Drive from Barcelona to Madrid: The Ultimate Spain Road Trip

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When you drive from Barcelona to Madrid, you’ll enjoy a Spanish Vacation like no other. Not only will you get to see all of the incredible stops on the way, but you can linger as long as you’d like.

Find out what to see and do when you plan the ultimate Spain road trip.

woman looking at Barcelona view

CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn about all the things to see in do in Spain when you travel from Barcelona to Madrid by car, including:

So pack yourself up and get ready to experience an epic road trip in Spain!

Planning A Road Trip from Barcelona to Madrid

I sometimes wonder if my usual daily routine is exciting enough, considering I have lived this long but not traveled as much, especially this past year. 

So, to make life more adventurous, I’ve planned an amazing road trip in Spain with friends. 

Our road trip route begins in the famous Spanish city of Barcelona. It eventually winds up in Madrid. 

And there’s so much to see in between!

That’s why I’m applying for an IDP from the International Driver Association right away. 

What is an IDP?

IDP stands for International Driving Permit. With an IDP, you can legally drive a car or other vehicle in 174 countries, as long as you also carry a valid US driver’s license.

In most cases, you can use your IDP when you apply for a rental vehicle for your own drive from Barcelona to Madrid. 

It may also come in useful when you drive through the various regions of Spain that require checkpoints at the borders. 

Here’s a good tip.

While you’re applying, also remember to buy yourself a road map in case you want to go off your route when driving from Barcelona to Madrid.

How long is the drive from Barcelona to Madrid?

The trip from Barcelona to Madrid is 386 miles (621 km). By car, that will take you about 5 hours and 45 minutes.

You can do it in a day, but to enjoy a leisurely pace to visit all the sites as we suggest, you’ll want to plan some overnights along the way.

Popular booking platforms like booking.com, expedia.com, and hotels.com will help you to compare pricing, availability, and amenities so you find the best lodging options. (Tip: If you stick with one platform, you can earn points and discounts on future stays.)

You can also look to booking a short-term rental in Barcelona.

No doubt, you will have a glorious road trip!

This is especially true because according to this report, Spain is among the top twenty countries in the world to drive in!

Why Start in Barcelona?

street map drive from barcelona to madrid

There are so many good reasons to begin your Spanish road trip in Barcelona.

For one, Barcelona is a city famous for the Sagrada Familia church built by Antoni Gaudi back in the 19th century. 

If you’re a fan of quirky architecture, this church (well, actually a basilica) will amaze you at first sight. 

The nice thing is that the church sits right within the heart of Barcelona itself. 

So you get to see the inner parts of the city as you navigate to Sagrada Familia. 

Next, there is the Gaudi Exhibition Centre in Barcelona to look forward to. It celebrates the life and works of Antoni Gaudi.

Related: 10 Insightful Things to Know Inside Casa Batlló in Barcelona

If you recognizing genuine artistic talent when you see it, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to Museu Picasso in Barcelona as well. 

The thousands of art pieces that the great artist Picasso churned out during his lifetime, which are housed here, might even overwhelm you.

Another good reason to start in Barcelona is the prospect of swimming at some of Barcelona’s famous beaches. 

El Bogatell Beach is just one example of this tourist attraction. It is popular among tourists in the summer, so you and your travel partner(s) might meet some other friendly tourists there, too.

El Bogatell Beach

Certain Sights You Shouldn’t Miss Out On

When you leave Barcelona, you will encounter quite a lot of other tourist destinations along the way. 

One of these is the Castle of Montearagon.

You’ll find it located near Huesca. This amazing structure has survived from the 11th century up to modern times. 

Presently, it is used both as a monastery and a château. 

It will be a fun place to see when you drive from Barcelona to Madrid in your own rental car. 

Must See Stops en route to Madrid

If you love Spanish cuisine, it will be worth your while to head to Zaragoza. You’ll find it within the Aragon region. 

Here, you can sample some local dishes while learning a lot about the city’s folklore. 

Be sure to eat your fill because you’ll want to visit several other tourist sites after departing along this route.

No doubt, tasty food is always something to look forward to in Spain. Millions of tourists visit Spain just for the food and drinks available. 

That explains why you’ll want to visit the restaurants in the “Hanging Houses” of Cuenca

Hanging house of Cuenca Spain

Yes, this is also along the route to Madrid. 

But they built these Hanging Houses right into the ridges of the surrounding mountains, and this is a must-see!

