Together with the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía forms Madrid's prestigious "Golden Triangle" of art. Each museum offers a completely unique experience as well as some of the most iconic artistic masterpieces in the world.
The Reina Sofia's forte is its enormous collection of modern and contemporary art. With a permanent collection boasting more than 20,000 works by some of the most legendary names in the art world in the last century, it's a must-visit for art aficionados and history buffs alike. However, even curious travelers who aren't particularly interested in either of the above are sure to get something out of visiting this incredible gem of a museum.
The Reina Sofia is huge, though, and wandering inside without any idea of what the place is like or what you want to see can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know in order to make the most of your visit.
History & Background
Like much of the art housed within, the Reina Sofia Museum itself is not that old (unlike the Prado, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary at the time of publication in 2019). The museum was founded in 1992, impressively earning a status as one of Madrid's must-visit museums in the less than 30 years its been open.
The building that houses the museum, on the other hand, has a much longer history. In a previous life, it served as the General Hospital of Madrid, constructed under the supervision of architect Francisco Sabatini in the 18th century.
Centuries later, the continued expansion and growing popularity of the museum made it clear that the existing space was not enough. The expansion project, led by French architect Jean Nouvel, increased the size of the already massive complex by more than 300,000 square feet.
The treasures of the Reina Sofia aren't just limited to the museum complex itself. In Madrid's iconic Retiro Park, you'll find two separate exhibition spaces that belong to the museum: the Palacio de Velázquez and Palacio de Cristal.
How to Visit
The main venue of the Reina Sofia Museum (Sabatini and Nouvel buildings) is open from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Mondays as well as Wednesday through Saturday. The museum has special hours on Sundays and public holidays, and is closed on Tuesdays.
Individual tickets can be purchased online starting at eight euros, or at the ticket office for 10 euros. Tickets that include an audio guide can only be purchased at the ticket office, and will set you back 15.50 euros. The museum is free most days from 7-9 p.m., as well as from 1:30-7 p.m. on Sundays.
Once inside, you might be wondering how long you should spend in the museum. There's no easy way to answer that — the place is huge, and you could easily spend hours there without seeing everything. To experience the main highlights and a few of its hidden gems, plan to be there for a minimum of two hours.
What to See
Any information about the museum that you come across is sure to feature one word: "Guernica." The painting in question is the undisputed jewel of the Reina Sofia's collection. Standing 11 feet tall and 25 feet wide, this breathtaking Pablo Picasso masterpiece takes up an entire wall.
"Guernica" comes from grim origins: it depicts the bombing of the eponymous Basque village by Nazi forces during the Spanish Civil War (there is also a Spanish Civil War museum in Cartagena) under the orders of dictator Francisco Franco. Today, millions of people from all corners of the world come to pay homage to one of the darkest days in Spain's history by marveling at the work created to memorialize it.
"Guernica" forms the centerpiece of the Reina Sofia's Picasso rooms, divided into pre- and post-Spanish Civil War periods, but the art legend is hardly the only 20th century Spanish painter given ample attention at the museum. The Reina Sofia also boasts an incredible collection of works by Salvador Dalí (including "Landscapes at Cadaqués," "The Great Masturbator," and "Figure at the Window") and Joan Miró (don't miss "Portrait II" or "House With Palm Tree").
However, there's so much more to the Reina Sofia Museum than just the big, internationally recognized names. Particularly of note is the third part of the museum's permanent collection, "From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982)," which touches on themes such as gender, globalization, and mass and underground culture in the second half of the 20th century. The postwar Spanish photography exhibition in Room 415 is a great place to start.
It's easy to make a day of it when it comes to visiting the Reina Sofia Museum. And after walking around exploring the massive collection, you'll almost certainly get hungry. Luckily, the museum offers two fantastic onsite restaurant-cafes: Arzábal (serving a handcrafted blend of modern and traditional flavors) and NuBel (a contemporary bistro that doubles as a lively cocktail bar by night).
Want to pick up a souvenir from your visit? Check out the fascinating gift and book shops, where you'll find unique items depicting some of the museum's most famous works.
What to Do Nearby
Located just around the corner from Madrid's buzzing central train station and a stone's throw from the city center, you could easily spend a whole day simply exploring the Reina Sofia Museum and its surroundings.
If you're on an art high, continue your explorations at the remaining two members of Madrid's Golden Art Triangle. The Prado is just a 10 minute walk away from the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza just a bit further away at 15 minutes on foot.
Or maybe you'd like to get some fresh air after spending so much time walking around the Reina Sofia. Luckily, Madrid's most famous park, Retiro, is easily accessible from the museum as well. Plus, once you're there, don't forget to check out more of the museum's unique works at the Palacio de Velázquez and the Palacio de Cristal.
While you're in this neck of the woods, take advantage of your location and discover a side of Madrid that few visitors ever get to experience. South of the museum and just west of Atocha train station, the picturesque, off-the-beaten-path Palos de la Frontera neighborhood is a local gem full of lush, tree-lined avenues, quaint local bars (check out Bodegas Rosell, a legendary neighborhood wine bar that's been around since 1920), and friendly, welcoming vibes.