• Leslie

Guide To the Best Art Museums in Spain

Updated: Apr 30


Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1480-1505, oil on panel,
Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1480-1505, oil on panel -- at Madrid's Prado


Here's my guide to the best museums in Spain, for art lovers.


Art is a route to the sublime, as with nature, love, and other beautiful things. Spain is filled with historic art and teeming with masterpieces of both Spanish and International art.


I used to think France was the ultimate place to find sublime art. But now I'm not sure. Spain is a veritable art lover's paradise, a treasure trove of gorgeous art from north to south. There are over 1500 museums in Spain.



ultimate guide to the best art museums in Spain, for your Spain bucket list


There's the old masters -- Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and Francisco de Goya. And the acclaimed modernists -- Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí. And everything in between.


Some of these must see Spanish museums are housed in ancient palaces. Others are housed in architectural masterpieces by Frank Gehry or Richard Meier.



the Prado Museum in Madrid Spain
the Prado Museum in Madrid Spain


Overview of the Best Art Museums in Spain


Here's my guide to the very best museums in Spain, for your Spanish bucket list. Some of these Spanish museums are world class. Some are amazing single artist museums, which I just adore. Some are vastly underrated museums that dazzle the eyes and senses.


Let's go on a tour of museums in Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Seville.


1. The Prado, Madrid


The Prado opened in 1819 as the Royal Museum of Paintings. The vaunted museum celebrates its 200th birthday this year.


The museum was the brainchild of Ferdinand VII. He opened the museum with approximately 300 paintings from the Golden Age of Spanish painting in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, it's expanded to become one of the most sensuous and extensive depositories of Western art in the world.



detail from Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, mid 1420s -- in the must see Prado Museum in Madrid
detail from Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, mid 1420s

José de Ribera, The Bearded Woman, 1651, Room 8
José de Ribera, The Bearded Woman, 1651, Room 8 in the Prado


The artistic anchors of the Prado are Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens. But there are also masterpieces by Titian, Bosch, France Angelico, and El Greco. You can wander endlessly, in awe, through room after room full of beautiful paintings.


I've written previously about the highlights of the Prado and tips and tricks for visiting, so won't repeat myself here. Click here for my Prado guide.


But be sure to see the Hieronymus Bosch' The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, the Black Paintings of Francisco Goya (The Dog is my favorite), Diego Velasquez's Las Meninas, the newly restored Fra Angelico Annunciation, and José de Ribera's intriguing The Bearded Woman.



The Prado's most famous painting -- Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656
The Prado's most famous painting -- Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656


Practical Information for Visiting the Prado Museum:


Address: Museo Nacional del Prado Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23, 28014 Madrid

Hours: Mon to Sat 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Sundays and public holidays: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Monday

Entry fee: 15 € permanent collection, free with the Madrid City Pass. You can buy a "two visit" pass for 22 €. The audio guide is 4 €.

Free hours: Mon to Sat 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, Sun 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Online tickets: Online tickets allow you to skip one line. Print them out and head to the Velázquez entrance to clear security.

Website



the Reina Sofia Museum with Roy Lichtenstein's 1962 Brushstroke
the Reina Sofia Museum with Roy Lichtenstein's 1962 Brushstroke


2. Reina Sofia, Madrid


Opened in 1992, the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s modern art museum. Its collection is comprised entirely of art work from 1900 to the present. There's a special focus on Spain's favorite sons, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and their respective schools of Cubism and Surrealism.


The star of the Reina Sofia is Guernica, Picasso’s grim depiction of the seemingly casual Nazi bombing of Guernica Spain in 1937. The painting puts a human face on the collateral damage.


The dark chaotic subject matter is shown in gruesome detail, complete with a modern pieta, a hidden human skull, and daggers. The monochromatic color only heightens the emotional impact.



Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Salvador Dali, Endless Enigma, 1938
Salvador Dali, Endless Enigma, 1938


The huge mural was commissed by the Spanish government to decorate its Pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Picasso rarely took commissions. They cramped his style and produced artificial deadlines.


But Picasso was persuaded to accept this one by his mistress and Surrealistic photographer, Dora Maar. Guernica is showcased in a room with Picasso's preparatory drawings, so you get a real feel for his creation process.


The Reina Sofia is also a great place to get weird with Surrealist Salvador Dalì. Head to the Sabatini Building, 3rd Floor. Dalì’s quirky paintings reveal his obsessions, sexual fetishes, and terrors.


Other featured artists at the Reina Sofia include Joan Miró, Juan Gris, Rene Magritte, Paul Klee, and Eduardo Chillida.



