Things to do in Madrid

15 Best Museums in Madrid

The only things more inviting than Madrid's tapas and nightlife scene are the history and art. Learn all about Spain at the best museums in Madrid.

About 3.2 million people call the capital of Spain home, which is probably why the city is always buzzing with excitement and life. As you take stock of all the wonderful things to do in Madrid, schedule time for the art, history, and anthropological collections that detail how this great municipality came to be.

These are a few of our favorite museums in Madrid, Spain.

Fine Arts Museums

While exploring, save time for at least one of these museums and Madrid art galleries.

1. Museo Nacional del Prado

Affectionately known as The Prado Museum, Museo Nacional del Prado is Spain's unofficial national art museum. The collection is focused mainly on European art. Notable works from legends, such as Francisco Goya, El Greco, Titian, and Hieronymus Bosch, are around every corner.

Over 850,000 visitors wander the vaulted halls each year. Some get lost in the shimmering waters of Patinir’s Charon Crossing the Styx. Others marvel at the rich, bold hues that bring Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas to life. Opt into the audio-guided tour and tickle your senses with a taped explanation of more than 250 Prado works.

Photographer: Ana Dominguez Ruiz

2. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is quite the mouthful. So, when asking for directions, just tell locals you’re looking for the Thyssen. The space is named after Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, whose private collection of 1,600-plus paintings was handed over to the Spanish government in the 1990s.

The museum now cooperates with the Baron’s wife, Carmen “Tita” Cervera. The former Miss Spain is an avid art lover, and her collection of 429 works has been on loan to the museum since 2012.

The collection’s origins make for an eclectic accumulation of breathtaking works. They weren't curated using some kind of formal strategy. Instead, they were bought over time according to whatever the Baron and Baroness loved.

That means you can see the products of Early European painters, such as Benozzo Gozzoli and Hans Memling, alongside 18th- and 19th-century works from Winslow Homer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. Caravaggio’s Saint Catherine is down the hall from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture of Saint Sebastian. It’s exciting, dynamic, and not to be missed.

3. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

There’s an area in Madrid called the Golden Triangle of Art. The triangle's three sides represent three of Madrid’s best museums—the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Thyssen, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. All these museums are on Paseo del Prado.

Named for Queen Sofía, this museum is primarily dedicated to Spanish masters. Two well-known names stand out—Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. The latter’s Guernica is on permanent display at the museum; however, it was only after it was wrestled from the grasp of MoMA administrators, who sought to keep the painting against Picasso’s wishes.

There’s an international presence here as well. Mark Rothko, Julian Schnabel, Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, and René Magritte are a few of the other artists whose creations decorate the walls.

Dreamers and art scholars find an additional lure in the form of a free, robust library—shelves brim with more than 100,000 books, sound recordings, and videos.

Photographer: Karabo_Spain

4. Museo Lázaro Galdiano

For most people, an at-home art collection consists of a few carefully chosen paintings and a vase or two. But José Lázaro Galdiano dreamed bigger. In the early 1900s, his mansion—a work of art in its own right—became the perfect place for Galdiano to squirrel away a breathtaking patchwork of Iberian creations.

Galdiano brought home everything from small bronze sculptures and jewelry to textiles and coins—in addition to paintings by Diego de Velázquez, Hieronymus Bosch, and El Greco.

After Galdiano died in 1947, his will transferred ownership of the entire 12,000-piece collection to the Spanish government. And just like that, the Museo Lázaro Galdiano was born.

The site is fascinating, with muraled ceilings facing off typical home decor. Over the years, the museum’s directors have continued to adapt the space. It’s a truly novel experience. Visitors are immersed in history and surrounded by art in a setting that’s as unpretentious as it gets.

5. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas

In a city with so many classical art museums, Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas bucks tradition. You won’t ponder Caravaggio’s controversial subject matter or Velázquez’s love of chiaroscuro here. Instead, display cases cradle furniture, ceramics, textiles, and jewelry.

