A Renfe AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona

Renfe AVE from Madrid to Barcelona, at Madrid Atocha.

Barcelona to Madrid

by train from €7 at


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Choice of 3 high-speed train services...

The 621 km (386 mile) high-speed line from Barcelona to Madrid opened in 2008, and high-speed trains now link Barcelona Sants & Madrid Atocha in as little as 2h30 at up to 310 km/h (193 mph) with departures every hour or so.  Before it opened, trains took 7 hours on the classic line.  Spanish high-speed lines were opened up to competition in 2021, and you now have a choice of 3 train operators:  Renfe (Spanish national railways), lo-cost operator Ouigo and lo-cost operator Avlo.  A 4th operator, Iryo, started on 25 November 2022.  You can compare prices and buy tickets for all 3 current operators at www.thetrainline.com.  This page will help you choose...

small bullet point  Which train to choose?

small bullet point  Option 1:  Renfe's AVE trains

small bullet point  Option 2:  Lo-cost Ouigo trains

small bullet point  Option 3:  Lo-cost Avlo trains

small bullet point  Option 4:  Iryo trains

small bullet point  Travel tips for all operators

small bullet point  Route map

small bullet point  What's the journey like?

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

Which train to choose?

Option 1, Renfe's AVE trains

This is the principal train service between Barcelona & Madrid, with the most frequent departures.  Renfe is Spain's national train operator, their premier high-speed trains are branded AVE which stands for Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High-Speed).  It's also the Spanish for bird, hence the AVE logo.  Most AVE services between Madrid & Barcelona are operated by smart S103 AVE trains built by Siemens as shown below, hence the resemblance to Germany's ICE3.

AVEs are fully air-conditioned with free WiFi and power sockets at all seats.  There's a convivial cafe-bar selling alcoholic & non-alcoholic drinks, snacks and hot dishes.  As with most European trains, suitcases & backpacks can be taken at no extra cost, you just take it with you and put it on the luggage racks inside each car.

AVEs have 2 classes of seating, Standard (2nd class, seats 2+2 across the car width) and Comfort (1st class, seats 2+1 across the car width). 

There are 3 fare types, Basico (you get a standard class seat), Elige (you get a standard class seat but can pay to upgrade to a comfort class seat) and Premium (you get a comfort class seat, flexible tickets, access to the Sala Club lounges in Barcelona & Madrid and a meal with wine included in the fare).  If you're sitting in comfort class and the person next to you is served a nice hot meal from the trolley, but you aren't, they paid the Premium fare, you only paid the Elige fare, even though you're both in comfort class!

For a seating plan of an AVE S103, see the seat numbering page.

There is no formal check-in for an AVE, you can board any time up to a minute or two before departure, but as there's a brief X-ray baggage scan & ticket check before boarding at Spanish high-speed stations, so don't arrive at the last minute, see the travel tips section below.

An AVE-S103 high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona

An S103 AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona, about to leave Madrid Atocha.  See virtual tour of an AVE S103.

Turista class on a Spanish S103 AVE train   Preferente class on a Spanish S103 AVE train

Standard class (2nd class) on an AVE-S103...


Comfort class (1st class) seating.

Club class on a Spanish S103 AVE train   An S103 AVE cafe-bar

Comfort class (premium 1st class) seating on an AVE-S103 train.  At-seat food & wine included.


Cafe-bar on an AVE S103 between Barcelona & Madrid, serving tea, coffee, beer, wine, snacks, soft drinks & hot dishes.

S103 AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona

An AVE-S103 from Madrid Atocha, arrived at Barcelona Sants.

Option 2, lo-cost Ouigo trains

Ouigo is the lo-cost subsidiary of SNCF (French Railways), offering 5 or so trains per day from Barcelona to Madrid and vice versa.  Fully air-conditioned, free WiFi, power sockets at all seats and (unlike Ouigo in France) a spacious cafe-bar on the upper deck in car 4.

