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The AVE Train from Barcelona to Madrid: Better than flying?

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Ave train Spain
Boarding an AVE high-speed train in Madrid's Atocha station. Photo: Mike Slichenmyer

AVE is Spain’s fastest, slickest and most modern train. Those who want to travel in style and comfort take Ave and pay, for the most part, a pretty penny to do so. With so many cheapo flights around Europe these days (Vueling, Ryanair, easyJet, etc.) normal train travel is often the second choice for those trying to save, as train tickets between cities in Spain can be more expensive than a flight and take three times as long.

Not so with AVE which will get you from Madrid to Barcelona in about three hours. I can see you doing the math and wanting to say, “But a flight between the two cities would still be faster!” I don’t think so when you factor in all the hassle involved with security and general “hurry-up-and-wait” time at the airport.

Another reason to choose the train: The landscape. Photo: Laura Padgett

As for the costs, once you add in baggage fees, booking fees, boarding fees and transportation fees into the city, those “budget flights” can become much more expensive. (Read more about this in our post on choosing whether to fly or take the train.)

AVE train tickets and times

That AVE train ticket between Madrid and Barcelona will cost you around €115 one way and around €200 if you want to travel business class. Depending upon which flights are available this could be a bargain or not. Last-minute deals can sometimes be found for AVE, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the site for discounts.

To give you a comparison and demonstrate just how fast and fabulous AVE is, a slower train, Estrella, takes almost nine hours to get from Madrid to Barcelona. This trip, however, costs just €44 one way and would be great for travelers who welcome a slower travel experience.

Other routes on the AVE

You could also travel from Madrid to Seville on AVE in just 2 hours and 30 minutes at a slightly lower price of €80 one way.

Madrid to Valencia to see Las Fallas? You can do it in under 2 hours for €80.

Or how about Madrid to Malaga? Just 2 hours 30 minutes for about €90 one way.

AVE also connects Madrid with Albacete, Valladoloid and Huesca.

Speeding along. Photo: Albertize

The ride from Barcelona to Madrid

I took AVE from Barcelona to Madrid recently and it was very comfortable. There was a bar where some riders spent most of their time plus roomy seats and tables for laptops or books.

Unfortunately I was traveling alone with tons of stuff and did not want to haul all my bags with me to the bar and was worried about having something taken. This is a consideration when you do your packing for an AVE trip. I’d recommend keeping valuables in one bag and putting the other bags on the luggage rack.

Overall it was a much more comfortable trip than on a cramped airline and I recommend it. The best part is definitely that you end up in the city center, not miles away, as is the case with airports.

Buying tickets

There are many departures daily on AVE between Madrid and Barcelona. While you could try to buy tickets online on the RENFE site, it’s probably easier to just go to your nearest station a day or two before and buy your tickets there.

Also in our guide: If you’re planning a trip to either cities, be sure to stop by our hotel guides for Madrid and Barcelona. Our editors have visited and inspected affordable hotels in both cities’ centers and have written reviews (with photos) of their favorites.

Your experience on AVE?

Have you taken the AVE or Estrella train between Barcelona and Madrid? Have you flown between the cities? Tell us about your experience in our comments section.

About the author

Regina W Bryan

About the author: Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.

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19 Responses to “The AVE Train from Barcelona to Madrid: Better than flying?”

Claudio says:

Yes, heaps better than flying. AVE runs 20 times each day. I can turn up and ride – yes, at a price, which as you say can be over €100. But a flight booked on the day (or just four or five days in advance) is usually €250. So the train is very much cheaper, and takes 150 mins from centre of Barcelona to centre of Madrid. I defy anyone to do that city centre to city centre journey in less than 4 hours if you fly.

The trains now have 95 per cent of the market on the Barcelona to Madrid route, and the only real edge that the plane has is where you are looking to connect at Madrid onto another flight. The train can of course be very much cheaper than the fares you quote in this post. For example, the Estrella fare, even if booked immediately before departure, is only €44.

juan carlos says:

Train wins. Bye, bye plane.

Why you quote just top price for the train, but el-cheapo price for the plane? I book AVE week or two before, use off-peak train, and it cost €58 one-way Barca to Madrid. Cheapest price one-way with the plane is €80 with taxes and more, often €200 or €300. But train at less busy time just €58.

Why you say buy ticket at station just a day or two before journey? This is the way to pay top price. Buy in advance on RENFE website, easy to use and in many languages. Train in Spain often very cheap. Barca to Cordoba €66 one way. Barca to Madrid with Estrella €44.

Don’t worry about your luggage. You did not move on your AVE train journey thinking we are thiefs. We are not. If I taek your bag on the AVE from Barca to Madrid how can I escape with the bag? Train is going at 300kph. No way off till Madrid and many staff on train who will hunt me down.

Thanks for your comment, Juan. That’s good advice to book in advance and during off-peak hours. Thanks!