You can also look forward to visiting the Museum of Abstract Arts. The museum is also part of the Hanging Houses. 

Even if you’re new to art appreciation, you will love seeing this. 

If you love books, it will be a no-brainer that you’ll also like to venture to Alcala de Henares

This is a city that is minutes away from Madrid proper. 

It is renowned for being the home of the great author, Miguel de Cervantes. You might remember the well-loved bumbling fictional character Don Quixote, created by Cervantes.

If you’ve never read the book, get yourself a copy of this classic today!

As this location is so well known for this literary giant, you might also plan to visit the Cervantes Birthplace Museum to learn more about him. 

If the art of Spain doesn’t inspire you, Cervantes might be the encouragement you need to write that great literary masterpiece to share with your friends. 

Everyone starts somewhere, right?

Last Stop: Madrid!

puerta de alcala madrid | Enjoy Travel Life

It will really be a thrill to arrive in Madrid because it is just as famous as Barcelona. 

If you’re a fan of art and architecture, then you will want to spend some days visiting the Museo Nacional Del Prado. It ranks up there with the most renowned museums of the world.

Aside from seeing various Spanish art, you’ll also get to see other samples of European art spanning the centuries. 

One day is not enough to spend at this museum, so plan plenty of time to explore. 

A long drive from Barcelona to Madrid can really whet your appetite. Which is no problem, because there are so many tapas bars in Madrid alone. 

Friends and family back home will also enjoy some Spanish baked goods. In that case, you can buy some delicious treats at the Corpus Christi Monastery from the nuns who live there. 

You’ll really appreciate the effort the cloistered nuns put into creating such treats daily for the benefit of tourists.

A visit to Madrid won’t be complete without stopping for the day at the Royal Palace and Gardens.

The palace is presently considered the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. 

If you’re a fan of European royalty (and even if you’re not), you might love to get a peek at how the nobility used these buildings in their daily life. 

And, if you time your visit right, you might even catch some official ceremonies while you’re there, too.

Tapas in Spain

Unveiling the Charms of Spain: Your Journey from Historic Sites to Modern Transit

Exploring the Heart of Spain

When you visit the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, you’re stepping into one of the best places in the Spanish capital. This grand square is an ideal place for you to experience the vibrant local culture. Just a short walk from the main street, it’s a great place for you to feel the spirit of Spain with its lively atmosphere and historic architecture.

The Essence of Your Spanish Travel

To explore beyond the capital, consider purchasing train tickets for a journey on Spain’s high-speed line, ‘Alta Velocidad Española’ (AVE). Departing from central stations like Barcelona El Prat Airport, these trains offer you a swift and comfortable experience across the country.

Immersing in Art and Culture

Your trip to Spain wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Prado Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located just a little bit away from the city center, it’s the perfect place for art enthusiasts. Here, you can immerse yourself in the vast collection of European art.

Experiencing Spain’s Diverse Landscapes

Whether you choose to drive from Madrid, take a train ride along the coastal route, or fly, each mode of transportation offers you a unique perspective. The journey times may vary, but each route presents its own scenic views, from palm trees along the Mediterranean coast to picturesque old towns.

Practical Travel Tips for You

When planning your Spanish adventure, consider the total travel time and any potential extra costs. Public transportation in major cities often offers the best deals, providing efficient and affordable options. For a quick estimate of your travel time, Google Maps can provide the shortest distance and a realistic travel time calculation.

Insider Travel Advice: Maximizing Your Spanish Journey

Choosing Your Ideal Time and Place

The best time for you to visit Spain depends on your interests. Summer brings vibrant city life and bustling beaches, while spring and autumn offer a more tranquil experience. Road trip opportunities in Madrid are best enjoyed when the city is less crowded, giving you a more authentic experience.

Luxury Travel Options for You

If you’re seeking exclusivity, consider chartering a private jet or plane. This option, while costlier, allows for a unique view of Spain’s diverse landscapes and can take you to your next destination in a short period of time, offering an unparalleled travel experience.

Making the Most of Every Moment

Whether it’s a leisurely train ride, a commercial flight, or a true road trip, each travel option in Spain offers its own charm. From the historical Prado Museum to the modern AVE trains, your Spanish adventure promises to be as rich in experiences as it is in memories.

