Satisfy Your Inner Art Student in Madrid

Explore Madrid’s art world on your family vacation, from Spanish masterpieces by Goya and Dalí, to contemporary art and photography festivals.

For some kids and teens, the inclusion of art museums in any travel itinerary means grumbling and endless eye rolling. This reaction might be as old as some of the greatest works themselves. However, for the more artistically inclined, the opportunity to lay eyes on a masterpiece is not an exercise in forced culture but a vacation highlight. To see an authentic Goya or Picasso or Dalí goes far beyond even the best coffee table book and may even inspire the grumblers.

If you have a young art collector or aspiring artist in your brood, a visit to Madrid will give them an opportunity to see and learn about many of the finest works in Europe. From tours and programs at the three major art museums—the Museo del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza—to small galleries and exhibitions, Madrid is a must for art students of all ages.

The Golden Triangle of Art

If your time is limited, concentrate on the three major museums comprising The Golden Triangle of Art, with the Paseo del Arte card that allows entry to the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (€14.40/$22.60 available at ticket offices in each museum; €17.50/$27.50 online at Mosaico Diffusion).

Museo del Prado

With the world’s finest collection of Spanish masterpieces, The Museo del Prado is home to works by Velázquez, Goya, El Greco and more. Perhaps the most famous piece, Las Meninas by Velázquez, will impress even the least enthused in your clan, the massive canvas shaming any tiny textbook depiction. While the museum offers several educational programs for families and young people, most are in Spanish. The best way to explore the collection is with an English language guide. The museum, while not offering such tours itself, recommends the Spanish National Association of Professional Tourist Guides (APIT). A guide will take care of all the details of your visit (helping to make sure you don’t show up when the museum is closed, for example).

Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza

Just north on Paseo del Prado, the Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza houses a once private collection that spans eight centuries and bridges the gap in styles on display at the Prado and the Reina Sofia. The museum has different weekend family education programs throughout the year for children 6-12 years old and their parents (€5/$8 per person; contact the museum for program schedule and registration information).

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

South on Paseo del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia has contemporary Spanish works, including Picasso’s Guernica, one of the most recognizable works of art in the world (and usually thought to reside at the Prado). The museum offers primary school workshops and educational programs for children and teens, but these programs are also exclusively in Spanish. However, some meetings with artists do occur with English translation (contact the museum for details). If you have time only for the most important works, you can combine trips to these museums, and other landmark sites, through the APIT.

Museums Outside the Triangle

With such an impressive collection, The Golden Triangle museums can be, justifiably, quite crowded. If you’ve already explored those three museums, leave the Paseo del Prado behind and visit one of the many smaller museums around the city. The Museo Lázaro Galdiano, in a 19th century mansion, has an excellent collection including works by El Greco, Goya and Murillo. Goya’s Tomb (Panteón de Goya) has frescos by the artist. The Museo Romántico focuses on 19th century works with, yes, more Goya. (Please note that this museum is temporarily closed for renovations.)

Exhibitions, indoor and out, can pop up throughout the city. If you want to get up to date on the latest exhibitions and festivals check out InMadrid, a free monthly English language magazine. Distributed throughout the city and with a PDF version available online, you’ll find listings for current exhibitions and festivals.

Regardless of the time of year, you’re sure to find an interesting artistic event. In February each year, the Feria Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo (ARCO) brings professionals in the art industry and the public together for a contemporary art fair focused on experimental work. PHotoEspaña, the International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts, is a massive celebration of photography in the summer (yes, it’s big and attracts hundreds of thousands of people, but that’s over a two-month period and located all over the city so it still counts as avoiding the masses), with a wide array of exhibitions and educational programs for all ages and levels. From the beginning of June to the end of July, you’ll have no trouble finding a photography exhibition or activity. Again, check out InMadrid for art event news, and browse the Web site’s Pick O’ the Month in the Arts & Culture section to find the latest happenings. Wherever you are in this art capital, you’re sure to find something to inspire the entire family. 

Destinations: Spain, Madrid

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

User Comments

Reina Sophia Rules I too was blown away by the Reina Sophia, and in particular Guernica. I appreciate Picasso, but he's never been one of my favorite artists. However I was mesmerized by Guernica and spent close to an hour sitting on the floor staring at it, lost in all the amazing detail.

Love the Reina Sofía I was blown away by the art galleries in Madrid – my favorite was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía with its contemporary collection. The Guernica is definitely worth a visit and it’s interesting to see some of Picasso’s earlier work, as well as one of my favorite artists Miró. The Museo Nacional del Prado is impressive and is packed full of well known artisits – Goya and Velázquez. However, there’s a huge amount to take in and it’s much more traditional.