Madrid, the Spanish capital is full of impressive museums, and I picked the 10 I’d love to see most. These museums offer works of fine art, applied art, decorative arts, information about the lives of some of the most famous Spanish artists, writers and more.
Opened to public in 1992, Reina Sofia Museummostly contains 20th century Spanish artists such Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. While museum also includes works of other established Spanish and international artists, the most famous piece of the Reina Sofia Museumis Guernica, painted by Picasso to reflect the effects of war. You can read about Guernica’s story in Jeremy’s post.
A few years before World War II, the horrors of war under the leadership of Hitler were quietly displayed – in Spain. In 1937, bombs fell on the Basque town of Guernica with reports of 250 (or more) dead as the town was destroyed by German and Italian forces under Operation Rügen. The bombing came during the height of the Spanish Civil War as Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco were seeking to march into Basque country and take control.
Today, people throughout the Basque country, Spain, and the world remember this tragedy through Pablo Picasso’s famous painting – Guernica. The Spanish Republican government had commissioned Picasso at the International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life. While Picasso was living in Paris, he received the news of the bombing and painted his view of how things looked that day in his abstract, Cubist style. The result of his work was shocking, yet it was a realistic look at the tragedy of war.
Today, Picasso’s Guernica hangs proudly in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. A masterpiece, the painting is one of the few works in a room meant to draw attention to this tragedy. A bull stands over a mother holding her dead baby. A horse is pierced, a soldier is dismembered, and a skull hangs over the body of the horse. A woman, a light bulb, a bird, and a dark wall are just a few images of this sobering painting. The symbolism of Picasso’s painting has been discussed and debated by many. However, his theme rings true throughout the painting – the tragedy of war brings pain to the life of the people caught in it’s wrath.
Picasso’s Guernica has become a symbol of peace, anti-war movements, and even the United Nations. For the Basque region, it is a symbol of regional pride and nationalism. For Germany, it is another embarrassment from the reign of Hitler.
If you’ve ever visited the Reina Sofia and seen Picasso’s painting, it has evoked a variety of emotions from people. Does Picasso’s Guernica have symbolism for Spain today? Does this tragic painting from 70 years ago still have meaning in our world?
While many things have changed in Germany and Spain from 1937, war is still a part of the world today. Regardless of your feelings on war and its place in our society, Picasso’s Guernica is a moving, realistic piece about the tragedies of war that all of us can understand.
Madrid is a city full of culture, action and the occasional relaxing moment. It always seems a little more formal than Barcelona but that’s probably fitting for a capital city, and it’s still one of the best European cities to visit. Art-lovers certainly shouldn’t miss Madrid but that’s certainly not the only reason to go there. Here are our tips on ten things to do in Madrid.
Easily the most famous attraction of Madrid, the Museo del Prado is one of the most well-known art galleries in the world and features numerous must-see paintings from Bosch, Brueghel, Rubens, Goya, and, well, the list goes on! When you’ve had enough of the art inside the Paseo del Prado is a leafy pedestrian walkway nearby.
One of Europe’s largest palaces, the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is no longer home to the actual Spanish royal family but that means you can tour throughout it – except when a special ceremony is held, since the royals do actually use their palace from time to time.
I’ve heard you shouldn’t judge bullfighting until you’ve seen it. You still might hate it then, but at least you’ll be informed! The Las Ventas Bull Ring is one of the most popular bullfighting spots of all, so you if you’re going to do it, you might as well watch it here.
This is the modern art centre of Madrid and is home to a particularly large collection of Picasso’s works. You can also see paintings from Dali, Kandinsky, Miro, Yves Klein and Francis Bacon, to name but a few.
The main square of Madrid may have seen bullfights in the past, and executions during the Spanish Inquisition, but now it’s still busy but more peaceful. The impressive Casa de la Panaderia municipal building is the major construction on the square.
Home to exhibits from eras ranging from prehistoric times through to Celtic, Iberian, Greek and Roman, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid is a particularly interesting one, even to those not normally drawn to “old” history. Worth a look.
Mosaic in the National Archaeological Museum by Zaqarbal
Puerta del Sol
Another main square of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol is home to two important icons: the “Kilometer Zero” plaque where the national highways officially begin, and the famous bear statue, the symbol of Madrid. Many would say it’s the heart of Madrid and you can’t say you’ve seen the city until you’ve strolled through Puerta del Sol.
Along with the Prado and the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen-Bornemisza galleries form what some call a “golden triangle” of art museums in Madrid, as they are all very close by each other. Its difficult name comes from a wealthy man who had collected a large number of paintings, and the collection today includes Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso.
Given Spain’s extensive history in South America, this museum is important as well as enjoyable, and contains artifacts from all over the Americas, ranging from pre-colonial times to the modern day. The only catch is that most of the exhibits are Spanish-only so take your phrase book or a Spanish-speaking friend.
Close to the Prado, this perfectly-named park is a place to stroll and relax without leaving the centre of Madrid. El Retiro covers 350 acres and includes a lake, fountains, old buildings and, sadly, a memorial to the victims of the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid.
Rachel suggested that buying a Madrid Card could save you time and money – it gets you into a number of museums and provides some transport as well. Alternatively, as Andy suggests, you could check for free opening times at the museums – some have free days, or are free in the evenings.
I hadn’t been to Spain in about 10 years so on my recent trip to Madrid, I was looking forward to seeing what had changed and what hadn’t. Well, the sunny Spanish weather was still there, as well as the sunny disposition of most Spaniards.