The museum has around 70,000 items, although some are currently on loan. Spanish history and culture are well presented and accounted for. Carpets from Alcatraz, silk from Granada, and ceramic fragments from Seville are a few of the centuries-old finds exhibited here.

Desks, chairs, and a recreation of a Valencian kitchen showcase daily life and the evolution of manufacturing and design. Other collections reach beyond Spain's borders. There’s glass from the Roman Empire and metalware from Morocco. Ming and Qing dynasty artifacts are also on display.

Musical instruments, imperial robes, and scroll paintings transport you from Madrid to Nanjing. Together, they showcase how intertwined and impactful our collective history is.

6. Museo Sorolla

Museo Sorolla is another public museum with private origins, albeit on a smaller scale. Once upon a time, artist Joaquín Sorolla lived and worked in House 37 of Paseo del General Martinez Campos. His legacy is firmly intact, with many rooms preserved to look exactly how they were before the Spanish painter’s death in 1923.

That includes Sorolla’s studio, where finished canvases dot the walls and paintbrushes are still lined up at the ready in blue and white cups. Like the rest of the home, this space is bright and airy. He designed much of the building and the neo-Moorish garden, which boasts stonework, jet fountains, and a little pond.

You can see the light and welcoming environment reflected in Sorolla’s work. This is especially accurate in paintings with beachy scenes so vivid you can practically smell the sea air.

Contemporary Art Museums

Madrid is a city that fully embraces its history. However, these contemporary museums offer balance by providing a platform for artists coming into their own.

7. Museo ABC

Museo ABC once housed Spain’s first Mahou beer factory. That’s enough reason to pour a cold brew and have a nice toast, but that’s just the beginning. The museum’s claim to fame is an extensive collection of drawings and graphic illustrations taken from ABC, a daily Spanish newspaper first published in 1903.

That collection now totals over 200,000 items. Exhibits range from 1920s-era watercolors on cardboard to ink and graphite designs crafted in the last decade. Temporary exhibitions explore narrow themes and obscure topics. Buy a ticket and learn about the Art of Caricature or the relationship between Art Deco and the rhythm of jazz.

Photographer: Claudia Lorusso

8. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

If you love organization, you’ll love how the powers at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo have assembled the museum’s permanent collection of modern art. Everything is exhibited chronologically within creative categories that pay homage to the Spanish artists that make up the country’s present-day art scene.

Historical vanguards, including Francisco Bores and Benjamín Palencia, open the exhibit. Then comes the New Creators section. Next is Realism (with a nod to urban iconography and Luis Mayo’s metaphysical vision). The final section is New Figuration and Abstraction of the '80s, which fills four full rooms.

But the pièce de résistance is the office that stands as a tribute to avant-garde writer Ramón Gómez de la Serna. The exhibit is a “museum within the museum.” Its intent is to connect de la Serna’s penchant for surrealism and satire with the art produced by his contemporaries.

Sculpture Museums

Sometimes, it feels like Madrid’s architecture is a sculpture-inspired art installation that’s been slowly erected over time. The curves and lines that decorate the city's skyline echoed in the artwork displayed at these sculpture museums.

9. Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de La Castellana

When fresh air calls, ditch your itinerary for an afternoon at Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre. This open-air sculpture museum houses 17 masterpieces, but the installation is a major conversation starter.

The site is tucked under the Enrique de la Mata Gorostizaga bridge. That might sound ominous, but bordering garden areas and a waterfall bring life and softness to the granite pavement and rock-hard terraces.

Each installation is a wondrous example of what happens when avant-garde creations collide. Andreu Alfaro's A World for Children features 17 straight bars staggered to create the illusion of movement.

Mediterranean by Martin Chirino is a sleek, selkie-like work inspired by the sea. Its red finish represents the first time he ever used color.

Historical Museums

In a city steeped with history, it makes sense that some of Madrid's best museums would take us back in time.

10. Museo de Historia de Madrid

The best museums in Madrid tell a story about the city itself. That’s certainly true of Museo de Historia de Madrid, where the building and the impressive collections detail the area's evolution from 1561 to the dawn of the 20th century.

