Exploring madrid

The habsburgs as collectors

Sunday 14 - Friday 19 January 2024 (6 Days)



Visit focuses on one of the greatest collections of paintings ever formed with Titian, Rubens & Velazquez featured

Three private morning visits to the Prado, before the museum opens to the public

Day visit to El Escorial, Philip II’s palace-monastery outside Madrid

Very comfortable city centre hotel, close to the Prado

Ample free time for personal explorations

Tour Overview

The Habsburgs came to rule over a remarkable series of territories, not only in Europe but also in the ‘New World’ from where much of their wealth derived. They were also great collectors of art of every kind, particularly paintings. When the Emperor Charles V abdicated in 1556, his territories were divided between his brother, Ferdinand I, who succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor and ruled central Europe, and his son, Philip II, who became King of Spain. Philip received the lion’s share of territories but also by far the largest share of their remarkable collections.

Both Charles and Philip were great patrons of Titian, which is why the best representative series of works by the Venetian master are to be found not in Venice, but in Madrid’s Prado Museum, and at El Escorial, the palace-monastery on the outskirts of the city. Joining the Titians there are works by Roger van der Weyden, Bosch, the Brueghel family, Rubens and Van Dyck, and the finest paintings by Philip IV’s court painter, Velázquez, to name a few.  Indeed, Philip IV was particularly active as a collector, not only sending Velázquez to Italy to acquire works on his behalf, but he was able to add wonderful paintings from the collections of England’s Charles I, dispersed as a consequence of the English Civil War.

These three Habsburg rulers were not the only great collectors in the family. Their immediate female relatives also collected whilst ruling territories on behalf of the men. Mary of Hungary ruled the Low Countries from Brussels, patronising Titian and others. Philip II’s remarkable daughter, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia was no less formidable as both ruler and collector, again from Brussels. Much of their collections are also in Madrid and there is also the amazing convent which was founded as a royal retirement home for former widowed queens and infantas, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, a ‘mini-Prado’ in its own right.

Madrid came to prominence in the sixteenth century when Spain emerged as a nation under Philip II. Subsequent monarchs enriched the city and in modern times it has enjoyed a ‘Renaissance’ of its own as the capital of a democratic Spain. Other visits will also feature, including the Thyssen Collection, and we have been fortunate to secure access to the finest private art collection in Spain, that of the Dukes of Alba.

Limited to 18 participants, we shall be based at the comfortable 5* Hotel Villa Real, a short walk from the Prado and many other important museums. The pace of this visit will allow time to explore the sites included and there will also be plenty of time set aside for private exploration. The visit will be led jointly by Tom Duncan and Mauricio Macarrón who is one of Madrid’s most knowledgeable VIP guides.

Day by day

Day 1: Sunday 14 January
We fly from London Heathrow late morning on British Airways arriving in Madrid mid-afternoon. We transfer to our city centre hotel, the 5* Hotel Villa Real, for five nights.  Later that evening dinner will be in our hotel - wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
Day 2: Monday 15 January
This morning we walk the short distance to the Prado Museum for the first of three visits, entering at 9.00 am before it opens to the public. The bulk of the many masterpieces from the Spanish Royal Collection are housed in this wonderful museum and this first hour will be devoted to an introduction to the Habsburg family via their portraits, which include works by Titian, Anthonis Mor, Sofonisba Anguissola and Velázquez. After a break for coffee we return to the galleries to look in detail at the relationship between Titian and his Habsburg patrons, Charles V, Mary of Hungary and Philip II. There will then be time for lunch, not included today, either in the Museum or elsewhere. The rest of the afternoon and evening will be free for private exploration.
Day 3: Tuesday 16 January
We return to the Prado and our morning will be devoted to the Flemish pictures from the early Renaissance period up to the mid sixteenth century - they range from the profoundly moving religious works of Roger van der Weyden to the highly eccentric visions of Hieronymus Bosch. After a break for coffee we resume with the impressive figures of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, her husband the Archduke Albert of Austria and their court painter, Rubens. Their court at Brussels was the equal of that at Madrid and many of her possessions are in the Prado. There will then be time for lunch, not included today. Mid-afternoon we continue to the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, a sixteenth century convent where many female members of the Habsburgs spent their final years. Consequently, it was endowed with remarkable works of art, including some fabulous tapestries designed by Rubens. We return to the hotel and the evening will be free.
Day 4: Wednesday 17 January
We spend much of the day outside Madrid visiting the vast palace-monastery complex built for Philip II, El Escorial. The austerity of the exterior somehow reflects the character of the king, while the interiors are in contrast full of amazing decorative schemes and truly wonderful paintings, particularly by the early Flemish painters and by Venetian masters, above all Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. After a late group lunch we return to Madrid and in total contrast to our morning, we visit the former home of Spain’s greatest painter of the modern era, the Museo Joaquín Sorolla. We return to the hotel and the evening will be free.
Day 5: Thursday 18 January
We return to the Prado, again before it opens to the public, and this morning we concentrate on two themes. Philip IV was lucky to have as his court painter Diego Velázquez, and only in the Prado can the full panoply of this painter’s genius be appreciated. After a break for coffee we then trace the collecting habits of Philip IV, when we shall see some of the Prado’s finest Italian pictures. Some were sourced in Italy but the sale of Charles I’s collection after his execution in 1649 will be our focus as many of the finest of the Stuart king’s paintings came to Madrid.  There will then be time for lunch, not included today, after which the afternoon will be devoted to a visit to the nearby Thyssen Collection, described when sold to Spain in 1983 as the greatest art collection in private hands – outshining the Prado in some areas. We have a final group dinner in an excellent local restaurant.
Day 6: Friday 19 January
This morning we visit privately the Palacio de Liria, the Madrid home of the Dukes of Alba. The most titled family in Spain, the collections reflect their varied history as patrons and collectors. The interiors are lavishly furnished with decorative arts of the highest quality and the paintings are worthy of any museum in the world. After a group lunch we transfer to the airport for the return flight to Heathrow.


  • Price: £2,775 per person
  • Price without flights: £2,635
  • Deposit: £395
  • Single Supplement: £335 (Double Room for Sole Use)
  • Tour Manager: Chloe Pepper

Hotel Details

5 nights with breakfast at the 5* Hotel Villa Real, Madrid



Outward:          IB3169 Departs London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1125, arrives Madrid 1455

Return:             IB3180 Departs Madrid 1650, arrives London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1815

Price includes

2 dinners & 2 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, City Tax, entry fees & gratuities, the services of Tom Duncan, Mauricio Macarrón and tour manager Chloe Pepper

Not included

Travel to/from Heathrow, 3 dinners & 3 lunches


Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Madrid in January are:
Average Temperature between: 1oC - 10oC / 34oF - 49oF
Rainfall: 41mm /1.6 inches



Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

Booking Enquiry