Train advice from the Man in Seat 61...

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Once upon a time, Spain had one of the most backward train networks in western Europe.  Now, they have one of the best, indeed, one of my favourite rail systems.  High-speed AVE trains (Alta Velocidad Española) link major cities at up to 300 km/h (186mph), and if you book in advance online you can find some great cheap fares.  This page will give you a heads-up on how to travel cheaply around Spain by train.

A guide to taking the train in Spain

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International trains to & from Spain

Other train travel information, useful country information, spain by train, the key things to know.

Avlo is a lo-cost subsidiary of Renfe which runs Barcelona-Madrid, other routes planned.  Their trains are one class only, with no-catering.

Ouigo Spain is a lo-cost subsidiary of SNCF (French Railways) which runs Barcelona-Madrid, Madrid-Valencia & Madrid-Alicante, other routes planned.  Two class, with basic catering.

Elige (Choice) = A semi-flexible fare, you can choose between Elige (2nd class seat) or for a higher price, Elige Confort (1st class seat).

Now for the catch, and it's some catch that Catch 22:  You can only buy a Tarjeta Dorada in person at a Renfe station when you get to Spain.  You cannot buy it online.  But you can't buy tickets online in advance with the Tarjeta Dorada discount until after you've bought the card because you need to enter the card number to get the discount.  So if you're planning a trip to Spain, it's better to forget about being senior and just buy a normal adult advance-purchase ticket now for perhaps €30 without any Tarjeta Dorada discount, than to wait until you get to Spain to buy a Tarjeta Dorada to get 25% off a fare which by that time (on or close to departure date) might have risen to €90.  Just let that sink in...

How to buy tickets & check train times

You can buy tickets at any Renfe station or online at , but see the advice on using below .  There's no booking fee, but is a pain to use with some confusing translations and quirks, it's also known for sometimes rejecting overseas payment cards.  It's far easier (and quicker!) to buy tickets in plain English using (in €, £ or $, small booking fee, works for anyone from any country) or ( various currencies, small booking fee), (various currencies, small booking fee) or (in US$, with a small mark-up).  These websites all connect to Renfe's ticketing system and sell the same trains at the same prices with no payment problems and the same official Renfe print-at-home tickets.

Real time information

You can see whether a train is on time and which platform it will leave from, if you download 's app and run an enquiry for today. Trainline's app show real time information for all operators, Renfe, Avlo, Iryo & Ouigo.

Combinado Cercanias : Free suburban travel with a long-distance ticket

When you buy a ticket for one of Renfe's long-distance trains (AVE, EuroMed, Alvia, Intercity) of any fare type in any class for a journey within Spain, you get free travel from any Renfe suburban station at the start of your journey and free travel to any Renfe suburban station at the end of your journey, in the following cities:

Asturias, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cadiz, Madrid, Malaga, Murcia/Alicante, San Sebastian, Santander, Seville, Valencia and Zaragoza.  You also get free travel from/to any FEVE local station in Asturias, Santander, Bilbao & Cartagena.

If your ticket includes this, it will say Combinado Cercanias in the corner with a reference number.

At your starting city, you must use the suburban ticket within 3 hours of your long-distance train departure, and at your destination you must use the suburban ticket within 4 hours of your long-distance train's arrival.

You can travel to or from any suburban station within that city's numbered zones, but not outside the zones (so longer routes such as Barcelona to Portbou or Latour de Carol are not included).

Different cities have slightly different processes:  To access the suburban ( cercanias ) platforms in Madrid or Malaga, place the QR code of your long-distance ticket against the scanner on the automatic ticket gates and they should open.  In Barcelona, you must show your long-distance ticket at the information desk and ask for a ticket to open the cercanias ticket gates.

Add a snack box to your booking in Elige Confort on AVE & EuroMed .  You can add a snack box to your booking if you buy an Elige fare for Confort class on an AVE or EuroMed train at  You can add it when you book or afterwards, at least 12h before the train leaves its origin station.

Railpasses for Spain

You can make reservations to go with a Spain pass either at stations as you go or at , but the online method isn't obvious!  Here's how to make Renfe Pass seat reservations at :

After buying your Renfe pass, log into your account.  For English, click the globe logo and select Ingles .

Select the tab called My passes which should then show each Renfe Spain Pass you have bought.  Click See all , which takes you to another page.  Then click New validation against a pass and make a reservation to go with that pass.  Feedback appreciated !

You can only make reservations for one pass at a time, in other words, for one person at a time.  But if you click Choose seats you can select your seat from a seat map, use this feature to select seats next to each other.

If for any reason you end up needing to do it in Spanish, select the tab called Mis abonos which should show your Renfe Spain Pass.  Then click Detalles or Ver todos , which takes you to another page.  Then click Nueva formalizacion and make a reservation.

Important:  When you make your first reservation, Renfe assumes that this is the first train you want to take with your pass and automatically starts the one-month pass validity from that date.  This now prevents you from making reservations on any earlier date.  So make sure that the first reservation you make is for the day you intend to start using the pass.

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Spanish train fares & classes explained

In July 2021, Renfe introduced a completely new fares structure for all its long-distance trains including the high-speed AVE, and also changed the terms it uses for 1st & 2nd class.  It's easy to get confused between what's a class of accommodation and what's a fare type, so here's a run-down of Renfe's new classes & fares.

Standard & Comfort class

Básico, elige & premium fares.

Elige (Choice).  A semi-flexible fare.  If you select this you get a choice of Elige to travel in Standard (2nd) class or Elige Confort at a higher price to travel in Comfort (1st) class but without any included food or access to lounges.  Elige & Elige Confort tickets are refundable & changeable for a fee.

What are Spanish trains like?

AVE or Alta Velocidad Española is Spain's front-rank high-speed train.  Reservation is compulsory, and all trains have a cafe-bar.  AVEs are now being fitted with free WiFi.  If you pay the Premium fare, an airline-style hot tray meal with wine is included although on some departures you get a snack box instead, see the food & drink section above .  AVE trains come in various types.

S100 :  The original French-designed AVE used between Madrid & Seville and also now used into France, see the photos below.

S102 & S112 :  The Spanish Talgo-designed AVE used between Madrid & Malaga, Barcelona & Malaga/Seville, a classy train indeed, see S102/S112 photos here .

S103 :  The German-designed AVE used between Barcelona & Madrid plus some Madrid-Malaga trains, see S103 photos here .

