This post is a part of our Spain for Everyone series. The information below was curated by our expert guides across the country. They are art lovers too, and this is their bucket list for you!
From El Greco to Goya to Picasso and so many more, art in Spain has played a pivotal role in the country’s history and culture.
Spain is truly an art aficionado’s paradise. First of all, it’s home to some of the top art museums on the planet, such as the Prado and the Picasso museum. However, art fans who are already familiar with these world-class treasures will be happy to know that there’s so much more to Spain’s artistic offerings! This guide to art in Spain will show you our favorite experiences throughout the country that art lovers can’t miss.
1. Marvel at Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of Art”
Spain’s capital is fortunate to hold three of the best art museums in the world. Together, they make up what is known as the “Golden Triangle of Art.” First up is the Prado (Paseo del Prado, s/n), home to countless masterpieces created between the 16th and 19th centuries. It includes iconic paintings such as Velázquez’s Las Meninas, beloved by art historians for its countless hidden messages and details within the scene. The museum also houses dozens of important works by Goya, including his darkest collection, the Black Paintings.
Next, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Calle de Santa Isabel, 52) offers a complementary contrast to the Prado. Opened in 1992, it features mainly 20th century works of contemporary art. Its best-known piece, which thousands visit the museum to see every year, is Picasso’s Guernica. The massive, abstract painting depicts a tragic bombing scene from the Spanish Civil War. Other noteworthy Spanish artists highlighted at the museum include Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.
Finally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Paseo del Prado, 8), usually referred to as the Thyssen, rounds out this magnificent trio. Although possibly the least known of the three museums, it holds an outstanding historical collection of art. The museum displays nearly a thousand works spanning from the 13th until the late 20th century. It is the only place in Madrid where you can experience everything from Renaissance to pop art all under one roof.
2. Follow Picasso’s footsteps from Malaga to Barcelona
Spain’s most iconic 20th century painter called two major Spanish cities home throughout his life. Pablo Picasso was born in a modest home in Malaga’s Plaza de la Merced. Although he was just a child when his family moved, that home is now the Picasso Birthplace Museum (Plaza de la Merced, 15). Today, it houses many of the family’s belongings as well as works by the artist himself. Fans should also check out the Picasso Museum (Calle San Agustin, 8) nearby. It houses many of the artist’s lesser-known works, but provides a more comprehensive view of his career. The temporary exhibitions featuring works by other artists provide an excellent parallel.
Picasso’s family moved to Barcelona when the artist was a teenager, and he considered it his true home. With help from his father, he enrolled at the School of Fine Arts and immediately began to thrive. Throughout much of his career, he divided his time between the Catalan capital and Paris. Today, Barcelona is home to a second Picasso Museum (Carrer Montcada, 15-23). Here, you can see one of the most extensive collections of his work, including several key pieces completed during his formative years.
3. Explore Seville’s ceramics center
Perhaps no form of art is more characteristic of southern Spain than its ceramics. Made by artisan potters and handpainted by talented artists, these beautiful pieces reflect the bright, beautiful culture of Andalusia. In Seville, be sure to visit the Triana Ceramics Center (Calle Callao, 14) in the dynamic neighborhood across the bridge from the city center. The experience is self-guided, but plenty of photos and examples make it easy to follow. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to watch the artists hard at work creating their lovely pieces!
Insider’s Tip: Save your ticket from the Alcázar. If you show it at the Ceramics Center, you can get in for free!
4. Watch history come alive at Spain’s second-oldest cemetery
Visitors to Granada can’t miss one of the most unique performances of dramatic art in Spain. On select evenings throughout the year, a guide and two actors bring the past to life through a unique dramatic tour through Granada’s oldest cemetery (and the second-oldest in the country). The experience will whisk you back in time to 19th-century Granada, when the cemetery was built. The group’s aim is to take away the cemetery’s spook factor and tell its history through a series of fun, informative acts. If you’re looking for a new way to look at one of Spain’s most magical cities and spend an enjoyable evening, you can’t miss this.
5. Get lost in Barcelona’s El Raval neighborhood
As one of Barcelona’s most vibrant and lively districts, it should come as no surprise that El Raval also hosts some of the best art in the city. It’s home to the MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum (Plaça dels Àngels, 1) with its emblematic Keith Haring mural. Similarly, the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona) (Carrer de Montalegre, 5) provides a look at the city’s modern art culture through an urban lens.
