Madrid is a city of more than three million residents, but most of the sights for tourists can be found in two districts: Centro for its historic places and plazas, and Retiro for its cultural attractions.
If you are a lover of art museums, there is enough in Retiro to keep you busy for days, and that doesn’t even include the world-class Naval Museum (hint: the Spanish Armada loses). However, most visitors focus on two of the museums, those featuring Spanish artists.
The Museo del Prado main entrance.
The Museo del Prado is the most famous sight in Madrid, and listed among the Louvre, Vatican Museum, and Hermitage as one of the best museums in Europe. If the Spanish masters are of interest to you, there are enough works here by Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco to keep you satisfied for a long time. Portraits of Spanish nobility, religious works, and scenes from medieval Spanish life dominate the walls, with a wonderful collection of Greek and Roman sculpture mixed in.
As with most sights in Madrid, most security is very protective and will not allow you to take photos inside. However, some will allow pictures without a flash, so ask.
This was one of a number of awesome inlaid tables in the Prado, perhaps my favorite things there.
If paintings from several hundred years ago aren’t your thing, and you prefer works a bit more modern, walk down the street to the Reina Sofia. The museum looks like an office block from the outside – except for two glass elevator shafts – but houses the finest collection of the modern Spanish masters you’ll ever see. Picasso, Dali, Miro: their works fill multiple rooms each (and their contemporaries), along with some truly odd modern “art” exhibits.
The squarish facade of the Reina Sofia belies the collection housed within.
I am not sure what makes something art. For instance, this scene:
If someone can explain it to me, I will feature your explanation here on the blog.
The highlight of the Reina Sofia is Picasso’s most famous work: Guernica. I’ve seen posters of it before, but was not expecting it to be so large!
Guernica by Picasso
As with the Prado, photography is discouraged by some security guards, and passively permitted by others. Just ask.
After a day wandering inside through art museums, visitors to Retiro may want to stroll outside through Retiro Park. The place is huge, with interesting landscaping, like trees that to me resemble broccoli.
A lake dominates the northern portion of the park, with music, boats, and an impressive monument to King Alfonso XII that is currently being renovated.
Walk south and you’ll arrive at the Palacio de Cristal, a stunning glass building constructed as a conservatory in 1887 by the famed Spanish architect Ricardo Bosco and now used as a home for art exhibits.
Even on a cold day (it was in the 40s Fahrenheit when I was there), the park is crowded with happy Spaniards!
Retiro is a wonderful escape from the historical significance of Centro, and worth including in your plans, even if only for a day.
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