Salvador Dali, Face of the Great Masturbator, 1929
Salvador Dali, Face of the Great Masturbator, 1929

Rene Magritte, Pink Bells, Tattered Skies, 1930
Rene Magritte, Pink Bells, Tattered Skies, 1930


The Reina Sofia is located in a 16th century hospital. It can be a bit confusing. Its permanent collection is spread across four floors. You'll need a map for locating specific artists or masterpieces. (Guernica is in Room 6 on the 2nd floor.) Photos are only allowed in certain areas.


Practical Information for Visiting the Reina Sofia:


Address: c/ Santa Isabel, 52 28012 Madrid

Hours: Mon. & Wed-Sat 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, Sunday: 10:00 am to 2:30 pm, Closed Tuesdays. Free on Saturday after 2:30 pm and all day Sunday.

Entry fee: 10 €, 8 € online. Free for students with ID, under 18s & over 65

Online tickets



Salvador Dali, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking, 1944
Salvador Dali, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking, 1944


3. The Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid


Housed in the Villahermosa Palace, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is named after art collector Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. In 1993, the Baron sold 775 artworks to Spain for $350 million, a fraction of the collection's value. His collection is one of the world's most impressive private art caches, possible second only to Queen Elizabeth of England.


Opened in 1994, the Thyssen (pronounced Tee-sun) museum offers something for everyone. Mixing contemporary and classic, the museum covers every major period in Western art, from 13th century Italian Renaissance to 20th century Pop Art. It also has an important collection of 19th century American paintings not found elsewhere in Europe.



Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of King Henry VIII of England, 1537
Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of King Henry VIII of England, 1537


This is where you'll find some fan favorites -- Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, German Expressionists, and Surrealists. You'll find artists like Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Sargent, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, and Hopper.


The Baron was a busy man, married five times. His fifth and last wife was Carmen "Tita" Cervera, an interesting woman. On her third marriage herself, she was once Miss Spain.


In 1982, after marrying Heinrich, the Baroness began amassing her own modern art collection. In 2004, she loaned her treasure trove to the Spanish state. An expensive new annex was built to display it. Today, the Baroness is the 7th richest woman in Spain.



Wassily Kandinsky, Delicate Tension, 1923
Wassily Kandinsky, Delicate Tension, 1923


Practical Information for Visiting the Thyssen-Bornemisza:


Address: Paseo del Prado, 8

Hours: Tues-Sun 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, Sat 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, closed Mondays

Entry Fees: 13 €. The permanent collection is free on Mondays from 12:00 to 4:00 pm

Pro tip: The museum's only 100 yards from the Prado.

Online ticket


the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain, designed by Frank Gehry
the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain, designed by Frank Gehry


4. The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao


Who can argue with the emblematic Guggenheim Museum? Inaugurated in 1997, Frank Gehry's twisting shimmering museum is the star of Bilbao in the Basque region of northern Spain. The space age building, an ode to post-industrial optimism, itself is dramatic.


READ: 2 Day Itinerary for Bilbao


Both inside and out, the Guggenheim is an awe-inspiring blend of titanium, glass, and limestone. The scaly exterior evokes a silvery fish and the building's wings the wind-filled sails of a ship.


Outside the museum lie some of its most interesting pieces of art, including: Jeff Koon's 42 foot beflowered Puppy, Louise Bourgeois' 30 foot Maman spider, Anish Kapoor's Tall Tree and the Eye, and the newest piece Fujiko Nakaya The Fog Sculpture. My favorite was Maman, the symbol of maternal sacrifice, which I've written about previously.



Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999

me in the atrium of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum
me in the atrium of Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum


On the inside, the architecture continues to amaze. There's a glass enclosed 50 meter atrium with a floral skylight. Light suffuses the place.


The Guggenheim's modern art collection is on par with Europe's best modern art museums. You'll find works by Robert Motherwell, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Chillada, and Anselm Kiefer.


My favorite piece was the massive undulating A Matter of Time by Richard Serra. This minimalist sculpture takes up an entire chunk of the museum. It's meant to encourage viewers to move around -- and sometimes on, in, and through -- the work, creating an unforgettable, dizzying feeling of space in motion.



Richard, Serra, A Matter of Time, 1994-2005
Richard, Serra, A Matter of Time, 1994-2005

Marc Chagall, The Birthday, 1915
Marc Chagall, The Birthday, 1915


Among other things, the museum also owns one of my favorite Chagall paintings, The Birthday, and a luminous Rothko, Untitled, from 1952-53. Because the museum is part of the Guggenheim "family" of museums, the collection rotates among the museums.


