An art insider’s guide to Madrid’s Golden Triangle

Three behemoths of the museum world form Madrid’s legendary Golden Triangle of Art: Museo Del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. They’re located within a short stroll of one another (and moments from Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid) along the Paseo Del Prado, the tree-lined boulevard that was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 2021, along with Retiro Park. Between them, these museums provide a consummate trip through Western art history, peppered with its most significant creations, from Velázquez’s Las Meninas to Picasso’s Guernica. With this holy trinity, it’s no surprise that the neighbourhood is a hotspot for culture. Other not-to-miss spaces include the recently opened Espacio Joan Miro, and those of major contemporary art dealers such as Helga de Alvear.


Museo Del Prado


The 200-year-old Prado is home to some of Europe’s greatest canonical art. It has Velázquez’s mysterious masterpiece depicting monarchs and mirrors, family life and courtly drama, Las Meninas. There’s the giant of Flemish art, Rubens’ sumptuous vision of mythology, overflowing with fleshy nymphs and exotic beasts. Then, Goya, whose so-called ‘Black Paintings’, demonic murals exploring the chaos of the human condition he created in his deaf final years, have left many a visitor wobbly at the knees. In addition to these three big guns, you can find some of the most instantly recognisable paintings on the planet, including Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The collection’s 8,600 paintings and 700 sculptures also boast titans such as Fra Angelico, Durer, El Greco, Titian and Van Dyck.
In the know: In 2021, a curatorial rethink has seen the Prado reach beyond the established rollcall, to add 13 women painters to its ranks. Look out for the 17th-century miniaturist painter and noblewoman, Marcela de Valencia’s exquisite portraits, and María Blanchard’s cubist painting, a rare 20th-century inclusion.


Reina Sofia


The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia’s architecture stridently announces that this is a museum dedicated to forward-looking art. The main 18th-century building was originally a hospital, and its utilitarian façade is bolstered by towering 20th-century glass and steel lift shafts, courtesy of British architect Ian Ritchie. The flat planes of these 1989 additions were conceived as an homage to the museum’s premiere attraction: Picasso’s great anti-war painting Guernica, a monochrome pile-up of body parts and agonised crying mouths inspired by the Catalan town decimated by German bombs. The main collection is rich in 20th-century Spanish art, tracing modernism’s currents including Dalí’s surrealism and Miro’s dancing abstractions. The other major draw however is starchitect Jean Nouvel’s extraordinary 2005 expansions. The gleaming red auditorium, bookshop and three-storey temporary exhibition space he created owe their colour to their coating of innovative materials, fibreglass and polyester. Equally impressive is the immense triangular zinc and aluminium roof that protects the public courtyard they’re built around.
In the know: Beyond its collection, you can depend on cutting-edge work by leading international contemporary artists via a temporary exhibition programme that’s included the Los Angelino sculptor Charles Ray’s technically dazzling realist creations and feminist trailblazer Ida Applebroog’s radical paintings.


Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza


The world-beating collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich, Thyssen-Bornemisza offers a lively walk-through of European art, from 13th-century Italian masters hovering on the edge of the renaissance revolution, to the zap of 20th-century pop art. Every benchmark, creative front-runner or beguiling outlier is here. Lucas Cranach’s eerie nymphs; Hans Holbein’s luxuriant Tudors; Rembrandt’s soul-searching self-portraiture; Degas' dancers; Hopper’s cinematic vision…this place has it all and more. The collection is housed in the former Villahermosa Palace, reconfigured by architect Rafael Moneo to be as true to the building’s original design as possible. The result is fit for a king, with marble floors, plenty of stucco and galleries where works are bathed in natural light.
In the know: The Baron also left many artworks to his wife, the socialite, collector and former Miss Spain, Carmen ‘Tita’ Cervera. Among her own loans to the institution, look out for the stunning early Garden of Eden painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in which paradise is imagined as a stormy-skied, shadowed forest full of wild beasts.