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 thoughts on “The AVE Train from Barcelona to Madrid: Better than flying?”

  1. 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!!!

    Reply
  2. andalucia libre

    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.

    Reply
  3. 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

    Reply
  4. 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

    Reply

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