READ: Guide To Venice's Peggy Guggenheim Museum


Practical Information for Visiting the Guggenheim Bilbao:


Address: Abandoibarra Etorb., 2, 48009 Bilbao

Hours: July & Aug: Daily 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Sept to June: Tues to Sun (closed Monday) 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Same day reentry permitted.

Entry fee: 12 €, an audioguide is included in your entry fee.

Website



bronze sculpture at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao
bronze sculpture at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao


5. The Museum of Fine Arts, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao


Often overshadowed by the famous Guggenheim Museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes is nonetheless one of Spain's best museums. If you're an art lover, you should definitely head here. If you don't love modern art, skip the Guggenheim and come here.


Located in the Abando neighborhood, the museum boasts over 10,000 art works, arranged chronologically from the 12th century to the present. It has works by Spanish artists Picasso, Goya, El Greco, Zurbaran, and Chillada, as well as many international artists.



Ignacio Zuloaga, Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles, 1913 -- gorgeous portrait!
Ignacio Zuloaga, Portrait of the Countess Mathieu de Noailles, 1913 -- gorgeous portrait!

Paul Gauguin, Washerwomen in Arles, 1888
Paul Gauguin, Washerwomen in Arles, 1888


In 2018, the museum received a historic donation of a 1983 sculpture from Richard Serra, Bilbao. In July 2019, it chose an architectural team to oversee the enlargement of the museum, including restoring the museum's original entrance.


If you're a nature lover, you can stroll in the adjacent Dona Casilda Iturrizar Park after your visit.


Practical Information For Visiting the Bilbao Museum of Fine Art:


Address: Museo Plaza, 2, 48009 Bilbao

Hours: Closed Tuesday, Open Wed-Mon 10:00 am to 8:00 pm

Entry fee: Adults: 9 €, free from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. You can purchase a combined ticket for the Guggenheim and Fine Arts Museum for 16 €

Pro tip: If you can handle doubling up on museums, this museum is near the Guggenheim.



the surrealistic The Dali Theater and Museum in Figueres Spain, outside Barcelona
the surrealistic The Dali Theater and Museum in Figueres Spain


6. The Dalì Theater and Museum, Figueres


When one thinks of Salvador Dalì, his extravagant persona and iconic waxed mustache immediately leap to mind. Dalì was a self-proclaimed dandy, a showoffy megalomaniac who loved nothing more than creating a sensation. And embracing money and fame.


One of the best day trips from Barcelona is a visit to the Dalì Theater and Museum, or Teatro-Museo Dalí, in Dalì's birthplace of Figueres Spain. The pink museum is billed as the world's largest Surrealist object. It's a work of art itself.


With over 1500 pieces of art, the Dalì Theater and Museum has the largest collection of works by the trailblazing Salvador Dalí, with pieces spanning his entire career. It's nothing if not fun and weird, with its double images and optical illusions.



the gorgeous and stunning ceiling of the “Palace Of The Winds” Room in the Dali Museum, Dali's whimsical reimagining of the Sistine Chapel
the gorgeous and stunning ceiling of the “Palace Of The Winds” Room

The Mae West Room. Seen through a sculpture/wig of blond hair, the room becomes a face
The Mae West Room. Seen through a sculpture/wig of blond hair, the room becomes a face


Built between 1961-74, Dalì helped design the eccentric museum himself. He said "I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream."


Don't miss the Palace of Winds Room (a whimsical reimagining of the Sistine Chapel), the Mae West Room, Dalì's clever double image of Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, the Treasure Room, and the Dalì' jewelry collection.


Practical Information for Visiting the Dali Theatre-Museum


Address: Gala-Salvador Dalì Square, 5 E-17600 Figueres

Hours: Closed Mondays, other hours

Entry fee: 14 €  / Museum by night 15 €. Students 10 €.

Pro Tip: There's not a lot of explanatory signage in the museum. You may want to book a guided tour or pick up a guide book at the museum.

Buy tickets online

Virtual Tour of Museum

Website



the beautiful cloister of Seville's Fine Art Museum
the beautiful cloister of Seville's Fine Art Museum


7. Museum of Fine Arts, Seville


The Museo de Bellas Artes, or Museum of Fine Arts, is a smashing museum in Seville Spain, quite lovely. It's known, after the Prado, as the "second art gallery in Spain." It's housed in a gorgeous salmon colored former convent with some beautiful tile work. I actually stumbled across it by accident.


I had intended to go, as I'm a museum rat of the highest order, but not just then. But I seized on the chance to gaze at art and pee (there are no public WCs in Seville).


