Six of the best: Art museums in Madrid

THE PRADO

The Museo Nacional del Prado opened in 1819 as a showcase for the artworks collected by Spanish royalty over the centuries. If you're serious about art, set aside a day or more for its masterpieces by German, French, Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists. The highlight, though, is the unrivalled collection from three Spanish greats El Greco, Goya and Velazquez. The latter painted many Spanish monarchs, but his most famous canvas is The Maids of Honour, revolutionary in its days for its use of space and perspective. Many believe this to be Spain's greatest masterpiece. See museodelprado.es

THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA MUSEUM

Although not graced with the most famous of paintings, together this collection is still one of Europe's greatest. This is the place to go to trace the history of European and American art through the ages, with just about every important art movement on display, and canvasses arranged in chronological order from the Middle Ages to present day. Among the artists are Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Picasso, Pollock, Lichtenstein and Kandinsky. Twentieth-century and American artists are otherwise quite under-represented in Spanish museums. When you tire, you can sit on the summertime rooftop terrace and enjoy tapas. See museothyssen.org

MUSEO REINA SOFIA

Reina Sofia focuses on modern art in a collection that was completely reorganised some years ago to highlight not just painting but photography and cinema as well. Unlike most museums, the canvasses are not grouped by artist but by themes that incorporate politics and society and thus show the forces that shaped modern Spanish art. Most visitors will want to see Picasso's Guernica, the huge 1937 anti-war painting, and works by the surrealists Miro and Dali but many other important modern Spanish artists are represented, such as the colourful cubist master Juan Gris. See museoreinasofia.es

MUSEO LAZARO GALDIANO

You'll find more Spanish, English and Flemish paintings in this museum, named for the early 20th-century collector that amassed them in his Italianate mansion. For a change of pace, though, you might want to concentrate on the fabulous displays of medieval and renaissance gold and silver work, swords and bejewelled daggers, bronzes and armour. You'll also find everything from textiles and ceramics to ivory and enamel works spanning a millennium. The delightfully eclectic artworks are housed in a 19th-century mansion that is usually uncrowded, and small enough for any visitor to enjoy the entire collection without feeling overwhelmed. See flg.es

MUSEO CERRALBO

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This is another eccentric personal collection, assembled by Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa​, a well-travelled and well-educated 19th-century marquis. His luxurious mansion houses some 50,000 items that range from superb canvasses by the likes of El Greco, Tintoretto and Titian to European and Japanese armour and weapons, sculpture, porcelain and early English watches. It isn't so much an art museum as an ornate, over-the-top, neo-baroque home with the objects d'art in their original settings, providing not just art but a mind-boggling glimpse into a turn-of-the-century aristocratic life. See culturaydeporte.gob.es

MUSEO SOROLLA

This was once the home of the early 20th-century impressionist and portrait artist Joaquin Sorolla, who is particularly known for his Mediterranean coastal scenes, use of light and superb brushwork. What's particularly charming about this museum-house, set in lovely Andalusian-style gardens and patios, is that it gives you a feel for the artist's life as well as his works. You can see his studio, his paint brushes still stained with paint and even the Turkish divan on which he took his siestas. The museum also displays drawings, paintings and ceramics collected by the artist. See culturaydeporte.gob.es

Brian Johnston was a guest of Turespana and Emirates.

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