Taking the Madrid to Barcelona train
The high speed Madrid Barcelona AVE train has become a though competitor to airlines connecting both cities. Even if flying takes roughly half the time of the train ride (around 1 hour and 20 minutes), the convenience of not having to travel to the airport in the suburbs and be there early enough to go through all the security checks and sparing the stress of making the boarding times, makes the train option a great choice. Plus in the train you can freely walk around and use your electronic devices with no limitations. The downside would be the cost, often higher than flying because there are lots of low cost airlines offering amazing deals if you book ahead of time enough.
But if after comparing all the options you’ve decided to take the train as many locals do, make sure to read the following tips.
This is what you need to know about the Madrid Barcelona AVE train:
Book in advance. A big mistake is thinking that taking the high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona will be like hoping on a suburban train. Wrong! That’s way too risky and it’s bad for your pocket, too. Consider taking the train as if you were taking an airplane: you wouldn’t show up at the airport without a plane ticket – so don’t go to the station without having purchased a train ticket either or you risk having to wait hours until there is a seat available. Also don’t wait until last minute to book your ticket: the trains running at the most convenient times sell out quickly. Or are you happy to get up at sunrise to take the 6AM train (and arrive to Madrid when everything is still closed), rather than a convenient 9AM train that will still allow you to take the most out of your first day in town? Or the other way around: how horrible it can be to wait until a 10PM train departs, when you have already checked out from your hotel and all the tourist sites are closed but restaurants haven’t open yet for an early dinner before the ride?
Finding deals. Another reason to not way until last minute to get your tickets is that the sooner you buy your Madrid Barcelona AVE tickets, the better because the cheapest tickets are the first to go away. Buying them as soon as they are available can save you upto a 50% of the price of a last-minute ticket (by the way, tickets are usually made available 11 weeks before departure date). Aside from that, take into account that there is a 20% discount for round trips, children under 4 years old are free and children upto 14yo pay a 40% less. There are also discounts for students and seniors in possession of specific cards (see the RENFE website for more information), and if you book a table for 4 people you also get a special deal.
How fast? The maximum capable speed of the trains is 350km/h (217 mph), although during the ride the average commercial speed is around 300km/h (186 mph). So the ride between Barcelona and Madrid can take between 2.5 hours to 3 hours and 10min, mostly depending on how many stops are planned. Other main stops are Zaragoza (the capital of the Aragon region, famous for its Cathedral) and Tarragona, with its Unesco World Heritage Roman ruins.
Silent Carriages. Since July 2014 some trains offer special “coches en silencio”, that is carriages where noise is kind of forbidden: passengers are not allowed to speak on their phones, are asked not to keep conversations with other travelers and when speaking they must use a low voice, plus they and must keep their electronic devices in silence. Children under 14yo are not allowed. The downsides? Not all the trains offer this possibility, and there are less discounts available.
When to arrive and how. Once you arrive to the station you must go through a security check that is usually pretty fast (much more than at the airport!), then you access a passengers area where there are benches and a couple of cafés. You’ll have to wait there until boarding opens some 20 to 30min before the train departure time. The boarding checking point will be located at the access of the stairs leading to the platform, and it closes 2 minutes before the train departure (be one minute late, and you’ve lost it!). So no need to arrive one hour early: 30min should be enough. The AVE trains depart in Barcelona from the Sants station and is connected by the L5 (blue) and L3 (green) subway lines with the city center, and it’s some 10 to 20 minutes taxi rides from most popular hotels (a bit more in traffic rush hours).
AND BONUS! Did you know the high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona has been one of the main complaints argued by the Catalan separatists who don’t want to be part of Spain anymore?
Unfair comparisons. The first fast speed train in Spain was created in 1992 connecting Madrid and Seville. That year Barcelona was celebrating the Olympics and Seville was organizing the World Fair, and while a Madrid-Barcelona line made more sense, the Spanish government considered that a Madrid-Seville line would boost the economy of the poorer South (rumor had it that many politicians in the power were from Seville and wanted a comfortable way to get home…). So Barcelona had to wait until 2008 (16 years!) to be connected with Madrid via fast speed train. Worse of all, the trains were not as fast as those in the Madrid-Seville line… Plus the connection between Barcelona and the French border was not completed until 2013 – which considering its economical importance, it’s quite late.
BTW, check this post if you need a Barcelona hotel close to the Madrid to Barcelona train station!
So what about you? Head to the comments below and tells us: have you ever taken the train from Madrid to Barcelona and how was the experience?