Outside, there's a large statue of the famous painter and Seville artist Bartoleme Murillo. Pick up the English language floor plans, which explain the theme of each room.



gorgeous gallery in the Seville Museum of Fine Arts
gorgeous gallery in the Seville Museum of Fine Arts

El Greco, Portrait of his son Jorge Manuel, 1605
El Greco, Portrait of his son Jorge Manuel, 1605

Pietro Torrigiano, Saint Jerome penitent, 1525 -- the artist was a contemporary and rival of Michaelangelo
Pietro Torrigiano, Saint Jerome penitent, 1525 -- the artist was a contemporary and rival of Michaelangelo


The museum has art from the middle ages to the 20th century. But it's mostly known for its collection of 17th century art from Spain's Golden Age, featuring Spain's top painters Zurbarán, Murillo, El Greco, and Velazquez. You'll see a lot of monks, balding saints, cherubs, and depictions of Christ.


The museum has a goodly collection by Murillo, whose works you can also see at Seville Cathedral. Murillo achieved fame and recognition from his religious portraits. But he also left behind some fascinating work of everyday people and street life. I was lucky enough to see a Murillo exhibition when I was there in February.


Practical Information For Visiting the Seville Museum of Fine Arts:


Address: Plaza Museo 9 41001 Seville (15 minute walk from the cathedral)

Hours

Entry fee: 1.50 €

Website



inner courtyard of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona
inner courtyard of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona


8. Picasso Museum, Barcelona


There's no doubt that Picasso's art was revolutionary and unparalleled in terms of quality and quality. Most art historians consider him the greatest artist of the 20th century. He certainly had plenty of charisma and genius.


Picasso moved from Malaga to Barcelona as a teen. He lived there from 14-24 and considered it his true home. With help from his father, he enrolled at the School of Fine Arts. A young Pablo fell in with a bohemian crowd that mixed wine and women.


Picasso became an innovator, co-founder of Cubism, and chronic womanizer. He was a one man female wrecking ball who once said "love is the greatest refreshment" and then never left the concession stand.


READ: Guide To the Picasso Museum in Paris



Pablo Picasso, The Wait (Margot), 1901 -- one of my favorite early Picassos
Pablo Picasso, The Wait (Margot), 1901 -- one of my favorite early Picassos


Founded in 1963, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona was launched with a donation of 574 works by Picasso’s secretary, Jaime Sabartés. In 1970, Picasso left more pieces to the museum. Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline Roque, donated 41 ceramic pieces and the early Picasso piece Woman with A Bonnet.


Here, you can see one of the most extensive collections of Picasso's work, certainly the best collection in Spain.


Now, the museum has over 3,000 pieces, many from Picasso's formative years in Barcelona and from his Blue Period. The setting of this museum is stunning. It's lodged in five contiguous medieval stone mansions in the funky El Born neighborhood of Barcelona.


READ: Complete Guide To Barcelona's Gothic Quarter



Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Bonnet, 1901 -- donated by Picasso's last wife, Jacqueline Roque
Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Bonnet, 1901 -- donated by Picasso's last wife, Jacqueline Roque


Practical Information for Visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona:


Address: Calle Montcada 15-23 08003  Barcelona 

Hours: Tues to Sun 9:00 am to 8:30 pm, Thurs 9:00 am to 9:30 pm. Free on Thursday afternoons from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm and the first Sunday of each month, from 9:00 am to 8:30 pm

Entry: 12 €, under 18 free

Website



The Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona
The Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona


9. The Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona


What a treat this Barcelona museum is. It's rare to see a large group of Miró paintings. In this fabulous single artist museum, you're surrounded. Miró founded the museum himself in 1975. Located on Montjuïc hill, the museum's housed in a light filled gleaming white building, designed by his friend, Josep LLuis Sert.


The Fundació Joan Miró is crammed with seminal Miró works, from his earliest sketches to his later years. There's 220 paintings, 180 sculptures, and over 8,000 drawings. Not everything is on display at once, of course.


Miró was born and raised in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, where he began studying art at 14. In his 20s, Miró was attracted to the Surrealism.


When his work was initially mocked in Barcelona, he fled to Paris. He became life long friends with Picasso. He eventually came back to Barcelona. But then he lived in Mallorca for almost 30 years.




Joan Miro, Gold of Azure, 1968
Joan Miro, Gold of Azure, 1968

Joan Miro, Moon, Sun and Stars, 1968
Joan Miro, Moon, Sun and Stars, 1968


Miró's work defies outright categorization. He's most associated with the Surrealists, but he was a renegade. His work is characterized by constant experimentation and a decided love of the dream-like abstract. Like Dali, Miró balanced the spontaneity and automatism of Surrealism with meticulous planning and precision edges.


If you love Miro's biomorphic images, come. If you don't like modern art, there's plenty to do in Barcelona, li