Andres says:

I used to think like the author, but Juan Carlos is right… where is going to run a robber with your things? Relax and if you are still anxious about it, just check your luggage before each stop…

Interested to see this particular post (and the comments) as I am in Spain just now. Have to say in all honesty that I am learning a lot fast about Spanish trains and have realised the biggest determinant of fare is the class of train used. This trip I have used Media Distancia (MD) trains the most, a few local Cercanias services, plus one trip on an Avant train, one Altaria, one Talgo, etc. In fact I have not once stepped into an AVE, which are the real top-of-the-range expresses with the highest fares. I sense that a journey that might cost €8 on an MD could run to four times as much on an AVE. Oddly, everyone in Spain seems to be born with an innate ability to recognise these different kinds of train. To me they all look much the same (except that AVEs have very droopy extended noses that give them a rather sad look). Perhaps scope for a hidden europe post before long that unravels the mysteries of rail travel In Spain. Thanks to Regina for raising the topic.
NG

Andres says:

Hi! It’s not that difficult… there are basicly 3 kind of trains in Spain

Cercanías (Rodalies in Catalonia)… which is like a regional metro network… it literally means “surroundings” or “close places”. These are the trains that you are supposed to use within your own region (that usually means whithin your province, but sometimes it’s also good for going to the contiguous provinces). There are sometimes (it’s not that common) special services named Civis that run only on the most important stations in the route (Have in mind that Civis is not the same as Civia, Civia is a new model of train that runs on Cercanías networks).

In Cercanías trains the fares are generally calculated by the number of crossed “zones” and usually the trains are very frequent (these trains gets often delayed by the Spanish standard, but almost nobody notices it is some routes as there are trains each 4 to 30 minutes). Except for Civis services, these trains make a stop each 5-10 mins.

Seat reservation is not possible in Cercanías.
——————————–
Media distancia (medium distance) are trains that runs to near regions… they sometimes stop in Cercanías stations but it’s a different service… and in less densely populated regions that don’t enjoy a cercanías network… it’s like a substitute or an extension of the nearest Cercanías network(s). Note that sometimes it is possible to make really long trips on these trains… but they are usually meant for shorter trips. These trains usually make a stop each ~20 mins but here the range is much more diffuse.

Media distancia trains include among others, Regional, Regional Express (less stations), TRD (generally better) and Avant (High Speed regional trains, up to 250Km/h). Media Distancia fares depends on the kilometrage and speed, Avant is usually noticeabely expensiver).

Seat reservation is not possible in Regional, I’m not sure about Regional Express and compulsory in Avant (you can do it in the station but I recomend booking it in advance).
———————————–
Larga distancia (long distance) are trains that usually run point to point with few stops (this is often also true for Avant, but Larga distancia trains cover much more extense distances). There are tons of different Larga distancia services and they are often run on specific routes…

Estrella: Night trains, this is an exception to the few stops rule as here the time is less important. Their main objetive is to depart in the night and arrive to the final destination early in the morning. These trains usually have beds (but you have to pay for them when you buy your ticket).

Trenhotel: Very similar to Estrella but more luxurious… I think that these trains were a mistake as it’s hard to make them profitable.

AVE: (Alta Velocidad Española or Spanish High Speed) high speed trains that only run on the high speed network… up to 320Km/h although some streches are ready for commertial speeds up to 350Km/h. These trains have the record of running at 403,7Km/h unmodified on the line Madrid-Barcelona… (the necessary speed to homologate the line and the trains to 350Km/h).

Alvia: These trains use the high speed network when availlable and the conventional network otherwise… they run up to 250Km/h. This is more impressive than in the rest of Europe as the track gauge in Spain is different between the high speed and the conventional network… and the trains change their gauge on the route without stopping.

Altaria: Similar to Alvia but up to 200Km/h… they use an independent locomotive and generally they have to change the locomotive (but not the cars) when a change of gauge is neccesary. Generally less confortable than Alvia.

Alaris: More or less the same than Alvia, but the speed is up to 200Km/h.

Arco / Talgo: Services that run only in conventional network…

Euromed: It’s supposed to be high speed but it rus on reformed conventional network through the Mediterranean sea instead of a new high speed network, so it’s not that fast.

You have to have in mind that Cercanías and Media distancia are usually subventionated while long distance trains aren’t (it’s illegal in the European Union) also as faster is the train, the service gets more expensive.

People in Spain usually don’t know all these details… they have a general notion and they usually choose the train that fits better their budget and schedule.

Regina WB says:

Hi Juan, I didn’t see those prices when I’ve done searches, ever…but other people have said the same thing, that you can get deals if you buy off season. I have had problems buying tickets on the RENFE site, but it’s good to hear that you have not. I’d say give it a try to potential riders with Internet and a printer.

I also agree with Claudio that the train gets you to the center of town faster, and let’s face it, it’s not great for the environment to fly.

Nicky, it can be tough to know which train is which, what stop you’re at and which side of the track the train will show up on. In Catalunya using the cercanias you really have to pay attention to what is being said on the loud speaker and then watch where the crowd goes. I’ve been here for 6 years and still get confused. It’s not always easy.

Good luck and thanks for your comments!

juan carlos says:

The RENFE site usually works good. Do you realize main RENFE site gives only full fares. To get discount ticket you must go to venta.renfe.com. Choose Catala or Espanol. Here prices of tickets I buy today, and still there so you can check. Not just off season. Anyday, but buy in advance at least a week and better more but never at train station as Regina says.

