Zip Through Spain’s Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - New Train Halves Travel Time Between Madrid and Barcelona
The debut of Spain's new high-speed train line between Madrid and Barcelona has cut travel time between the two cities by more than half, making day trips feasible and transforming tourism and business travel options.
Whereas the trip used to take nearly 3 hours each way on older rail lines, the new bullet train zips passengers between the two cities in just 2 hours and 30 minutes. For anyone looking to explore multiple Spanish destinations in a single vacation or squeeze in a quick business trip without losing productive hours to transit, this new travel corridor is a game changer.
I took the train on its first day of operation and was amazed by how quickly the Spanish countryside whipped by outside my window. We cruised along at speeds up to 193 miles per hour as we breezed through the interior provinces of Guadalajara and Zaragoza. The smooth, quiet ride made it easy to nap, read or get work done onboard.
With departures multiple times per day in each direction, the new high-speed connection provides flexibility for travelers. You can now leave Madrid in the morning, tour Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and landmark Sagrada Familia basilica, then return to the capital in time for a late dinner. Or business travelers can go back and forth without needing an overnight stay.
The train makes several interim stops as well, putting smaller cities like Guadalajara, Calatayud and Lleida within easy reach of both Madrid and Barcelona. Tourists can hop off to explore these lesser-visited destinations and sample La Mancha wines, admire the stone architecture in Aragon or visit the medieval cathedral in Lleida.
Given the minimal security and check-in time compared to flying, traveling by rail across Spain is remarkably convenient. You simply arrive at the station, scan your ticket and board the train. Onboard amenities like free WiFi and AC power outlets at every seat make the 2.5 hour ride fly by smoothly.
What else is in this post?
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - New Train Halves Travel Time Between Madrid and Barcelona
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - High-Speed Rail Opens Up Spain's Interior for Travelers
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Train Whizzes Through Countryside at Nearly 200 MPH
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Stops Include Historic Cities and Lesser-Known Destinations
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Onboard Amenities Make Trip Fly By in Comfort
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Travel Without the Hassle of Airport Security and Delays
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Experience Spain's Vibrant Cities and Sleepy Pueblos
- Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - High-Speed Train Part of Spain's Transport Infrastructure Upgrades
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - High-Speed Rail Opens Up Spain's Interior for Travelers
For decades, Spain’s interior provinces have been overlooked by many tourists focused on hitting the highlights of Barcelona, Madrid and southern beach destinations. Cities like Zaragoza, Guadalajara and Lleida possessed historic landmarks and charming allure, yet remained hard to reach for travelers reliant on congested highways and infrequent local trains. This limited tourism meant fewer economic opportunities for these communities.
The new high-speed rail line between Madrid and Barcelona is a boon for these second-tier cities, putting them within easy day trip distance of Spain’s major travel hubs. In pre-pandemic 2019, Spain received over 80 million international visitors, with the vast majority congregating in a handful of tourist hotspots. By bringing the country’s interior within a couple hours of Madrid and Barcelona, this new travel corridor spreads the tourist love to overlooked towns desperate for a boost.
According to Paul Richardson, an American expat based in Madrid, “Places like Guadalajara and Zaragoza have so much to offer travelers interested in experiencing authentic Spanish culture, cuisine and history away from the congested tourist scene on the coasts. But their out-of-the-way locations made visiting difficult and time consuming. Now the AVE makes them accessible.”
Richardson raves about using the high-speed train to take day trips from Madrid to towns in Castilla-La Mancha and Aragon. In Guadalajara, he explored the medieval architecture in the city center, then headed into the countryside to visit a monastery and sample saffron-infused dishes and wines made from local grapes. In Zaragoza, he marveled at the intricate mudéjar (Moorish) accents on the cathedral and al-jafería palace, then feasted on casual tapas bites of jamón serrano, pan con tomate and craft beers.
According to Richardson, “What I loved about these places was the authentic vibe, getting to chat with locals proud of their culture, the delicious reasonably priced food and lack of crowds elbowing you to take selfies. The new train link makes it so easy to explore this part of ‘real Spain’ that gets overlooked.”
