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Train travel from France to Spain: Everything you need to know

Fans of overland travel - and anyone keen to avoid airports - will be pleased to learn that there are several train routes between France and Spain, taking in some spectacular views of the Pyrenees. Here's everything you need to know to plan a trip.

Train travel from France to Spain: Everything you need to know
Gare de Cerbere on the line between Perpignan and Barcelona. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

There are four rail routes that cross the border between Spain and France, scattered from the Mediterranean to the Basque coast, all varying in time and cost.

Let’s start with the major ones. French railway operator SNCF offers services from Paris Gare de Lyon – via Valence, Nîmes, Montpellier, Sète, Agde, Béziers, Narbonne, and Perpignan – to Barcelona, stopping at Figueres and Girona in Spain before reaching the Catalan capital.

There are currently two high-speed trains per day in each direction between Paris and Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Spain’s state-owned rail network Renfe is to begin running high-speed AVE services between France and Spain, according to Spanish Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez. Routes planned to open this summer are Madrid-Marseille and Barcelona-Lyon, while a Madrid-Paris is planned by the end of the year.

Renfe’s high-speed trains will initially run between Madrid and Marseille and between Barcelona and Lyon on alternate days, with six weekly return trips on each route.

As the services ramp up, they will then run twice a day, with Renfe aiming for 28 services a week between the two routes.

Further down the line – see what we did, there? – Italy’s Trenitalia is planning to launch a service that connects Paris and Madrid by the end of 2024 – creating a service between the French capital and Barcelona, and linking with its already existing high-speed service between the Spanish cities.

Most of the remaining routes are via regional trains. 

Cerbère to Port Bou

This route runs along the Mediterranean coastline, between the two small border towns – the travel time between the two stations is just 11 minutes and runs every two hours. Single tickets cost just €1.20.

Local TER services in France connect the border town of Cerbère to Narbonne, Montpellier, Avignon – UK newspaper The Guardian last year waxed lyrical about the four-hour-and-15-minutes, 25-stop journey from Avignon to Spain – and Toulouse.

Single standard tickets for the two-hour 50-minute journey between Toulouse and Cerbère cost around €39.

Latour de Carol to Puigcerdà

This scenic route takes you straight through the Pyrenees, not far from Andorra, from the French village of Latour de Carol, also known as La Tor de Querol-Enveig in Catalan, to the small Catalan town of Puigcerdà.

The total journey time between the two stations takes just 6 minutes and costs €2.15, but it’s more likely that travellers will be coming from Toulouse – or even Paris. 

Toulouse to Latour de Carol takes about three hours, and tickets routinely cost around €28. It’s possible to connect from Paris Austerlitz to Toulouse on this service.

Hendaye to Irún 

The Basque Country crossing offers so many trains per day that it’s often used by commuters and is definitely one of the easiest and most efficient crossings between the two countries.

This is the Euskotren, that runs throughout the Basque Country, part regional train and part metro. This section crosses into Spain from Hendaye to Irún, just outside San Sebastián.

That part of the journey takes just 4 minutes and costs €1.85, but it’s more likely that you’ll be travelling from to or nearby San Sebastián in Spain, or Hendaye in France. Hendaye to San Sebastián takes 23 minutes and costs €2.75, with trains running every 30 minutes.

You can get directly to Hendaye from Biarritz, Bayonne and Bordeaux – and from San Sebastián (itself a popular holiday destination and foodie hotspot) you can head on deeper into Spain via Bilbao, Valladolid and Madrid.

Member comments

  1. Some great routes here. But to say “Spain’s state-owned rail network Renfe is to begin running high-speed AVE services between France and Spain” isn’t correct. They ran them until the end of 2022 when they mysteriously stopped, even though they were well used when I went on them. So the service from the south of France to Barcelona, which really ought to be a busy international route, is currently rubbish and won’t tempt many people off the plane.

  2. I would love to travel by train more, but I have a labrador. She is (mostly) allowed on French trains, but I am not sure it is the same in Spain?

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France’s SNCF announces October date for Christmas rail tickets sale

Mark your calendars, as French rail operators have announced that ticket sales for the Christmas holiday period will open soon.

France's SNCF announces October date for Christmas rail tickets sale

France’s national rail service, SNCF, announced on Friday that tickets for the Christmas period would go on sale starting October 4th. 

SNCF high-speed train tickets typically become available about three months in advance. As of Friday, for example, you could only book with the domestic TGV (high-speed train) service up until November 8th. 

TGV InOui (premium high-speed trains) tickets for the period of December 10th to January 9th will be available here

Intercité (classic) train tickets for the same period will be available here

Low-cost OuiGo tickets will be available for an even larger period, from December 10th to July 5th, and can be booked here

If you are unsure of which kind of train is suitable for your journey (or even just goes where you want it to go), check the SNCF website for further details on prices and itineraries. 

Eurostar tickets for the Christmas period are already on sale. 

What about the rest of the year?

If you want to book tickets from mid-January 2024 and onwards, you are going to have to wait for a little while (unless you are travelling on a OuiGo train). 

Sales for TGV InOui and Intercité services will open progressively for services between January 9th to February 9th. 

If however you want to book trains for the February school holidays, you set a reminder for November 15th, which is the date that tickets for TGV InOui and Intercité services will go on sale for the period of February 10th to March 24th.