AVE: Taking the Fast Track from Málaga to Madrid

AVE train waiting at Malaga station

AVE train waiting at Platform 3, Malaga railway station

Whenever we need to travel to Madrid, it can sometimes be a bit of a bind having to go by road.   Even though the roads in Spain are usually very good, with light traffic compared to the UK, there is always the problem of what to do with the car at the other end.  To be honest, flights are not that much quicker once you factor in all the waiting around and security checks.  So on a recent trip to Madrid, we decided to let the train take the strain.

Our journey from Málaga to Madrid was one we had been particularly looking forward to, as we had managed to secure some bargain-priced First Class tickets for the AVE train (the initials stand for Alta Velocidad Española, and AVE is also the Spanish word for bird).  

High-speed AVE trains link major cities in Spain at up to 187mph and, if you book in advance online, you can find some great cheap fares at the official Spanish rail website, RENFE.  We found one-way First Class tickets for 53€ each, while on the same train the Tourist Class Economy tickets were selling for 89€.  I always knew it paid to travel in style!

Club lounge at Malaga Railway Station, Spain

Inside the Club Lounge at Malaga Railway Station

Club lounge at Malaga Railway Station, Spain

Drinks available in the Club lounge at Malaga Railway Station.

On arrival at María Zambrano station in Málaga we were afforded the luxury of the Club Lounge, where we could help ourselves to free hot and cold drinks, snacks, watch TV, read a selection of newspapers, catch up with some work, or just relax in the comfy chairs whilst awaiting the departure of our train.   The 11.05am AVE train, left promptly on time, heading for Madrid’s Puerta de Atocha station, a distance of 512 kilometres.

Spanish AVE train waiting at Malaga Railway Station, Spain

The sleek, white AVE high-speed train waits at the platform for our departure.

The sleek, white, Spanish-built AVE train sports the kind of futuristic nose more familiar on Japan’s Bullet Trains.  With a journey time of 2 hours 35 minutes, no lengthy security checks or waiting at airport gates to contend with, and ample leg-room with comfortable seating, the AVE train is a vastly superior experience to any budget airlines over the same route in terms of price, time and comfort.

First Class coach on the AVE train, Spain

Inside the First Class coach

Drinks and sandwiches on the AVE train

Drinks and sandwiches along the way.

Comfy seats and lots of leg-room on the AVE train in Spain

Comfy seats and lots of leg-room.

We were offered a welcome drink of our choice as soon as the train pulled out of the station, and it wasn’t long before we were watching thousands of olive trees flash by.  Once the one brief stop at Córdoba was behind us, it was time for the attendants to offer hot towels and yet more drinks and sandwiches. Eat your heart out British Rail!

The Spanish countryside flashes by as we travel on the AVE train

The Spanish countryside flashes by as we travel at up to 301kms/hour on the AVE train.

298 kms per hour on the high speed AVE train in Spain

The indicator shows 298 kms per hour on the high speed AVE train but we later reached 301 kms per hour!

Blasting our way through the Spanish countryside, we watched the on-board speed indicators at either end of the carriage climb ever higher, until we finally reached the maximum 301 kms per hour – 187 mph.   Rail company Renfe is so confident that its trains will reach their destination on time, that it promises to refund the full ticket price on any journey that is more than five minutes late.  How about that?  Eat your heart out again, British Rail!

Needless to say, after a relaxing journey, we arrived in Madrid refreshed and just ahead of schedule.

For anyone wanting to make the onward journey to Madrid’s Barajas Airport, I would highly recommend the Airport Express shuttle bus rather than the much more confusing Metro train (which involves three changes and is not good if you are lugging heavy suitcases with you).  The Airport Express Shuttle Bus starts its journey right outside Atocha railway station, and will have you at the airport within 35 minutes for only 5€.  Click on the link to MadridMan’s excellent information about times of buses etc, with very helpful photographs to help you identify the Airport Express shuttle bus.

What’s your favourite method of transport?  How would you travel if money or time was of no object?

You might also like to have a look at these articles:

Cost of Living: East of Málaga, Spain – November 2012

East of Málaga: Following in the footsteps around Comares

Frigiliana: Photographs I love – and why!

58 thoughts on “AVE: Taking the Fast Track from Málaga to Madrid

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  8. Curious, do you have any idea how early and often the AVE from Malaga runs to Madrid? We are catching a flight out of Madrid at 11:35 am, however we will be coming from Malaga first. So we were thing taking the AVE from Malaga to Madrid then we will need to get from train station to airport. ANy advice? Not sure if trains run at 5 and 6am to give us time to catch our flight or not.

    • According to the RENFE website (in English) http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/horarios.html the AVE trains seem to run from 7.10am almost hourly during the day (with a few exceptions), through to 8.30pm being the last train. The journey takes around two and a half hours. If you were to catch the first train at 7.10am and arrive in Madrid at 9.35am – you would need to allow a further hour or so, to get to the airport on the bus or metro – meaning you wouldn’t be in time to check-in for your 11.35am flight.

      I can certainly recommend the airport express bus (you catch it right outside Madrid’s Atocha station) straight to the airport for 5 euros per person. It’s much easier than messing about on the Metro, changing lines, and dragging heavy suitcases up and down.

      Of course, you could always take a morning train at your leisure the previous day, and enjoy the rest of the day looking around Madrid – then stay overnight – giving yourself lots of time to get to the airport the following morning for your 11.35am flight.

      Hope that helps 🙂

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  10. Wow! That was soooo interesting – we want to visit Madrid and am now convinced this is the way to do it! Great read and photos as always, Marianne. Can I copy and paste the link to A.Com?

