Driving to Barcelona – how to get there by road
The motorway network in Catalonia is good, although many are toll roads, but if you wish to avoid paying to use the roads or just want a more scenic drive then there are other options for you. You can approach Barcelona by car from three general directions; the Costa Brava and France in the north; Valencia and Tarragona in the south; and from inland and Madrid.
Driving from France and the north of Catalonia
The AP7 motorway extends from the French border and down to Barcelona, a trip under normal road conditions of around 2 hours, the border crossing here reached via the French A9 autoroute from Perpignan, which you can reach from Paris via the route that passes Orleans, Clermont-Ferrand and Narbonne.
The AP7 is generally in good condition, although you may come across frequent road works as it is gradually expanded to three lanes in some of the busiest sections and most of it requires a toll, which can be paid by cash or credit card.
You should also be aware that in the summer months tourists are targeted for robbery while on the autopista; the usual method is create a diversion by one person “assisting” with a puncture or offering directions while an accomplice snatches a handbag or valuables, but there have also been reports of victims being incapacitated by gas while sleeping in their cars or caravans.
If you wish to avoid the AP7, you can divert to the A2 from Girona – in places it is marked NII, its old name – and then on to the C32, which takes you closer to the coast, offering some spectacular sea views.
Driving distance from Perpignan to Barcelona: 120 miles/194 km.
Driving from Madrid
If you’re approaching from Madrid you need to first head for Zaragoza on the A2, before diverting to the AP2 (NII) for Leida, where you can either continue on the motorway to Barcelona, or follow the A2. There is no real advantage to either from the point of view that they both take you into the same side of Barcelona, and while the autopista is faster, it is also more confusing.
Driving distance from Madrid to Barcelona: 384 miles/619 km.
Directions from Tarragona
Your third main option for getting to Barcelona by road is from the south, via Valencia and Tarragona. Again the road is the AP7, and so you’ll be required to stop at the tolls along the way, but the road runs parallel to the coast until just above Tarragona and offers some spectacular views of the Mediterranean along the way, and after that runs through Cava country.
Driving distance from Valencia to Barcelona: 224 miles/360 km
Driving distance from Tarragona to Barcelona: 68 miles/109 km
Bear in mind that the combination of increased tourist traffic throughout Catalonia and heat in the summer can be quite unbearable, and you should plan your journey with this in mind. Apart from the big holiday weekends of the summer, the times to avoid are Friday evenings out of Barcelona and Sunday evenings inbound due to the volume of traffic heading for second homes on the coast, although to the north of Barcelona one lane of the opposite carriageway is often used for traffic returning traffic on a Sunday – not for the fainthearted!
One final point is that it is compulsory to wear a yellow reflective jacket if you break down; you must also carry a spare set of bulbs for the lights as well as a spare pair of spectacles if you require them for driving.