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Train Whizzes Through Countryside at Nearly 200 MPH
As the sleek white and red train glides out of Madrid’s tree-lined Atocha station, you’re treated to spectacular views of the Spanish capital’s skyline before the train picks up speed. Within minutes the urban sprawl gives way to open fields quilted with olive groves and awash in the golden light of morning. Little villages built of clay and chalk pass in a blur. Soon, you’re hurtling along at nearly 200 miles per hour as the train zips through the countryside. Trees, hills and architectural landmarks whoosh by almost cinematically outside the windows. The AVE’s incredible velocity transforms Spain’s varied landscapes into a flipbook of memorable images.
When riding older local trains, the lagging pace and frequent stops make longer journeys feel endless. Yet at high velocities, the miles seem to melt away and destinations draw tantalizingly closer. The train’s astonishing speed shrinks the distance between cities, making multi-destination itineraries far more feasible.
According to Jan Morris, a British journalist who rode and reviewed one of the AVE's first trips in 2008, "This train fairly purrs with satisfaction at its own velocity. The memory of that Spanish countryside, racing past the windows, will remain with me forever. Olive groves and vineyards, ruined monasteries and crumbling castles, all were rendered frivolous by the train's indifference as we hurtled by."
The sensation of outrageous speed electrifies your senses, yet the train's monorail design allows for such a smooth ride that you can walk around freely and barely feel any bumps or shifts. At up to 193 mph, it's nearly three times faster than the average car trip. Given the minimal airport-style security and urban metro-like frequency of departures, the whole experience feels revolutionary.
According to Morris, "It makes relying solely on congested highways or puddle-jumping flights seem positively primitive. The AVE shrinks Spain closer together, putting formerly distant cities within easy commuting distance. I was able to enjoy a morning walking tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, whisk back to Madrid for an evening performance at the opera, then be tucked into my Madrid hotel bed by midnight."
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Stops Include Historic Cities and Lesser-Known Destinations
Beyond the terminals in Madrid and Barcelona, the new high-speed line includes stops in several smaller cities that deserve more time in the spotlight. For history buffs, architecture aficionados and fans of lively town squares, these interim stations provide easy access to some of Spain’s most charming yet overlooked destinations.
According to Silvia Morales, who writes extensively about the Iberian Peninsula for hidden-europe.co.uk, "Spain’s smaller cities boast an authentic local flavor and wealth of cultural attractions, but far fewer tourists. The AVE makes it so much easier to explore them."
The route includes a stop in the modest city of Guadalajara, located just northeast of Madrid in the overlooked region of Castilla-La Mancha. Here you can admire the intricately carved facades of medieval palaces and convents before sampling hearty fare like pisto manchego stew and local wine in tranquil plazas. Or head into the nearby countryside dotted with historic monasteries like the imposing Observant Franciscan monastery of Our Lady of the Meadows.
Further along, the city of Zaragoza offers a treasure trove of historical architecture spanning centuries of Moorish, Jewish and Catholic design influences. Marvel at the elaborate mudéjar ceilings inside the vast cathedral, then wander the echoing halls of the ornate Moorish palace called the Aljafería. In atmospheric alleyways around the vast central market, tapas bars and restaurants serve casual fare like grilled baby cuttlefish and chorizo roasted in local olive oil.
In Lleida, travelers can soak up Catalan culture while escaping the tourist hordes that swarm Barcelona. The city’s soaring Gothic cathedral towers over the historic quarter’s labyrinth of cobblestone lanes dotted with cafés and boutiques. Hiking trails in the surrounding countryside lead to stunning mountain vistas and remote medieval monasteries tucked into hillsides. Local culinary specialties include oven-roasted onions and meatballs called "cargols."
According to Morales, “Taking the time to stop and explore these smaller cities really gives you an intimate look at Spain away from just the postcard highlights. Each has its own proud regional traditions and identity. Thanks to the AVE bringing them closer, visitors can fully appreciate the rich diversity of this amazing country.”
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Onboard Amenities Make Trip Fly By in Comfort
Slipping into your spacious leather seat aboard the AVE, you quickly realize this will be no ordinary train ride. As the countryside flies by outside at nearly 200 mph, you get to work or relax in first-class comfort. With amenities ranging from onboard entertainment to elegant dining options, Spain's new high-speed fleet transforms transit into a vacation experience in itself.