Alvia & EuroMed trains

These S130 trains operate the EuroMed services linking Barcelona with Valencia & Alicante, as well as Alvia trains from Madrid to Cadiz & Huelva.  They consist of little articulated coaches built by the Talgo company sandwiched between two duck-billed power cars.  There are other Alvia services operates by similar trains with a diesel power-car added, and a few Alvia trains (including Barcelona to Bilbao, Pamplona & San Sebastian) operated by the wedge-nosed S120 type, of similar high quality.  All Alvia trains have a cafe-bar.  On EuroMed services a hot meal with wine is usually available in Comfort class on weekdays & Sundays if you buy a Premium ticket or add the meal to an Elige ticket, see the information above .

Intercity trains

These run on many long distance routes, including Madrid-Ronda-Algeciras, Madrid-Granada, Madrid-San Sebastian.  Most (including Madrid-Algeciras) are former Altaria trains, little articulated trains built by the Talgo company and hauled by a separate locomotive, they have adjustable axles so they can run at up to 200 km/h on the high-speed AVE lines (which are standard European gauge) then go though a gauge-changing shed to emerge on traditional Spanish broad gauge to complete their journey on the classic Iberian gauge network.  A few Intercity trains have been created by rebranding former Alvia trains built by CAF, for example on the Madrid-San Sebastian route, which also have gauge-changing wheels.  All Intercity trains have a cafe-bar.

Avlo, Iryo, Ouigo...

Spain's high-speed lines have been opened up to competition.  Renfe now has a lo-cost brand called Avlo , and competitor operators Iryo & Ouigo now operate on key routes including Barcelona-Madrid , Madrid-Valencia, Madrid-Cordoba/Seville/Malaga.  See the Barcelona-Madrid page for a run down of these 3 operators .

How to buy train tickets for Spain

Option 1, buy at

The quickest & easiest way to buy Spanish train tickets is at with cheap advance-purchase fares & print-at-home or collect-at-station tickets.  You can choose to pay in €, £ or $. There's a small booking fee. links directly to Renfe's (Spanish Railways) ticketing system and charges the same price as Renfe themselves with the same print-your-own ticket delivery.  Unlike Renfe's own site it's in plain English without any of's quirky translations and no credit card rejection problems. can book the lo-cost Barcelona-Madrid Ouigo Spain trains as well as the normal Renfe trains, but cannot book lo-cost Avlo trains

Anyone from any country can use as international credit cards are welcomed.  It can also sell international trains between Spain and Portugal or France, as it links to the French, German, Italian & British ticketing systems.  Who are

Important:   If you have a baby or infant, remember to add them as a child and enter their age, they'll still go free but will get the free infant ticket which is now necessary in Spain.

Option 2, buy at or & also connect to Renfe's ticketing system to sell Renfe tickets at exactly the same prices as Renfe with the same print-your-own or collect-at-station tickets, very easily, all overseas credit cards accepted.  Both charge a small booking fee.  They can also book Ouigo Spain trains & Avlo trains .  Who are

Option 3, buy at , easy to use, in US$

If you'd rather pay in USD, use .  This is a US-based agency which also links directly to the Renfe ticketing system to sell the same trains as with the same print-at-home tickets.  They add a small mark-up, but it's easy to use in plain English and it avoids the English translation and credit card acceptance problems people can experience with  Anyone from any country can use Petrabax, including the United States, Canada, Australia, India & Singapore.

Option 4, buy at

How to use

Renfe are also usually late opening reservations for dates after the twice-yearly timetable change in mid-June and mid-December.

G uidebooks

Lonely Planet Spain - click to buy online

Click the images to buy online at

Alternatively, download just the chapters or areas you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website , from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.

European Rail Timetable & maps

Traveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy online

Rail Map Europe is the map I recommend, covering all of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  Scenic routes & high-speed lines are highlighted.  See an extract from the map .  Buy online at (shipping worldwide) or at (UK addresses).

Hotels in Spain

Backpacker hostels. :  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in Paris and most other European cities at rock-bottom prices.

Environmentally aware, actively ethical adventures in Spain:

For environmentally-aware guesthouses offering walking, hiking, riding or nature-watching in the Spanish countryside and national parks, try , a new site listing independent, environmentally-aware properties across Spain.  It was started by British ex-pats Clive Muir and Sue Eatock, when they found nowhere to advertise their own wonderful property deep in the heart of the Sierra de Grazelema near Ronda in Southern Spain.

Custom-made tours of Spain


If you want to tour Spain by train, with all your train reservations and hotels sorted for you to your own specification, contact train tour specialists Railbookers and they'll create the best rail holiday for you, hassle-free.  They take good care of their clients and get a lot of repeat business.  In particular, check out their Ultimate Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour on their US & Canada site, or a top seller on their UK site, Madrid & Andalusia.  They have offices in the UK, USA & Australia.

UK flag

Tailor Made Rail,

Tailor Made Rail can arrange tours of Spain by train based on your own requirements, they welcome complex itineraries.  As it's a package, they'll take care of you if anything happens on one part of the trip, for example, a national strike.  They're TTA-protected - like ATOL, but not only for agencies that sell air travel.

Call their dedicated seat61 phone line 020 3778 1461 and quote seat 61 when booking.  From outside the UK call +44 20 3778 1461.  Lines open 09:00-17:30 Monday-Friday.  Their website is .

Car hire comparison:

The award-winning website compares many different car hire companies including Holiday Autos, meaning not only a cheapest price comparison but a wider choice of hire and drop off location.

Travel insurance & other tips

Always take out travel insurance.

You should take out travel insurance with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here .  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

US flag

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a European mobile data package and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility list .  There's no need to buy a physical SIM card! is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data .

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month as I write this.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:   1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android .  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than getting a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card , they'll give you £5 cashback through that link.

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When travelling you may use free public WiFi which is often insecure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explained .  ExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with using this link you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I also get some commission to help support this site.

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, hotel bookings and Interrail or Eurail passes are often now held on your mobile phone.  You daren't let it run out of power, and you can't always rely on the phone's internal battery or on being near a power outlet.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over.  Buy from or Buy from .

Touring cities?  Use hill walking shoes!

One of the best things I've done is swap my normal shoes for hill-walking shoes, in my case from Scarpa.  They're intended for hiking across the Pennines not wandering around Florence, but the support and cushioning for hiking works equally well when you're on your feet all day exploring foreign cities.  My feet used to give out first and limit my day, now the rest of me gives up before they do!

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Spain train guide – how to travel spain by train.

