Many Euro-trip travelers start their journeys in Spain and then go north to France before continuing to other parts of Europe, and Madrid to Paris is one of the most popular routes with lots of options. The Spanish and French capital cities each provide a glimpse into the local culture, from the more laidback Mediterranean lifestyle in Madrid to the haute and more European way of life that you'll see in Paris.
Flying is the most pragmatic and convenient choice if you need to get from one point to the next as quickly as possible. However, if you have a bit more time to enjoy, taking the train or renting a car is by far a more picturesque—and potentially more relaxing and enjoyable—way of traveling.
How to Get from Madrid to Paris
- Train: 9 hours, 20 minutes, from $57 (with transfer)
- Plane: 2 hours, from $30
- Car: 12 hours, 790 miles (1,272 kilometers)
- Bus: 17 hours, from $39
The train is the preferred method of transport for many Euro-travelers, and you can catch an early train from Madrid and be in Paris by the late afternoon. Even though it takes much longer than a plane ride and is likely to be more expensive, there's something undeniably romantic about taking a train through the idyllic landscapes of Spain and France. You can't take a direct train from Madrid to Paris, so you'll need to change trains once in Barcelona before continuing on. The first leg of the trip is purchased through the Spanish national rail service, Renfe, and the second leg is purchased through the French rail service, SNCF. Alternatively, you could book the entire trip together by making reservations through RailEurope, but they do charge a small commission.
Buy tickets from Madrid to Barcelona on the Renfe webpage or through its low-cost subsidiary, Avlo. Avlo trains are the same high-speed cars that get passengers to Barcelona in just two hours and 30 minutes, but with less ticket flexibility and tighter luggage restrictions. Avlo tickets start as low as 10 euros, or about $11, while Renfe tickets start at 40 euros, or roughly $45. However, tickets get more expensive as your travel date gets closer, so make all of your reservations as early as possible.
The second leg of the trip takes about six and a half hours, filled with picturesque views of the French countryside until you arrive in Paris at Gare de Lyon station. Spanish high-speed trains are very punctual, so you can book your trains with as little as 30 minutes between them without worrying about missing your connection. However, one of the perks of taking the train is being able to make stops. If you can, leave at least a few hours—if not a couple of nights—in between legs so you have some time to explore Barcelona.
If you're in a rush or don't care about seeing Barcelona, air travel is the fastest way to get from Madrid to Paris and oftentimes the cheapest. A huge number of airlines cover this popular route, keeping prices down and offering lots of departure-time options. You can choose from low-cost providers such as RyanAir, Easyjet, Vueling, AirEuropa, and Transavia, as well as traditional carriers like AirFrance and Iberia.
Madrid only has one airport, Madrid Barajas (MAD), but there are three potential arrival points in Paris. Most airlines fly to either Charles de Gaulle (CDG) or Orly (ORY) airports, both of which are connected to the city center by public transit in about 40 minutes. However, some of the budget airlines fly to Beauvais Airport (BVA), which requires an additional 90-minute bus ride to get to Paris. If you see a flight deal to Beauvais, don't forget to factor in the extra time and cost.
It takes about 12 hours to drive straight through from Madrid to Paris, but if you don't mind being behind the wheel and navigating traffic rules in two different European countries, driving is a fantastic way to see northern Spain and France. You'll pass through countless villages in both countries that you would never be able to visit if you took the train or plane, and it gives travelers the opportunity to experience local life outside of the major cities. Two cities in particular that are worth stopping in for a night each to break up the trip are San Sebastian, Spain, and Bordeaux, France.
Both countries use extensive use of toll roads, so don't forget to factor that cost in when you are making your plans. Depending on the route you take, the tolls could add up to $100 or more, and foreign credit cards aren't always accepted at toll booths, so carry euros just in case. Also, if you don't plan to return to Madrid, rental companies often charge hefty fees for picking up a car in one country and dropping it off in another.
If you thoroughly enjoy being confined to a seat for almost a full day and trying to sleep while sitting up, then the bus is your best option. Otherwise, it's an unnecessarily long journey that doesn't save much money. Tickets from bus companies like Alsa, Eurolines, and FlixBus start at about $39 when booked in advance, but last-minute bus rides can cost just as much as a plane or train. Do yourself a favor and choose another method of travel instead, and if those are too expensive, take the bus to a more manageable destination, such as Barcelona, San Sebastian, or Seville.
What to See in Paris
Paris is one of the most iconic cities in the world and visitors continue to visit it again and again, discovering new sites, cafes, and neighborhoods every time they return. If it's your first time to Paris, there are a few places that are mandatory stops, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and the Champs-Élysées leading up to the Arc de Triomphe. The Montmarte neighborhood is best known as the meeting place of artists and writers from yesteryear and also boasts the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret show. But don't spend all your time rushing from one monument to another; much of Paris' charm comes simply from getting lost in its twisting streets, ordering a freshly-made croissant, and sipping on a French wine at a local bistro.