How to get from Madrid to Zurich?
July 23, 2019 2:11 AM   Subscribe

I have a flight into Madrid on a Friday and a flight out of Zurich 10 days later. Where to go in-between?

This was two separate trips but I now have some time to enjoy the European summer at the end of August.

What are some logical stops between the two cities? We're a mid 30s couple, prefer to travel by train, eating, looking at art/museums, bookshops. Bodies of water a plus! I've been thinking about going north to Bilbao/San Sebastian and across to Bordeaux but it seems like the onward connections are not as good?

Zurich is not essential to spend time in - we visit regularly, just need to fly out of there! Thanks so much in advance.
posted by teststrip to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Enjoy the capital, there's enough to see and do in Madrid that can keep you busy for as many days as you want. People are really outgoing and it's easy to socialise too, so they'll be very eager to recommend trips for you. Visiting Toledo is also an experience not to be missed. When I travelled there alone some years ago I didn't feel the least bored. Then, you could head to a seaside place like San Sebastian but I haven't been to the North so I can't advise you on that. However, if you also consider travelling to the South of Spain, I know it has a good connection with the capital, both by train and bus. Seaside resorts like Nerja and the whole Costa del Sol are swarming with tourists, mostly mass tourism though. I remember that Spanish people appreciate places like Pato de Gata in the South,where you can get more seclusion and clear sea.
posted by raft at 3:13 AM on July 23, 2019

The Swiss lakes are a delight in the summer. Maybe aim to finish your trip with a few days around Montreux, Interlaken, or Lucerne. And obvs, Swiss trains are the easiest option for transport place-to-place.
posted by humuhumu at 3:52 AM on July 23, 2019

There are high speed trains to Seville and Toledo, and if you are OK with a 3 hour trip each way you can also go to Barcelona and back in a day, but maybe staying for the night and flying from Barcelona to Zurich would also be comfortable -- Swissair operates from both BCN El Prat and Madrid Barajas airports.

One thing to have in mind is the climate, we are right now in a heatwave again and temperatures should be better from the middle - end of August onwards. If you're traveling right now and you're sensitive to heat, Switzerland would be vastly better for you.
posted by sukeban at 9:25 AM on July 23, 2019

Oh, also: Renfe sells tickets between Madrid and Marseille, Or from Barcelona to Lyon, Toulouse or Paris, if you're interested.
posted by sukeban at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2019

I see Madrid to Perpignan on the Mediterranean, then an overnight train to Paris, then Paris to Zurich. But that's a lot of time on a train, a 22-hour trip including connections. That would be too much train for my taste in 10 days. Even if you sleep 8 hours on the train that's 5, 5, and 4 hours.

There are a bunch of nonstops Madrid-Milano for under $100, sometimes well under if you are willing to put up with RyanAir. Then you could go nonstop to Zurich through the Alps in 3.5-4.5 hours, again for under $100.
posted by wnissen at 11:39 AM on July 23, 2019

I did a little poking around on and the route that minimizes train time is: Madrid - Barcelona (4 hrs), Barcelona-Montpelier (3 hrs), Montpelier-Lyon (2 hrs), Lyon-Geneva (2 hrs), Geneva-Zurich (3 hrs). About 14-15 hours on the train total, plus (relatively short) connections. There is one train in the morning that goes direct from Barcelona to Lyon. (Note you can actually click on the stopover button if you want to test schedules with stopovers rather than building the entire itinerary from parts.)

Of this city list, I haven't been to Montpelier. Geneva isn't worth the stop unless you have a little slack time. (I'd probably trust a Swiss train to get to the Zurich airport, so if I woke up in Lyon and had to be at the airport at 6 PM, I'd consider spending lunch in Geneva or something.) All 3 of Madrid, Barcelona and Lyon are great food destinations and (IIRC, it's been a while since I was in Lyon) great art destinations.

But be realistic -- Madrid's big 3 museums are all worth a big chunk of a day, and you should spend some time away from museums, so that's probably 4 or 5 days in Madrid alone. (Hit the Thyssen or Reina Sofia first, get the multi-pass so you can skip some of the Prado lines.) And if you're doing the train, you're spending three half-days in travel, so you don't have a ton of extra slack.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2019

Absolutely do visit both San Sebastian and Bordeaux, they're great places which would really suit you. Travelling on from Bordeaux is pretty straightforward by TGV, though you will have to connect in Paris to continue to Zurich.
posted by vincebowdren at 2:59 AM on July 24, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks all, fabulous answers!
posted by teststrip at 2:13 AM on July 30, 2019

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