When creating custom itineraries for a new client, one of the most important details is logistics…how to get from point A to point B, the quickest way to get there, and how much it costs. Traveling by train in Spain is an efficient and memorable way to get through the country, yet it’s not as straightforward as one might think. Because of this, we’ve put together a guide on how to travel by train through Spain with joy and ease. Now let’s dive into the wonderful world of Spanish railways.
Spain Train Travel: An Overview
- Very good high speed railway, efficient and punctual!
- Large network of railways throughout the country
- Can be more convenient than flying in some cases
Types of Trains in Spain
From local commuter trains to high speed, intercity trains, you’ve got options. Lots of them! Most of the Spanish trains are operated by a state-owned company called RENFE. There are also a couple of other companies in different regions. Here’s a list of the types of trains in Spain in order of speediest to slowest.
High Speed Trains
- Spain’s front-rank high-speed trains
- A prior reservation is necessary!
- Travel up to 320km/hr
- Connect many large cities in Spain and into France, including Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Seville, and Valencia.
- Madrid to Barcelona (386 miles) = 2.5 hours.
- All AVE trains have a café and bar and air conditioning
- Have power outlets and WiFi
- International from Spain to France
- Very fast! 200 mph
Regional & Intercity Trains
- Fast trains from Madrid to Bilbao and San Sebastian
- Operate on conventional train lines instead of special high-speed lines
- All Alvia trains have a café/bar, usually no Wifi
- Fast trains operating from Barcelona to Valencia and Alicante
- Fast trains from Madrid to southern Spain
- Operate primarily from Madrid, Barcelona, Cordoba & Galicia
- Regional trains that connect smaller cities with big cities
- Not very fast as they usually stop at all stations.
- Serves Spain’s north coast west from Bilbao and Santander
- Not fast, but some segments of track on the coast have great views
- Tickets only available for purchase at the station before you board
- Trains have one class
- Operates in the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian
- Connects to French trains at the border station of Hendaye
Intercity & Talgo: Slower long-distance trains
- Traditional trains on conventional tracks
- Quite slow, don’t use these trains if you’re in a rush.
- No Wifi
- Trains have one class
Cercanías: commuter trains
- Cercanias derives from the Spanish word ‘cerca’, which means close or short distance.
- Operate in big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga, Seville, Bilbao and Valencia.
- Great way to combine a night’s rest and cross-country travel.
- There are seated options (not recommended) and three classes of sleeper cabins: Turista bed, Preferente bed, and the premium Gran Clase bed.
- The routes are longer, operating within Spain into Portugal.
- Generally there’s no WiFi on the sleeper trains.
- International connecting Spain to France, Luxembourg, and Switzerland
- Loops through Andalucía between Seville, Ronda, Granada and Córdoba among other stops
- Option of three to six nights.
- Prices: seven-day/six-night itineraries start at €3700 per person in high season; the single supplement costs €1800.
- Goes from Santiago de Compostela in Galicia to as far as León.
- 8-day trip costs from €3600 per person in high season; there’s a €1800 single journey.
- Can be done in smaller parts or done in reverse (direction Leon to Santiago de Compostela). It’s basically a packaged tour by train.
- If you’re an off the beaten path type of traveler, you probably wouldn’t like this as it’s geared toward tourists and feels touristy.
Spanish long-distance trains generally have three classes.
- Turista = 2nd class/ economy
- Turista Plus = a step above economy but not quite first class
- Preferente = 1st class/ business class.
Seating: Turista is the 2nd class or economy choice when traveling on Spanish trains. Turista is perfectly comfortable, but if you want extra space or perks of a 1st class seat, you can check out the Turista Plus or Preferente ticket. Turista has four seats across the width of the train, with two seats on each side of the aisle.
Food: No complimentary food or drinks included, yet you can purchase food from the carts.
Extras: Not too many extras with this ticket class – it’s covers the basics.
2. Turista Plus
Seating: Preferente-style first class seating with space than the Turista seats. There’s also less seating in this section, meaning it’s more spacious. The seats are usually arranged 2+1 across the car width instead of 2+2.
Food: No complimentary meal or wine included in ticket price.
Extras: No access to station lounge (Sala Club). Though it’s more comfortable than the Turista class.
Seating: In Preferente, the seats drop to three across the width of the train and the configuration is two seats on one side and one seat on its own. The seats themselves are also more comfortable.
Food: On weekdays on AVE & EuroMed high-speed trains, Preferente usually includes a hot airline-style meal & wine. The Preferente cars provide at-your-seat meal and bar services, rather like an aircraft. It’s good to know that there is no food/bar service on Saturdays or shorter train rides.
Extras: Every seat in Preferente has its own power outlet so you can charge your device. On AVE trains these are under your armrest. On the older Alvia trains, you’ll find it underneath your seat. Some have WiFi, but more often than not the WiFi doesn’t work. You also get access to Sala Club Lounges at the stations.
Fares & Discount Guide for Spain Train Travel
- Promo: cheapest ticket it’s non-refundable and non-changeable. You’re unable to choose seating. You’re stuck with what you got. You also don’t have access to the Sala Club lounges at most major stations. Womp, womp.
- Promo+: semi-flexible, a bit more expensive. 70% refund if you need to cancel. Unable to choose seating.
- Flexible: Most expensive ticket. 95% refund if you need to cancel. Able to choose seating.
- Mesa: Can get great discounts when traveling with groups of 3 or 4 (up to 60%!) Seating is around a table (mesa in Spanish) in the train, hence the name.
But how much does a train ticket actually cost in Spain?
We wish it were more straight forward as it would make everyone’s lives easier, but fares vary enormously depending on the service (faster trains cost considerably more) and, in the case of some high-speed services such as the AVE, on the time and day of travel.
The most expensive tickets are AVE trains (high speed). A one-way trip in 2nd class from Madrid to Barcelona (on which route only AVE trains run) could cost as much as $130. This could be significantly cheaper if you book in advance (around $55).
Discount for Spain train travel
- Buying a return ticket often gives you a 10% to 20% discount on the return trip.
- Children (4-12 years old) get a 40% discount.
- Children under four years old travel for free, except on high-speed trains, where they only get the 40% discount.
- You get between 10 to 20 percent off on the return trip if you’re buying a return ticket.
- Buying more than 3 destinations in a single transaction (the first and last can be the same) on Renfe.com qualifies you for the multiple 20% discount.
Should I book my train tickets ahead of time?
Yes! For long and mid-distance routes on high speed trains, you can start checking ticket prices 60 days ahead of time. During busier time periods, it’s safe to book at least 30 days ahead if you can. If you book on the day of your trip, it is usually around 3 times the cost of a ticket booked two months in advance.
Renting a car while in Spain? Here’s what you need to know before you book!
Well, hopefully this Spain train travel guide covered all you ever need to know on the topic. While you’re here, also read our clients top FAQ about Spain train travel. If you’re overwhelmed with travel planning and love active trips, check out the travel planning services we offer. Hasta luego!