Ouigo is a lo-cost train with budget airline-style baggage limits, so you'll need to pay an extra €5 for a suitcase or backpack when you book.  Bags go on the racks inside the seating area in each car.  Small pets in carriers can be carried, at extra charge.  Bikes are not carried.

Ouigo uses French double-deck TGV Duplex trains.  I recommend an upper deck seat for the best views, it's just 9 easy, wide & shallow steps with handrails from the entrance to the upper deck, which Ouigo calls Sky - they call the lower deck Earth.  There are toilets & luggage racks both upstairs & downstairs in each car.

First class?  Although Ouigo bill their trains as all one class, the seats are unchanged from the TGV Duplex trains used in France.  Cars 1, 2 & 3 retain their larger, more comfortable 1st class seats with extra legroom, arranged 2+1 across the car width.  Cars 5-8 remain 2nd class with seats to 2+2 across the car width.  Ouigo call the former first class seating 'XL' and charge a €9 fee for it on top of the basic fare - a bargain.  The XL fee includes an extra-baggage fee for one suitcase or backpack, it's easy to miss this perk when booking XL, so don't accidentally pay twice.

There's a formal 30-minute minimum check-in for Ouigo trains, a ticket check happens before boarding and as for all operators there's an X-ray baggage check before accessing the platforms, see the travel tips section below.  Within a few months of the service starting, Ouigo was achieving 90% load factors.

Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona

Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona, at Madrid Atocha.  Photos courtesy of Matt from www.youtube.com/c/nonstopeurotrip.

XL seats on Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona   XL seats on Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona

XL seats in cars 1, 2 & 3, upper deck - other XL seats are on the lower deck.  Note the luggage rack on the right.


A Ouigo train from Madrid, arrived at Barcelona Sants.  Click the interior photos for larger images.

Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona   Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona

Cafe-bar on an Ouigo train, upper deck car 4.


Regular seats on an Ouigo train, upper deck.

Side view, Ouigo train from Madrid to Barcelona

A Ouigo train at Madrid Atocha.

Option 3, lo-cost Avlo trains

Avlo is a subsidiary of Renfe (Spanish Railways), operating three or so lo-cost trains per day in each direction between Barcelona & Madrid.  Fully air-conditioned, free WiFi, power sockets at all seats.  But no cafe-bar, just credit-card-operated vending machines, and no first class.

Avlo uses a version of Renfe's S112 AVE train, repainted in Avlo colours with an all-new one-class (but high-quality) interior.  It has leather seats and plenty of legroom.  The S112 is nicknamed Pato (duck) by Renfe staff, no prizes for guessing why.

If possible, avoid seats in car 6 as this was the former cafe-bar.  It's been converted into a seats car, but the small high-level windows have not been changed, so you can only see out if you stand up!

Unlike normal trains, Avlo is a lo-cost train with strict airline-style baggage limits, you need to pay an extra €10 for a suitcase or backpack.  You take your bags onto the train and put them on the racks inside the seating area in each car.  Only folding bikes are carried.  No pets allowed.  If your bags are found to exceed the set dimensions when you arrive at the station (even if they simply bulge a bit) you'll have to pay a €30 fee - if in any doubt about luggage, stick with the normal Renfe AVE service.

Boarding closes 5 minutes before departure, for all operators there's an X-ray baggage check before accessing the platforms so don't cut it fine, see the travel tips below.

Avlo lo-cost train from Madrid to Barcelona

An Avlo train at Barcelona Sants, originally a Renfe S112 AVE converted to one-class for Avlo services.  Courtesy of www.youtube.com/c/nonstopeurotrip.

One-class seats on a Barcelona to Madrid Avlo train   One-class seats on a Barcelona to Madrid Avlo train

Car 6, note the windows in this car! Courtesy Ekain Munduate.


Comfortable seats on an Avlo train.  Courtesy Ekain Munduate.

Option 4, Iryo trains

A consortium of Air Nostrum & Trenitalia called Ilsa launched another competing train service between Barcelona & Madrid on 25 November 2022.  Branded Iryo, it uses a version of Trenitalia's Frecciarossa 1000.  Tickets are on sale at iryo.eu & www.thetrainline.comSee video of a journey by Iryo.