Madrid to Barca next Sunday I travel with my family and we paid €232 for 4 persona. Then on the next day Monday at real busy time (17h) I go back to Madrid. Business busy trains then. Fare was €82. So my return fare is €140 return which I book 1 week in advance. Also good that sometimes you pay just €5 more for preferente and €5 more again for club.

Person who comment here who says type of train is important is right. A €10 regional train ride will be €25 on Avant train on same line and €50 on AVE. You pay for speed.

Kris says:

Hi Guys,

Does anyone know if it is easy to get from the Madrid International terminal to the train station to catch the AVE/high-speed train to Cordoba? I’m trying to see if it is better to take the flight to Sevilla and then the local train to Cordoba, or just take the AVE MADRID-CORDOBA.

Your comments are very much appreciated.

.
Kris (above):
It is five stops on the C-1 train from Madrid International Airport to Atocha Station (whence the AVE train leaves for Cordoba). Trains run from the airport every 30 minutes, and the run to Atocha takes 25 minutes. There are generally 3 fast trains per hour from Madrid Atocha to Cordoba, with travel time generally about 1hr 45m.

You mention that you might be inclined to fly from Madrid first to Sevilla in order to reach Cordoba. To be honest, it does not help you a lot. There are indeed up to five flights a day from Madrid to Seville (generally €150 one-way) but your travel time from Seville Airport to central Cordoba is not much less than from Madrid Airport.

But if you decide on the Sevilla Airport route, buses run every 30 minutes from Sevilla airport into the middle of town, taking about 35 mins for the journey. The train journey from Sevilla to Cordoba. The local train to Cordoba which you mention (a MD category train which still needs to be pre-booked) takes 80 minutes. There are some faster services (with higher fares to match).

Nicky and Susanne
editors
hidden europe magazine

grace says:

is there a normal train from barcelona to madrid. we are on budget travel and we cannot afford to travel with express train. thanks

For Grace (above)

Yes, you can certainly travel by local train from Barcelona to Madrid. It follows a very fine historic route. The most convenient daytime departure is that at 08.47, and you need to change trains just once (in Zaragoza). The standard flexible one-way fare is €50.50 and you can buy that right up to departure time. If you are happy to use an overnight train, the one-way fare on the Estrella overnight train is just €44.60.

There are also several express coaches each day. The principal operator is ANSA. That company alone has 16 departures each day. The one-way fare is generally €32.32.

We hope this helps. Enjoy your Spanish travels.

Nicky and Susanne
editors: Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers
(Thomas Cook Publishing)

Mags says:

In regards to Grace’s query. I also have this same problem with budget. Where could I find links to these local trains or ANSA express coaches? I will be travelling from Madrid to Barcelona at the beginning of August.

I would really appreciate your help.
Thank you.

For Mags (above)

You’ll find the time and fares for the Barca to Madrid local trains (as well as the cheap Estrella services) on the RENFE website at http://www.renfe.es. Since we last commented on these rail options more than two months ago, there have been a couple of changes. It is no longer necessary to change in Zaragoza when you take the slow train. It now runs right through from Barcelona to Madrid. The flexible one-way fare (no need to pre-book, just turn up and buy tkt upon departure) has increased in price a little. It is now €54.70.

For the buses, just go to http://www.alsa.es On the Barca to Madrid bus routes, fares for the summer are if anything a little lower than when we commented in April. There are now tickets for less than €30 one way.

Nicky and Susanne
editors of hidden europe magazine
http://www.hiddeneurope.co.uk
AND
editors of Europe by Rail
http://www.europebyrail.eu

Gus says:

I need the CHEAPEST train ticket ( speed is not essential) from MAD airport to Barcelona city center in the beginning of october 2013. How frequent do the trains run from Madrid airport to Barcelona city center ? I will be arriving in Madrid early in the morning. Is the train ticket valid for the next train in case I miss my train? Please help. Should I book it online several months in advance? I need your advice. Thanks, Gus

andalucia libre says:

Your wish for absolute flexibility, Gus, does not mesh easily with the need for a cheap fare. The cheapest tickets will indeed be those booked well in advance. But there you are 100% tied to a specific train. If your flight is late in and you miss the train on which you are booked, then you ticket will NOT be accepted on a later train. So your best option here is just to buy a full-fare ticket upon arrival in Madrid. Or don’t fly into Madrid at all, but into Barcelona.

Carmela says:

Hi! I’ve been getting mixed reviews regarding the Estrella overnight train from Barcelona to Madrid. We are a family of 4 with 2 kids and was considering on taking such train for a trip this July. Does anybody know:

1) are we able to reserve a cabin with just 4 beds (bunk or otherwise) and not share with anybody else?

2) if we are able to reserve a 4 person cabin, does it have doors that can be closed for safety/privacy?

Any past experiences good/bad would be appreciated.

Thank you!!!

Hi there

First time in Spain and would like to find out what is the latest time the Ave runs between Madrid and Barcelona on a Sunday.

Grateful for any info

Thanks
Sharon

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