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Madrid: Sometimes Free

Sights in Madrid that are sometimes free of charge

Madrid for Free
Always free
Sometimes free

Any day on which entrance to a normally pricey sight is free is never a secret. Expect a crush of visitors, especially of schools on class trips and other cash-strapped groups. Sure you get in for free, but the crowds may not make it worth your while. At the very least, try to show up when the doors open so you can be at the head of the surging masses. Caveat emptor.

Note that, officially, these days of free admission are for EU citizens only, but the ticket booths rarely seem to enforce this policy and just let everyone glide in for free.


Museo del Prado

One of the world's greatest painting galleries, easily up there with the Louvre, Uffizi, London's National Gallery, Vatican, or Metropolitan—just not as well known (largely due to Spain's largely falling off the tourism radar during the decades of Franco's rule)... Full Story


Palacio Real

Built in 1764 on the site of the immolated Alcazar, Madrid's 3,000-room Royal Palace contains the usual hyper-luxurious kingly appointments and furnishings, frescoes by Tiepolo, a pretty wicked Arms and Armour collection (Charles V's marauding troops kitted out in these gigs), and a genuinely interesting historic pharmacy. And hey, if you're here at noon on the first Wednesday to the month you get to the see the changing of the guard in the long, colonnaded courtyard.

Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

Felipe II's sister Juana de Austria (already widowed of Prince Don Juan of Portugal by the time she was but 19 years old) was in some ways as pious as her brother, and she founded this nunnery for the Poor Clares in the 1500s.

However, this was no harsh convent for the brides of Christ, but rather a sort of religious retreat for the daughters of nobility where they could spend time safely squirreled away from the wiles of men until their fathers could seal the deal on whom they would marry.

At least at this "Monastery of the Barefoot Royals" they had a surfeit of tapestries, frescoes, and a nice variety of art to admire while they awaited their nuptial fates, including canvases by Titian, Breughel the Elder, and Rubens. You, too, can admire them on the requisite guided tours, provided you do so quickly (the guides insist upon taking everyone through at a dead trot).

Museo Lazaro Galdiano

The early 20th century mansion of this author and financial guru is now open to the public, so we can all admire his taste in medieval silversmithy and carved ivories, and paintings by Goya, Ribera, El Greco, Zurbarán, Tiepolo, Constable, Gainsborough, Murillo, and even one bona fide Leonardo da Vinci.

Panteon de Goya (Goya's Tomb)

Francesco de Goya decorated this chapel in 1797 with scenes from the Life of St. Anthony (populated, of course, by members of the contemporary Spanish court). The great, rather disturbed 18th century Spanish genius was later buried here (or at least his body was, Bordeaux, where he died, has managed to hold on to his head).

Museo Municipal

In a former poorhouse with an elaborate Churrigueresque (rococo) facade, this museum traces the history of the city of Madrid (conveniently, it's got some Roman mosaics in the basement). Frankly, it's probably most interesting to true history buffs, though the scale models of the city at different eras do help one understand how Madrid developed into the overly-sprawling urban center it has now become.


Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Madrid's modern art museum has the usual mix of sometimes intriguing, sometimes whimsical, often ridiculous and pointlessly self-important art from the last half of the 20th century, as well as a cache of mediocre works by Dalí, Mir?, and Juan Gris, but it draws the crowds for Picasso's masterpiece Guernica, a vast and disturbing artistic condemnation of the terrible 1937 massacre when Generalissimo Franco invited his buddy Hitler to test his luftwaffe bombers by leveling this Basque town during Spain's bloody Civil War. Anyone accustomed to scoffing at Picasso's style as child-like will come away with a whole new respect for just how powerful his style could be. The Guernica room is also full of some of the many studies and sketches Picasso did for the work, offering a unique insight into his artistic process.

Museo Archeológico Nacional

Madrid's underrated archaeological museum includes artifacts from prehistory through the Middle Ages, largely Iberian but with some Greek and Egyptian stuff thrown in for good measure. There's also a slightly cheesy mock-up of the Caves of Altamira and their 15,000-year-old paintings.


Museo del Prado

(See above).

Museo de America

Lest we forget that the Spanish were the first conquistadores of North, Central, and South America, these rich ethnographic collections of pre-Columbian (and Filipino) artifacts remind us of how wonderful, advanced, and aesthetically diverse were those cultures that the great European explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries systematically plundered, looted, and robbed. To the museum's credit it goes to great pains to try and reveal and recreate a true sense the cultures, lifestyles, and vanished societies that produced these objects.

Museo de Artes Decorativas

A vast survey of Spanish tastes in interior décor and objets d'art from the 15th through the 19th centuries (though five whole floors of ornate candlesticks and fancy furnishings can get to be a bit much).

Museo Sorolla

He wasn't the greatest of Spanish painters, but Valencian Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923) produced some fine canvases, many preserved here (alongside his prodigious ceramics collection) in the house-cum-studio he live din during his final 11 years.

Museo Romantico

Not as romantic as it sounds, but rather Romantic (with a captial "R," meaning the artistic movement), a hodgepodge of antique furnishings, tchochkies, and Goyas cobbled together according to the aesthetics of the late 19th century.

Museo Municipal

(See above).


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in January 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.