Road Trip Through Spain: Madrid to Barcelona

Ask GoogleMaps how to get from Madrid to Barcelona, and you’ll be taken in a direct shot along the E-90. But take the road less traveled on a road trip from Madrid to Barcelona, and you’ll be rewarded with fewer tourists and a more authentic local scene. Starting in Madrid, take the E-901 from Madrid through Cuenca and Aragon before meeting up again with the E-90 or A-2 into the seaside city of Barcelona.


Rent a car in Madrid, then set out from the city by mid-morning. You’ll want to budget at least an overnight for this road trip, but you could certainly stretch it to two nights if you really want to linger.


The medieval town of Cuenca is less than two hours from Madrid, on E-901. Cuenca’s famous ‘hanging houses’ are located here; the walled town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Built by the Moors, Cuenca has Spain’s first Gothic cathedral, thanks to the Castilians who conquered the city in the 12th century. With kids, stop at the Parque Natural de la Serrania de Cuenca, where everyone can get out of the car for some hiking in this beautiful and visually interesting countryside. The narrow roads are steep in some parts of the park, but this just adds to the thrill for kids.


Before driving on, see the Casas Colgadas for a lesson in unique architecture; these houses seem to hover over the cliffs, with layers of balconies and gables. You can see them best from the old town, past the Puente de San Paulo footbridge.


Continuing on from Cuenca, head toward Teruel on the N-320 (connecting to the N-420). This section of the drive is about two hours and 45 minutes, but I recommend continuing on to Aragon for an overnight stop. Stop in Teruel for a break, however, taking in the gorges rising up from the Rio Turia in this industrial city. During this part of the drive, you’ll enter the mountain valleys and vineyards of the Aragon region. The villages tucked away between earth-colored hills are ancient, and look sunk into their surroundings. When I went through, I had to remind myself I was still in modern-day Spain.


Approximately six hours’ drive time from Madrid (but more like eight hours after a few stops en route), you’ll arrive in Aragon. Stay the night, then get up with the sun so you have time to explore this city before getting back on the road. Start with the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the baroque cathedral where Catholic believers say Santiago saw the Virgin Mary. It opens at 7 am, so this makes for a nice pre-breakfast sight if you have early risers.


About 30 minutes drive away, in Zaragoza, is the Museo Pablo Gargallo, as well as rafting trips and float trips down the Ebro River. Spending most the day in the area to combine a bit of culture with some outdoor adventure is a great way to go; head out toward Barcelona in the mid-afternoon.

The remaining drive is just over three hours. Arrive in Barcelona as the sun is setting!

This post was written in partnership with Enterprise rental cars. Itinerary is my own.

Photo credit: Felipe GabaldónAndrew GouldJorge Correa

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. I’d love to do this trip. I’ve seen very little for Spain for a keen traveller from the UK. Madrid was great and I’ve only ever heard great things about Barcelona!

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