The artistically inclined city of Madrid might be a good place to start off your vacation in Spain. But, why not hop to the modern yet traditional city of Barcelona while you have the chance? With beaches, amazing architecture, and culture awaiting you, there’s no reason not to.
After you’ve seen the best landmarks in Madrid, like the Prado Museum, Toledo district, and the trail south of the Plaza Mayor, extend your tour to Barcelona to experience more of Spain. Barcelona is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and is waiting to welcome its visitors with incredible views, bike tours, and tapas. But getting affordable and hassle-free travel options can be tricky.
To make the trip from Madrid to Barcelona a little less stressful, we’ve compiled the best ways to travel.
Getting from Madrid to Barcelona by train
With many options making it simple to travel from Madrid to Barcelona, it’s easy to see why these two cities are popular options for tourists. But the train services seem to be a fan favorite.
Why you should hop on a train to Barcelona
A train ride from Madrid is the easiest way to travel to Barcelona. The journey takes less than 3 hours from the Atocha Train Station in Madrid to the Sants Train Station in Barcelona with either the standard high-speed AVE train or the high-speed low-cost Avlo.
When you arrive at the Sants station in Barcelona, you are met with many different facilities and shops that will make the journey a lot more fun. Buy a book or have some lunch before you go on the next leg of your journey.
When you’re ready to depart from the station, simply head over to one of the many rental car services stands – or phone a taxi.
High-Speed Trains Madrid to Barcelona (AVE)
Travel in style with the AVE (Alta Velocidad Espanol) high-speed train. It is the simplest way to travel the distance from Madrid to Barcelona. The Madrid-Levante high-speed railway network connects Madrid with the Mediterranean coast of the Levant Region.
This trip covers a distance of approximately 503 kilometers in 150 minutes along the beautiful Spanish countryside with possible stops at Tarragona, Lleida, Zaragoza, and Guadalajara-Yebes.
Marked as the most important route, the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona runs more than once every hour, so catching a ride will be easy. However, there are no running trains between 23:00 and 6:00 but you can view connections at any time on Eurorail.
Facilities and services on the train may differ per train and route. But they include audio systems, bars, child supervision, and more, making it a worthwhile travel experience.
The prices on the AVE high-speed train vary depending on season and time booked, and range between ~31 Euro ($37 USD) and ~88 Euro ($105 USD). Make sure to book beforehand to receive the best possible price. Bookings for the AVE high-speed train are open up to 4 months in advance because tickets are very sought after.
Be sure to arrive early at the station to go through baggage check and enjoy some of the best local coffee spots before you hop on the train to Barcelona.
High-Speed Trains from Madrid to Barcelona (Avlo)Similar to the AVE, this train will whisk you away to Barcelona in under 3 hours with only differences in amenities. The Avlo limits passengers to only one carry-on bag and doesn’t offer facilities such as a cafeteria. And unlike the AVE, seating options may be limited.
Tickets start at ~10 Euro ($12 USD) when booked in advance but can increase in price up to ~46 Euro ($55 USD) on late bookings.
Fly from Madrid to Barcelona
Flying from Madrid to Barcelona is another popular option among tourists. If you are in a time crunch or couldn’t book tickets in advance, flying might be the perfect option for you.
The Air Bridge is one of the most popular options for air travel from Madrid to Barcelona. There are a number of low-cost airlines that fly between Madrid and Barcelona frequently.
The prices on flights from Madrid to Barcelona are not at a set rate and should be checked out before the desired travel date. The range between ~30 Euro ($36 USD) and ~100 Euro ($119 USD) year-round. Flights only take around 50 minutes from Madrid to Barcelona making it the fastest way to travel to Barcelona El Prat Airport.
Once you have arrived in Barcelona, there is only a short 25-minute ride to the city center with either the underground metro, a bus, the commuter train networks, or private transport. You will find yourself in the heart of Barcelona in no time experiencing the best local cuisine and sightseeing spots. But, considering check-in, baggage checks, and security, flying might take considerably longer than a train ride.
For last-minute travel bookings, flying will be the best option. Compared to the AVE high-speed train, flying will be a cheaper option when booking last minute tickets, especially in the off-season. Before purchasing a last-minute ticket, be sure to compare the prices between train and flight options.
Bus services from Madrid to Barcelona
When all other options seem to be unavailable, like during a peak in the tourist season, taking the bus to Barcelona might be the best option.
Alsa Bus Services
A bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona is inarguably the slowest method of transportation. A journey can take up to 8 hours or even longer with traffic. The transportation company, Alsa, offers multiple routes from Madrid to Barcelona every day, including a nighttime route, so getting a spot is quite easy.
