Spain’s fantastic cities offer some of the best weekend trips in Europe – it’s easy to spend a sunny holiday in Spain lolling on the beach or exploring historic sites and cobbled alleyways, and lively evenings hopping between tapas bars and clubs until long after bedtime.
However, Spain is also home to some of the best art museums in the world; Madrid’s wonderful but crowded Prado is the most famous, but a trip to a lesser-known or further-out museum can be more relaxing and illuminating.
These exquisite museums in Spain boast thought-provoking pieces from the ultra-modern to those that are millennia old, and serve up some of the world’s most iconic architecture on the side…
The Guggenheim in Bilbao is one of four museums worldwide run by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and the undulating silver building by Frank Gehry is one of the most beloved examples of modern architecture in the world.
Always controversial and cutting edge, the Guggenheim showcases contemporary and avant-garde pieces that have changed the way the world sees art.
Much of the collection focusses on post-war painting and sculpture by artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Richard Serra.
The Guggenheim is closed on Mondays, and admission is €11 for adults with concessions for students, groups and seniors, while children get in for free.
Visit in 2013 to catch the ‘Inhabited Architecture’ exhibition, which explores the permanent collection to “conceive of the occupation of space as a place full of existing narratives or narratives yet to be created”.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
This behemoth occupies a Neo-classical mansion in Madrid, and showcases one of the world’s most important private art collections. It illustrates the history of Western art from primitive Italian and Flemish paintings to 20th century favourites from Miró, Dali, Bacon and Pollock.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza’s renaissance works, however, steal the show; particular highlights are Van Eyck’s lifelike ‘Diptych of the Annunciation’ and Holbein’s powerful portrait of Henry VIII.
Getting to the Thyssen-Bornemisza is easy, and entry is free for children under 12 and those with a ‘Madrid tourist card’. Otherwise the standard ticket price is €6, with concessions for students and pensioners.
The Picasso Museum
If you love the mystery and expression of Picasso’s strange world, then seek out the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Collections display his works in chronological order, so the viewer can journey through his development and stylistic periods.
Located on one of Barcelona’s most vibrant and beautiful streets, Carrer Montcada, the museum is an easel’s throw away from a wide selection of bustling restaurants, cafes and boutique shops.
Entry to the museum costs €4-9, depending on whether you visit with a group. The Barcelona Card offers 50% discount on entry to the Picasso Museum, and many other museums too.
Free English-speaking tours of the Picasso Museum and Picasso’s favourite spots in the city take place on Thursdays at 6pm and Saturdays at midday; seeing this bewitching and creative city through Picasso’s eyes casts a new light on both the city and the artist.
If you’ve already been to the Prado and Reina Sofia and want something a little bit different, these three collections offer a great starting point.
There are hundreds of smaller (or not-so-small) art collections and museums across the country if you’re interested in delving further into Spain’s world-class museums and cultural life during your travels. Which is your favorite?