Madrid to Barcelona by fast train: Up to 300km per hour on Spain's high-speed train

High-speed trains at Madrid's Atocha station.
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High-speed trains at Madrid's Atocha station.

It has taken some time to convince my children that we should travel between Spain's two major cities – Madrid and Barcelona – on a train.

They think of trains as slow local transport, like they usually are, but when we arrive at Madrid's Atocha station two things win them over.

The first is the pond full of turtles in the centre of Atocha, covered in greenery and bursts of movie-set mist. The second is the sleek, space-age look of our European fast train at the platform ready for our 2pm departure.

Inside a high-speed train in Spain.
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Inside a high-speed train in Spain.

If we have seen the turtles, then this is the hare: Renfe's Alta Velocidad Espanola (AVE) high-speed train that can reach 300kmh, and has a pointed nose cone like a fighter jet. This is train travel, but not as my children know it.

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People sit in a cafe by the tropical garden at Madrid's Atocha station.
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People sit in a cafe by the tropical garden at Madrid's Atocha station.

We take off at the stroke of 2pm and 10 minutes later the movie – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – starts and the roaring of the empire's ships kicks in as we clear the city and pick up speed.

The space ship is the only engine to be heard, though, as we glide silently along the rails. We pass Madrid's sprawling outer suburbs with squat apartments, but at our speed the vista changes quickly. Little villages soon appear dwarfed by mountains, castle ruins top crumbling hills and the dirt and dust change from red to yellow.

By the time the Star Wars baddies capture Poe Dameron we're doing 268kmh and the parched mesa is hurtling past. The kids are also very on board with our choice of transport, they want to explore the carriages, play with the radio stations and snack from the food trolley where our bocadillo de jamon y camembert comes with a tiny bottle of olive oil (which the kids quickly souvenir).

The gleaming interior of a high-speed train.
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The gleaming interior of a high-speed train.

My seven-year-old thinks the Spanish countryside looks "slightly like Uluru" while my eldest is yelling loud radio station selections from his seat on the other side of the aisle.

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Half an hour from Barcelona we glimpse the coast at Guadalajara and, as Rey gets a crash course in lightsaber fighting for the Star Wars finale, we reach Barcelona's outskirts.

We arrive at precisely 4.30pm.

"Can we travel by fast train when we get home?" asks my eldest as we depart. If only we could.

TRIP NOTES
MORE INFORMATION

spain.info

renfe.com

GETTING THERE

The local Renfe site can be a little slow and confusing so a safe bet is using Rail Europe (raileurope.com.au). Trains run several times a day and fares start at $109 for an adult, one way, second class.

Paul Chai travelled at his own expense.

Traveller.com.au

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