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Madrid, Spain

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ABOVE: A Talgo articulated train in the Museo del Ferrocarril.

Museums in Madrid

photoMadrid isn't just a tourist city; it's a national capital and the center of a metropolitan area with 6.5 million residents. Because of this, Madrid is blessed with museums of every stripe--from internationally celebrated art galleries to specialized museums such as the Real Madrid F.C. Trophy Exhibition, which is included in the football club's self-guided Bernabéu Stadium tour.

photoThe best-known museums are on the city's "Paseo del Arte": The Museo Nacional del Prado, with its world-renowned collection of paintings by great Spanish artists and other European Old Masters; the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia (inset photo), which focuses on art from the late 19th Century to the present day; and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a vast privately-owned collection with works by Titian, Goya, Degas, Renoir, Kandinsky, and other artists from the 13th through the 20th Centuries.

  • Tip: After joining the crowd to view Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia, take a few minutes to examine the artist's studies that preceded the work and the gallery of photos that show the painting at various stages.

photoThe Palacio Real, a.k.a. the Royal Palace, is another of Madrid's classic museums. (It's no longer a home; King Juan Carlos prefers humbler lodgings.) You can visit the official rooms, the pharmacy, and the Royal Armory.

Other noteworthy museums include the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas (featuring some 60,000 objects for visitors who prefer material culture to "flat art"), the Museo Cerralbo (an historic mansion filled with priceless objects), the Museo Serrolla (an early 20th Century middle-class home with Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida's paintings and personal collections), the Museo del Traje costume museum, the Museo Naval, and the Museo Arqueológico Nacional.

photoSeveral municipal museums charge no entrance fees: among them, the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, the Museo de San Isidro (Madrid archaelogy and early history), the Museo Municipal in an old hospice, and the Museo Ciudad (see inset photo) which has interesting city models but is geared mostly to school groups. Other free city museums are the Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple in a park next to the Plaza de España, and the Museo al Aire Libre de La Castellana with its collection of abstract Spanish sculptures.

photoIf you're a railfan or are traveling with children, the Museo del Ferrocarril or Train Museum is worth visiting (although it has a few too many "No tocar" signs for my taste). It occupies an old railroad station, and you can take the kids for a ride on a small model steam train.

Another popular transportation museum is Andén Cero/Estación Chamberí, (in English, Platform Zero/Chamberí Station). Admission is free to the vintage Madrid Metro station, which was abandoned in 1966 and restored 40 years later.

At Ventas, in the city's Plaza de Toros, the Museo Taurino or Bullfighting Museum has relics from the 18th to 20th centuries (such as matador costumes, bullfighting gear, stuffed toro heads, and the bloodied outfit worn by Manolete when he was killed by a bull in 1947).

For more listings, see the Museums page at the Web site for Madrid Card, which comes in two versions: Madrid Card, which covers entrance to some 40 museums and offers other benefits such as the MadridVision "hop on, hop off" sightseeing buses; and Madrid Card Cultura, which exludes MadridVision and some of the other Madrid Card perks. (Either card is available for 24, 48, or 72 hours.) Another good resource is the Spain-Madrid.com museums page.

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