Madrid to Barcelona by train

How to take a rail journey from Madrid to Barcelona

There have been recent major changes to journeys by train from Madrid to Barcelona as travellers could already choose between three high speed train services; the standard AVE services and two more basic services - the avlo and Ouigo trains.

And now yet yet another operator, iryo, has joined the route and its full service trains aim to offer a similar service level to the AVE services at a competitive price.

In contrast the core concept for the avlo and Ouigo services is that they offer fewer on board facilities (no bar car, no 1st class seating, no on board entertainment) and have less generous luggage allowances (see below), but have generally cheaper ticket prices than the AVE trains.

Compare the prices per departure carefully on your travel dates, all four services, AVE, avlo, iryo and Ouigo are available on Trainline.

Aside from price, a key difference between the services is the luggage allowances:

AVE and iryo travellers can board with:
Up to 3 pieces of hand luggage onto the train, provided that the sum of the three does not exceed 25 kg or 290 cm.
The maximum dimensions allowed are 85x55x35 cm

avlo travellers can board at no extra charge with:
1 piece of hand luggage (bag, rucksack, etc.) subject to the following size limitations: 36x27x25 cm.
AND
1 suitcase, subject to the following size limitations: 55x35x25 cm.

Ouigo travellers can board at no extra charge with the choice of:
2 pieces of hand luggage not exceeding 36 x 27 x 15 cm (height x width x depth)
OR
1 Hand baggage not exceeding 36 x 27 x 15 cm (height x width x depth) + 1 Cabin baggage not exceeding 55 x 35 x 25 cm (height x width x depth).

There is also still a daily non-high speed service available, handy for users of Eurail and InterRail passes looking to avoid the rail pass reservation fees on AVE trains; rail passes aren't valid on the avlo and Ouigo services.

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Routes

Option 1: taking the AVE (and avlo) trains

Travel Information

Aim to be at Atocha station a minimum of 20 mins before departure, in order to allow time to pass through the security checks.

Final Destination: Barcelona Sants or Figueres Villifant

A mix of trains are used on this route, the faster trains including the non-stop services, are normally provided by the AVE (103) trains, but AVE (102/112) trains are are also used, particularly on the slower services.

The journey times

Look out for the journey times when looking up this route.
The departures with a journey time of around 2hr 30mins are non-stop from Barcelona to Madrid, those with a journey time of 2hr 45min make one intermediate station call in Zaragoza; while the departures with a journey time of around 3hr 15mins make up to three additional station calls.

AVE departures:
Mon - Thursday = 22 x trains per day
Friday = 21 x trains
Saturday = 12 x trains
Sunday = 17 x trains

avlo departures:
4 x trains per day

Tickets

Book early and save: Yes

Online bookings usually open: up to 6 months ahead of the travel date - depending on the time of year.

The online booking window can be shorter between late July and early October.
When looking up journeys (not travelling) between late July and early October, it's likely you won't be able to book for journeys beyond the second Sunday in December.

Both the Renfe (Spanish national railways) online booking service and Trainline sell tickets for journeys by the avlo and AVE trains.
Trainline also sells tickets for the alternative Ouigo services, but if you want to see prices more than two weeks ahead for all three services; AVE, alvo and Ouigo, you MAY need to look up the journey on both renfe and the Trainline.

On this route, the AVE prices are set per departure according to demand; hence the lack of price info below.

If you want to take an AVE train, it can pay off to be as flexible as possible regarding departure and arrival times, because for these trains on this route it’s not unusual for a few departures to be available at much cheaper price, regardless of how far ahead you will be booking.
The limited numbers of tickets released for sale at very cheapest prices also inevitably sell out, so if possible book more than a couple of months ahead and you’ll be more likely to find them available.
Though from the moment the tickets are placed on sale, some departures will be cheaper than others.

Though the non-stop (2hr 30mins) AVE trains tend to be more expensive than other departures, regardless of the time of day.

Prémium tickets are only available for journeys by the AVE trains.

Difference in core ticketing terms between AVE and avlo services.

Child tickets:
avlo = children aged 13 and under travel for a flat rate of €5, maximum of 2 children per fare paying Adult.
AVE = children aged 5 -13 and under are entitled to a 40% discount.
If you want to place a child aged four and under in its own seat, they will also have a 40% discount on the ticket price, but if you'll be happy to travel with the child on their lap, then there is no charge.