How to travel Spain by train — Tips for buying Spanish train tickets and advice for navigating Spain by rail.


spain train travel times

Spain is well-connected by rail so you can easily get just about anywhere quickly and fairly inexpensively. Luckily for travelers, Spain’s rail network has improved immensely over the past few years and its high-speed AVE trains now connect Spain’s major cities at speeds over 180mph. But, of course, it still has a few quirks. In this Spain Train Guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about taking the train in Spain—from navigating the system to buying train tickets in Spain for the cheapest price.

Electronic Train Tickets and High-Speed Data in Spain

Most train tickets in Spain (and much of Europe) are now electronic so you’ll want reliable high-speed data for your phone—personally, I wouldn’t rely on free wifi or your domestic provider’s international service as it’s often slow/unreliable.

Luckily, getting high-speed data in Spain is fairly simple and affordable. Here are a few articles I’ve written to help you get set up:

  • Guide To Mobile Data Plans and Smartphone Phones in Europe
  • How To Buy A SIM Card and Mobile Data Plans in Europe
  • Guide To Buying SIM Cards and Mobile Data Plans in  Spain

How To Buy Train Tickets in Spain

spain train travel times

There are a number of ways to buy Spanish train tickets but it’s not always super straightforward. Keep reading and we’ll walk you through the process.

Let’s first take look at where and when to buy tickets for the best price…

Where To Buy Spain Train Tickets

Booking train ticket with Omio

Below are the various ways to buy train tickets for Spain and we’ve tried to call out the common quirks of each method.

Omio: Omio is a search engine that lets you compare and book trains (plus buses & flights) anywhere in Europe. It lets you easily book tickets with your credit card at essentially the same prices as Spain’s Railways website. Additionally, Omio searches routes for multiple rail services across Europe so it’s great for international trips (since it can easily combine rail journeys of multiple countries). Omio also gives you the option to print your own tickets or have eTickets sent to the Omio App.

TrainLine:   TrainLine is a third-party booking site that connects directly to Spain’s National Rail Network ( and other European networks. Trainline also accepts international credit card payments and lets you print your own tickets or have eTickets sent to the Tranline App.

RENFE (Spanish Railways) : The National Spanish Railway system is called RENFE and anyone is allowed to buy tickets from Like most national rail sites, suffers from weird translation issues and sometimes it won’t accept foreign credit cards. When I tried booking I found that the website was only partially translated into English and it would randomly switch to Spanish. Additionally, it’s confusing when you enter your billing address because it’s in the Spanish format. So, I suggest sticking to the other methods outlined above.

Types Of Train Tickets

spain train tickets - buying tickets

There are three main types of ticket fares available — each ticket class is available for both first-class ( Turista Plus) and second-class ( Turista ) tickets. There is also a  Preferente class that’s first-class + a meal.

  • Promo: Promo is the cheapest ticket available but it’s also non-refundable — so you’re out of luck if you miss your train or need to cancel your ticket.
  • Promo+: Promo + is semi-flexible so it’s a bit more expensive but you’ll get a 70% refund if you need to cancel tickets.
  • Flexible:   Flexible is the most expensive ticket but you get a 95% refund should you need to cancel.

Group (Mesa) Ticket Discount

Spain train tickets - Mesa ticket

AVE and long-distance trains often offer up to a 60% discount for groups who buy four seats together — this is called a Mesa fare ( Mesa means table in Spanish). You have to buy the entire set of four seats but this is usually even a good deal for groups of three since the group still saves money by purchasing the block of four seats.


Spain train - ticket machines

Tickets purchased online can be collected in a few different ways. Most of the time you’re given multiple methods of collecting your tickets but double-check as things seem to randomly change.

  • Print-At-Home Tickets:  You’ll often be sent a PDF that you print at home and show to the conductor on the train when he checks tickets.
  • Smartphone: You can save the PDF ticket to your phone and they can scan it from there. We recommend saving it to your iPhone’s Passbook app.
  • Pick Up At the Station:  Use your booking confirmation number to collect your tickets at the train station. This isn’t always an option.


Short answer — Yes. It’s best to book early if you want to save money on your train tickets. This mainly applies to Spain’s AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed trains and most medium/long-distance trains. You’re able to book tickets about two to three months before the departure date — it randomly fluctuates so check back in a few days if you’re not finding many/any results. The longer you wait the more you’ll pay—a ticket purchased on the day of travel will cost around 3x a ticket purchased two months early.

However, local/short-distance trains don’t need to be booked early as the prices are fixed.

Late Train Arrival Refunds

One interesting thing that Renfe offers is compensation for delayed/late arrivals on all high-speed and long-distance trains—and it doesn’t matter what caused the delay. Each train service has different refund policies but the high-speed AVE trains will refund 50% if the train is over 15 minutes late and 100% if the train is over 30 minutes late.

You can collect your refund at the train station or you can trade in your credit + receive a 20% bonus if you purchase a future ticket.

Using Your Spain Train Tickets

Spain train - high speed train

Unlike most of Europe, there is never a need to validate your Spanish train tickets — regardless of what kind of ticket it is. On  high-speed trains , your ticket is only good for the specific time printed on your ticket. You’ll also be given an assigned seat. On slower trains, you’ll just show the conductor your ticket when they check tickets on the train.

We recommend getting to the train station about 20 minutes before the train departs so you can find your platform. On high-speed trains, you’ll need to go through security but it should only add an extra few minutes to your journey.

Rail Passes for Spain

The cheapest way to travel via train in Spain is by purchasing advanced tickets. In virtually every situation this will be more cost-effective than using a Eurail pass .

However, tickets are expensive if you buy them only a few days in advance so it usually makes more sense, both financially and practically, to use a rail pass if you’re a spontaneous traveler—especially when using high-speed trains.

Check out to see their rail passes.


High-speed and long-distance trains in Spain require a reservation when using a Eurail pass — the reservation will cost €10-€15/seat. Tip: Always look to see the price of a normal ticket costs because on some routes a normal ticket will cost less than the Eurail reservation fee.

Also, You must make the reservation before you get on the train and some routes limit the number of rail pass holders so it’s wise to book your reservation early. Most of the time you need to make the reservation a minimum of one hour before departure but we suggest doing it as early as you can.

There are a few ways to make reservations:

  •  lets you book your reservation online through their platform. Simply look for a button that says “I Have A Railpass” and follow the prompts.
  • At The Train Station:  You can simply go to the train station and book your reservation from the customer service desk or self-service kiosks. You can book it weeks in advance or you can do it the day you depart. We suggest using the kiosks because the ticket window can take forever.

