If you are on a tight itinerary, then this isn’t a must-see but if you have some extra days to explore, then it’s an interesting diversion. It’s a little pricey for a small museum (€10) but they have free entry on Sundays after 3pm.
The star attraction here is a full size replica of the Royal Galley, built 1568. The best bit without a doubt, is that you can actually walk onto it.
It’s pretty impressive – 60m long with 2 masts and 50+ oars, 3 golden lanterns at the back and a golden figurehead of Neptune riding a dolphin at the front. Neptune holds a trident above his head and his arm is poised, ready to strike.
The flagship galley was part of the Fleet of the Holy League and fought in the Battle of Lepanto, defeating the Ottoman Empire in 1571. The battle was a huge turning point in history and effectively saved Europe from Turkish expansion.
Although I don’t have any special interest in maritime history or boats, we easily spent about 2 hours here. I thought they did several things very, very well.
Firstly, they did a really excellent job of providing information that was presented in an informative and appealing way. Large panels with diagrams and pictures made the information accessible to both children and adults. I was fascinated/horrified by the panels that described the life of a galley slave. Rowers only survived for about 2 years. They spent this miserably short time chained to their bench, where they were exposed to the burning sun and elements and rowed, ate and slept, covered in their own faeces and urine. Two years would have been two years too long.
The other thing they have done incredibly well is designing the museum space within the original 13th century Royal Shipyards. Inside, they have created an open, modern space for the exhibitions but have retained the high ceilings and rounded arches of the original structure. The building is like an exhibit itself. As you walk around you are reminded that this was a working building for over 700 years. This was where the Spanish ships were built, maintained and repaired in the days of galley warfare, when the Spanish fleet was the best in the world.
Apart from the galley, the other displays range in level of general interest. There are small collections of maps, navigational instruments, figureheads and ship standards which I found interesting and again, the displays were well-supported by signs and information. Some displays were less interesting such as the history of luggage.
The museum is only a minute or two away from the Port Vell waterfront. It's a great location to go and get something to eat or drink. We headed over to Maremagnum and had lunch at Tapa Tapa, where we could sit, looking out over the harbour. Later we went for a long, leisurely walk around the waterfront promenade and checked out the modern boats and luxury yachts.
FREE ENTRY: On Sunday, between 3 – 7pm, there is no entry fee. You still need to get a ticket to go through the turnstile so you might have to line up at the counter where they will give you a free ticket. We arrived some time just after 3pm and there was no queue at all. However, when we left around 5pm-ish, the queue stretched outside the door.
HOURS: Open 10 – 8pm every day (although I believe that they are now closing on Mondays)
FACILITIES: There is a large café, a gift shop and bathrooms which can all be accessed without having to pay and enter the museum.