Amending booked tickets:
avlo = pay an additional €8 when making the initial booking and you can then make one change to an alternative choice of departure.
AVE = only possible when booking the more expensive 'Elige' or Prémium tickets

Seat Reservations:

Seats will automatically be assigned when booking tickets for this journey by AVE and avlo services.

Rail Pass Users:

Rail pass users will need to pay reservation fees prior to boarding the AVE, though on this route, with its fairly frequent departures, you may as well book these reservations at the station when you arrive in Spain.

They are also not available on the Eurail/Interrail reservation service for journeys within Spain.
The only option, other than booking them at a station in Spain, is to pre-reserve seats by calling Renfe phone sales: +34 91 232 03 20.

Pre-reserving a seat is possible up to 24 hours before a train's departure. You will receive a PNR code which you must use to pick up and pay for your reservation at a local station ticket office, making sure to show your Interrail Pass. You must collect your reservation within 72 hours. After this time the pre-reservation will expire.
Please note that a pre-reservation is not the same as a reservation. It only holds a seat for you for 72 hours.

Though if you're determined to avoid any additional fees when using your rail pass, you can take the Regional-Express train from Madrid to Barcelona, see the info below.
Rail passes can't be used on the avlo or Ouigo services.

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
Trainline (Spain) *

Trainline (Spain) Guide

Renfe *

Renfe Guide

Renfe is the national rail operator in Spain and it has recently simplified the range of tickets it sells for express and regional train journeys in Spain.
Which is convenient as there are big savings to be made if you book ahead online.

On this journey

Journey Features

High Speed (total journey)

Good to Know

Taking the alternative avlo services

SMTJ has yet to travel by the alternative avlo services, this is the info page for these services on the renfe website.

They are scheduled to depart from Madrid Atocha daily at 06:20; 10:30; 18:00 and 19:30.
The 06:20 and 18:00 departures are non-stop to Barcelona and have a journey time of 2hr 30mins and the 19:30 departure is the slowest avlo service with a journey time of 3hr 17min; it also continues beyond Barcelona to call at Girona and Figueres.

The core differences between avlo and AVE services, aside from avlo not conveying 1st/Preferente/Comfort class are:

  • Catering: AVE trains = bar/bistro conter; avlo trains = vending machines
  • On board entertainment = both AVE and avlo trains have free Wi-fi, but AVE trains also have screens on which films/movies are shown.

Luggage allowance on AVE trains = Up to 3 pieces of hand luggage onto the train, provided that the sum of the three does not exceed 25 kg or 290 cm.
The maximum dimensions allowed are 85x55x35 cm
Though additional allowances cannot be purchased.

Luggage allowance on avlo trains = 1 piece of hand luggage (bag, rucksack, etc.) subject to the following size limitations: 36x27x25 cm and 1 suitcase, subject to the following size limitations: 55x35x25 cm.
1 piece of additional, larger-sized luggage, measuring a maximum of 85x60x35 cm (or no more than 180 cm in total) can be be paid for as an added allowance, but the price for doing ranges from €10 if added when booking to €30 at the station just prior to boarding.
The dimensions of the luggage will be measured at the station, so if your bag exceeds the free allowance size, you will then have to pay €30 to take it on board.

Another core difference is boarding time, SMTJ suggests being at Madrid Atocha least 20 mins before boarding an AVE train, because having once been towards the back of a long queue for the security check procedures, this scenario is best avoided.
However, for the avlo services, the specific recommendation from renfe is to be at the station a minimum of 30 minutes before departure.

Journey description:

This journey showcases the best of high speed train travel, we nearly placed it in the scenic journeys category.

You won't see typical stunning views of mountains and coasts, but the combination of incredible speed and sweeping distant views over central Spain can be exhilarating.

You will be travellng twice as fast as the traffic on the freeways - hence the cars and trucks become blurs You will be travellng twice as fast as the traffic on the freeways - hence the cars and trucks become blurs
This image captures the sense of speed amidst the landscape This image captures the sense of speed amidst the landscape
Near Zaragoza the landscape which can be seen from both sides of the train has an other worldly quality Near Zaragoza the landscape which can be seen from both sides of the train has an other worldly quality
There are frequent distant view of mountains from both sides of the train There are frequent distant view of mountains from both sides of the train
A typical distant view over the central Spanish plains from an AVE between Madrid and Barcelona A typical distant view over the central Spanish plains from an AVE between Madrid and Barcelona

Option 2: taking the iryo services

Travel Information

Aim to be at Atocha station a minimum of 20 mins before departure, in order to allow time to pass through the security checks.