More Spain Train Travel Tips

Spain train - departure board

  • The Departures Board:  You’ll find your train platform via the departure board at the train station. Don’t worry if you don’t see your train because they often only display trains departing within the next 10-20 minutes.
  • Security Screening: In Spain, all high-speed trains require you to screen your bags via X-ray. It normally only takes a few minutes.
  • Self-Service Machines Are In English: Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish because the ticket machines (and train station signs) are all in English.
  • Cheap Tickets Are Non-Refundable:  One downside to cheap tickets is that they’re non-refundable and they can’t be changed.
  • Pack A Picnic:  You’re allowed to bring your own food and alcohol on trains. It’s great for those long train rides.
  • Luggage:  There aren’t any weight limits on luggage and you can bring as much as you want (well, as much as you can carry). Simply bring it on and store it above your head, behind your seat, or in the luggage racks in each car.
  • Making Connections: Your trip might require you to change trains along the journey. Don’t worry if there isn’t much time between trains as switching trains are usually fairly quick and easy (it’s not like flying).
  • Get To The Train Station Early:  Train stations are usually fairly easy to navigate but they can be a little confusing.
  • Know Train Station Names:  Most large cities have multiple train stations (Madrid and Barcelona both have two) so this often creates confusion. Double-check to make sure you have the right station — especially when booking your ticket.

More Spain Travel Tips from The Savvy Backpacker

Spain train - seats

  • Barcelona Travel Guide : Tips for visiting Barcelona
  • Best Hostels in Barcelona : Our favorite budget accommodation in Barcelona.
  • Madrid Travel Guide : Tips for visiting Madrid.
  • Best Hostels in Madrid : Our favorite budget accommodation in Madrid.
  • How To Choose The Best Travel Insurance : Travel insurance will help cover those non-refundable train tickets if something goes wrong during your trip.
  • Packing List For Europe Travel : Tips on packing light (which makes train travel much easier).
  • Recent Posts

James Feess

  • How To Purchase Train Tickets for Europe | Strategies For Buying European Train Tickets - February 16, 2024
  • Complete Guide To Train Travel In Europe | How To Travel Europe By Train - February 15, 2024
  • Best Party Cities in Europe | Europe’s Best Nightlife Destinations - February 9, 2024

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Traveling in Spain

Train (all the info you need to know)

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While train travel in Spain can be a little confusing, most rail systems now seem to have been consolidated under Spain’s national train company, RENFE.

High Speed Train

Part of the magic of train travel in Europe is its high-speed rail system. You can not take a high-speed train to every single destination in Spain, but more high-speed rails are being added each year. Many of Spain’s top tourist sites can now be reached by a high-speed train.


If you jump on one of the high-speed rail lines, known as the AVE, and you take it south out of Madrid station  for two and a half hours, you will arrive in Seville. Or, for the same 2 and half hour travel time, head north on the AVE, out of Madrid, and end up in Barcelona!

You could drive the Madrid to Barcelona distance by rental car – however, you would be looking at a 6-hour excursion to cover the 430-mile trip. Read more about Spain’s high-speed trains, AVE routes and travel times/duration of routes.

What You Need To Know – Arriving At The Train Station:

When it comes to trains in Spain you may find the variety of train types confusing, but when you arrive at the train station all you really need to know is what ticket window (Billetes) will get you a ticket to your destination.


Entering the Madrid and Barcelona Train Stations can be disorienting – people rushing here and there, Regionales signs, signs for EuroMed, AVE, Cercanias and (non-staffed) information booths all compete for your attention.

One of the big changes from our first visit to Spain is that now many Spain train stations have signs in both English and Spanish. You may still find the train stations a little confusing but for the non-Spanish, English speaker , the stations have become a little more navigable.


You are less likely to find English-speaking ticket agents in the smaller train stations then at the larger train stations. Younger clerks are more likely to speak some English than older clerks. To be on the safe side, if you don’t speak Spanish, it is a good idea to write down the name of your destination or have a train schedule handy on which you can point out your city destination.


It is also a good idea to tell the ticket agent if you want a “one way” (de ida solo) or “round trip” (de ida y vuelta) ticket, something we always seem to forget.

For traveling out of the Madrid and Barcelona train stations, you might consider either arriving at the station early or visiting the station the day before your date of travel. By doing a quick walk around, you can locate the manned information booth(s), the Regionales (Regional Trains), Cercanias (local commuter trains), and Largo Recorrido (long-distance trains) ticket windows.

At this time, pick up train schedules for potential destinations and determine which ticket window sells train tickets to your particular destination.

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Train (all the info you need to know)

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Spain trains: everything you need to know

spain trains

Spain trains are a great way to get from one destination to another. In fact, Spanish trains are an increasingly cost-effective alternative to planes, particularly if you’re going a relatively short distance or if you’re traveling in the one of the high-speed long distance trains.

Nowadays several companies compete to offer the best train service of the country.

But which one suits better your travel plans?

Have a look at a complete guide on how to purchase your train tickets online .

Below you can find a list of all the railway companies operating in Spain and the routes that they cover.

Table of Contents

Railway companies operating in Spain

Who operates trains in Spain?

The deregulation of the railway sector has led to the different operators gaining access to the Spanish railway network. After decades of monopoly, the state-owned company Renfe Operadora competes with several private operators.

Here is a list of the current railway operators in Spain:

  • Renfe . It’s the Spanish state rail operator, which until recently operated a monopoly in Spain. It also operates through Avlo , its low-cost subsidiary.
  • OUIGO . It’s French SNCF’s low-cost service high-speed trains, offering long-distance services on core routes of the Spanish rail network.
  • iryo . It’s operated by ILSA, which is part of a consortium made up of Spanish airline Air Nostrum, Globalvia (a Spanish multinational transport infrastructure company) and Italy’s main train operator Trenitalia.

Now… You may be asking yourself, which one is better?

Well, all of them are valid options. It’s just a matter of availability (as you’ll see below, Renfe still offers the widest range of routes) and price (Renfe tickets are still the most expensive ones).

So, do your research and compare fares here and there! And there’s a great site for that.

Purchase your train tickets online with the best booking platform.

Spain trains: high-speed long distance routes

With a 3,100km track network the Spanish high-speed trains operate on the longest high-speed network in Europe. Running at speeds of up to 310 km/h this extensive network allows for fast connections between cities in Spain.

As you can see, the central hub of the high-speed long distance routes in Madrid is the train station Puerta de Atocha , although other routes depart from Chamartín train station. In Barcelona these trains depart from the Barcelona Sants train station. And in Seville, they depart from Santa Justa train station.

