France to Spain by night train
An excellent way to travel the long distance between France and Spain on your Eurail trip is to go by night train. You’ll save yourself precious travel time, plus it’s a unique experience.
Night trains from Paris (France) to Barcelona (Spain)
There are two night trains to choose from: the Elipsos and the Intercité de Nuit. I chose to take the Intercité, which runs from Paris Austerlitz station to Port Bou, France, because this is the best value-for-money option. But both trains have their perks.
Intercité de Nuit: Paris – Port Bou
The French railways, SNCF, operate a number of routes on their Intercité de Nuit night trains from Paris to towns and cities across the south of France and into Spain. I was headed for Barcelona, so I reserved a reclining seat on the Paris Austerlitz – Port Bou route. On this train, you can reserve a spot in a six-bed couchette (20 Euros) or take a reclining seat (9 Euros).
The train leaves from Gare d’Austerlitz, a 25-minute metro ride from Paris’ main station, Gare du Nord. Departure time was 9:57 p.m., but I made sure to arrive 30 minutes beforehand, leaving me enough time to get my ticket checked and find my seat. This was my first experience taking a reclining seat on a night train. I managed to get a good amount of sleep, and at around 6 a.m., I awoke to a beam of sunrise creeping through the curtain. The last stretch of the journey runs alongside the French coast, and this is where the train ride gets really exciting. I was able to take in some magnificent Mediterranean views, especially on the approach to the little French town of Cerbère.
I arrived in Port Bou just after 8 a.m. and was greeted by border control, who checked my passport as I crossed the platform. There was time for a coffee and fresh OJ in the train station café before hopping onto the regional train to Barcelona. In two hours I was at Barcelona Sants station, ready to head to my hostel and shower up before exploring Barcelona’s top treasure: the Sagrada Familia.
Elipsos night train: Paris – Barcelona
The Elipsos night train runs direct from Paris d’Austerlitz to Barcelona Sants. You don’t need to connect in Port Bou, so it’s a slightly faster trip, clocking in at around 12 hours. The train is pretty luxurious, and this is reflected in the price: Reclining seats start at 53 Euros, and a double cabin costs 123 Euros per person.
How to make a reservation
You can reserve your seat or couchette on the Intercité de Nuit at most of Europe’s main train stations, or through the call centre of the German railways, the Deutsche Bahn. For the latter, call +49 1806 996 633 – the call centre is open 24/7. Select extension “9” for an English menu, then “1” for train information and bookings. This call centre does not charge a booking fee. Delivery of your reservation ticket costs 3.50 Euros to all countries.
The Elipsos is a bit more of a challenge to book in advance, but you can make your reservation at a Spanish train station or in Paris. Keep in mind that this train operates five days out of seven.
Seat or bed?
This really depends on a few things. The upside of taking a reclining seat is that this is the cheapest accommodation type, and it’s easier to get up and walk around than it is from a couchette cabin. However, sleeping almost upright doesn’t work for everyone! Your best chance of an uninterrupted night of rest is in a couchette – you just have to pay a little more for the luxury.
5 tips for travelling on the Intercité de Nuit
- The coaches can get rather cold during the night, so make sure you’re dressed for it. Bring a blanket to keep warm as these aren’t provided. I came unprepared, so I used my beach towel!
- Take ear plugs for snorers and to block out the sound of the squeaky seats.
- Bring food with you, since the only option available onboard is a vending machine that sells snacks and soft drinks. There’s also a coffee machine.
- In the corridors opposite the couchette cabins there are electricity sockets, which you can use to charge your phone. A good time to do this is early morning, when others are still asleep and you can enjoy the sunrise while you wait.
- There are no showers, so factor this into your planning. If you check into a hostel or hotel on the same morning, you may be able to take a shower then. This depends on when the official check-in time is, but often this is early afternoon.
Want to get around France and Spain by train? Check out the Eurail passes.