The Prado Museum in Under Two Hours: What to See When You’re Short on Time

No visit to Madrid is complete without going to the Prado Museum.

One of the world’s greatest art museums, it’s a highlight of many visitors’ times in the city. But with over 7,000 paintings, it can be an intimidating proposition—especially if time is short. If you’ve got a limited amount of time, planning ahead is key. That’s why we’ve put together our guide to visit the Prado Museum in under two hours!

If you're visiting Madrid, a trip to the Prado Museum is a must. But with over 7,000 paintings, where do you start—and how much precious vacation time do you need to dedicate to it? Our guide to visiting the Prado Museum in under two hours will tell you exactly what to see where, so you can be in and out with a better understanding of the museum than most people who spend a whole day there!

Photo Credit: Brian Snelson, via Wikimedia Commons

When to Visit

If you want to avoid the queues and the crowds, try to arrive as soon as the museum opens at 10 am, or during the lunchtime lull around 2 pm. Buying a ticket in advance online means you can head straight through security without having to queue at the box office. While the free entry hours (6–8 pm Mon–Sat; 5–7 pm Sundays and holidays) can be tempting for travelers on a budget, bear in mind that many others will have the same idea. Show up at least 45 minutes before the free hours start to avoid spending precious holiday time in line!

Finding Your Way Around

Once you’re in the Prado, make sure to pick up a free map from the information point by the entrance. As well as a plan of the museum’s layout it also includes a handy guide to the masterpieces inside and where to find them. Take a moment to work out your route to make the most of your time inside.

If you're short on time, you can still visit the Prado! There's plenty to see at the Prado Museum in under two hours.
The Prado Museum is a must for any trip to Madrid

What to See

Rooms 49–58

If you’re getting in as soon as the museum opens, head straight to Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (Room 56A) and Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (Room 58). These early Flemish religious masterpieces really benefit from being seen up close. Try to get ahead of the rush of tour groups for the best experience. Nearby on the ground floor, don’t miss Fra Angelico’s Annunciation (Room 56B) and an outstanding collection of Raphael. If we had to choose just one, it would be The Cardinal (Room 49), with its astonishing realism and penetrating gaze. Before heading upstairs, make sure to check out the revolutionary works by Albrecht Dürer in Room 55B: Adam and Eve, and his Self-Portrait of 1498, showing his masterful blending of the Northern and Southern European traditions.

If you only have two hours to visit the Prado Museum, Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights is one painting that has to be on your list!
Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is a complicated scene, to say the least.

Rooms 25–29

After these Renaissance masterpieces, head upstairs to immerse yourself in the Spanish Golden Age. Start off in the huge central gallery (Rooms 25-29). Here you’ll find two foreign painters who had a huge influence on Spanish art: Rubens and Titian. You might be surprised to find that the Prado holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Titian, but the Venetian master spent much of his career working as a salaried court painter to the Hapsburg kings Charles V and Philip II. The Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg is in the central hall, alongside his portrait of Philip II and just next to his mythological masterpieces Sisyphus and Tityus. Rubens, too, was another favorite of the Habsburg court who would prove a great influence—and friend—for Diego Velazquez. Wander down the great hall to see his late masterpieces The Three Graces and The Adoration of the Magi.

The Equestrian Portrait of Charles V is one of the Prado Museum highlights because of the influence it had on Spanish painters at the time. If you're visiting the Prado Museum in under two hours, it's a painting you should make sure to see.
This portrait of Charles V had a great influence on Spanish painters.

Rooms 8–12

Double back and head towards Rooms 9B and 8B to discover one of the strangest painters in the Spanish tradition: El Greco. Never fully accepted by the Spanish court, many of his greatest works are in Toledo rather than here in the Prado. Nevertheless, Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest and The Holy Trinity (both in Room 8B) are fine examples of his secular and religious work. Now, it’s time for the big one: Diego Velazquez. Almost universally acclaimed as the greatest Spanish painter of all time, his impressionistic style, questioning of reality and the intimacy of his portraiture have inspired artists through the centuries. Starting in Room 9A with The Surrender at Breda, head through to Rooms 10 (The Triumph of Bacchus) and 11 (Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan) before finally arriving to his great masterpiece in Room 12, Las Meninas.

Las Meninas by Velazquez is undoubtedly a piece you have to see if visiting the Prado Museum in under two hours. Pay it a visit and get lost in the details and mystery.
Las Menina’s is one of Velazquez’s best-known works.

Rooms 15, 32, 36, 64–67

If you want to dig even deeper into Velazquez, continue to Room 15 to see his portraits of dwarfs and buffoons, and The Spinners in Room 15A. Otherwise, head to Room 32 to meet the final Spanish master of our visit: Francisco de Goya, and his famously ambiguous Family of Charles IV. Nearby in Room 36 are his scandalous Maja Desnuda and Maja Vestida. Finally, head downstairs to see his late masterpieces. The Second and Third of May 1808 (Room 64/65) are powerful, disturbing depictions of the horrors of war. The Black Paintings (Room 67), meanwhile, are some of the strangest and darkest works of art anywhere in the world, painted directly on the walls of Goya’s house in the outskirts of Madrid after the collapse of his public career.

Goya's haunting Black Paintings are one of the true Prado Museum highlights. This one shows a group of men reading.
Goya’s Black Paintings were painted directly onto his walls at the end of his life.
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