Unfortunately, the Euro has brought with it a nasty surprise: sticker shock. I couldn’t believe how expensive everything was in Madrid, even on day trips and in off-beat neighbourhoods. I’m talking like anywhere up to 2.50EUR for a bottle of coke! Really crazy. Anyway, I thought I’d share some tips on saving money in Madrid how I managed to not starve nor go broke while I was there.
Go to Museums on Free Days
Museo de Reina Sofia is free on the weekends, the Prado is free 6pm until 8pm from Tuesday to Saturday and 5pm until 8pm on Sundays. Palacio Real is free on Wednesdays. Sure, the Madrid museums are more crowded at these times, but unfortunately, most of Madrid is crowded all the time so I doubt you’ll notice a difference.
Enjoy the Parks
. The Retiro was my favourite, with its wonderful ponds and statues and architecture. It’s the perfect place to grab a picnic lunch from the shops and enjoy the outdoors. (Tip: Skip the Botanical Gardens. Not worth it and not free!)
Do Your Shopping at the Rastro Sunday market
They have nearly everything you could want, from sunglasses to clothes and socks. Yes, I saw more socks there than I’ve ever seen anywhere! You’ll be amongst many tourists which means you’ll also see lots of pickpockets. Consider yourself warned.
My experience of Easter has always focused on candy, Easter egg hunts, and ham. Lots and lots of ham. So spending Easter Sunday in Alcalá de Henares was a far cry from what I had grown accustomed to.
Catholic processions are held throughout Spain during the Holy Week, many starting on Palm Sunday. Just about 35 km northeast of Madrid, the Holy Week processions through the streets of Alcalá de Henares are fascinating. Hundreds of people, dressed in traditional Catholic garb march through the city. Some are dressed in the classic penitential robes and walk barefoot. Others take penitence to another level and walk through town in shackles.
Many of these processions are accompanied by a group of penitents carrying a float. Perched atop the float religious imagery looks down on the people. Often times these images are large sculptures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or other Catholic saints.
The streets are lined with Spaniards and tourists alike. All watching in silence. Some make the sign of the cross reveling in the religious and holy experience that the procession represents. Others, like me, watch simply in awe of the unique experience.
To be honest, despite my being absolutely enthralled by the whole experience, it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Not because of the religious aspects, but because of the penitential garb. Having grown up in the United States, I struggled to reconcile the religious aspects of the dress with the awful racial history that it is so often coupled with.
Despite my hang-ups and regardless of the reason for lining the streets of an Easter Sunday procession in Alcalá de Henares, it is an unforgettable experience. One that can’t be matched by candy, Easter egg hunts, or ham. Even lots and lots of ham.
Well, the days are starting to get longer, the spring flowers have sprung, and despite a few flurries here and there, it is feeling distinctively like spring here in Europe. Now’s the time to start thinking about your next European holiday – often good airfare deals and hotel discounts can be had this time of year as the post-Christmas holiday rush has ended and folk are not quite yet planning summer holidays. As well, the economic climate means there are even more travel deals out there today. Here’s a few destinations to put at the top of your list for spring:
Spain’s largest city is full of life any season of the year, but the summer weather can be brutally hot. During April and May the city has less rain than in winter and temperatures are very comfortable, even though snow can still be found in the nearby mountains. Don’t miss the Prado, which will also be less crowded at this time.
Tucked away just south of Rome, this portion of the Italian cost can be well overcrowded in summer. But the fresh breeze from the sea brings warmer temperatures and less crowds in spring, meaning you can take time to enjoy the view and the neighbouring attractions such as the ruins at Pompeii.
The tourist season starts in Santorini on March 1st – go any earlier and you’ll find many restaurants, B&Bs, and attractions closed. The weather can be very hot in summer but very comfortable in spring, and similar to Amalfi, you can relax and enjoy those stunning seaside views without all the hassle.
While the Czech capital will not be as warm and cozy as its southernly cousins in this list, spring is still a great time to go and enjoy the “real” Prague, avoiding the hordes of tourists that hit this town en masse come summer. See Charles Bridge at sunrise without a cast of thousands. Go to some of the city’s more popular restaurants without a reservation. Sit in one of the city centre squares and enjoy a cold Pilsner. You’ve earned it.
Fireworks over Edinburgh – Copyright by Andrew Hayes
I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions; I think if someone needs improved or changed or done, don’t wait until January to put it onto your to do list!However, I have several items on my agenda for Euro-wonderful travel this year and I’m excited to share it with you.Maybe they’ll give you some travel inspiration, or maybe I’ll see you there.
I love the Nordic and Scandinavian countries and Norway is the only one I’ve missed.I plan on visiting the cities of Bergen and Olso, as well as do some serious hiking.Places like the preachers pulpit (look mum, no guardrail!) and the Kjeragbolten, a huge boulder wedged between to cliff faces, are high on my list.
Siesta in Spain
Can you believe in Spain I’ve only been to Barcelona?I’d like to see Madrid and Bilbao, as well as do some walking in the hills in the north.Nevermind the copious amounts of sangria and tapas I’ll be downing while on tour!
My mum is coming back over again next year and we’ll be taking our touring skills to Ireland.I know Dublin pretty well, so we’ll be exploring a few more rural regions, and I suspect she’ll want to pick up some Waterford Crystal.You’ll have to subscribe to the RSS feed or email on the blog to find out if we kiss the blarney stone or not!
You’d think that was enough for one year, but rest assured, I’ve got plenty of other trips up my sleeve.Stay tuned.
What are your Euro-fabulous travel plans this year?