London and Barcelona are two of Europe's most popular cities to visit and are obligatory stops on most Euro-trip itineraries. In many ways, they couldn't be more different. London is a fast-paced global city with countless sites to visit, and it's impossible to see it all on a single trip. Barcelona, on the other hand, is a major city itself but has a fraction of the population of London. This coastal city is a place to enjoy the laidback Mediterranean lifestyle while sipping on Spanish wine near the beach.
The cities are easily connected, and a short flight gets you from one to the other in just over two hours. Several low-cost airlines cover this popular route, so tickets are often dirt cheap, especially if you're flying in the middle of the week. Travel by plane is definitely the cheapest and most convenient method, but you'll fly over and completely miss out on all of France. Another option is to board a train in London in the morning and be in Barcelona by dinnertime, a comfortable ride that lets you experience the breathtaking scenery of the French countryside. Driving your own car or taking the bus take significantly longer, so make sure you're prepared for a trip of that duration before embarking.
How to Get from London to Barcelona
- Flight: 2 hours, 5 minutes, from $20
- Train: 8 hours, 45 minutes, from $110 (with one change of train)
- Bus: 24 hours, from $50
- Car: 16 hours, 932 miles (1,500 kilometers)
For the quickest and cheapest way to get from London to Barcelona, a flight is your best option. Several airlines fly direct between the two cities, including RyanAir, Vueling, EasyJet, Norwegian, and British Airways. If you're flying in the low season, which is weekdays outside of summer vacation and winter holidays, you can find one-way flights for as low as $20. Even during the summer, if you book in advance and are flexible with your dates, it's not difficult to find cheap deals.
London has six international airports, some of which are quite far from the city center—especially Stansted (STN) and Southend (SEN) airports. Make sure you research how long it takes to arrive at the airport before hastily booking the cheapest flight, because an early morning departure time may be complicated by limited late-night transportation options.
Flights to Barcelona may arrive at El Prat (BCN), which is the major airport in the area and the closest one to the city, with local trains and buses shuttling passengers from the airport to city center in about 20–30 minutes. Some budget airlines, however, advertise flights to Barcelona but actually fly into Girona (GRO), which is an hour and 15 minutes outside of Barcelona by bus.
Even though the train takes much more time than the plane and will likely cost you more as well, there's something undeniably romantic about traveling across Europe by rail. Most travelers consider it the most comfortable option for moving across long distances, and a mandatory stop in Paris gives you the opportunity to see a whole different city while en route. As an added bonus, the train is the most environmentally friendly way to make the journey, especially when compared to air travel.
The nearly 1,000-mile journey can be completed in a single day if you so desire, and requires two separate legs. First, book a Eurostar train from London's St. Pancras Station to Paris' Gare du Nord. The journey takes about two and a half hours, and trains leave almost hourly from London every day. Once you arrive in Paris, you'll need to take the metro two stops or a taxi to catch the Barcelona train at Gare de Lyon station, so make sure to give yourself at least an hour between trains so you have time to transfer. You could also take advantage of the stop by spending a night in Paris, if not longer, before continuing on to Barcelona.
Book the second leg of the trip through RailEurope, which takes about six and a half hours on the high-speed train. Tickets start at $45 when they are first released, but can jump up to over $200 for last-minute reservations.
For the best views, try to reserve a seat in the upper deck of the train. When you are buying tickets through RailEurope, it will show you the seat number after adding the trip to your basket but before checking out. If the seat number is greater than 60, you're in the upper deck. If it's lower than 60, hit "Continue Shopping" and continue to add tickets until you get a seat number higher than 60. Once you do, delete the other tickets and complete your purchase.
You can theoretically take a bus from London to Barcelona, but there's almost no scenario where you would need nor want to. The trip takes over 24 hours with a short transfer in Paris, and the tickets aren't cheap. Buses start at $50 when booked in advance and can balloon up to over $150 when making last-minute plans. Either way, you're likely to pay the same amount or even less on a plane, making the bus option completely untenable. If you're intent on riding the bus, the trip to Paris is much more manageable. Or, use the bus to travel around the U.K. and visit other cities like Manchester, Liverpool, or Glasgow.
For travelers who really aren't in a rush, renting a car and driving from London to Barcelona could be a trip all in itself. Driving gives you the freedom to take your time and explore all of France from north to south. The most direct route takes about 16 hours of total time behind the wheel, but you can alter it a bit to drive further west along the French coast and pass through Toulouse, or further east to drive through the Champagne region and Lyon.
Driving your own car brings with it all kinds of unique advantages, but don't embark on this route unless you know exactly what you're getting into. Apart from the car rental and gas, there are all types of other costs to factor in, including tolls. French highways use tolls based on the distance you drive, and since you'll literally be driving across the country, they will add up quickly. To cross from the U.K. to France, you'll also need to pay for your car to be shuttled across on the Chunnel train. If you're renting a car and not traveling back to London, be aware that most rental companies charge a hefty fee for dropping a car off in a different country from where you picked it up.
What to See in Barcelona
Barcelona doesn't have an overwhelming number of sites and monuments to visit as London does, so it's a perfect place to slow down, relax on the beach, and enjoy some ice-cold sangria. Once you're refreshed, then you can continue on sightseeing, and Barcelona's most famous attraction should be first on your list: the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. It's a church unlike any other you've seen, designed by the local architect Antoni Gaudí. His other works around the city are also worth visiting, especially the peculiar Park Güell with its distinctively Gaudí structures. From there, take a stroll down the main pedestrian street, La Rambla, and then get lost in the nearby Gothic Quarter, stopping for drinks and tapas as often as you see fit.
Crossing the Border
When you cross the border from the U.K. into Spain or France, regardless of your means of transportation, remember you'll have to go through border control and change your clock forward an hour. The U.K. is not part of the Schengen Agreement that allows for borderless travel between countries, so you'll need to show your passport and any necessary visas when traveling. France and Spain, on the other hand, are in the Schengen Zone. If you're traveling by train, bus, or car from France into Spain, you'll be able to pass through without worrying about long lines or passport control.