Exploring Spain Beyond the Road: Trains, Cities, and Cultural Gems

When you’re considering a drive from Barcelona to Madrid, it’s smart to consider your other options as well as prime spots along the way, too.

Discovering Spain by Train

While the road trip from Barcelona to Madrid offers stunning views and unique experiences, taking a journey on Spain’s high-speed trains, like the AVE or Iryo trains, is another great option.

These trains connect major cities, allowing you to explore beyond the city center to smaller towns along the Mediterranean coast.

With comfortable 1st and 2nd class cabins, these trains offer a quick and scenic way to travel, often taking you from city centre to city centre in just a few hours.

Cultural Highlights Along the Way

Along your journey, whether by car or train, you’ll find numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cultural landmarks.

In Barcelona, marvel at the architectural wonder of La Sagrada Familia or take a quick stop at the bustling streets of the old town. As you travel, consider a detour to Valencia, known as the city of arts and sciences, where you can experience a blend of historic charm and modern marvels.

Immersing in Local Culture

From the palm-lined streets of coastal cities to the vibrant cultural scenes of the biggest cities, Spain offers a rich tapestry of experiences.

Take the time to explore local markets, like those in Alcolea del Pinar, or enjoy a private tour of a local vineyard. You can use Google Maps to find interesting stops or rest stops, enhancing your road trip with unexpected discoveries.

Final Thoughts on Your Drive from Barcelona to Madrid

The most important thing for a road trip from Barcelona to Madrid is to make sure that your driver’s license is still valid for the time you spend on vacation. 

At the same time, you’ll want to check the expiry date of your passport too. 

Finally, make certain that your IDP from the International Driver Association is updated!

Since the IDP translates the details of your driver’s license into different languages, there shouldn’t be a problem when law enforcers inspect your travel documents thoroughly at different points of your trip. 

The details may be bothersome for a free spirit who just wants to go on vacation.

But all these preparations will allow you to enjoy an epic Spanish vacation in Barcelona – along with all those stops en route to Madrid with no worries. 

Some things are really worth waiting for.

Frequently Asked Questions About Driving in Spain

Here are answers to some common questions you might have about driving in Spain.

Is driving difficult in Spain?

That all depends on the location. Most of the major roads throughout the Spain are well cared for, and you’ll find plenty of sign posts to help you navigate. However, if you go off the beaten path, the quality of the road conditions and signage can be questionable.

Also, a good majority of the rental cars in Spain are manual (stick-shift). If you know how, you have an advantage.

One thing that’s good news, though: if you are accustomed to driving on the right side of the road, you will be glad to know that Spain does, too.

Can I turn right on red in Spain?

No. Do not turn right on red when you’re waiting at a stop in Spain. Although you may be able to do this in much of the US, in Spain, not only is it a violation of the traffic laws, but it can get you into an accident!

Do I need an international driver’s license in Spain?

If you are have your license from a country in the EU or EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) your license will be valid in Spain. That’s true unless you decide to live in Spain.

In that case, you must get a Spanish license. If your license is from a country that is part of the Annex 9 of the Geneva Convention, or Annex 6 of the Austria Convention, the license you have will suffice. Otherwise, you will need to apply for an International Drivers Permit.

Can you rent a car in Spain without an international driver’s license?

While an agency may rent a car to you without an international driver’s license, it’s a gamble to drive. That’s because if you are caught, they will likely take your car. And then what? Do yourself a favor and double check the license laws for your country before you drive in Spain!

What’s the best way to travel between Spanish cities like Barcelona and Madrid?

The best way depends on your travel plans and preferences. Driving offers flexibility and the opportunity to explore at your own pace, while taking the AVE high-speed train can be the fastest way, especially for longer distances like the Madrid to Barcelona route.

Is it a good idea to rent a car for traveling in Spain?

A: Renting a car is a great option for those who want to explore small towns and the Mediterranean coast at their own pace. Rental companies offer various options, from economy cars to luxury vehicles. Just be sure to check the driving distance and total travel time for your entire trip.

Are there any unique travel experiences I should consider on my Spain road trip?

Absolutely! Consider making a journey along the scenic Valencia route, where you can experience the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. Or, for a more realistic calculation of travel, include stops in cities like Zaragoza or Granada, each offering unique local culture and history.

Can I take a high-speed train part of the way on my road trip?

Yes, incorporating a segment of your journey on an AVE high-speed train can offer a different perspective of Spain. It’s a quick and convenient way to travel between major cities, and you might even find it to be the cheapest way for certain legs of your journey.