Currently Renfe has the following AVE routes:

  • Madrid Atocha – Calatayud- Zaragoza – Lleida – Tarragona – Barcelona – Girona – Figueres
  • Madrid Atocha – Guadalajara – Calatayud – Zaragoza – Tardienta – Huesca
  • Madrid Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba – Sevilla
  • Madrid Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba – Puente Genil – Antequera – Loja – Granada
  • Madrid Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba – Puente Genil – Antequera – Málaga
  • Madrid Atocha – Cuenca – Requena – Valencia – Castellón
  • Madrid Atocha – Cuenca – Albacete – Villena – Alicante – Elche – Orihuela – Murcia
  • Madrid Chamartín – Cuenca – Requena – Valencia
  • Madrid Chamartín – Cuenca – Albacete – Villena – Alicante
  • Madrid Chamartín – Segovia – Valladolid – Palencia – León
  • Madrid Chamartín – Zamora – Ourense
  • Barcelona – Tarragona – Lleida – Zaragoza – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba – Antequera – Granada
  • Barcelona – Tarragona – Lleida – Zaragoza – Ciudad Real – Córdoba – Antequera – Puente Genil – Antequera – Málaga
  • Barcelona – Tarragona – Lleida – Zaragoza – Ciudad Real – Córdoba – Sevilla
  • Valencia – Cuenca – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Córdoba – Sevilla
  • Valencia – Requena – Cuenca – Madrid Chamartín – Valladolid – Burgos
  • Alicante – Albacete – Cuenca – Madrid Chamartín – Zamora – Ourense
  • Alicante – Albacete – Cuenca – Madrid Chamartín – Valladolid – Palencia – León

Apart from AVE trains, Avlo is Renfe’s low-cost high-speed long-distance train service operating 5 long distance routes:

  • Madrid Atocha – Guadalajara – Calatayud – Zaragoza – Lleida – Tarragona – Barcelona – Girona – Figueres
  • Madrid Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Villanueva de Córdoba – Córdoba – Sevilla
  • Madrid Atocha – Ciudad Real – Puertollano – Villanueva de Córdoba – Córdoba – Puente Genil – Antequera Santa Ana – Málaga

In addition to this, Renfe has 2 other types of high speed trains:

  • Avant trains travel at the same speed as AVE one, but they are designed for short trips to interconnect nearby destinations (e.g. from Madrid to Segovia, Valladolid, Cordoba, Sevilla, Toledo and from Barcelona to Zaragoza, Tarragona, Santiago, Girona).
  • Alvia train services share the high speed lines with AVE trains, but then branch off in to conventional tracks, or continue beyond the end of the high speed lines, in order to reach their final destinations.

French SNCF’s low-cost high-speed OUIGO trains now operate on 3 routes:

  • Madrid Atocha – Tarragona – Zaragoza – Barcelona
  • Madrid Chamartín – Valencia
  • Madrid Chamartín – Albacete – Alicante

OUIGO Spain services will gradually be extended to other high-speed lines in Spain.

iryo is the brand from railway operator ILSA. The company is jointly owned by Italy’s main train operator Trenitalia, Spanish airline Air Nostrum, and the infrastructure investment fund Globalvia.

It operates on the following routes:

  • Madrid Atocha – Córdoba – Sevilla
  • Madrid Atocha – Córdoba – Málaga
  • Madrid Chamartín – Cuenca – Valencia
  • Madrid Chamartín – Cuenca – Albacete – Alicante

They are also expected to run between other destinations in the near future.

Spain trains: Media Distancia routes

The Media Distancia (regional trains) and Avant trains cover the whole country and are solely operated by Renfe . These trains are also very modern and quite punctual but they are not as fast as the long distance ones.

This map shows you in detail all the routes network in Spain .

The following routes are currently available using the Avant trains:

  • Avant Madrid – Segovia – Valladolid
  • Avant Málaga – Córdoba – Seville
  • Avant Madrid – Ciudad Real – Puertollano
  • Avant Madrid – Toledo
  • Avant Barcelona – Tarragona – Lleida
  • Avant Calatayud – Zaragoza
  • Avant Ourense – Santiago – A Coruña
  • Avant Barcelona – Girona
  • Avant Barcelona – Figueres Vilafant
  • Avant Valencia – Requena Utiel

Spain trains: Cercanías routes

The Spain for commuter rail services or suburban trains are called Cercanías (or Rodalies in Barcelona).

Operating from many major cities, these local routes travel from main city center stations to suburbs and exurbs, and serve primarily to bring workers and students into city centers from more provincial areas. They either cover large cities (including Madrid , Barcelona , Bilbao, Seville and Valencia) or small regions (Asturias, Murcia).

These local trains are only operated by Renfe .

The following maps show you in detail all the routes corresponding to a certain geographical area of Spain:

  • Murcia/Alicante
  • San Sebastián

This article is part of a complete tutorial about train travel in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your train journeys around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Spain trains: everything you need to know 2. How to purchase Renfe train tickets online 3. 7 tricks to get cheap train tickets in Spain 4. Renfe: Spain’s state-owned railway company 5. AVE trains: Renfe high-speed trains in Spain 6. The Combinado Cercanías ticket 7. The Renfe Spain Pass 8. Avlo: Renfe’s high speed low cost trains 9. OUIGO trains: SNCF’s high speed low cost company 10. iryo: Spain’s low cost high-speed rail operator 11. 7 packing tips to comply with your train baggage allowance

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The Spain Travel Guru

Train Travel in Spain: A Helpful Guide

By: Author Hannah Cooper

Posted on Last updated: January 19, 2024

Train Travel in Spain: A Helpful Guide

Train travel in Spain is an environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and scenic means of getting around this huge country.

Operated by Renfe, the train system in Spain is sophisticated and efficient. It links major Spanish cities with smaller towns inland and on the coasts of Spain. You can rely on Spanish trains to get you from city to city as part of a wider travel itinerary as well as for independent day trips from Alicante , Málaga , Valencia , Seville , Barcelona , and more.

This guide is a window into what you need to know about traveling by train and how to buy train tickets in Spain.

All you need to know about train travel in Spain

Renfe (pronounced Ren-fay) is responsible for the national train system in Spain. The company operates mainline, regional, suburban, and local trains across the country.

High-speed AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) are specific trains that service major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, and Seville in a fraction of the time it takes by road. AVE trains reach maximum speeds of 300 km/h (186 mph).

Avlo trains are low-cost high-speed services. These have fewer onboard frills that save passengers money but journey times are on par with AVE trains.