Not all of El Raval’s masterpieces are tucked away in museums. The neighborhood is an architectural wonderland as well. Barcelona icon Antoni Gaudí built Palau Güell (Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5) there in 1888 as a second home for industrial tycoon Eusebi Güell. Also of note is the monastery and church Sant Pau del Camp (Carrer de Sant Pau, 101), a small but lovely space famous for being one of the city’s oldest surviving churches.
6. Experience the unique architecture of San Sebastian
From the late 19th until the early 20th century, a unique cultural phenomenon spread throughout the world. Known as the Belle Époque, it was a peaceful, optimistic period that had a major impact on architecture and art in Spain. San Sebastian, the glittering Basque jewel on the country’s northern coast, perhaps holds many of the best samples of architecture from this period. Many can be seen simply as you wander through the Old Town. One excellent example is the current city hall building, originally constructed during the Belle Époque for use as a casino.
After you make your way across the bridge into the Gros neighborhood, stop and check out the Kursaal building (Zurríola Hiribidea, 1). This concert hall, convention center and exhibition space stands out for its distinctive cube shape. It stands in direct contrast to the Belle Époque structure that previously stood on the site: an elegant palace that housed a casino, restaurant and theater. After the palace was demolished in the 1970s, the lot stood empty until the Kursaal was built in 1996. Today, architecture fans know it as one of the most characteristic buildings in the city.
7. Go beyond Picasso in Malaga
If you’ve seen all of the Picasso-related sites already, don’t leave Malaga just yet! The charming city is a surprising paradise for fans of art in Spain. It is home to more than 40 museums, including the Pompidou (Pasaje Doctor Carrillo Casaux, s/n). This extension of the world-famous Paris museum houses a small but significant collection of works by artists such as René Magritte, Frida Kahlo, Wassily Kandinsky, and of course Picasso himself. The surrounding port area, Muelle Uno, is one of the liveliest areas of the city.
For an entire neighborhood full of some of the most unique art in Spain, head to the happening Soho district. This creative, alternative area features art around every turn (literally—it’s famous for its graffiti and street art!). It’s also home to the Center of Contemporary Art (Calle Alemania, s/n) where fans can see groundbreaking pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Other noteworthy art havens include the Carmen Thyssen Museum (Calle Compañía, 10). The collection here serves as an excellent example of 19th-century Andalusian art. Gallery lovers can’t miss Taller Gravura (Paisaje Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de San Juan, 3), an engraving and printmaking workshop run by award-winning malagueño artist Paco Aguilar. Right next door, independent gallery La Casa Amarilla sells contemporary pieces by young, up-and-coming local artists at affordable prices.
8. Gallery-hop on Calle Dr. Fourquet in Madrid
The Reina Sofía Museum may house some of the best-known art in Spain, but don’t stop there. Behind the museum, a winding street snakes past some of the most prized artistic spaces in the city. Calle Dr. Fourquet is home to no fewer than fifteen galleries, all of which have sprung up in the past twenty years. Art lovers could easily spend all day here, popping in and out of galleries such as Casa Sin Fin, Helga de Alvear, Alegría and so many more.
9. Marvel at Seville’s gorgeous tilework at Plaza de España
Despite its Moorish-meets-Renaissance appearance, Seville’s most emblematic plaza only dates back to 1928. Plaza de España was constructed that year for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, which brought together Spain, Portugal, and their former colonies in the Americas. Art aficionados will certainly appreciate the beautiful painted tilework and mosaics in the plaza. Notice the colorful artwork on the bridges, columns, and in the 48 alcoves representing each of Spain’s provinces.
10. Check out Barcelona’s unique graffiti park
Named for the three chimneys that characterize Barcelona’s Poble Sec neighborhood, the Jardins de les 3 Xemeneies takes urban parks to a whole new level. The three chimneys themselves, part of an old power plant, are just one of many industrial elements in the space. Here, talented street artists use concrete as their canvas. Three large walls provide a space for them to brighten up the park with graffiti without fear of getting fined. Many remnants of the old power plant still remain, such as sculptures made from falling-apart machinery. Fans of urban art cannot miss this unique space in the Catalan capital.
Address: Avenida del Parallel, 49
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.