Final Destination: Barcelona Sants

Look out for the journey times when looking up this route.
The departures with a journey time of around 2hr 30mins are non-stop from Madrid to Barcelona, those with a journey time of 2hr 45min make one intermediate station call in Zaragoza.

Monday to Friday = 11 x trains per day
Saturday and Sunday = 8 x trains per day

Tickets

Book early and save: Yes

Online bookings usually open: up to 6 months ahead of the travel date .

Both the iro online booking service and Trainline sell tickets for journeys by the iro trains, but Trainline also sells tickets for the alternative AVE, avlo and Ouigo services, though the periods of time ahead of the travel date, on which all four services can be compared, can vary.

The iryo prices are set per departure according to demand; hence the lack of price info below.

In common with the ticket pricing policy for most European high speed rail journeys, limited numbers of tickets will be available at each price, as each quota of tickets available at the cheaper price sell out, they are replaced with tickets at more expensive prices.

Similarly to how the tickets which Renfe makes available for its AVE services are sold, the terms of using the tickets to travel on iryo services, differ according to the class which you will be travelling by.

Incial Flexible

  • want to cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 80% of the price you paid
  • want to cancel your booking less than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 70% of the price you paid
  • subsequently want to travel by an alternative departure on your chosen travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = pay the difference in price if the new departure you want to travel by is more expensive
  • subsequently want to travel by another departure on a different travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = pay the difference in price if the new departure you want to travel by is more expensive + 15% of the price you originally paid
  • miss the train you are booked on to and want to travel on a different iryo departure = you will have to re-book an entirely new ticket.

Singular Cafe Flexible and Singular Flexible tickets

  • want to cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 85% of the price you paid
  • want to cancel your booking less than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 75% of the price you paid
  • subsequently want to travel by an alternative departure on your chosen travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = no charge
  • subsequently want to travel by another departure on a different travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = pay the difference in price if the new departure you want to travel by is more expensive (avoid this when travelling Singular Cafe by booking Abierta tickets)
  • miss the train you are booked on to and want to travel on a different iryo departure within 2 hours* = €30 for a replacement ticket
    *= the gaps between iryo departures can be longer than 2 hours

Infinita Flexible

  • complimentary meal from the Bistro Menu = included
  • want to cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 95% of the price you paid
  • want to cancel your booking less than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 90% of the price you paid
  • subsequently want to travel by an alternative departure on your chosen travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = no charge
  • subsequently want to travel by another departure on a different travel date and arrange this a minimum of 24hrs in advance = pay the difference in price if the new departure you want to travel by is more expensive (avoid this by booking Abierta tickets)
  • miss the train you are booked on to and want to travel on a different iryo departure within 2 hours* = €10 for a replacement ticket
    *= the gaps between iryo departures can be longer than 2 hours

Infinita Abierta

  • complimentary meal from the Bistro Menu =option to pay extra for this
  • want to cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 100% of the price you paid
  • want to cancel your booking less than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 95% of the price you paid
  • subsequently want to travel by an alternative departure on your chosen travel date = no charge
  • subsequently want to travel by another departure on a different travel date = no charge
  • miss the train you are booked on to and want to travel on a different iryo departure within 2 hours* = no charge
    *= the gaps between iryo departures can be longer than 2 hours

Singular Cafe Abierta

  • want to cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 90% of the price you paid
  • want to cancel your booking less than 7 days before the journey = receive a refund of 95% of the price you paid
  • subsequently want to travel by an alternative departure on your chosen travel date = no charge
  • subsequently want to travel by a another departure on a different travel date = no charge
  • miss the train you are booked on to and want to travel on a different iryo departure within 2 hours* = no charge
    *= the gaps between iryo departures can be longer than 2 hours

Note that a core difference between Flexible and Abierta tickets is that the Abierta tickets can be exchanged to travel on a different date, without the difference in cost between the original booking and the price to travel by the alternative train, having to be paid.
So with Abierta tickets you have the peace of mind of knowing that you can travel on a different date to that which you originally selected, without having to pay more money, despite the likelihood that the price, of what is in effect your replacement ticket, having risen since the time of your original booking.

