Madrid is full of world-class centers for art, culture, and history, most of which can be visited for free on certain days of the week. Here is a general guide to the city’s most famous (and some lesser-known) museums.

A few basic things to know

  • The three major art museums — the Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen — make up Madrid’s “Golden Art Triangle,” and are conveniently located within short walking distance of each other. You can purchase a Paseo del Arte Card to save 20 percent on the general admission fee to all three.
  • The museums are pretty generous with their free admission times, so if you plan in advance you can avoid paying entrance fees.
  • Many of the Madrid museums are always free for students with ID, people under 18, seniors, and retirees.

The Golden Art Triangle

Museo Nacional del Prado

Photo: trabantos/Shutterstock

The Prado is Madrid’s largest, most famous museum. It’s considered the greatest single collection of Spanish art, and its highlights include masterpieces by Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. It’s impossible to see the thousands of works on display, so it’s a good idea to research the sections you’d like to focus on beforehand. You can easily do this through the museum’s website; it has an “explore the collection” page where you can see the most famous pieces, browse artists, topics, and techniques.

The Prado always attracts the most crowds, but you can avoid the busiest times by arriving 10-15 minutes before opening time or right after Spanish lunch hour, around 3:00 PM.

Where: Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23, 28014 Madrid
Hours: Monday-Saturday from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Sundays and holidays from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Plan to stay: At least three hours, probably more
Prices: General 15 euros ($17). Entry is free for visitors under 18 and students between the ages of 18 and 25, and 7.50 euros ($8.50) for people over the age of 65.
Free admission: Monday to Saturday from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Sundays and holidays from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Photo: Museo Reina Sofía/Facebook

The Reina Sofía is the second largest museum in Madrid and the modern art equivalent of the Prado. The majority of the collection is devoted to Spanish artists — notably Picasso, Dalí, and Miró — but you’ll also find works by other big names like Francis Bacon and Max Ernst. Picasso’s “Guernica,” an 11-foot-tall and 25.6-foot-wide painting that depicts the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War, is by far the most famous piece and is exhibited in its own room. The museum’s layout is confusing, so again I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with the different sections beforehand.

Where: Calle de Santa Isabel 52, 28012 Madrid
Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM; Sundays from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM; and closed Tuesdays
Plan to stay: Two to three hours
Prices: General admission is 10 euros ($11.50) at the desk, eight euros ($9) online. Entry is free for visitors under 18 and students under 25.
Free admission: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM; Sunday from 1:30 PM to 7:00 PM; free and open all day on April 18, May 18, October 12, and December 6

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

The Thyssen Museum began as the Thyssen family’s private collection of seven centuries of European painting, regarded as one of the most important collections of the last century. In 1992, it was converted into a public museum. The Thyssen is much easier to navigate than the Prado and Reina Sofía, as works are arranged from oldest to most recent, starting from the top floor down. Though it isn’t typically as high on tourists’ lists as the other two, it has a great variety of artists, styles, and time periods, including Caravaggio, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Jackson Pollock. From June to September, the museum’s rooftop restaurant, Las Terrazas del Thyssen, offers great views of the city.

Where: Paseo del Prado 8, 28014 Madrid
Hours: Mondays from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Hours of operations for the temporary exhibitions vary. For more details consult the website.
Plan to stay: Three hours
Price: General admission is 13 euros ($15). Nine euros ($10.50) for students of all ages and people over the age of 65. Entry is free for visitors under 18.
Free admission: Mondays from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM (permanent collection only)

Lesser-known museums to check out

CaixaForum

Photo: CaixaForum

CaixaForum is a museum and cultural center that occupies a repurposed old power plant. From the outside the building appears to be levitating, and there’s a vertical garden with 15,000 plant species growing on the side of one wall. The building’s unique design is the work of Swiss duo Herzog and De Meuron, the same architects who designed the Tate Modern in London. Inside are four floors of contemporary painting, photography, and multimedia exhibitions, as well as workshops and a theater-auditorium. Even if you don’t enter any exhibitions, it’s worth stopping by to admire the building’s striking outer and inner architecture.

Where: Paseo del Prado 36, 28014 Madrid
Hours: 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM daily
Plan to stay: one to two hours
Price: Free entrance to the building. General exhibitions are six euros ($7).
Free admission: May 15, 18, and November 9

Museo del Romanticismo

Located in an 18th-century palace in the trendy Chueca neighborhood, this small museum focuses on the history and daily life of the Romantic period. The museum recreates the Romantic atmosphere in its room displays with furniture, carpets, jewelry, paintings, and other relics of the time period. There’s also a lovely hidden garden café if you want to sit for tea and cake before, after, or during your visit.

Where: Calle San Mateo 13, 28004 Madrid
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM (closes at 8:30 PM in the summer), Sundays and holidays from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, closed Mondays
Plan to stay: One to two hours
Prices: General admission is three euros ($3.50). Free for people under 18, over 65, and students between 18 and 25 years old.
Free admission: Saturdays after 2:00 PM; Sundays and April 18, May 18, October 12 and December 6

Museo Sorolla

Photo: Museo Sorolla/Facebook

This small art gallery is dedicated to Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), often called the “painter of light” for his beautiful reproductions of Mediterranean light in his portraits and landscapes. The gallery is in his former home and studio, and they’ve preserved the original atmosphere well so you get a feel for what it was like when he was living and working there.

Where: Calle General Martínez Campos 37, 3728010 Madrid
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 AM to 8:00 PM; Sundays and holidays from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, closed Mondays
Plan to stay: One hour
Price: General admission is three euros ($3.50). Free for people under 18, over 65, and students between 18 and 25 years old.
Free admission: Saturdays after 2:30 PM; Sundays and April 18, May 18, October 12, and December 6

Real Academia de Bellas Artes

Madrid’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts is another place to see great works of Spanish art. There are over 1,500 paintings and almost 600 sculptures from the 15th-20th century. Goya once served as the academy’s director and many of his works are exhibited here. Notable alumni include Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Óscar de la Renta.

Where: Calle de Alcalá 13, 28014 Madrid
Hours: The permanent collection is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM and until 8:00 PM on the last Saturday of each month; closed Monday and in August. Hours of operations for the temporary exhibitions vary. For more details consult the website.
Plan to stay: Two to three hours
Price: General admission is eight euros ($9), four euros ($4.50) for people over 65 and students over 25, and free for people under the age of 18 and students between 18 and 25.
Free admission: Wednesdays; the last Saturday of each month from 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM, and May 18, October 12, December 6

Museo Arqueológico Nacional

The archaeological museum houses artifacts dating back to prehistoric times. One of the most popular exhibits is a replica of the prehistoric cave paintings discovered in Altamira, Cantabria.

Where: Calle Serrano 13, 28001 Madrid
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 AM to 8:00 PM, Sundays and holidays from 9:30 AM to 3:00 PM, closed Monday
Plan to stay: Two to three hours
Price: General admission is three euros ($3.50). Free for people under 18, over 65, and students between 18 and 25 years old.
Free admission: Saturdays from 2:00 PM and Sunday mornings; April 18, May 18, October 12, and December 6

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

If you want to learn about Madrid’s contemporary art scene, pay a visit to this museum located in the historic barracks of the Conde Duque building. The Saatchi Gallery showcases local artwork the city council has collected since 1980.

Where: Calle Conde Duque 9, 28015 Madrid
Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM, Sundays and holidays from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM, and closed Mondays
Plan to stay: One to two hours
Price: Free