Tickets usually start at ~9 Euro ($11 USD) when purchased in advance, but do increase in price closer to the departure date – not unlike the flight and train tickets. A same-day ticket can skyrocket to ~42 Euro ($50 USD) for a one-way trip to Barcelona, therefore booking tickets well in advance is essential to a budget-friendly trip.
Drive from Madrid to Barcelona
If you are more adventurous and interested in a small road trip in the countryside of Spain, driving to Barcelona might be a fun option.
Rent a car
Renting a car to travel from Madrid to Barcelona is quite simple and budget-friendly. Rentals can go for as low as ~4 Euro ($5 USD) per day for a small sedan and up to ~25 Euro ($30 USD) for a 5 person vehicle. However, Europe is known for having manual gearboxes, so you might be expected to pay an increased fee if you need an automatic vehicle.
Tip: Book your car rental online to save yourself the hassle of waiting in long lines.
Rental cars can easily be picked up in Madrid city centre or at the airport from vendors like Europcar, Avis, Sixt, Budget, Hertz and many more. But make sure to have a chip and pin credit card ready for the tolls along the way.
The trip will take about six hours but can easily be extended to a few days. Consider stopping for lunch in Zaragoza and experiencing the city’s most famous roasted lamb dish called ternasco, or drive along the coast and stop for a Valencia bike tour before you head further north towards Barcelona.
A car rental agency will be the best option when traveling in a group. The cost of splitting gas, toll fees, and rental fees will often be cheaper than purchasing individual travel tickets. But a downside to having the freedom of a rental car is that parking in the city centre is hard to come by. It may be wise to budget for a parking spot when considering a car rental.
Arriving in Barcelona (costs & transport)
Now that you’ve arrived in Barcelona, the city awaits you. But what transport option do you have within the city itself?
With so many tourist hotspots and endless excursions, Barcelona’s transportation systems are tailored to take you to any point within the city. Making sure you don’t miss a single opportunity to explore that wonderful area. From wild nightlife to exotic beaches, you will want to explore as much as possible, but at what cost?
The Barcelona Card
If you’re planning on visiting the city for a number of days, the Barcelona Card will save you a lot of money on attractions and transportation. Starting at only ~17 Euro ($20 USD) the card will offer you free public transportation and free entrance to most museums and galleries within the city making hopping around the city very simple.
You will be able to hop between galleries and horseback riding destinations without breaking the bank with the easy to access discounts that you will receive along with the Barcelona Card. The pack includes a map of the city, a list of activities with discounts attached, and a list of free public transportation options.
You can purchase the Barcelona Card well in advance to ensure that you get the best bang for your buck.
Public Transportation in Barcelona
Seeing that Barcelona is such a big city, public transportation options are some of the best. They ensure that not only the locals but also the tourists have the best possible experience getting to and from their destinations easily.
When the idea of renting a car to drive around the city seems like too much hassle, especially in the city center, public transport is the best option. The best public transportation options include the tram, local trains, bus services.
Universal tickets such as Hola Barcelona offer unlimited journeys to and from any location within the city and start off at ~15 Euro ($18 USD) for a 2-day visit. But how do you choose between the different available passes?
Consider your hotel/hostel location
If your accommodation in Barcelona is based centrally, the likelihood of needing public transport lowers. You might not need anything more than a single journey, which will be cheaper to buy on its own. Most tourist locations are centrally based, so it will be effortless to reach most destinations by foot.
Attractions you’d love to visit in Barcelona
If you are keen on visiting museums and other cultural spaces, the Barcelona Card will benefit you best. Other than offering a large amount of free public transportation journeys, you will also receive free entrance to most galleries and museums.
Number of Barcelona attractions you’d like to see per day
If you are planning an extensive trip through Barcelona and the surrounding area, you might need more than 4 or 5 public transport trips a day. The T-10 pass will allow you to have up to 10 journeys on public transport and the card can be shared with others.
All of these passes can be purchased leading up to your visit to Barcelona and can be picked up at the airport, train stations, and other spots throughout the city upon arriving.
Final thoughts on traveling from Madrid to Barcelona
Traveling from Madrid to Barcelona has never been easier. There’s a large number of options available to fit any budget and timeframe making it a no-brainer.
Being able to see the artistic and cultural mecca of Madrid and moving on to the coastal and cultural experience of Barcelona is a once-in-a-lifetime journey you have to take when in Spain.
But the experience can be costly if not planned correctly due to the fact that both cities are hot tourist destinations. Make sure to book and purchase all tickets and passes well in advance, so that you can travel fast and cost-effectively.