Several other providers operate within the Renfe umbrella. Renfe Feve serves northern Spain and FGC operates around Barcelona.

Visit OpenRailwayMap to view all railway routes.

There are so many modes of transportation around Spain, but train travel is one of the most comfortable and convenient.

What’s it like traveling by train in Spain?

Trains in Spain are very comfortable and modern with onboard bathrooms and air-conditioning. High-speed AVE trains usually have Wi-Fi although it’s not always guaranteed that it will work throughout the entire route. It’s wise to use a VPN to protect yourself against cyber threats.

Seats are sold as per Standard Class (2nd class) and Comfort Class (1st class).

Básico (Basic) is the cheapest fare available and applies only to Standard Class.

Elige (Choice) is a semi-flexible ticket and gives you a choice of Elige Standard Class or Elige Confort in Comfort Class.

Premium is totally flexible and is available in Comfort Class. It often involves other perks such as onboard dining and/or lounge access.

Seats are generally configured as airline rows of twos or as four-person table seats. First-class carriages have the added perk of solo seating for those traveling alone.

Standard classes are comfortable for the average traveler although first-class train travel in Spain has additional legroom.

Most regional Spain trains are equipped with a cafe bar where you can buy food and drink. It’s fine to take your own food which was purchased elsewhere onboard. Alcohol is permitted on trains but rowdy behavior is not.

Valencia has two different train stations depending on whether you are traveling locally or further afield on the fast trains.

How to buy train tickets in Spain

The best way to book train travel in Spain is online. Omio and Trainline are the safest and most user-friendly websites for booking rail tickets in Spain. You’re required to register an account and will need to type in your passport number as part of the booking process.

These platforms have apps where you can store mobile tickets and keep an eye on service interruptions. Subject to availability, you’ll be able to state a preference for window/aisle seating. The classes may be listed differently than stated earlier but it’s easy to figure out what you’re getting with each tier.

They list prices in different currencies and accept most foreign credit and debit cards. Both sites apply a minimal service charge to your booking.

Omio is preferred for booking rail tickets in Spain. It displays more information about what to expect onboard, such as Wi-Fi and meal availability.

It’s important to pay attention to the terms and conditions regarding validity. Most tickets are valid on the selected train and refunds/amendments are not possible until you pay extra at the time of booking.

Of course, if the service is canceled then you will either be assigned to the next available train at no additional cost or receive a refund.

It’s also possible to book Spain train travel directly on Renfe . This website lists the fares in euros and as an added perk, does not apply a service fee. However, it’s cumbersome to use.

You must use the Spanish names of each city (and spell them correctly). The Spanish-English translation isn’t always very clear. The site doesn’t always accept non-Spanish payment cards.

It is, however, the best website to check for train times and to compare prices. But often, you can get a better price on Omio or Trainline , even with the small transaction fee applied. Compare each website to see which is offering the best deal.

It’s worth having a quick look at the schedules but heading to Omio and Trainline to make a reservation. Besides, these sites are easier to search using the standard English-language spellings of Spanish locations.

Trains in Spain can take you to some pretty spectacular places.

When to book train travel in Spain

Practically all Spain trains require a seat reservation. These are free and mean there’s no chance of spending the journey dangling over other passengers in the aisle (a far cry from the sardine-style approach of British trains).

Due to this rule, booking rail tickets in Spain ahead of travel time is often mandatory.

Long-distance and high-speed train travel in Spain always requires advanced booking. This is crucial during summer as well as peak times such as Christmas, New Year, and Easter when Spanish nationals are visiting friends and family.

It’s also wise to check out regional and local festivals in Spain as this can result in certain routes being oversubscribed.

Booking train tickets in Spain ahead of time is also much cheaper. You can save over half the full-price fare when you plan ahead by a few weeks or more.

Shorter journeys of an hour or less generally don’t require notice and can be booked on the day. That being said, it’s always wise to pre-book, especially during peak travel seasons and if you’re on a commuter journey (like Barcelona to Girona , for example).

Trains in Spain are usually open for booking 60 days in advance. AVE services may open up to 90 days ahead.

There is a confusing number of train stations in Barcelona, but most long-distance trains will go through Barcelona Sants.

A quick guide to Barcelona-Sants Train Station

Barcelona-Sants (Sants Estación) is the main and largest railway station in Barcelona. It’ll never win any awards for its architecture but it functions well as a travel depot.

Sants is located in the Sants-Montjuïc district.

It’s connected to the Sants Estació metro station which is served by lines 3 (green) and 5 (blue). Line 3 heads to the Gothic Quarter and Plaça de Catalunya.

It’s also possible to hail taxis from the forecourt or use apps. Consult our guide to Uber in Barcelona and alternative services.

Platforms 1-6 receive TGV services to and from Paris and AVE high-speed trains to and from Madrid, Seville, and Málaga, as well as other French cities. This is also where to go for Alvia trains to San Sebastian and Bilbao in northern Spain.

Platforms 7-14 are used for suburban trains and EuroMed services to Valencia and Alicante.

There are several day trips from Barcelona possible by train. Note that not all of these depart from Barcelona-Sants so it’s important to check.

Espanya, Plaça de Catalunya, Francia, and Passeig de Gràcia are other major train stations in Barcelona.

Where to stay near Barcelona-Sants

Hotel Barceló Sants is located within the terminal. There are better areas to stay as part of a longer travel itinerary in Barcelona although it’s handy if you have an early arrival or late departure. Rooms are ultra-modern and practically equipped. The best ones have city views.

The Madrid Atocha Train Station is probably my favorite station in Spain thanks to the tropical garden inside.

A quick guide to Madrid Atocha Train Station

Madrid Atocha Train Station (Madrid Estación de Atocha) is the main railway terminal in the Spanish capital. In complete contrast to Barcelona-Sants, this trainshed is an architectural masterpiece.

The art nouveau facade is simple yet majestic and almost perfectly symmetrical. The concourse houses an indoor “rainforest” of around 400 different species of plants and flora. Considering the green nature of Madrid it’s very fitting, and also a welcome treat during the arid summer months.

Madrid’s train station is located in its namesake Atocha neighborhood, just off the southern end of El Retiro Park and the botanical garden.

It connects to two metro stations: Estación Del Arte and Estación Atocha. Both are served by Line 1 (blue).

Most high-speed trains depart from platforms 1-15. This extended part of the station is known as Madrid Puerta de Atocha (or, Madrid-Puerta de Atocha-Almudena Grandes).