Making a booking

When looking up a journey on the iryo website only the prices per departure of Incial Flexible, Singular Flexible and Infinita Flexible tickets will be shown.
When more than one person will be travelling together, the price shown will be the price per ticket and not the total price for the entire party.
If you want to travel in Infinita Class with the additional benefits of an Abierta ticket, you can add it to the booking of Infinita Flexible tickets as an upgrade.
Though two options for the Infinita Abierta tickets will be available, because you can opt to pay less and then not have access to the complimentary Bistro menu,

If you want to travel in the Singular Cafe class, what isn't particularly obvious is that you can only do so by opting to upgrade Incial Flexible or Singular Flexible tickets.
To book a Singular Cafe Abierta ticket you can upgrade a Singular Flexible ticket.
To book a Singular Cafe Flexible ticket you can upgrade an Incial Flexible ticket.

Child tickets

An unconventional aspect of iryo's ticketing is that it doesn't offer dedicated rates for child tickets, when travelling with children.
Those aged 0-3 don't require a ticket if they travel on an adult's lap, but they will need a ticket if they are placed in a seat.
Children aged 4-13 travel at the 'standard' rate = the same price as Adult tickets.

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
Trainline (Spain) *

Trainline (Spain) Guide

iryo *

On this journey

Journey Features

High Speed (total journey)

Good to Know

The policies around travel with bikes and dogs, as well as the the availability of on-board entertainment and the bar car are all very similar to what's available on the national rail operator, Renfe's AVE services.

The AVE trains in effect offer

  • second/standard = Estander
  • first/premium = Comfort
  • first/premium with complimentary catering = Comfort Class when booking Prémium tickets,
    Note that the AVE trains in effect offer two on board ambiences, Estander and Comfort and iryo's two equivalents are its coaches which will have 'Gran Confort' and 'Confort' seating

Therefore the equivalents of the on-board ambiences on the iryo services are:

  • Incial with Confort seats = Estander
  • Singular Cafe with Gran Confort seats = Comfort
  • Infinita with Gran Confort seats and complimentary menu = Prémium

Though iryo will also offer a 'class' of service, Singular, in which travellers in the equivalent of 2nd class coaches with the 'Confort' seats can have access to an at seat catering menu.

However, the core differences between the iryo and AVE services are connected to the ticketing terms and conditions.

For example, when booking tickets to in the equivalent of 2nd/standard class:

  • Basico tickets to travel by the AVE services = no refund if you cancel your trip and no exchange available to a different departure.
  • Incial Flexible tickets to travel by iryo services = cancel your booking more than 7 days before the journey and receive a refund of 80% of the price you paid; plus exchanges are available to a different departure if you pay the price difference with the alternative departure.
    Though with the Incial Flexible tickets other refund and exchange terms are also available.

The comparison between booking tickets in the equivalent of 1st/premier class is more similar, but a key difference is that if you book a Prémium ticket for an AVE service and then cancel your trip, you will receive a refund of 95% of the ticket cost, but you will receive 100% if you have booked an Infinita Abierta for travel on a iyro service.

If you will be travelling with children aged 5 -13 it's definitely worth making the comparison of the total booking price between iryo and the AVE trains which can be booked on the Renfe website.
Children aged 5 -13 and under are entitled to a 40% discount when travelling on AVE trains, but on the iryo services they are charged at the standard, Adult rate.

These trains take the same high speed route as the AVE services.

Option 3: taking the Ouigo services

Travel Information

The French national rail operator, SNCF has for some years been operating double-decked high speed trains branded 'Ouigo' as a lower-cost, more basic alternative to regular high speed TGV services in France..
It is now also operating these Ouigo services on the Madrid to Barcelona route:
The five daily departures are scheduled to depart Madrid Atocha at 07:05*; 10:05, 14:10; 17:25* and 21:00, the departures marked with an* are non-stop to Madrid and the other departures make one intermediate station call in Zaragoza.

These Ouigo services are an alternative to the two services operated on this route by Renfe, the Spanish national rail operator; the regular AVE services and the more basic (and therefore similar to Ouigo) avlo services.
The core idea is that the Ouigo (and avlo) services are more basic, but cheaper than the regular AVE services.

Though the Ouigo services are typically the cheapest option, if you book ahead you can find prices on some departures from €15.

Departing from Madrid:

You need to be at Madrid-Atocha a minimum of 30 mins before departure, in order to allow time to pass through both the Ouigo traveller checks and the security checks.

5 x trains per day

Tickets

Book early and save: Yes

Online bookings usually open: up to 6 months ahead of the travel date; depending on the time of year.

Ouigo Plus tickets cost extra but live up to their name with XL seats available, the ability to choose a seat; and to board with a large item of luggage at no additional charge.

