She’s been home to some of the world’s most important artists, from El Greco to Goya to Picasso. So it’s no surprise that Spain is also home to many of the world’s best art museums, covering virtually every period in history and every corner of her map.
At the heart of it all is Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art, the three-museum powerhouse (made up of the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofía) that’s one of the most potent concentrations of culture in all of Europe.
But incredible must-see museums are strewn across all of Spain, from Bilbao in the north to Málaga in the south, and from Mérida in the west to Figueres in the east.
Here are 10 to remember for your next Spanish itinerary. See, señor!
With hands down the best collection of Spanish art on Earth and one of the world’s finest collections of art of any kind, Madrid’s Prado is the natural first stop on any art exploration in Spain. With hundreds of renowned works by the likes of Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Bosch, Titian, Tintoretto, Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt, the Prado isn’t a museum you’ll want to rush through quickly, so allow yourself plenty of time to be wowed. Next year, to mark 500 years since the death of Hieronymous Bosch, the Prado (home to several of the artist’s best known works, including The Garden of Earthly Delights) will present Bosch: The Centenary exhibition.
Another dazzling member of Madrid’s Golden Triangle, the almost always mispronounced Thyssen-Bornemisza (it’s TEE-sen bor-ne-MEET-sa) was once one of the world’s largest private art collections. Spanning several eras from the 13th to 20th centuries and with important works by Dürer, Van Dyck, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, and Kandinsky, the collection also has especially strong elements of Italian Primitivism and German Expressionism. The often-homoerotic Caravaggio will be showcased next year in the special exhibition Caravaggio and the Northern Painters.
Showcasing Spanish art from the 20th century, this final stop in Madrid’s Golden Triangle is home to Picasso’s famed Guernica, as well as works by Miró, Dalí, Chillida and Tàpies. French architect Jean Nouvel designed the museum’s 2005 expansion.
With one of the biggest collections of Pablo Picasso’s work in the world, Barcelona’s Picasso Museum has works from throughout the artist’s life, but focuses primarily on his early years (which include his famous Blue Period from 1901 to 1904).
Picasso Museum, Málaga
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Spain’s other major Picasso Museum is in his southern coastal hometown of Málaga. Though much smaller than its Barcelona counterpart, Málaga’s museum includes many pieces donated directly by Picasso’s family. Just a few hundred feet away is the Plaza de La Merced, the artist’s birthplace.
Dalí Theatre-Museum, Figueres
Spain’s other artistic icon of the modern era is of course the offbeat Salvador Dalí, who’s celebrated here in this elaborate and appropriately irreverent complex in his northern Catalonian hometown of Figueres. The museum holds the largest and most diverse collection of Dalí works in the world, as well as a number of works from Dalí’s personal collection by other artists like El Greco and Marcel Duchamp.
Better known for its outside than its inside, Bilbao’s stunning Guggenheim branch was designed by Frank Gehry, and is one of the best known and most influential buildings in modern architecture. The museum showcases important pieces from the Guggenheim’s collection, including works by Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra and Mark Rothko.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MUSAC), Castile-León
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This “Museum of the Present” in the northwestern Spanish city of León shows its collection from the early ‘80s onward via a series of ever-changing temporary exhibitions. Opening December 2 is We’re All Dreamers, a show focusing on gender discourse in rock music.
Though far less well known than its Golden Triangle counterparts across town, Madrid’s St. Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts houses an impressive collection spanning six centuries, and featuring works by the likes of Rubens and Goya (the latter was once a director of the academy from which the museum sprung).
National Museum of Roman Art, Mérida
The west central Spanish city of Mérida was founded more than two millennia ago as the Roman town of Emerita Augusta, and today is home to some of the country’s most impressive Roman ruins. This museum’s beautiful collection of artifacts, ranging from tiny trinkets to life-size statues to huge mosiacs, helps bring the archeological sites to life and put them in historical context.