This area, known in English as the Art Walk, is nothing short of paradise for art lovers. Along a stretch of just over one kilometre you will find the Prado -one of the world's finest art galleries-, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, as well as a number of other institutions and buildings well worth visiting.
One day is nowhere near enough time to travel through over two thousand years of history, so we recommend you set aside at least two days for this tour of Madrid's Golden Triangle. If you are short of time, head for the Velázquez and Goya rooms in the Prado, the expressionist painting collection in the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Pablo Picasso's Guernica, which hangs in the Reina Sofia.
The eastern side of this golden triangle is occupied by the Prado Museum, for many the best art museum in the world. Founded by Queen María Isabel de Braganza in 1819, the museum houses the old royal collections, and because the Spanish royals were so keen on art, you can find works here by the great masters of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. The Flemish and Italian schools are well represented, with works by Van der Weyden, Botticelli, Rubens, Fra Angelico, Rafael and Titian, amongst many more. But the Prado stands out amongst the world's museums for its collection of works by Velázquez and Goya, the great masters of the Spanish school, as well as for its significant paintings by El Greco, Murillo and Ribera. If you had to choose just three key artworks from the collection, it would be a difficult task, but you would not go far wrong if you were to include The Garden of Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, Las Meninas by Velázquez and Goya's Third of May 1808.
Just opposite the Prado, in the old Palace of Villahermosa, is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, established by Baron Heinrich Thyssen in the 1920s. Along the western edge of the triangle, the styles and movements underrepresented in other Spanish museums can be found; these include examples of Italian primitivism, Dutch 18th century painting and the early avant-garde movements, with the emphasis mainly on portraits and landscapes. Some of the most notable examples include works by Van Eyck, Caravaggio, Canaletto, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Kandinsky and Rothko. Next door to the Villahermosa Palace, the museum extension exhibits part of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, featuring a considerable selection of 19th century and early 20th century Spanish painting.
Along the southern border of this triangle of art, at the far end of the Paseo del Prado and close to Atocha railway station, is the Reina Sofia Museum (MNCARS). Looking at it from the outside, the building's enormous size may overawe many an art lover, but once inside, the museum offers a variety of itineraries to suit every taste. Those who wish to concentrate on Spanish art from the period known as the Silver Age, during the 1920s and 1930s, should visit the second floor, where works by Miró, Dalí, Juan Gris, Julio González and Pablo Gargallo hang alongside Picasso's Guernica. If you prefer to learn more about post-war art, the fourth floor is the best place to explore, where there are works by Oteiza, Fontana, Barceló, Yves Klein and Bacon. Although the Reina Sofia collection is closely connected to the history of Spanish Art, it does not neglect its European or Latin American context.
In addition to these three major art galleries, other cultural centres and museums coexist alongside them on this Art Walk. For example, taking a stroll northwards, you could begin at the National Archaeological Museum. The Dama de Elche, the most outstanding example of Iberian culture, or the votive crowns of the Visigoth kings, exceptional examples of medieval goldsmith's art, are two of the most representative treasures in this museum. The Spanish National Library, located in the same building, houses a museum dedicated to the history of books. The Mapfre Foundation and the Casa de América, situated on Paseo de Recoletos, both organise interesting conferences, concerts and film screenings. The magnificent Telecommunications Palace in Plaza de Cibeles is home to the Madrid City Council as well as to CentroCentro, a gallery displaying exhibits about the city of Madrid. Continuing along the Paseo del Prado, you come to the Naval Museum, and in the nearby Calle Montalbán 12, the National Museum of Decorative Arts with its interesting collection of furniture and objects from the Royal factories. After passing the Fountain of Neptune, and just past the Prado Museum, you will find the Royal Botanical Gardens where botanical exhibitions, courses and conferences are organised, and on the other side of the boulevard is CaixaForum, which offers an extensive cultural programme dedicated to the arts and humanitarian projects. Close to Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V, the National Museum of Anthropology and the Royal Astronomy Observatory are two more landmarks to look out for along this route. Finally, at Ronda de Valencia, a couple of blocks beyond the Reina Sofia, is the Teatro Circo Price and La Casa Encendida offering a programme based on culture, solidarity, the environment and education.
Almost the entire Art Walk is to be found along Paseo del Prado, a wide, tree-lined boulevard and one of Madrid's best architectural museums since the time of King Charles III. During the 18th century the king initiated a series of urban improvements, which were undertaken by architects José de Hermosilla and Ventura Rodríguez, who designed the Cibeles, Apolo and Neptune fountains.
The most notable buildings of the time are the Palace of Villahermosa, now home to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the former San Carlos Hospital, today the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Prado Museum, designed by Juan de Villanueva as a Natural History Gallery and a fine example of neo-classical architecture.
Significant buildings from the 19th century include Atocha Railway Station, which hides a beautiful tropical garden, the Telecommunications Palace, built by Antonio Palacios, and the 21st century CaixaForum by Herzog & De Meuron, who designed this novel building suspended above the pavementcera. Also of interest are the extensions to the Prado and the Reina Sofia Museum, the former designed by Rafael Moneo and the latter by Jean Nouvel.
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This card allows you to visit the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia museums for just 21.60 € and can be bought at the ticket office in any of these three museums