It seems a true shame to visit Spain without seeing both major cities. Madrid and Barcelona each have so much to offer in their own right. Barcelona, the Catalonian capital, boasts the architectural feats of Antoni Gaudí and an array of Michelin-starred dining options. Your sleep schedule in Barcelona shifts to make way for a 9 p.m. dinner (which, for the record, would constitute an early dinner) and post-dinner drinking and dancing. The days are equally culture-filled, with explorations of Park Güell, food immersion at Mercado de La Boqueria, and artistic pursuit at the Museu Picasso and the Joan Miró Foundation.
Madrid is also steeped in historical, architectural, and artistic significance, though the shift in atmosphere from Barcelona is significant. In fact, while the vibrant and abstract Picassos that hang in Barcelona reflect the city’s colorful personality, the more ethereal, surrealist art showcased in Madrid is indicative of the capital city’s atmosphere. Madrid has an exceptional display of Art Nouveau work hanging in Spain’s famous Museo Nacional del Prado. As a city, Madrid is celebrated for more than the Prado’s 7,000 world-renowned paintings and collections that rival the likes of the Uffizi and the Louvre. From the shops off Plaza Mayor selling sandwiches (bocadillos) stuffed with hot, melt-in-your-mouth fried calamari to the Egyptian relics preserved in the Templo Debod and overwhelming fervor for hometown star Cristian Ronaldo, it’s the perfect complement to a Barcelona vacation.
Traveling From Madrid to Barcelona by Train
The best way to get from Madrid to Barcelona by train is on Spain’s high-speed AVE. The AVE, short for Alta Velocidad Española, is run by Spain’s train network, Renfe. The AVE Madrid to Barcelona train departs from Madrid Atocha Station and arrives into Barcelona Sants Station. The journey itself takes about two and a half hours—impressively fast when you consider that Barcelona is more than 350 miles from Madrid. For those interested in a budget train option, the Avlo, also a high-speed train, travels from Madrid to Barcelona in two and a half hours as well, though the amenities are a step down from what’s offered on the AVE.
How Much Train Tickets From Madrid to Barcelona Cost
If tickets for the AVE are purchased well in advance, they can be as little as $35. You can purchase tickets online with Rail Europe or Eurail. However, the price will go up if you’re booking only a week in advance rather than at least 30 days out. Avlo tickets are less expensive, starting at $12 for a ticket purchased in advance.
Other Ways to Travel from Madrid to Barcelona
For those curious as to how the high-speed train ticket prices compare to a bus or plane ticket, bus tickets with Asla are comparable to Avlo tickets. However, the bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona is about eight hours. Nonstop flights—which take just over an hour—run from $60 to $250 in economy class. Finally, driving between the two cities offers travelers flexibility to stop off in Spanish towns they’d like to further explore. Renting a manual vehicle can cost as little as $40 a day—though there’s also likely to be a fee of approximately $55 for dropping the car off in a different city. Luxury or automatic vehicles will, of course, be more expensive, sometimes running closer to $75 a day.
Getting to and from the Madrid and Barcelona Train Stations
To catch your train at Atocha Train Station, the largest station in Madrid, take the light blue line (metro line 2) from the center of the city to Atocha Renfe Station. Upon arrival to Barcelona Sants, the main train station on the city’s west side, you can get on the metro at Sants Estación Metro, rent a car from a myriad of rental car agencies within Barcelona Sants, or grab a taxi right outside the station.