Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In and Out of Barcelona By Train

Barcelona and Madrid are the two main train and plane hubs in Spain. I have found myself living on either side of Barcelona the last two winters and so have used the Barcelona trains extensively. Below are a few tricks and tips I have learned that should be useful to travelers entering or leaving Barcelona by train. 

There are two train stations in Barcelona -  Estacio de Franca in Catalan (de Francia in Spanish) and Estacio Sants. Sants is the newer station with most of the train traffic including the high speed AVE.
Franca is the old station with marble floors and a grand feeling although much smaller than Sants and with fewer tracks. The overnight trains to Paris, Zurich and Milan leave from Franca. Franca has no stores or services to speak of except ticket windows, an information desk and rest rooms.

The bathrooms have been renovated since I wrote the Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally in Spain and now do have toilet paper and toilet seats, but take note and get your toilet paper on the way in as it is only in the entry of the bathroom, not in the stalls.  The sinks are automated all-in-one wash and dry and the stalls now don bright pink doors. 

If you have to wait or have a layover at Franca be prepared with food especially if you have luggage, as there is nothing to eat in the station- not even a newsstand - so be prepared with reading material as well. There used to be a large cafĂ©/bar at one end of the station but that is closed for renovation with no indication of when it will reopen. The left luggage (consigna) has been closed for years at Franca due to security issues. 

The station is covered but open air, so while lovely in the warmer months, it can be chilly in the winter. In the evening the one heated room is where the information area is with seven or so comfortable chairs, usually filled with travelers waiting for the overnight trains to Europe which leave between 7:00 and 9:00pm.

In stark contrast the Barcelona Sants station is a new large complex complete with shops and food options, and a metro accessible from within the station. If you have luggage you don’t want to lug around, you can leave it at the Consigna (Left-Luggage) lockers at Sants. 

There is a convenient train that runs between the two stations for 1.40 (at writing time). You need to buy a specific ticket at one of the machines for the Rodalies (commuter) trains. The trip only takes twelve minutes between the stations and is definitely the fastest, easiest and cheapest means between the two. The trains run regularly - every fifteen minutes or so. 

To buy your tickets from Sants TO Franca - go to the machines down by tracks 13-14 in the Sants station. At the machine you can choose your language and then must search for your destination (Barcelona de Franca) which will be on the second page of options. At Sants you enter the tracks with your ticket via a turnstile much like the metro so it both gains you entry and validates the ticket.

At Franca there is a machine to the right of the ticket counter near to the security checkpoint. The same thing holds true here – buying your ticket from Franca TO Sants you will have to click on the yellow “other destinations” button to find Barcelona Sants in the middle of the second page of destination options. At Franca you MUST validate your ticket in one of the machines in the hallway where security is prior to boarding the train AND you will need your ticket to exit at Sants so hold onto it. 

If you have a lot of time between trains and are not too encumbered by luggage you can take the metro to the old part of the city and stroll through the streets and up Las Ramblas stopping to have a meal or snack. The fresh squeezed fruit juices at La Boqueria market are especially refreshing for travelers. If you are starting at Franca, I would take the metro one stop to Jaume 1 and then wind my way over to Las Ramblas through the back streets. From Sants, if you don’t want to bother switching metro lines, take the green line L3 to Liceu which will let you out right on Las Ramblas.

For more information about the overnight train see the post Dinner in Paris, Breakfast in Barcelona.

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