Madrid Atocha-Cercanías is a separate area with platforms labeled 1-10. Cercanías means commuter and indicates that suburban services arrive and depart from here. This route map of Cercanías Madrid is useful for getting around the suburban areas.

Tickets will specify which part of the station your train departs from. Omio makes it very clear ahead of booking although Trainline doesn’t confirm which station you’ll be using until the confirmation email is sent.

Departures marked as Planta Primera means that the train leaves from the upper level. Planta Baja refers to the ground floor.

Madrid Chamartin (Estación de Madrid-Chamartín Clara Campoamor) is the other train station. It’s located eight miles north of Atocha and somewhat far from the city center.

This station serves connections to the north – such as San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, and Santiago de Compostela. It’s also the cheapest place to get the fast train to Valencia , so you may very well find yourself here. You can get here easily on the metro.

Every northbound Cercanías train from Atocha stops at Chamartin.

Where to stay near Madrid Atocha

Only YOU Hotel Atocha is so close you can practically smell the succulents! Rooms feature cool decor like exposed brick walls and vintage-inspired desks. Top-tier rooms have balconies and their suites may tempt you to blow your life savings.

Seeing as Atocha is quite central, you can also check out accommodation in some of the best areas to stay in Madrid . Lavapiés and Retiro are worthy contenders.

There are a lot of regional trains in cities like Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid that can take you on great day trips.

Interrail Spanish train travel

Interrail passes are available for use on Spain trains.

The Interrail Spain One Country Pass is valid for European citizens and residents. It comes as a three, four, five, six, and eight-day flexi pass. Seat reservations are required for high-speed, international, and night train services.

The Global Pass is also available as a flexi or continuous pass for Europeans.

Eurail passes are available for non-Europeans.

For both passes you will need to make sure that you book your

Traveling Spain by train versus rental car?

Traveling by train in Spain or renting a car? The pros and cons of train travel and hiring a car in Spain are listed below.

Before we get there – you could always consider a hybrid approach. It might make sense to cover greater distances by train (such as Madrid to Barcelona) and then hire a car locally.

Pros of train travel in Spain

  • Spanish train travel is kinder to the environment than driving or taking short-haul flights
  • Booking train tickets in Spain is straightforward with Omio / Trainline
  • The train system in Spain is well-connected and efficient
  • No need to worry about parking a hire vehicle
  • Spanish trains are comfortable and maintained
  • Train travel in Spain means you can catch up on work, trip planning, or indulge in relaxation time
  • Pets are permitted on most routes although terms and conditions apply

Cons of Spain train travel

  • Can be expensive when tickets are not reserved in advance
  • Cheaper fares are non-transferable
  • Booking rail tickets in Spain last minute isn’t always possible
  • Antisocial behavior on public transport is always a risk
  • Trains aren’t always comfortable for travelers with babies and younger children
  • Pets aren’t permitted on all trains

The fast trains in Spain are sleek and comfortable. Getting from Madrid to Valencia in under two hours is one of my favorite (and most frequented) journies.

Pros of renting a car in Spain

  • Allows more flexibility to an itinerary
  • Greater opportunities to travel beyond classic vacation destinations in Spain
  • Road conditions in Spain are exemplary
  • More comfortable for families with young children
  • Driving in Spain is awesome for US folks – they drive on the right!

Cons of car hire in Spain

  • It can be expensive – especially for solo travelers or if an accident occurs
  • Petrol costs need to be included in your budget
  • Not eligible for lead drivers under the age of 21
  • Younger drivers (under the age of 25) might have to pay a surcharge
  • Driving in Spain is less awesome for Brits – remember to drive on the right!

The Madrid Atocha station is well connected so if you arrive in Madrid, you can get almost anywhere in Spain from this station.

Packing checklist for Spain train travel

Once you’ve committed to traveling by train in Spain, it’s just a case of packing your bags and not missing your departure.

The official luggage limit is 25 kg per passenger although it’s not enforced. Baggage is stowed in overhead racks or in designated areas at the ends of the carriage.

Some stations will scan bags ahead of boarding a long-distance train route in Spain.

  • Water – long-distance trains will have a cafe bar onboard. However, it’s good to reduce plastic consumption when possible. Tap water in Spain is safe to drink so remember to take a reusable bottle. This stainless steel water bottle is my go-to (I have a few colors now and they last for years). It comes in two sizes and keeps liquids ice-cold for up to 24 hours.
  • Snacks – pick up some pastries or a sandwich for your journey in case there are issues with food supply. You might also want to pack healthy nibbles like fresh fruit, nuts, and olives (maybe some cheeses) from the market – these stackable container pots are great for organizing your haul.
  • Warm layer – air-conditioning can result in a nippy carriage. Pack a practical blanket scarf as a snuggly cover-up or an oversized hoodie .
  • Book/eReader – not that you’ll tire of the scenery, but having something to read is always wise for train travel in Spain (or any other country). The Kindle Paperwhite comes out tops for eye comfort, portability, and battery life. It also works with Audible audiobooks.
  • Noise-canceling headphones – don’t be that person watching videos on your device without headphones. Noise-canceling headphones will help block out any irritating noises from other passengers while you tune into a podcast. These over-the-ear Sony headphones are super comfy although you might prefer a pair of noise-canceling earbuds .
  • Combination lock – an obvious one, but you’ll need a padlock for your main suitcase or backpack.

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The ultimate guide to exploring Spain by train

By Matt Charlton

Madrid train station

In July , the Spanish government declared that short to medium-distance train journeys would be free from Thursday 1 September 2022 until Saturday 31 December 2022 – an initiative focused on alleviating financial pressures on commuters. Commuters would buy a pass with a €10 deposit, and, if they took more than 16 medium-distance return journeys during this period, it would be reimbursed. But would this work for tourists? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is yes, but…

Toledo station

What tourists can do is take advantage of another branch of the offer – a 50 per cent discount on Spain’s high speed/long distance and Ave/ Alvia service – a 10 journey pass that would normally cost you €735, reduced to €367.50 (about £315), which included free journeys on various cities metro network. This allows you to see far-flung corners of famous hubs loved by locals but often overlooked by tourists. Dividing this by the 10 journeys you’re allowed, it works out to around €36 per journey, or about £31… who could resist? Not me.

Equipped with this pass, and with 10 days to spare, I planned to make my way from Bilbao, in the northern Basque region, to Malaga, at the southern tip of Andalucía. After I purchased my pass, the rest of the admin was conducted through the English language RENFE app. You enter your desired stations, the options are shown, you select your preference, and you receive a QR code to scan at the station – plus a little graphic shows you how much Co2 you’ve saved by not catching the plane.

