Renowned for its galleries, Madrid is a great destination for travellers interested in art and culture. Away from the most famous museums though, there’s a range of off-the-beaten-track options perfect for those on a budget, as they don’t cost a penny. Whether you’re into history, photography, or more, here’s our pick of the best free museums to visit when in town.
As well as documenting the life of San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, this free museum in La Latina has a fascinating interactive display on the history of the city. The display, which features interactive screens as well as archaeological artefacts, paintings and drawings, shows Madrid’s development from prehistoric times when mammoths roamed the area, through Roman times, Moorish rule and the establishment of the Royal court in the city. The museum also houses the Pozo del Milagro (Well of the Miracle), where San Isidro is said to have performed a miracle, raising the waters to save his young son who had fallen down the well.
The cultural arm of Spanish telecommunications company, Telefónica, is set in the company’s headquarters on Gran Vía, Spain’s first skyscraper when it was built in the 1920s. The four-floor Espacio Fundación Telefónica is a modern space with exposed brick, a huge metal spiral staircase and spacious gallery space that holds regular temporary exhibitions across art, photography and technology.
Near Madrid’s business district at the Plaza de Castilla, this great free museum has an always-interesting temporary exhibition on the go. It’s far enough away from the centre to attract a mainly local crowd and is rarely packed (weekends are its busiest time). Recent exhibition subjects include photographer Vivian Maier, the history of Barbie, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
The huge neoclassical building just off Plaza de Colón houses Spain’s National Library, founded in 1712 by King Philip V. Its eight halls hold every book published in Spain, as well as ancient manuscripts – including works by Miguel de Cervantes – collections and exhibits. The library’s museum recounts the history of the building and holds regular exhibitions.
In the cool neighbourhood of Conde Duque, this museum of drawing and illustration is set in the former Mahou brewery, built in 1891. The building has been artfully renovated to mix the old with the modern; the entrance is via a courtyard covered in grey-blue tiles, while the different galleries are spacious and filled with light. The ABC collection features almost 200,000 pieces by 1,500 artists dating from 1890 to the present day.
The former home of acclaimed Golden Age playwright Lope de Vega has been preserved as a museum. The 16th-century house is located in Madrid’s literary neighbourhood, Las Letras, and visitors can see the different rooms inhabited by the writer, as well as some of his manuscripts. Don’t miss the central courtyard garden, a hidden oasis in the city centre. The museum offers free guided tours, available in English on request, every half hour.
It’s hard to miss the Museum of the History of Madrid, a bright pink building built in 1673 that once housed the Royal Hospice of San Fernando. It charts the history of the city from 1561, when it became the Spanish capital, to the 20th century using an eclectic collection of paintings, maps, models, furniture, photographs and more. One of its most famous paintings is Allegory of the City of Madrid by Francisco de Goya.