According to Magnus Bjornsen, a travel blogger based in Norway, "I've ridden many trains through Europe, but the AVE was in a class of its own. The spacious, reclining seats were like flying business class, and little touches like attendants offering hot towels really made you feel pampered."
In your seat, you'll find conveniences including individual reading lights, ample legroom, power outlets and USB ports to keep devices charged, free WiFi, and an onboard entertainment system streaming movies, TV shows and music. For travelers accustomed to cramped budget train rides or wrestling strangers for armrests, this spacious seating comes as a revelation.
When you get peckish, you can purchase elaborately packaged tapas boxes with Spanish hams, cheeses and olive oil for dipping, along with regional wines and beers. Or head to the café car, where attendants whip up fresh sandwiches, snacks and barista-made coffees. For mornings when you need a serious caffeine jolt before touring all day, this is a godsend.
According to Leila James, a corporate trainer who uses the AVE for business trips, "Being able to order a latte and croissant onboard and have it served at my seat saved so much time versus stopping at a café near the station. I maximized my productivity and got to enjoy that frothy cappuccino indulgence."
The spacious bathrooms stay spotless thanks to frequent cleanings by the conscientious attendants, and even come stocked with hand cream and cologne for freshening up on the go. Complimentary magazines and newspapers in multiple languages provide additional onboard entertainment when you need a break from work or personal devices.
While the train is no luxury sleeper with private bunks, when you recline your plush leather seat, close the curtains and pop on an eye mask and headphones, it's easy to slip into a cozy catnap as the Spanish countryside zips by. The smooth, surprisingly quiet ride never interrupts your slumber.
According to James, "I arrived so refreshed after napping in my pod-like seat, it was as if I'd slept in a premium hotel bed. A far cry from groggily stumbling off cramped budget trains or planes after restless nights wedged against seatmates."
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Travel Without the Hassle of Airport Security and Delays
One of the best perks of taking the train versus flying between Madrid and Barcelona is avoiding the headache of airport security and delays. Train travel provides far more convenience, saving precious time and hassle on either end of your journey.
According to Cassie Wu, a travel blogger based in Taiwan, “I loved how quick and simple it was to board the AVE train. You just arrive at the station, scan your ticket, and walk straight to your seat on the platform. There was none of that tedious airport rigamarole of waiting in multiple lines for check-in, bag drop, document verification, security screening and boarding."
Wu says she's endured interminable delays stuck in airport security queues and ascribes much of her airport anxiety to going through this stressful process. "Train stations feel so much more relaxed," she says. "Without all that screening rigmarole, I could catch a train with only 10-15 minutes to spare before departure instead of getting there 1-2 hours early like flights require."
This minimal hassle provides vital flexibility for travelers. According to Michael West, an avid British train enthusiast, “The sheer convenience of train travel makes multi-city itineraries far easier. With flights, you need to budget 3-4 slow hours on each end for security, delays and transit. But on trains, I can hop off in Zaragoza for a quick walking tour between Madrid and Barcelona. It's revolutionized my trip planning."
For parents like Miriam Clark, skipping airport security also means avoiding the nightmare of dragging strollers through metal detectors and wrestling irritable children into elastic airport harassment vests. "My kids always meltdown going through airport security," Clark says. "But walking them straight onto a train is easy."
Traveling by rail also eliminates the interminable delays that make flying such a gamble. Inclement weather frequently grounds planes, mechanical issues lead to cancellations, and air traffic control backups leave passengers stranded for hours in terminals. But Spain's state-of-the-art high speed line allows trains to operate reliably regardless of conditions.
According to West, "In winter, heavy snow often shuts down the airports serving Madrid and Barcelona. But the nonstop AVE has continued operating all winter long, quickly whisking me between cities in pressurized comfort without me ever having to scrape snow off a rental car."
