Train Travel in Spain: Client FAQs

Train Travel in Spain: Client FAQs

Creating custom trips means we have acquired quite the expertise in travel logistics. A high level of detail is so important when booking trips. Many of our clients love train travel in Spain because it’s scenic, reasonably priced, and comfortable.

Here are our clients’ FAQs. Happy trails!

1. Can I buy tickets in the train station?

The Spanish lifestyle is extremely laid back, which might make you think that you can just take off at the drop of a hat and take a last-minute trip without a reservation. You definitely can for shorter distances like when traveling regionally or on Cercanías, yet I advise my clients to book any long-distance train travel ahead of time

There are two major reasons for this: 

  1. Train tickets get more expensive closer to the travel date. The ticket price on the day of your travel will be three times as much as it cost two months prior.  
  2. The train could be full if you wait until last minute. 

I recommend that you start looking around two months before your travel date and check back periodically.

screenshot of renfe website

2. How do I buy Spanish train tickets online? 

The quick answer: Depends on where you’re going, but start with RENFE

3. Does train travel work with my itinerary?

Logistics are an important part of ensuring you get the most out of your time when on vacation. Spain has more than 2,000 train stations and 2,270 kilometers of railways. Say what?! You’ve got lots of options.

The AVE high-speed trains go to all major cities in Spain, so if you’re traveling in between big cities, train travel works very well.  With Madrid and Barcelona being connected by a short two and a half hour journey, these two cities form the major hubs from which to use the AVE Spain as the start or end points.

Even if you’re going to smaller towns, train travel still probably works well for your itinerary. The only way to find out is to research a little bit. Plug in your destinations in the train booking sites. Rome2Rio is a great resource for checking this.

Renfe train in Spain

4. Is first class worth it? What is the difference between preferente and turista

Turista is economy while preferente is business class. Turista seats are comfortable, but if you want to spend a little more for more comfortable seats and a meal on board, then go for the preferente

5. Should I buy a rail pass for Spain train travel?

If you’re taking less than three or four train rides in Spain, the rail pass most likely won’t save you money. You still have to reserve a seat with the rail pass as well. 

If you’re taking a longer trip throughout Europe, a Eurail pass could be a great option for you. This pass works within Europe and allows more flexibility within your trip. 

6. Should I take the train or  rent a car in Spain?

This depends a lot on your overall trip itinerary. Are you traveling to big cities and towns? Are you looking to visit smaller villages beyond the tourist path? Train travel in Spain is more convenient if you’re moving mostly between towns or cities. You’ll want to rent a car if you’re exploring the countryside for ease of access. 

Train station in Spain

7. How far in advance do I need to show up at the train station?

Half an hour before your train departure time. 

8. What should I do in case of a rail strike?

If you spend a considerable amount of time in Spain, it’s likely you could experience a strike, or huelga. If you hear word of a train strike, go to the RENFE information booth in the train station and speak with a representative. About 70% of the railways still run on time during strikes, and travelers will also be offered a full refund or chance to change the ticket for another date at no extra cost if the strike were to affect their travel plans. 

Click here for additional Spain rail strike info.

9. Is there food on Spanish trains?

Almost all long and medium distance trains have food services on board. Not to mention, there are little cafes and bocadillos, or sandwiches, at most stations. I recommend packing a delicious bocadillo from a spot in town. It’s cheaper and will probably taste better! 

If you’re traveling preferente, a meal is included with the cost. 

10. Should I print the ticket? 

When booking, you can either print a physical copy or download it on your smartphone. Renfe offers electronic tickets on most of their routes. I find that it’s easier to travel with a copy downloaded on my phone in case I lose the printed copy. We all have our preferences! 

Read here to learn our must-read advice about renting a car in Spain.


Thanks for reading! If you’re planning to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain, check out our services. We plan hiking trips to Spain and specialize in pilgrimage

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