    • I think you would LOVE it Irene. It was a real treat for us. Remember to look out for the lower web-fares online though – and like us you might find a First Class fare cheaper than a Second Class!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Sure, share it with A.com, though I doubt you will see me over there anytime soon! 😉

  11. Pretty slick! I live in Madrid and would love to take the AVE to Valencia, Barcelona, etc if it weren’t so expensive for my student budget…

    I definitely love traveling by train, though, and have fond memories of traveling in an overnight train from Barcelona-Sevilla in Renfe in 2007.

  12. There are so many reasons why I find this appealing – the classiness, the luxury, the price… the speed. There is something about train travel I love. The only holiday train travel I’ve done is in California and it was very enjoyable and stress free, but even daily commuting by train is so much better than the other options even though people whinge about aspects of it.

  13. Never taken the AVE because it’s always been too expensive, but I have taken the TGV in France. We don’t really have high speed bullet trains in the US because our country was built on cars and roadways (and as you might have noticed, it’s really big). Amtrak is the only thing we have when it comes to long distance trains. Their “high speed” train is the Acela, which gets you maybe twenty minutes earlier to your destination. I’ll stick with the slower trains and regular prices!

    • The trick with the AVE is to book your tickets well in advance, online, rather than wait until nearer the time when the fares are more. I think tickets can be bought up to three months in advance.

      That’s good to know about Amtrak, Amelie.

  14. Nice post, Marianne.

    It’s crazy given our vast distances that we don’t have high speed rail in Australia, at least connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.

    Unfortunately it takes long term planning – something we’re not very good at when governments have 3-4 year tenures. The government that spends the money gets the blame and a future government gets to cut the ribbon.

    • Australia would be perfect for high-speed rail!

      Being such a huge investment it IS a dilemma for successive governments,, though one that’s probably worth making in the long run.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Richard.

    • I used to hate getting on the train in the UK. Often I had to stand up for most of the journey during peak times, packed in like sardines.

      {{ shudders at the memory }}

  15. DEFFO something to do fairly soon Marianne! I wonder if the cheap price is because the train you got would be a little late for most business people? But definitely good for those of us just going for a trip and an overnight 🙂

    • I’m sure it’s the off-peak times, Tamara, but our 11.05am arrived just after 1.35pm – so quite a good time to check into a hotel overnight, and not too early a start from home to get to the train station in Malaga either!

      On the website, look out not only for the WEB prices (marked with a W), but also for the ESTRELLA (star) prices too (marked with a ….you’ve guessed it, a STAR)!

      Happy hunting!

  16. Marianne – High speed trains are the best way to go when your destination is a large city, like Madrid. No need for a car there; just hop on the metro. Here in Italy, we now have competition with the high speed trains: mainstay Trenitalia (Government owned) and NTV (privately owned), which started operation this past April.

    • Well, I certainly enjoyed my experience on the AVE, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again.

      That’s interesting about the two competitors for high-speed business in Italy. Have you tried either/both? Is there a difference? Do they look a little like the Spanish trains?

      • Yes, both companies provide the “alta velocity.” Trenitalia has been around for ages, and provides all means of train transport. Their high-speed trains are called frecce (arrows): Freccebianco, Frecceargento and Freccerosso (white, silver and red). Quite nice. With the new company now online, prices will be more competitive, although Trenitalia runs across the country and the other only has limited service thus far, but it’s growing. Stay tuned.

  17. Wow I’ve never seen a train like that and what a posh way to travel! I guess planes are my favourite because they take me furthest but once landed, I like to get on a local bus to people watch!

  18. Now this is a much better alternative to air travel, Marianne, especially given the current state of affairs. And you certainly couldn’t ask for better scenery to gaze upon. Such a nice way to travel.
    I long for the day when this country will begin implementing high speed rail service between its major cities. I’d gladly spend my time sitting on a train rather than waiting in an airport queue. Maybe someday …

    • Airports have become much more stressful these days, haven’t they? This was a very civilized journey to Madrid on the train, I must say.

      I guess I’m surprised to hear that there isn’t a similar system in the States, John. Are there no prospects?

      • There is a high speed train that runs between Boson and New York City but it’s avg speed is about 90 mph, with top speeds no greater than 150 mph.
        Another line is under construction in California connecting Los Angeles with cities to the North and there’s been talk of other lines. Chicago has been mentioned as the starting point for trains heading East or South. Not all States are in agreement, however, and in these economic times, this kind of investment isn’t too popular. For example, it would be great for Chicago and New Orleans, the 2 departure points, but what is there for the 4 or 5 states that the trains pass through? Right now, the “slow” trains stop at cities in those States. High speed trains wouldn’t.
        Eventually, the high cost and inconvenience of air travel will motivate travelers to seek alternatives. High speed rail will then have its day. I hope …

  19. Oh, this looks fabulous. We’ve used the economy to Madrid which we were very impressed with as well. Next time we go, I shall insist on first class I think 🙂 Pensioners can get great deals on the AVE by buying a gold card for approx 8€ and this gives them brilliant discounts.

    • We intended to use the Economy class, Jess, but for some reason the First Class seats were coming up cheaper.

      It might be worth your while checking all the classes if you want to go on the AVE again. You never know, you might bag-a-bargain like we did!

      It’s good to hear that the Economy class (Tourista) was good – and that pensioners can get a discount card, too. All very useful information – thanks for letting me know, Jess.

  20. Now, that is my kind of train ride. How cool! Love how modern it is. It looks much easier than airplanes! I always tell my clients that sometimes the train is much faster than air. Great info.

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