Barcelona’s international airport (BCN) is El Prat (www.aena.es; tel. 90-240-47-04), located 12km (7 1/2 miles) southwest of the city center. (Beware of being flown into the “other” Barcelona airport, which in fact is near Girona, a 90-minute drive from Barcelona.) BCN has two passenger terminals connected by shuttle buses. The newer terminal, T1, serves the majority of international carriers, as well as the local low-cost airline Vueling. A handful of international carriers—most notably discount airlines Ryanair, EasyJet, and Norwegian—operate from the old airport, now called T2 (which includes terminals A, B, and C).
Many U.S. travelers to Barcelona fly to Madrid and change planes there, although there are some nonstop flights to Barcelona on various carriers from New York, Washington-Dulles, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, and now also the upstarts Norwegian (which offers nonstop flights between Barcelona and Newark, Oakland, and Los Angeles), and Level (which does West Coast routes and Boston). Bargain hunters willing to do the research and put up with some inconvenience can often find the cheapest overall airfare by flying transatlantic to Ireland or the United Kingdom, then taking EasyJet, Ryanair, or Vueling to Barcelona. Iberia (www.iberia.com; tel. 800-772-4642) offers daily shuttle flights between Barcelona and Madrid every half-hour at weekday peak hours; Vueling shares many Iberia routes. Often cheaper than Iberia, Air Europa (www.aireuropa.com; tel. 90-240-15-01) also shuttles between Madrid and Barcelona.
Getting from the Airport to Downtown
A RENFE train runs between the airport’s Terminal 2 and Barcelona’s Estació de Sants every 15 to 30 minutes daily from 5:13am to 11:14pm (from Sants) or 5:42am to 11:38pm (to Sants). The 20-minute trip costs 4.60€. Be warned, however, that reaching the starting point of the train from the primary Terminal T1 can add some time to your arrival, and if you’re jet-lagged, you may not welcome this hassle. Poorly adapted city buses shuttle between the two terminals, and there’s almost no room for your luggage. If you do decide to take the train into the center, you can then catch the Metro from Sants to almost anywhere in Barcelona. The new metro Line 9S (S is for South) started serving both airport terminals in 2018. Unfortunately, it doesn’t arrive at any central metro stations, although it could be a convenient option if you’re headed for the big Fira Gran Via convention center. A one-way ticket between the airport and any stop on the 9S line costs 4.60€. If your hotel is near Plaça d’Espanya or Plaça de Catalunya, you should probably take the cost-efficient Aerobús (www.aerobusbcn.com; tel. 93-415-60-20). This system was recently simplified so that you can choose either bus T1 that runs to/from Terminal 1 or bus T2 that does the same route to and from the smaller terminal. They run every 10 minutes starting at 5am and ending at 12:30am from the airport, and you can catch a bus from a stop in front of the Corte Ingles Department store in Plaça Catalunya until 1:05am; all buses make a stop at Plaça d’Espanya. Midday service runs every 5 minutes; the fare is 5.90€ for a single trip, 10.20€ round-trip. A taxi to the center from the airport costs between 25€ and 30€, with an added airport surcharge as well as one for putting bags in the trunk. The good news is that taxi drivers absolutely do not expect a tip.
Barcelona has two major railway stations. Most national and international trains arrive at Estació Central de Barcelona-Sants (Metro: Sants-Estació), including high-speed AVE trains from Madrid and the high-speed Trenhotel from Paris. Some slower trains arrive at the under-used and beautiful Estació de França (Metro: Barceloneta, L3). For general RENFE (Spanish Railways) information, visit www.renfe.com or call tel. 91-232-03-20. There are two train options between Barcelona and Madrid: the “express trains” (trip time: 4 1/2–9 3/4 hr.; cost: 68€–93€) and the high-speed AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) trains (trip time: 2 1/2–3 1/4 hr.; cost: 108€–181€). You will want to purchase tickets, especially on high-speed trains, in advance. The RENFE website is notoriously difficult to negotiate, even though there is an English translation, so be patient. The wide range of pricing options can be confusing, too. It can be much less frustrating to plan your train trip by talking in person to a station ticket agent.
Bus travel to Barcelona is possible, but it’s pretty slow and less comfortable than the train. Barcelona’s Estació del Nord, Carrer d’Alí Bei, 80 (Metro: Arc de Triomf) serves Alsa (www.alsa.es; tel. 90-242-22-42) buses to and from southern France and Italy. Alsa also operates 27 buses per day to and from Madrid (trip time: 7 1/2–8 1/2 hr.). A one-way ticket from Madrid costs 26€ to 44€. Eurolines Viagens, Carrer Viriato (www.eurolines.es; tel. 93-490-40-00), operates seven buses a week from Frankfurt and another five per week from Marseille.
From France (the usual European road approach to Barcelona), the major access route is at the eastern end of the Pyrenees. You can choose the express highway (E-15) or the more scenic coastal road. If you take the coastal road in July and August, you will often face bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can also approach Barcelona via Toulouse. Cross the border at Puigcerdà, near the Principality of Andorra. From there, take the N-152 to Barcelona. From Madrid the drive takes at least 6 hours via the AP-2 and A-2 highways.
Trasmediterránea, Muelle de Sant Bertran, s/n (www.trasmediterranea.es; tel. 90-245-46-45), operates daily trips to and from the Balearic Islands of Mallorca (8 hr.) and Menorca (8 hr.). Balearia (www.balearia.com) also connects with the Balearic Islands, and Grimaldi Lines (www.grimaldi-lines.com) go back and forth from Barcelona and the west coast of Italy (Savona/Civitavecchia). In summer especially, it’s important to have a reservation as far in advance as possible.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.