Spain’s Prado Museum is one of the most important museums in the world, and it’s in the middle of celebrating its 200th anniversary — and that alone is a good enough excuse to visit the incredible Spanish capital of Madrid.
It’s also a good time to go, with prices still low to Spain.
Karen Schaler is a travel expert and is the creator and host of “Travel Therapy TV.” As she tells Fox, "Spain is one of my top picks for an affordable place to visit right now in Europe, with its beautiful beaches, diverse culture, phenomenal food and wine, and the warm and friendly people."
Madrid is just as beautiful as the Prado's beautiful works of art. It’s impossible to see the whole place in a weekend, but two days exploring the many great museums is a good introduction to the Spanish Capital.
The Museo de Prado opened its doors in November of 1819, and it houses one of the greatest collections of Western art on the planet. Among the treasures are works by El Greco, Velazquez, Rubens and Goya. But right now, the Museo de Prado is undergoing a major renovation, and will be unwrapped later this year. In the meantime, the museum group is hosting numerous exhibitions and events around the city to mark the anniversary.
Rounding out the trifecta of great Madrid museums are the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
At the Reina Sofia, you can see one of the most famous paintings in the world, including Picasso’s “Guernica,” which he created in reaction to the bombing of civilians in the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the greatest collections of private art ever assembled, and features works by Spanish masters and pop artists including Chagall, Edward Hopper, Monet, Van Gogh and Lichtenstein.
Aside from the artwork, a trip to Madrid should include a visit to the Royal Palace, the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor. And don’t forget to stop by Retiro Park — Madrid’s answer to Central Park — before strolling off for some shopping or fine dining.
“Madrid is one of the most cosmopolitan European cities — there are high-end shopping streets, gardens and plenty of museums to keep you occupied for days,” says Jamie Larounis, a travel industry analyst and founder of the blog "The Forward Cabin."
As for lodging, the Westin Palace Madrid is literally across a plaza from the Prado, and several other great museums and the Spanish Parliament. It’s also a tourist attraction in its own right. Built more than a hundred years ago on King Alfonso the Thirteenth’s orders, the hotel has had lots of famous guests over the years, including Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. The rooms are recently refurbished, but include the entry doors from the early part of the 20th century.
"The Westin Palace is one of the most popular hotels, primarily due to its great location in the center of the city (and the prices reflect that) near the Gran Via.” Larounis said.
Other top hotels with easy access to the trio of great museums include The Radisson Blu Hotel, the Principal Madrid Hotel, and the AC Palacio Del Retiro. But you don’t have to go expensive. There are still plenty of Airbnb and other home-sharing options.
And if you plan on saving a few extra bucks by traversing this magnificent city on foot, be prepared for the heat. While it's a great walking city, Madrid is one of Europe’s sunniest capitals, with 300 days of sunshine a year. (Public transportation is plentiful in Madrid.)
It’s a city that’s got a ton of flights from the United States, and you can often find fares for under $500 from many major U.S. cities. Even direct flights to Madrid aren't uncommon among carriers, including Spanish airline Iberia. American, Delta and United also fly direct to Madrid from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Newark, Dallas and Miami.
Oh, and before you leave Madrid's airport, try and stop to take a look around: Madrid Airport is considered one of the most beautiful airports in the world winning several architecture prizes after its 2006 reconstruction. It’s the second largest airport in Europe, and is just 8 miles from the city center.