Madrid and Barcelona are Spain's two most popular cities. Thousands of tourists everyday travel between the two, largely by train and plane.
The AVE train has revolutionized travel in Spain. Visitors to Madrid now have the option of a day trip to Barcelona, which wouldn't have been possible before. The airline industry had to respond to the new level of ease provided by the AVE, which they did. Now no big cities in Europe have better transport options between them than Madrid and Barcelona do.
Madrid to Barcelona: AVE Train or Iberia Air Shuttle?
Ever since the AVE train connected Madrid to Barcelona, many travelers in a hurry changed from flying to taking the train. But the Madrid-Barcelona air route remains the busiest in Europe.
So why do people still fly? Because Iberia's Air Shuttle is actually even more convenient than the AVE train, though it comes at a cost.
By Train: The AVE train revolutionized transport from Madrid to Barcelona. Travel time was cut to around two hours and 30 minutes. And with the train stations being more central than the airports in each city and no need to check in as one does for flights, getting between Spain's two biggest cities became much quicker by train than by plane. Ticket costs vary hugely; check prices for train tickets in Spain on the national rail service website, Renfe.es.
Trains from Madrid to Barcelona depart from Puerta de Atocha train station.
By Plane: The air industry replied with Iberia's Madrid-Barcelona Air Shuttle. They removed the need to book a particular flight: just turn up with your open ticket and board the next plane, sometimes as quickly as 15 minutes before departure.
Train vs Plane In Brief
- If you are willing to pay more and are in a hurry, the Iberia Air Shuttle is faster than the train, as well as more flexible. You can jump on the next available flight without having to change tickets. Check out the Air Shuttle service on Iberia.com.
- For those on a budget and not worried about missing their train, the train is usually more convenient and much cheaper than the Air Shuttle. Book trains with Renfe.
- The cheaper option can be a flight with a reserved ticket (not using Iberia's Puente Aero), but it will require all the usual hassle of getting to the airport and making allowances for check-in times.
Madrid to Barcelona: Budget Options
The convenient and speed of the AVE train and Iberia Air Shuttle unsurprisingly come at a cost.
Cheaper flights are available, but without this quick-board service. Alternatively, you can take the bus or drive, but these options take much longer.
By Night Train: The night train is cheaper than the high-speed AVE train and it saves you a night's hotel accommodation, too. Read more about Night Trains in Spain.
By Bus: There are regular buses throughout the day between Madrid and Barcelona. The journey takes six hours and costs about 30 euros. This is the cheapest option, but the journey is long.
Most buses from Madrid to Barcelona depart from the Avenida de America bus station, though a couple a day also leave from Mendez Alvaro.
You can book most bus tickets in Spain online at no extra charge via the bus company's website. Just pay with a credit card and print out the e-ticket.
By Car: It takes about six hours to drive the 600km to Barcelona, mainly on A-2, AP-2, and AP-7 freeways. Note that AP roads in Spain are toll roads.
Consider a stop in Zaragoza to break up the long journey.