Spain’s national operator Renfe offers high-speed trains named AVE on routes between a number of major cities.
They offer an excellent, comfortable, low-carbon alternative to flying. For example, the Barcelona-Madrid trip on AVE is just 2.5 hours, which makes it faster than flying when you figure in the time for getting to the airport and waiting in lines.
AVE stands for Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed) and the acronym also means “bird” in Spanish. The trains reach speeds of 310 km/hr (193 mph), but they offer a very smooth ride. It’s fun when you’re near a highway to see just how much faster you’re going than the cars you speed past.
How to Book Renfe AVE Tickets
Tickets can be booked directly with Renfe, but as we’ve reported before the official Renfe website doesn’t work very well. We recommend instead using either of two private portals.
The website Trainline offers the same prices as the official Renfe site for AVE fast trains at any given time while avoiding the bad translations and website errors. It has full coverage of all AVE trains and most Renfe medium distance and regional trains. If you’re taking a complex trips with several stops to change trains, it generally comes up with better routes than Renfe.
Raileurope.co.uk (formerly Loco2) can also be worth a look for comparison. However, its coverage for Spain is not quite as complete, and its fee of £4.95, €5.95 or $5.95 per basket generally works out to be a bit more than Trainline’s. RailEurope.co.uk lost out to Trainline in our comparison.
Routes on Renfe AVE Trains
AVE Routes in Spain and Catalonia
The AVE network branches out from Madrid to cover most major cities, and connects to France through Barcelona/Figueres.
Note that you can also get to plenty of other cities in Spain and Catalonia by combining these high-speed routes with standard-speed trains, as well as with buses. The portal Trainline mentioned in the previous section can find you connections from anywhere to anywhere, pretty much.
Here are the AVE routes at present:
- Madrid – Valladolid – Palencia – León
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba Central – Seville
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Zaragoza Delicias – Lleida – Camp de Tarragona – Barcelona Sants
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Guadalajara Yebes – Calatayud – Zaragoza Delicias – Tardienta – Huesca
- Madrid Chamartín – Segovia Guiomar – Valladolid Campo Grande
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Córdoba Central – Puente Genil Herrera – Antequera Santa Ana – Malaga María Zambrano
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Cuenca Fernando Zóbel – Albacete Los Llanos – Villena AV – Alicante/Alacant
- Madrid Puerta de Atocha – Cuenca Fernando Zóbel – Requena / Utiel – Valencia Joaquín Sorolla
- Malaga María Zambrano – Antequera Santa Ana – Puente Genil Herrera – Córdoba Central – Zaragoza Delicias – Camp de Tarragona – Barcelona Sants
- Barcelona Sants – Camp Tarragona – Lleida – Zaragoza Delicias – Ciudad Real Central – Puertollano – Córdoba Central – Seville Santa Justa
- Valencia Joaquín Sorolla – Cuenca Fernando Zobel – Ciudad Real Central – Puertollano – Córdoba Central – Seville Santa Justa
AVE Routes to France
Here are the current connections to France on AVE. If you’re looking to go elsewhere in France or Europe starting or ending in Spain, use the portals mentioned in the previous section, which have much better options than Renfe (Trainline is the most complete of the train booking options for France, as it offers the French budget trains).
- Madrid – Barcelona – Marseille
- Barcelona – Paris
- Barcelona – Lyon
- Barcelona – Toulouse
These trains also stop at intermediate stations, and thus the following French cities are covered by AVE: Carcassonne, Lyon, Marseille, Nimes, Paris, Toulouse, Narbonne, Béziers, Agde, Sète, Montpellier, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and Valence.
What Renfe AVE High Speed Trains Are Like
Aside from getting you quickly between Spanish, French, and Catalan cities, Renfe AVE trains are a treat to ride in and of themselves.
Noise level: In spite of the high speed, AVE trains are quiet when you’re inside them; the Spanish countryside whizzes past at a low hum. The experience is much quieter than being inside a car, plane, or standard train. That said, Spaniards are not exactly the quietest bunch; conversations are sometimes held at nearly shouting levels. First class tends to be a bit quieter; you can expect more people on business trips quietly pecking away at laptops.
Toilets: The toilets are chemical toilets and there are sinks for handwashing (no drinking water), soap, and a weak hand-dryer that doesn’t do much good. There is an outlet for an electric razor that offers both 110- and 220- volt options.
Luggage: There are luggage racks at the ends of each car for large luggage pieces, and smaller hand luggage and backpacker packs easily fit in the overhead racks above the seating.
Wi-Fi: Most Renfe AVE tickets have Wi-Fi; see our article with complete information on the Wi-Fi on AVE trains.
In-seat power outlets: There is a European power outlet under the armrest; you should prepare with an all-purpose, any-country plug adapter if your device comes from elsewhere.
First Class vs. Second Class on AVE Trains
On AVE, second class is perfectly comfortable with seats four-to-a-row across the train car, and first class is a bit more luxurious, with seating three to a row (two seats together, one separate, aisle in the middle). You’re a bit more likely to encounter loud families and groups of people travelling together and chatting in second class, whereas first class tends to be more business people travelling solo and thus the noise level may be less.
The first class seating looks much nicer, the seats use a (presumably faux-) leather material. I personally think the orange/brown of the second-class seating is a pretty ugly color choice, but one spends one’s time looking out the window anyway.
Second class has a lower carbon footprint since more passengers fit into a standard second-class car.
Food and Drink Options at the AVE Bar Car
The train bar can be a pleasant place to stop for a drink or a coffee, and there are some basic food options to wipe out hunger — but nothing like a true dining car experience with seating and waiters. There is no seating but some nice places to stand, watch the landscapes race past, and chat with fellow travellers.
The menu below gives an idea of the options but will vary according to the train and time period; not all options are always available.
That’s the basics of the AVE experience! I love and recommend these trains and take them all the time. If you have questions, advice, or feel I’ve overlooked something here, drop a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to update this.