This guest post was contributed by Melody Bautista.


Jackie Gately at the beach


About Jackie Gately, editor-IN-CHIEF

I'm Jackie Gately, your travel confidante and the creative force behind Enjoy Travel Life, awarded the "Best Casual-Luxury Lifestyle Blog (USA)" in Travel and Tourism by LUXlife Magazine for four consecutive years.

With 25 years of published expertise, I'm a seasoned writer, editor, and photographer curating inspiring travel guides and lifestyle tips for empty nesters. I hope to kindle your spirit of exploration, encouraging you to overcome obstacles and turn your dreams into reality.

Learn to minimize your pre-travel angst and maximize the joy of exploration with insights from my experiences. Let's make every adventure a celebration of this exciting phase of life! 

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Next Steps

Now that you have the stops and international driving details settled, you can continue reading about planning a road trip.

In these next road trip articles, you’ll learn:

If you’re looking for fun things to do while you’re in Spain, look to these articles

And finally, if you’re looking to save money on your airline tickets, these articles will help:

You are going to have a blast, road-tripping in Spain!

17 thoughts on “Drive from Barcelona to Madrid: The Ultimate Spain Road Trip”

  1. This is great! I have a good friend who lives in Madrid and I have promised to visit her. While I’m there, I definitely want to drive around and explore Spain. Thank you for the great tips as I’m a little nervous of driving in a new country. But it for sure sounds like an adventure!

    • It will be a great adventure, Paula. I can’t think of a better way to explore Spain!

  2. I visited the Aragon region on a day trip from Barcelona with some friends who live there and it is so beautiful. I love all the ordesa think it’s called. I didn’t get to see the hanging houses but that would have been the icing on the cake.

  3. I have visited both Barcelona and Madrid, but I haven’t had the opportunity to make a road trip between these cities. Your idea for a road trip is great because it allows getting to know other places and less popular Spanish attractions. It’s great that you give tips on organizing such a trip. I would like to see Zaragoza. And she adds the “Hanging Houses” of Cuenca to my dream list. They look amazing! I would also like to see the Cervantes Birthplace Museum.

    • I hope you get a chance to go road tripping someday in Spain because it really is a great opportunity, as you say. The Cervantes Birthplace Museum is a great take!

  4. I’ve been to Barcelona and I’m considering a trip to Madrid next. It would definitely be a good idea to head to Barcelona again to visit the places that I missed during the last trip and then go on a road trip to Madrid. I love Spanish cuisine. “Hanging Houses” of Cuenca looks very intriguing. Definitely I’ll have lunch in one of those restaurants.

  5. Wow, great information on the international driving permit as well as road tips in Spain. This is the first time I heard about the restaurants in the Hanging Houses of Cuenca. It sounds interesting! I’ll definitely check out the Alcala de Henares as well as the Corpus Christi Monastery.

  6. We have travelled between Barcelona and Madrid by train and found it a great transit. But I can see that driving would give us lots of things to see along the way. I am sure it would take us much longer than 5 hours with detours along the way. We would make sure to check out the “Hanging Houses” of Cuenca for a tasty stop.

    • Yes, the train system between major cities in Spain is a great option, Linda! As you say, it’s great to be able to make stops along the way, thought.

  7. I would love to do this road trip from Barcelona to Madrid. I always enjoy renting a car when abroad and driving, it’s the only way you can stop at a whim and discover places that weren’t on your radar. I like that you gave some suggested places to stop along the 5+ hour drive.

  8. I’d love to do this road trip Jackie. We’ve done so many in Italy I would like to try it in another country! The hanging houses in Cuenca are so particular I’d like to see them for myself. Your tips for foreigners are useful too, as a European I didn’t know myself!

    • I hope you get the opportunity to do this road trip in Spain, Lisa! I agree, the Cuenca houses are pretty cool. I’m honored to offer some new insights to you even though you are so well-traveled!

  9. I remember when I took the train from Barcelona to Madrid it took over 8 hours of flat country that I looked at occassionally but it seemed very dry and arid. But I didn’t see some of the wonderful cities and towns along the way like Zaragoza so I’ll have to put this on my must do’s when I get back to Spain again some day. Looks like it was a fun drive to do and fairly easy and direct correct?

    • Yes! I was surprised at how dry and arid Spain can be, too – but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Can’t wait to get back myself!

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