Traveling by train in Spain offers a blend of environmental friendliness, affordability, and picturesque views, making it an attractive option for exploring this expansive country. Renfe, the national train operator in Spain, manages a comprehensive and efficient railway network connecting major urban centers with smaller towns both inland and along the coast. Whether you're planning a multi-city adventure or a spontaneous day trip from destinations like Alicante, Málaga, Valencia, Seville, or Barcelona, Spanish trains provide reliable transportation.

Understanding the basics of train travel in Spain and purchasing tickets is key to a smooth journey. Renfe, pronounced Ren-fay, oversees various types of trains, including mainline, regional, suburban, and local services. For swift travel between major cities, consider the high-speed AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) trains, which can traverse distances in significantly less time than by road, reaching speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph). Alternatively, Avlo trains offer budget-friendly high-speed travel with fewer amenities, maintaining comparable journey times to AVE trains.

Renfe also encompasses other operators catering to specific regions, such as Renfe Feve in northern Spain and FGC operating in and around Barcelona. To explore the full extent of Spain's railway network, OpenRailwayMap provides a comprehensive overview of all available routes. Whether you're embarking on a cross-country adventure or a local excursion, Spain's train system offers a convenient and scenic mode of transportation.

Travelling In Spain

Traveling by train in Spain offers a comfortable and modern experience, with amenities like onboard bathrooms and air-conditioning. High-speed AVE trains typically provide Wi-Fi, though its reliability can vary. Using a VPN is advisable for cybersecurity. Seats are available in Standard Class (2nd class) and Comfort Class (1st class). Ticket options include:

  • Básico (Basic): the cheapest fare, available only in Standard Class.
  • Elige (Choice): a semi-flexible ticket offering a choice of Standard Class or Comfort Class.
  • Premium: a fully flexible ticket available in Comfort Class, often including perks like onboard dining or lounge access.
    Seating configurations typically include rows of twos or four-person table seats, with first-class carriages sometimes offering solo seating. First class offers additional legroom.

Purchasing A Train Ticket

To purchase train tickets in Spain, online booking is recommended. Omio and Trainline are reliable platforms, offering mobile ticket storage and service interruption notifications. Prices are displayed in various currencies and most foreign cards are accepted, though a small service charge applies.

Omio provides detailed information about onboard amenities, such as Wi-Fi and meal availability. Pay attention to ticket validity and refund policies, as most tickets are non-refundable unless additional fees are paid at booking. While Renfe's website offers fares in euros without a service fee, it can be cumbersome to use, requiring correct Spanish city names and sometimes rejecting non-Spanish payment cards. However, it's useful for checking schedules and comparing prices.

For ease of booking and better deals, it's recommended to check Renfe for schedules and then use Omio or Trainline for reservations, as they are more user-friendly and accept standard English spellings of Spanish locations. Comparing prices across platforms ensures the best deal.

Booking train travel in Spain requires careful consideration, especially for long-distance and high-speed journeys. Seat reservations are mandatory for most trains, ensuring a comfortable travel experience without overcrowding. Advance booking is essential, particularly during peak seasons like summer, Christmas, New Year, and Easter when demand is high due to Spanish nationals traveling to visit friends and family. Additionally, regional festivals can lead to popular routes being oversubscribed.

Booking tickets well in advance not only guarantees a seat but also offers significant cost savings, with fares often discounted by over half the full price when booked several weeks ahead. While shorter journeys of an hour or less may not require advanced notice and can be booked on the day, it's advisable to pre-book, especially during peak travel seasons or for commuter routes like Barcelona to Girona. Tickets for most trains in Spain become available for booking 60 days in advance, with AVE services sometimes opening up to 90 days ahead.

Barcelona Train Station

For travelers passing through Barcelona, Barcelona-Sants (Sants Estación) serves as the main and largest railway station in the city. Despite its utilitarian architecture, it functions efficiently as a transportation hub. Situated in the Sants-Montjuïc district, Barcelona-Sants is connected to the Sants Estació metro station, providing easy access to various parts of the city. Taxis can also be hailed from the forecourt or via ride-hailing apps.

The station features multiple platforms catering to different services, including high-speed AVE trains to Madrid, Seville, and Málaga, as well as TGV services to Paris and Alvia trains to northern Spanish cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao. For day trips from Barcelona, it's important to verify departure stations, as not all trips originate from Barcelona-Sants. Other major train stations in Barcelona include Espanya, Plaça de Catalunya, Francia, and Passeig de Gràcia.

