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Spain's Top Museums

In the Golden Age of Empire (1580–1680), Spanish monarchs used Madrid's wealth not only to finance wars and civil projects but also to underscore their own grandeur by collecting and commissioning great works of art. That national patrimony makes Spain a museum lover's paradise—all the more so for the masterworks of modern painting and sculpture that have been added since, and for the museum buildings themselves, many of them architecturally stunning.

Madrid

Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. The modern collection focuses on Spain's three great modern masters: Picasso, Dalí, and Miró. The centerpiece is Picasso's monumental Guernica.

Museo del Prado, Madrid. In a magnificent neoclassical building on one of Madrid's most elegant boulevards, the Prado, with its collection of Spanish and European masterpieces, is frequently compared to the Louvre.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. This mass of artwork was purchased by the Spanish government in 1993 from the Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza. Among the some 1,600 paintings in the collection are works by Dürer, Rembrandt, Titian, and Caravaggio—and important pieces from the impressionist and early modern periods.

Catalonia and Valencia

Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Five elegant medieval and early Renaissance palaces in the Gothic Quarter house this collection of some 3,600 works by Picasso, who spent the early years of his career (1895–1904) in Barcelona.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. MNAC has the finest collection of Romanesque frescoes and devotional sculpture in the world, most rescued from abandoned chapels in the Pyrenees. Taking the fragile frescoes off crumbling walls, building supports for them in the same intricate shapes as the spaces they came from (vaults, arches, windows), and rehanging them was an astonishing feat of restoration.

Fundació Miró, Barcelona. Designed by Miró's friend and collaborator, architect Lluís Sert, this museum was the artist's gift to the city that shaped his career. It houses some 11,000 of Miró's works: oils, sculpture, textiles, drawings, and prints.

Museo de Bellas Artes, Valencia. At the edge of the city's Royal Gardens, the MBA is one of the finest smaller collections in Spain. It houses masterworks by Ribalta, Velázquez, Ribera, and Goya, and a gallery devoted to 19th-century Valencian painter Joaquin Sorolla.

Northern Spain

Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao. Frank Gehry's museum is a work of art in its own right, the first great building of the 21st century. Even its detractors now hail it for the transformative impact it has had on what was once a grimy industrial city. Inside, the galleries showcase international and Spanish art by modern and contemporary painters and sculptors. It's easy to combine a visit of several days to Bilbao with a trip to Barcelona.

Southern Spain

Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville. Rivaled only by the Prado, the MBA collection includes works by Murillo, Zurbarán, and El Greco, and Gothic art, baroque religious sculpture, and Sevillian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. From Madrid, the fast train reaches Seville in less than three hours.

Updated: 03-2014

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