A Cultural Travel Guide to Madrid

From essential museums and must-see art galleries to hidden Instagram-worthy gems, our guide to the elegant Spanish capital Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and Pablo Picasso all called home

Madrid locals have many names for a long walk. At night, it’s called la marcha, a heady parade through a string of watering holes and nightclubs. At mealtime, it’s a tapeo, a long, grazing stroll through the city’s seething tapas bars. Among art lovers, it has another name: the Paseo del Prado.

All cultural travel in Madrid begins with the Paseo del Prado. A broad boulevard just under a mile in length, it cuts a swath through the heart of the city, from the steel arcs of Atocha train station northward to the imposing Cybele Palace. Along the way, it hits the Golden Triangle of Art—three of the world’s top art museums in quick succession: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.

At a brisk pace, the entire street is walkable in 20 minutes. But a proper exploration of all the cultural treasures along the Paseo, and in greater Madrid, would take years—not counting obligatory breaks for Rioja. So get walking, but don’t go too fast. This is Spain, after all.
The Essentials

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía: Down a café con leche and head to the Paseo’s trailhead, Atocha station. Your first stop is the Reina Sofía, the heart of 20th-century art in Spain. Take a glass elevator to the second floor and find your way to room 206, where Picasso’s colossal rendering of the Spanish Civil War, “Guernica,” dominates. Look to the edges of the room for revealing photographs of the work in progress before the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Make time for surrealist masterpieces by Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, especially Dalí’s dreamlike ant-and-eyelash-heavy work from 1929, “The Great Masturbator.” €8 (about $9); 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon., Wed.-Sun.; Calle de Santa Isabel 52, museoreinasofia.es

Museo del Prado: Experts have suggested Dalí owes something to an early predecessor, Hieronymus Bosch, whose famous 16th-century triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is housed at your next stop, the Prado. Take a close look and you’ll find owl-headed creatures, tiny mermaids and half-animal, half-object demons. You’ll also find a crowd—the Prado is one of the world’s most-visited museums and “Earthly Delights” is among its most popular works. Other key works include Velázquez’s influential 1656 painting “Las Meninas” and works by Titian, El Greco, Rubens and Goya, whose mysterious “Black Paintings” occupy a dimly lit room on their own. Also worth seeing are Goya’s cartoons—fanciful studies he made for tapestries—tucked away upstairs. €14; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.; Paseo del Prado, museodelprado.es

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Across the street from the Prado, step inside the Thyssen-Bornemisza, which houses the dual collections of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his widow, the former beauty queen Baroness Carmen “Tita” Thyssen-Bornemisza. See their wall-size double portraits in the lobby and take note of the salmon-pink walls, which Ms. Thyssen-Bornemisza herself requested. Highlights from the broad collection include Edward Hopper’s 1931 “Hotel Room,” Paul Gauguin’s 1892 “Mata Mua (In Olden Times)” and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s 1866 “Solitude.” €12; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues.-Sun., 12 p.m.-4 p.m. Mon.; Paseo del Prado 8, museothyssen.org

The Connoisseur
Outside of the big three, make time for a few smaller museums. The Sorolla Museum, housed in Joaquín Sorolla’s buttery-yellow former home, has maintained the “painter of light’s” studio as it was during his lifetime. The building itself is charming, especially during the summer, with a tiled garden and outdoor fountain, but linger in front of “El Baño del Caballo,” Sorolla’s 1909 sunlit depiction of a boy and his horse by the sea. €3; 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.; Paseo del General Martínez Campos 37,

The Museum of Romanticism, down a side street in trendy Chueca, is a quirky house museum in an 18th-century mansion, with free entry on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. €3; 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.; Calle San Mateo 13, museoromanticismo.mcu.es
Anyone on the Goya trail will find the often-overlooked Museo Lázaro Galdiano , which contains minor works by major artists, of interest. €6; 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.; Calle de Serrano 122, flg.es

Between the Reina Sofía and the Prado, stop at the CaixaForum, or at least admire its impressive vertical garden by French botanist Patrick Blanc. €4; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sun.; Paseo del Prado 36, obrasocial.lacaixa.es
The Scene

Madrid’s contemporary gallery scene began in Salamanca, a wealthy neighborhood studded with expensive shops. Visit Guillermo de Osma (Calle de Claudio Coello 4, guillermodeosma.com ) and Parra & Romero (Calle de Claudio Coello 14, parra-romero.com ), then move into Chueca for two stellar galleries, Juana de Aizpuru (Calle del Barquillo 44, juanadeaizpuru.es ) and Helga de Alvear (Doctor Fourquet 12, helgadealvear.com ).

The Matadero Madrid, a repurposed slaughterhouse in the Arganzuela district, hosts contemporary exhibitions, concerts and events (Plaza de Legazpi 8, mataderomadrid.org ).

Get a cheap glass of wine and see a film at Cine Doré, an art nouveau theater with screenings from the Spanish Film Library (Calle de Santa Isabel 3, +34-913-69-32-25). For glitzy views—and people watching—visit the rooftop bar of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a popular cultural center (Calle de Alcalá 42, circulobellasartes.com ).

The Detour
Just off Plaza Puerta del Sol is a small museum dedicated to Spain’s version of the tooth fairy, El Ratón Pérez. Popularized by Luis Coloma in the 19th century, El Ratón (or Ratoncito) Pérez is a fictional mouse who leaves money and sweets in exchange for children’s teeth. The Casita Museo de Ratón Pérez stands where the mouse is said to have lived in a cookie tin with his family and houses the fake baby teeth of famous figures, including Beethoven and Beatrix Potter. Calle del Arenal 8, casamuseoratonperez.com

The Outdoor Art

Two of Madrid’s most famous outdoor sculptures, one of Neptune and one of Cybele on a grand chariot, also call the Paseo home. Carved at the tail end of the 18th century, the fountains have been adopted as unofficial mascots by rival soccer teams Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, respectively.
Also worth a visit is the incongruous Temple of Debod, one of the few ancient Egyptian temples in Europe, donated to the city in 1968. Located in Western Park, it’s a popular spot for selfies and picnics, especially at sunset.
Have a Drink With…

Hemingway at La Venencia, the 1930s-era bar where legend has it “Don Ernesto” came to drink sherry and soak up news from Republican soldiers during the Spanish Civil War. The bar, which serves only sherry and small plates, retains much of its original décor, including a sign asking patrons not to spit on the floor. A short walk from the Paseo del Prado, it’s the perfect place to shake off museum fatigue before the night—highbrow or otherwise—ahead. Calle Echegaray 7, +34 914 29 73 13

The Staff Pick

Beatriz Mencos, ticket-taker at the Thyssen-Bornemisza: “La Rousse in a White Blouse” by Toulouse-Lautrec . “I love portraits and this one has something special for me, I don’t know what it is. I think maybe it’s the feeling it transmits—the loneliness, and the color with the darkness of the room.”

Published: http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-cultural-travel-guide-to-madrid-1459361947

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