​​Madrid Atocha Guide

When it comes to accommodations near Barcelona-Sants, Hotel Barceló Sants offers convenient proximity within the terminal itself. While there may be more appealing areas to stay for an extended visit to Barcelona, the hotel is ideal for those with early arrivals or late departures. Featuring ultra-modern and well-equipped rooms, some boasting city views, it provides a comfortable stay for travelers.

Moving to Madrid, Madrid Atocha Train Station stands as the primary railway terminal in the Spanish capital. In stark contrast to Barcelona-Sants, Atocha is an architectural gem with its art nouveau facade and a striking indoor "rainforest" housing a diverse array of plant species. Situated in the Atocha neighborhood near El Retiro Park and the botanical garden, it connects to two metro stations, Estación Del Arte and Estación Atocha, both served by Line 1 (blue).

High-speed trains typically depart from platforms 1-15, forming part of Madrid Puerta de Atocha. Separately, Madrid Atocha-Cercanías serves suburban services from platforms 1-10, providing access to suburban areas.

For accommodations near Madrid Atocha, Only YOU Hotel Atocha offers close proximity to the station, with rooms featuring stylish decor such as exposed brick walls and vintage-inspired furnishings. Some rooms boast balconies, while suites provide luxurious amenities. Alternatively, considering Atocha's central location, exploring accommodations in nearby areas like Lavapiés and Retiro is also recommended.

​​Interrail Spanish train travel

Interrail passes offer a convenient option for exploring Spain by train. The Interrail Spain One Country Pass caters to European citizens and residents, offering flexibility with options ranging from three to eight days. Seat reservations are necessary for high-speed, international, and night train services. Additionally, the Global Pass, available in flexi or continuous formats, extends travel options for Europeans. Non-Europeans can opt for Eurail passes to access Spain's train network.

When comparing train travel with renting a car in Spain, several factors come into play:

Pros

  • ​Environmentally friendly alternative compared to driving or short-haul flights.
  • Booking train tickets is straightforward with platforms like Omio or Trainline.
  • Spain's train system is well-connected and efficient, offering convenience for travelers.
  • Eliminates concerns about parking associated with hiring a car.
  • Trains in Spain are generally comfortable and well-maintained.
  • Provides opportunities to work, plan trips, or relax during the journey.
  • Most routes allow pets, though specific terms and conditions apply.

Cons

  • ​Costs can escalate without advance ticket reservations.
  • Cheaper fares may come with non-transferable restrictions.
  • Last-minute booking may not always be feasible.
  • Risk of encountering antisocial behavior on public transport.
  • Train travel might not be as comfortable for passengers traveling with babies or young children.
  • Not all trains permit pets, limiting options for pet owners.

Important Things To Take While Travelling

When preparing for train travel in Spain, it's essential to pack wisely to ensure a comfortable journey. Here's a checklist to help you cover all the essentials:

  • Luggage: While the official limit is 25 kg per passenger, it's not strictly enforced. Opt for a suitcase or backpack that's easy to handle and can fit in overhead racks or designated areas in the carriage.
  • Water: Carry a reusable water bottle to minimize plastic consumption. Tap water in Spain is safe to drink, so refill your bottle as needed. Consider a stainless steel water bottle for durability and insulation.
  • Snacks: Pack a variety of snacks like pastries, sandwiches, fresh fruit, nuts, olives, and cheeses for the journey. Stackable container pots can help keep your snacks organized.
  • Warm Layer: Air-conditioning on trains can make the carriage chilly, so bring a practical blanket scarf or an oversized hoodie for warmth and comfort.
  • Book/eReader: While you'll enjoy the scenic views, having something to read is always a good idea. Consider bringing a Kindle Paperwhite for its eye comfort, portability, and long battery life.
  • Noise-canceling Headphones: Block out unwanted noise from other passengers and enjoy your favorite podcasts or audiobooks with noise-canceling headphones. Opt for over-the-ear headphones like Sony's for maximum comfort.
  • Combination Lock: Keep your belongings secure with a combination lock for your suitcase or backpack, especially during stops or when storing luggage.

By following this packing checklist, you'll be well-prepared for a smooth and enjoyable train journey through Spain.