You can divide your visit into three parts, each matching up with a section of the museum’s core exhibits. The first section encompasses the 1500s to 1700s, displaying artifacts associated with Madrid’s birth as the capital of Spain.

Next comes the War of Independence and the beginning of a more modern government. Finally, paintings and other works cover the 1800s and World War I. It’s a journey through time, and Madrid’s history, in particular, is illustrated by some of Spain's most talented people.

11. Museo de América

In a sea of museums celebrating Spain and Madrid, the Museo de América is a true outlier. Instead of exploring their home turf, the museum’s curators collected and preserved research, works of art, and archaeological objects representing 19th- and 20th-century life in America.

Most of these items come from areas of the American continent affected by Spanish adventurers and settlers. Collections delve into pre-Hispanic America and periods tinged by European colonization. It also has a collection focused on ethnology.

The museum seeks to recognize and promote the knowledge and legacy of America’s Indigenous peoples. Its displays are a sight to behold and worth seeing just for the story they tell about America’s past.

But supporting the Museo de América goes beyond enjoying an afternoon of art. The museum is invested in conservation and documentation, tirelessly preserving cultural assets for the benefit of future generations.

12. Museo Naval de Madrid

Set sail on a voyage through history at the Museo Naval de Madrid. There, you’ll find weapons, maps, navigational instruments, and a collection of paintings detailing the rise of the Spanish Navy. It starts with the 15th century and goes up to modern day.

The museum possesses a moon rock collected during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. Although it weighs just a single gram, its scientific impact is much larger.

You should also make time to admire the naval-themed stained-glass roofs in the exhibition hall and the Juan de la Cosa map, which is believed to be the earliest map of the Americas.

13. Museo del Traje

Clothing is often taken for granted, with costumes viewed as purely ornamental. The rise of haute couture illuminated textile creations as works of art. But the Museo del Traje further shows how clothing is integral to every culture’s social, spiritual, creative, and technical makeup.

Depending on an article’s cut, color, and material makeup, what you wear can be functional, aesthetically pleasing, symbolic, or all of the above. At Museo del Traje, the exhibits look at how costumes in Spain have united people and underscored diversity.

You can examine women’s jackets in detail, see how flat weaves transform a potential garment, and learn the difference between a major’s doublet and a suit of mantilla. Leading lights, such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, are also represented here, giving fashion students and art aficionados alike a reason to tip their cap.

14. Museo de San Isidro

Several museums explore Madrid’s history, but only Museo de San Isidro goes back to prehistoric times to understand where this Spanish enclave and its citizens came from. And by citizens, we don’t necessarily mean people.

The museum's halls are well populated by the fossils of Madrid’s earliest occupants, such as mammoths, mastodons, ancient elephants, and aurochs, that plodded around the Manzanares Valley about 500,000 years ago.

Exhibits also touch on the invention and progression of agriculture and ceramics. About 1,700 pieces are available for a look-see, but around 300,000 were collected in total.

15. Museo del Ferrocarril

The Museo del Ferrocarril shares the history of railroad culture in and around Spain with the largest rail-related collection on the continent. Its building lends the project a definite air of authority. King Alfonso XII and Queen Maria Cristina opened the one-time train station in 1880.

The iron-framed structure is the final destination for steam and diesel locomotives dating back nearly 150 years. It also houses signaling and point-switching equipment developed by some of the industry’s most notable companies.

Discover Madrid's Museums: A Cultural Odyssey in Spain's Capital

From local history to fine art, the top museums in Madrid give visitors a guided tour of what’s possible when creators can dream the unimaginable and immerse themselves in possibility. That same desire to push boundaries fuels our team of talented acrobatics, actors, musicians, and artists.

Whether sitting in the audience for the first time or witnessing your hundredth performance, you know a heart-pounding escapade is just around the bend. To be a part of the joy, get tickets to our shows in Madrid.

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