Visiting Spain? Madrid is a Must

By: Gaizka Pujana

. Whether you are visiting the city for the first time or the fifth, here are three must-see museums for your itinerary.

#1. The Prado Museum is the world's large art museum and one of the most visited sites in all of Spain. Built during the 18th century by King Charles III, the Prado, which means meadow in Spanish, was originally built to serve as a monument to the city. The Prado first served as a natural history gallery, but under Ferdinand VII it became the royal art gallery.

At the turn of the century, the Spanish government was nationalized and took over many cultural institutions in the country, including the Prado. Today, the Prado displays the works of many of the world's finest past and present artistic masters, such as Rembrandt, Goya, Rubens, Velazquez, Raphael and Murillo. There are more than 2,000 works on permanent display at the Prado, and another 8,600 in storage.

The Prado is situated in the Villahermosa Palace area of Madrid, a neighborhood known for its fashionable restaurants, bars and world-class hotels. For visitors whose guest accommodations are not within walking distance, the Banco de Espana metro stop provides close access to the museum. The Prado is open 9 am to 7 pm Tuesday Saturday; on Sundays, the museum closes at 2 p.m. The museum is not open on Mondays.

#2. The Reina Sofia National Center of Art is home to Spain's permanent collection of Spanish contemporary art, as well as a host of temporary exhibitions in diverse disciplines. The museum is located at Calle Santa Isabel 52, less than a block from the Atocha Metro stop. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.

#3. Palacio Real (The Royal Place)Once the home of the Spanish royal family, the Palacio Real is no longer used as the residence but continues to serve as a public attraction. The palace is one of Madrid's finest examples of Spanish architecture. The gardens, including the Jardines del Moro and the Sabattini Jardines, are the best tended in the city. The palace also features a art gallery, with frescos by Tipolo, and paintings by Spanish greats like Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and Juan de Flandes.

The Palacio Real is located in the Calle Bailen neighborhood. The nearest Metro stop is the Opera and there are many nearby hotel accommodations. The palace is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sundays and holidays until 2 p.m.) during the winter months (October April). From April to September, the palace is open until 6 p.m. (3 p.m. on Sundays and holidays).

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