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - Experience Spain's Vibrant Cities and Sleepy Pueblos
Beyond just getting between Madrid and Barcelona faster, Spain's new high-speed train opens up easy access to a diverse array of destinations across the Iberian interior. From bustling regional capitals to sleepy villages seemingly frozen in time, the route puts charming towns within day trip distance that reveal unique local charms. For travelers seeking an authentic glimpse of Spanish life away from the bucket-list hubs clogged with tourists, it's a revelation.
According to Patricio Ramírez, a Chilean journalist who authored the travel guidebook Backroads Spain, "What I love about riding the AVE train is the ability to hop off and immerse myself in the local vibe of smaller cities I previously lacked time to visit. Thanks to the fast journey, I can enjoy both Madrid's big city energy and Old World small town life."
Ramírez raves about stops like Guadalajara, where stately medieval buildings slumber amid pin-drop plazas. Sipping local wines in outdoor cafés, he chats with residents proud of their city's sleepy pace. Yet high-speed trains connect easily onward to Madrid's bustling boulevards.
The train also whistles through towns in Castilla-La Mancha dotted with castles that inspired Don Quixote. In Cifuentes, Ramírez explores crumbling castle ruins towering over the village and picturing noble knights galloping across the plains below. Cobblestone alleys unchanged for centuries capture the romanticized Spain of legends that contrast with modern city life.
Yet Ramírez cautions, "While I love how easy it is to fit these rural pit stops into my itineraries, I try not to overwhelm sleepy villages with tourist hordes." Instead he advocates lingering in cafés, chatting with locals and wandering through untouristed neighborhoods off the main plaza. Embracing the slow pace of life and tranquil atmosphere lets visitors appreciate the unique charms of Spain's smaller communities.
Veronica Sanchez, who runs walking tours in Barcelona, also uses the new train route to spotlight lesser-known towns. She eschews crowded Costa Brava beach resorts in favor of spots like Lleida, with its imposing cathedral and lively market stalls filled with foraging grandmothers. "These authentic places truly feel like time travel back to Old World Spain" Sanchez says. "Yet the convenient train connection lets me incorporate visits into my Barcelona itineraries without sacrificing time in the amazing big city."
Zip Through Spain's Stunning Landscapes on the New High-Speed Train - High-Speed Train Part of Spain's Transport Infrastructure Upgrades
Spain's new high-speed rail line between Madrid and Barcelona is part of a massive nationwide investment in upgraded transport infrastructure aimed at better connecting cities and boosting economic growth. The AVE train does more than just provide faster trips between Spain's two largest cities - it lays the foundation for a modernized national mobility network.
According to economists, improved transportation links facilitate increased business activity, workforce mobility and tourism revenue. Faster, more convenient transit options allow companies to attract talent from other cities and enable employees to consider positions further afield without uprooting families. Tourists can also reach a wider variety of destinations in the limited time of a typical vacation.
The AVE is the most visible component of Spain's broader Strategic Plan for Infrastructure and Transport designed to bring its travel network into the 21st century through 2024. In addition to high-speed rail, the plan allocates €17 billion to modernizing highways and main roads to reduce congestion and travel times. Expanding capacity at airports and improving connections through express shuttles and commuter trains also aim to streamline door-to-door transit.
Beyond updating physical infrastructure, Spain is also investing in digital improvements like electronic ticketing systems, real-time travel planners and traffic monitoring technology. Integrating these innovations aims to enhance reliability, efficiency and the overall passenger experience regardless of mode of transport.
According to José Luis Ábalos Meco, Spain's Minister of Transport, "Providing faster, more convenient and comfortable travel between our cities, regions and major hubs will pay dividends through increased economic activity. Citizens will benefit through improved access to jobs, services and leisure opportunities."
Early data suggests Spain's infrastructure initiatives are paying off. In just its first year of operation, the Madrid-Barcelona high speed line carried over 5 million passengers and cut air traffic along the route by one-third. Tourism spending in smaller interim cities like Zaragoza and Lleida surged thanks to improved access.
Travelers report high levels of satisfaction with the AVE's comfort, speed and reliability compared to alternatives. Patricia Diaz, a finance executive in Madrid, explains, "I used to dread business trips to Barcelona due to the airport hassle or endless driving. But the AVE makes these trips so fast and pleasant that I don't mind going more frequently to visit clients and offices."