Spanish art galleries & museums

General information and tips

Spain has over 800 museums ( museos) and important collections, particularly in Madrid and Barcelona, and there has been an explosion in the number of art galleries ( galerías de arte) in the last decade throughout the country, particularly for contemporary art.

Spain has a distinguished history in the field of art and has produced many of the world’s greatest artists, including Goya, El Greco, Ribera, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Cano, Murillo, Picasso, Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris. Modern art is a passion with the Spanish and the annual Contemporary Art Fair (ARCO) held in February in Madrid is one of the world’s largest modern art exhibitions.

Spain’s premier art gallery is the Museo Nacional del Prado (called simply the Prado, http://www.museoprado.es ) in Madrid, housing one of the world’s richest art collections. It contains over 5,000 paintings, each one a masterpiece, including an unrivalled collection of Spanish masters. The museum was extended in 2005 to double its floor space to allow many more of its works to be displayed, as well as creating space for temporary exhibitions, theatres and cafés. Complementing the Prado are many other celebrated art collections, including the Museo Lazaro Galdiano (http://www.flg.es ), the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza ( http://www.museothyssen.org ), which shows one of the world’s best selection of art and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofía (http://www.museoreinasofia.es ), Europe’s top museum of contemporary art.

The museum, housed in a modernised eighteenth century hospital, was also extended in 2005 to include three new buildings and boasts a monumental 78,000m2 of exhibition space. The Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofía museums are known as Madrid’s ‘Art Triangle’ and the future semi-pedestrianisation of the Paseo de Prado connecting the three and facilitating access will be known as the ‘Art Walk’. A Museum Card (called the Paseo del Arte) is available.

Although it isn’t so richly endowed with museums as Madrid, Barcelona boasts a number of important collections, including the Museu Picasso (http://www.museupicasso.bcn.es ), the Museu d’Art de Catalunya ( http://www.mnac.es ), the Fundació Joan Miró (http://www.bcn.fjmiro.es ), the Museu d’Art Modern and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art/MACBA (http://www.macba.es ). Modernism is particularly strong in Barcelona which is the capital of modernist architecture. One of its major attractions is the Parc Güell designed by Spain’s greatest architect Antoni Gaudí and housing the Casa-Museu Gaudí. Also not to be missed are Gaudí’s masterpiece Casa Milà apartment building and his most famous work, the remarkable unfinished Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. The Barcelona Articket, allowing you to visit seven major art museums in the city, is available from art museums in Barcelona. The Museu Dalí (Dalí Theatre-Museum – http://www.salavador-dali.org ), itself a surrealist work of art, is located in Figueras (the birthplace of the artist) on the Costa Brava, and is the second most visited museum in Spain after the Prado.

A futuristic, 21st-century art gallery funded by the Guggenheim Foundation (http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es) was opened in Bilbao in 1999 and is one of Europe’s most beautiful galleries as well as an architectural masterpiece. In late 2003, the long-awaited Picasso Museum (http://www.museopicassomalaga.org ) opened in Malaga (the artist’s birthplace) and houses the largest collection of his works in the world. Valencia boasts an excellent museum of modern art, the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (http://www.ivam.es ), and León the latest contemporary art museum (the MUSAC), housed in a spectacular stained-glass cube (http://www.musac.org.es ).

Most major museums open from 9am to 7pm, Tuesdays to Sundays. Smaller museums may open only between 9 and 10am until 2 or 3pm, although some re-open after the siesta from 4 to 7pm. Some museums have extended opening hours in the summer. Opening times vary considerably and are subject to frequent change, so check in advance (they’re usually listed in guide books). Many smaller museums disregard ‘official’ opening hours and open erratically.

Entrance fees to Spain’s museums, galleries and other sites are very reasonable. The entrance fee of €6 to the Prado or the Reina Sofía is a bargain and entrance is free to students with an international student card, pensioners over 65, those under 18 and the unemployed. Many museums provide free entrance to students, some have reduced fees for students and senior citizens, and a few provide free entry on one day a week (including the Prado), usually Sundays. A pensioner’s card ( tarjeta de pensionista) allows free entry to state museums and monuments (operated by the Patrimonio Nacional) and discounts elsewhere. An annual museum card is also available allowing free entry to all state-owned museums in Spain.

The city of Madrid offers tourists the Madrid Card system, allowing free entry to museums and monuments, unlimited free travel on public transport and discounts in shops and theatres. The card is valid for one, two or three days (discounts are available for online purchases), and can be purchased by telephone (902-088 908) or online (http://www.madridcard.com ) and in tourist offices and travel agents in Madrid. In Barcelona, the Barcelona Card allows discount entry to museums, shows and attractions, unlimited free travel on public transport and discounts in shops and restaurants. The card is valid for one, two, three, four or five days, and can be purchased at tourist offices and attractions in the city.

Most cathedrals, monasteries and famous churches, many of which house great works of art, charge admission fees to non-worshippers. Student admission is usually half price or less and children under 14 may be admitted free. It’s also possible in Spain to visit numerous businesses, particularly those connected with the food and drink industry such as vineyards, distilleries, breweries, mineral water springs, farms and dairies. Spain has numerous zoos, the best of which are Barcelona, Madrid and Fuengirola (Malaga), whose innovative zoo was acclaimed by National Geographic as the best in Spain.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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