Madrid's top three art museums -- the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza -- are gearing up for another good year after drawing a record number of visitors in 2011 despite the weak economy.
Throughout the year crowds of tourists line up outside the ticket offices of the three museums, which are all within an easy walk of one another on the central Paseo del Prado in the so-called "Golden Triangle of Art".
The growth in the number of foreign visitors to Madrid is one of the factors fuelling attendance figures despite a steep economic downturn in Spain, said the director general of the Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miguel Angel Recio.
Last year half of the visitors to the museum, whose collection covers the history of Western art from Italian primitives to 20th century Pop Art, were from outside Spain, mainly from Germany, France and Britain, he added.
"The museum has really consolidated its place as a tourist attraction in the city," said Recio, adding he expects attendance figures will be similar to 2011 when it received over one million visitors for the first time.
Spain's top modern art museum, the Reina Sofia which houses Pablo Picasso's masterpiece Guernica, credits programming that appeals to a wide variety of tastes for the growth in visitor numbers in a tough economy.
"I think it is due to a policy that understands that the public consists of multiple minorities, each with its own vision of the world," said Reina Sofia director Manuel Borja-Villel.
"If this model works, attendance should continue to rise. The crisis affects the model of growth that is needed, not interest in culture."
The Thyssen-Bornemisza is planning five major temporary exhibits this year to mark its 20th anniversary which are sure to draw crowds, including the first retrospective of works by Russian artist Marc Chagall to be held in Spain.
The exhibit will feature around 150 works on loan from 20 other museums as well as private collections and the artist's family. It will run from February 14 until May 20.
A retrospective of works by US realist painter Edward Hopper and an homage to French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin are among the other temporary exhibitions in the works for 2012.
The museum drew a total 1,070,390 visitors in 2011, a 30.4 percent jump over the previous year and the biggest number since it opened its doors in 1992. It was the third straight year of higher attendance figures.
In addition to the jump in visitors to Madrid, the rise is due to the popularity of the temporary exhibits that were held, longer opening hours, and Internet ticket sales that allow visitors to avoid line-ups, said Recio.
A temporary exhibit of works by Spanish realist painter Antonio Lopez drew 320,000 visitors, the most of any temporary exhibit ever hosted by the museum.
One-quarter visited the exhibit at night, between 7 pm and 11 pm, and half bought their entry tickets over the Internet.
Andrea Bordoni, a 38-year-old graphic designer from Milan, said he decided to visit the Prado Museum during his week-long vacation in Madrid because he wanted to see an exhibit of works on loan from Russia's Hermitage Museum.
"I read about it in Italy, it's one of the reasons I came to Madrid. It's easier to come to Spain than to Russia to see the Hermitage and it's warmer here," he said as he stood in line to buy his ticket to visit the museum.
The Hermitage exhibit, which opened on November 8, drew 218,034 visitors last year. It is scheduled to close on March 25.
The show helped boost attendance at the museum, which houses works from before the 20th century.
The Prado drew 2,911,767 visitors, a 6.6 percent increase over 2010 with the majority of visitors, 59 percent, from outside of Spain.
Italy, the United States and France accounted for the greatest number of foreign visitors to the museum.
The Reina Sofia received 2,705,529 visitors last year, a 17 percent increase over 2010 and the fourth straight annual rise in attendance.