One of the worst-kept secrets of museums in Spain is that admission to them is often free. One day a week or a month, as well as on certain holidays, citizens and visitors alike have the opportunity to gain entry gratis. Of course, most of the time – and during those free periods especially – the museums are bustling with patron activity. Museo del Prado in Madrid alone sees almost 3,000,000 visitors yearly! With Velázquez’s (that’s beh-lath-keth, as far as I could tell) Las Meninas, Goya’s La maja desnuda (and vestida), Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights among too many other stunners to name, Prado holds its own with the likes of Louvre and Hermitage. And, according to Prado’s website, you can sneak in for nada “from Monday to Saturday, 6pm to 8pm, and Sundays and holidays from 5pm to 7pm.”

To avoid the usually rather impressive lines at the Prado, you have a few options:

  1. I would normally recommend that you shoot to get somewhere for opening time in the morning – that way you can not only avoid queues but also bask in the self-righteous glow of being the early bird that gets the worm. Good on you! The thing in Spain, though, that could curb your enthusiasm is that “first thing in the morning” at the Prado (seemingly also true for most of the rest of Spain) is a leisurely 10 o’clock, so it’s unlikely that you would be the only one that’s ready and willing by then. I’d almost rather suggest to go later in the day, when at least the tourists begin transitioning to a Spanishly-incomprehensible early dinner, say around 4pm.
  2. A reliable option (again, applicable in quite a few places in Spain) is to skip the ticket line by pre-purchasing online – there are some combination deals to be had with Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia National Museum Art Centre, though be aware of time-controlled exhibitions at the Prado and check availability when you book.
  3. My favourite, serendipitously discovered option is to time your arrival at the Prado for about an hour before the admission turns free – as an example, we arrived shortly after 5pm on a regular weekday. Don’t be alarmed by the line of bargain-seeking art aficionados that will have begun to snake its way around the museum (to be fair, I hear it moves fairly quickly, so if you’d rather save your euros for an extra cerveza (ther-beh-thah), by all means, find the end and join the line). Make your way confidently to the Puerta de los Jerónimos (marked by (D) in the embedded map below). Buy a full-priced admission ticket (14€ pp at time of writing) to the wide-eyed amazement of the nice lady in the booth (they take credit cards!), drop your stuff off at coat check and pick up a map of the masterpieces. Ready? For the next less-than-an-hour, consider the Prado your personal scavenger hunting ground, with little other than air (and museum security, of course, don’t be a hero) separating you from the works of the masters. Go! Run free! Seriously, don’t dilly-dally, you’ve got 40 minutes!

Since according to my proposed schedule you won’t be arriving to soak up the glory of art genius until late afternoon, take the time beforehand to (A) relax with a late breakfast and a beverage or 4 on the swanky rooftop patio of Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes (3€ pp for elevator access to whisk you up), then stroll leisurely down Paseo del Prado (adorable lady with dog sighting not guaranteed) passing (B) Museo Naval and (C) Monumento a los Caidos por España to get to the museum. Afterward, let (E) El Retiro park serve as your chill out spot to contemplate the meaning of life, moralities, and the upcoming dinner. Speaking of which – does anyone have recommendations for that area?