Summary of ticket term differences

Child tickets:
Ouigo = children aged 4 -13 pay a flat rate of €4.
avlo = children aged 13 and under travel for a flat rate of €5, maximum of 2 children per fare paying Adult.
AVE = children aged 5 -13 and under are entitled to a 40% discount.
If you want to place a child aged four and under in its own seat, they will also have a 40% discount on the ticket price, but if you'll be happy to travel with the child on their lap, then there is no charge.

Amending booked tickets:
Ouigo =with standard tickets bookings can be amended for a flat rate of €30, but if you book Flex tickets there will be no flat rate charge, but you will have to pay the price difference (if any) on the new departure you choose.
avlo = pay an additional €8 when making the initial booking and you can then make one change to an alternative choice of departure.
AVE = only possible when booking the more expensive 'Elige' or Prémium tickets

Rail Pass Users:

Eurail and InterRail passes cannot be used on Ouigo services, but if you want to add Madrid to an itinerary and will be travelling with the flexible type of pass, taking the Ouigo can be worth considering, particularly if you can find tickets for under €20.
You can then use a day's travel on the flexible pass on a route when no low-cost train services are available.

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
Trainline (Spain) from €15

Trainline (Spain) Guide

Ouigo from €15

On this journey

Journey Features

High Speed (total journey)

Good to Know

Aside from the seating and the fact that avlo are single deck trains, the key differences in the on-board experience between the Ouigo and avlo services are:

  • Wi-fi: Ouigo = not available; avlo = available
  • Power sockets: Ouigo = coaches equipped with seats that have access to power sockets can be accessed for a surcharge of €2; avlo = sockets at every seat
  • Catering: Ouigo =not available; avlo = vending machines.
  • Seat selection: Ouigo = available if you book Ouigo Plus tickets with XL seats available; avlo = available for a charge of €8.

Luggage allowance on Ouigo trains = 2 pieces of hand luggage not exceeding 36 x 27 x 15 cm (height x width x depth)
OR
1 Hand baggage not exceeding 36 x 27 x 15 cm (height x width x depth) + 1 Cabin baggage not exceeding 55 x 35 x 25 cm (height x width x depth).
An additional baggage item of no more than 30 kg and 2 m x 2 m, can be paid for as an added allowance for a fee of €20.
Luggage dimensions will be checked pre-boarding and sizes of bags which exceed the luggage limit will be charged at the €20 rate.
Ouigo Plus ticket purchasers can board with this additional baggage item at no extra charge.

Luggage allowance on avlo trains = 1 piece of hand luggage (bag, rucksack, etc.) subject to the following size limitations: 36x27x25 cm and 1 suitcase, subject to the following size limitations: 55x35x25 cm.
1 piece of additional, larger-sized luggage, measuring a maximum of 85x60x35 cm (or no more than 180 cm in total) can be be paid for as an added allowance, but the price for doing ranges from €10 if added when booking to €30 at the station just prior to boarding.

These trains take the same high speed route as the AVE services.

Option 4: taking the R-Express train:

Travel Information

This train is scheduled to depart from Madrid-Charmartin at 07:15 on Mon-Fri only.

This train is second class/Turista class only.

Note that this train departs from Chamartin station in Madrid and NOT from Atocha station - which is where the AVE trains to Barcelona to depart from.

Final Destination: Barcelona Franca

This train also calls at: Barcelona Passeig Di Gracia

If you'll be heading to central Barcelona, don't leave this train at Barcelona Sants station, remain on the train until it arrives at the next station Passeig Di Gracia.

1 x train per day

Tickets

Book early and save: No

Rail Pass Users:

Reservations aren't available on this Regional Express train, so if you're travelling on a budget and won't mind spending all day on a train, then it's possible to to travel from Madrid to Barcelona  without paying any additional fees -  if you'll be travelling with a valid Eurail or InterRail pass.

If you have a 2nd class pass you'll save €10 and if you have a 1st class pass you'll save €23.50; though as this train is 2nd class only, there's quite a contrast between travelling on this train and in Preferente/1st class on the AVE trains.

Where to book
Ticket Provider Approximate Cost
Renfe *

Renfe Guide

Renfe is the national rail operator in Spain and it has recently simplified the range of tickets it sells for express and regional train journeys in Spain.
Which is convenient as there are big savings to be made if you book ahead online.

On this journey

Journey Features

Not High Speed

Good to Know

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