The new trains offer 3, 4 or 5 classes depending on how you define a class, possibly the most complex system I have come across!

Inicial = 2nd class, with seats arranged 2+2 across the car width in cars 6, 7 & 8.  A refreshment trolley serves drinks and snacks.

Singular = identical 2nd class 2+2 seating, but in cars 4 & 5.  Singular tickets are more flexible and you can pre-order meals online at iryo.eu.

Singular Only You is sold as an upgrade to Singular.  It gets you 1st class 2+1 seating in the cafe car (car 3) with seats around tables to work or dine at.  Meals & drinks can be served at your table at extra cost, you can pre-order meals online at iryo.eu.

Infinita = 1st class with seats arranged 2+1 across the car width in cars 1 & 2.

Infinita Bistró = the same as Infinita, but with a meal & drinks from the bistro menu included in the fare and served at your seat.

The Iryo website iryo.eu normally sells Infinita Bistró with a meal & drinks included in the fare, but in the 48 hours before departure it sells it as plain Infinita without any food or drink.  However, www.thetrainline.com lists both types of Infinita fare when booking in advance, so after selecting 1st class and Infinita, make sure you look at the Comfort options and change the default Infinita to Infinita Bistró if you want to be fed.  Basically, if it doesn't say Bistró, it doesn't include food & drink.

All seats in all classes have power sockets and free WiFi.  Pets under 10 Kg in carriers are carried in Infinita class.

There are two types of fare:  Flexible, which offers a good level of flexibility and Abierta (open) which is 100% fully-flexible, see iryo.eu for details.

There's a seat map (sadly without seat numbers) at agencias.iryo.eu/en/products/our-fleet (please let me know if that link stops working).

Iryo offers free connections by suburban train (Cercanias) at the beginning and end of your journey within the urban areas in both Barcelona & Madrid, similar to the Cercanias Combinado arrangement offered by Renfe and explained here.

Iryo high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona on test

An Iryo train at Madrid Atocha.  Courtesy of @AndyBTravels & DiscoverByRail.com.

Seats on a Barcelona to Madrid Iryo train   Food on a Barcelona to Madrid Iryo train

2+1 Infinita (1st class) seats. Courtesy of Simon Andersen


Food included in Infinita Bistro. Courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.

Scenery from on a Barcelona to Madrid Iryo train   Seats on a Barcelona to Madrid Iryo train

Scenery crossing Spain by train. Courtesy of Nonstop Eurotrip.


2+2 Inicial or Singular (2nd class) seats on an Iryo train.  Courtesy of Simon Andersen

Travel tips (all operators)

Route map...

Madrid to Barcelona train route map

Click for larger map Red = 310 km/h high-speed line.  Black = classic lines.  Green = scenic sections.

Reproduced with kind permission of the European Rail Timetable people.  Buy a copy of the European Rail Map at www.europeanrailtimetable.eu.

What's the journey like?

All these Madrid-Barcelona trains take the same route through the same scenery.  The platforms at Barcelona Sants are underground, but the train soon emerges into daylight as it accelerates to 310 km/h (193 mph).  High-speed lines in Spain are built to standard gauge (4' 8½") like the majority of Europe, even though Spain's classic railways are Iberian broad gauge (5' 6"). Soon after leaving Barcelona, look out for the distinctive jagged ridge of Montserrat on your right (on the left, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montserrat_(mountain).  The rest of the high-speed journey to Madrid is pleasantly undulating and often scenic, as you can see in the second photograph below.  All trains call at Zaragoza, the major city between Barcelona and Madrid.

View from a Madrid to B arcelona train

View from a Madrid to Barcelona Ouigo train.  The jagged mountain in the distance is Montserrat, a major landmark, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montserrat_(mountain)Courtesy of www.youtube.com/c/nonstopeurotrip.

Scenery between Barcelona & Madrid

Scenery an AVE train from Barcelona to Madrid.  Courtesy of DiscoverByRail.com.

How to buy tickets...

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