. It’s definitely one of the most interesting of the top museums in Madrid!
Top Museums in Madrid FAQs
The most famous of Madrid’s many museums is the Prado. It is one of the best art museums in Europe, with a collection of European masterpieces spanning several centuries.
Madrid’s famed “Golden Triangle of Art” consists of the Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofía museums.
Almost all Madrid museums offer free visiting hours during certain times of day, or on certain days of the week. However, the Madrid History Museum and the Naval Museum are always free (though donations are appreciated!).
Update Notice: This post was originally published on February 5, 2013 and was updated with new text and photos on June 23, 2021.
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