Bilbao station

London Gatwick to Bilbao with Vueling

My flight touched down in Bilbao on a gloomy early September day, into the light yet persistent chirimiri rain that the region is known for. My taxi driver for the short distance between the shuttle bus stop and my hotel ( NYX Bilbao ) had never heard of the initiative, but, after explaining to him in Duolingo Spanish, I’m dropped off. Overlooking the Belle Époque-rea Bilbao Concordia station – with the more sizable national Abando station lurking behind it – there are commanding views over the river.


Bilbao to Miranda de Ebro on an Alvia train (included in the pass) Miranda de Ebro to Vitoria Gasteiz on a Media Distancia train (€13 return)

I spent the morning navigating the twisting alleyways of Bilbao’s old town, finally strolling along the river and arriving at the Guggenheim Bilbao – a real catalyst for the city’s rejuvenation since its opening in 1997 – for a whistle-stop tour of its contemporary spaces. Arriving for my lunchtime train, my eye was immediately drawn to the giant stained-glass window over the main concourse depicting the workers of the region. Media Distancia trains – or medium-distance trains – are not included in the pass, but the small fee (€13) is worth it to discover sunny Vitoria Gasteiz, the capital of the region, and a buzzy, picturesque market city where a northern sensibility rubs up against a more Mediterranean atmosphere.

Platform of Miranda de Ebro

Miranda de Ebro to Vitoria Gasteiz on a return Media Distancia train Miranda de Ebro to Valladolid on an Alvia train (included in pass)

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After a fleeting visit to the Artium, a Basque contemporary art museum well worth a perusal, I am back on the train, and, via Miranda de Ebro, I arrive in Valladolid. A favourite weekend getaway for Madridians, I would only have ever happened upon this fantastic city by rail. I arrived on the weekend of their Saints Day, which only added to the fiesta atmosphere of an already lively metropolis. After sampling some award-winning tapas at Los Zagales , more akin to a tasting menu at a fine-dining restaurant, and stopping several times on a balmy night to listen to enthusiastically attended musical performances in every plaza, I wished I could spend more time here – but the clock was ticking.

Madrid Atocha

Valladolid to Madrid on an Alvia train (included in the pass) Madrid to Toledo on a return Media Distancia train (€20)

I had heard so much about Madrid’s picturesque neighbour to the south, Toledo – famous for its steel, and where artist El Grego spent most of his life. Another Media Distancia fee was incurred, so I decided to forgo a taxi and do the half-hour walk instead. Several cobbles, steep gradients, and damaged tourists later, I arrived at my hotel – the stunning converted palace Eugenia De Montijo. I was a sweaty mess, but a massage in their spa soon resuscitated me. The gorgeous city is firmly on the tourist trail – but this doesn’t take away from how the Spanish light captures the mediaeval architecture in various stunning ways throughout the day.

The cities spaced out as I pushed further south, and so did my days. I allowed myself two days in all my subsequent stops, firstly to take advantage of the Cercanias, and secondly because beautiful weather was all but guaranteed. 

Hard Rock Hotel atrium

Toledo to Madrid on a return Media Distancia train Cercanías day trip to Guadalajara (included in the pass)

Madrid is a local's city, gnarly and beautiful, one that changes its clothes as soon as you look in the other direction. This hipster city, starting to rival Barcelona, is teeming with dive bars, ad-hoc music venues, vintage and vinyl shops and people who at least look like musicians... My hotel concierge recommended to me that the best use of my Madrid Cercanías (metro pass) would be to go to Guadalajara, 1hr on the C2. The scenic, sleepy town felt like a time capsule and was a welcome respite from the frenetic Spanish capital.

Córdoba platform

Madrid to Cordóba on an Ave train (included in the pass) Most Spanish stations are found on the edges of towns, not necessarily giving you the most attractive first impression. Thankfully, in Córdoba, this was short-lived - it was a 10-minute walk to Eurostars Palace, its modernist iron-clad edifice not popular with the locals, but as a non-invasive contrast to the old town which it sits next to, it felt bold and forward-looking. Cordoba does a much better job at melding a tourist hub with a local feel – on top of main draws such as its mosque, a building which succinctly tells the Andalusian story of religious invasion and repulsion, and Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, I also managed to track down some gems; Jugo Vinos Vivos, a natural wine bar in a charming bohemian environment, or El Rincon De Carmen, a pretty courtyard restaurant hidden behind curtains of ivy. 

Hotel Barceló atrium

Córdoba to Málaga on an Ave train (included in pass) Cercanías day trip to Benalmadena (included in the pass) Like a lairy older sibling, Málaga has much in common with its Andalusian brethren, but the differences shout that bit louder. Once an overlooked airport city, it’s now managed to balance a fly-and-flop influx with an air of sophistication. There are 42 museums, including one dedicated to Picasso – a Malaga native – and a flourishing cultural scene, including a theatre run by another Malaga native, Antonio Banderas, located in the uber-cool Soho district. Make sure to sink a sweet wine aperitivo at Antigua Casa del Guardia. Classy and fun Barcelo Malaga couldn’t be closer to the station if it tried, and Benalmadena, with its picturesque marina and golden beaches – 50 mins on the C1 – retains the feel of a local secret, having survived the overdevelopment of its neighbouring towns.

Total: €400.50 (around £350)

Madrid train station

Final thoughts

The trains were reliable, clean, and comfortable, and best of all, there was no two-hour pre-arrival time or baggage claim. It is worth noting however that facemasks are still required, and there are brief security bag checks at most major hubs. It takes time to learn the rhythm of the system – what constitutes a Cercanías; the difference between a Media Distancia journey the same length as an Ave journey, and why the former is not included on your pass; which Cercanías to hop on to take you into Madrid as opposed to away from it… maybe that last one was just me.

It’s a way to take yourself out of the ordinary and see are more real, and grounded Spain. You leave with an impression of the country, and an appreciation of what the Spanish Government is doing for its citizens for a few precious months. The following day at Gatwick, my train was delayed.

Spain Rail Map and Transportation Guide

spain train travel times

This map is intended to be used for travel planning and to get an idea of the extent of Spain's rail network. It shows the major Spanish cities and rail lines. The lines in blue show high-speed train routes. The red lines are only suitable for slower trains. 

Spain is also well served by bus service. The bus is often cheap and slow, the train sleek and fast(er). Check out the expert's opinion:  Everything you need to know about public transport in Spain .

Types of Trains

In Spain the highest speed trains are called  AVE - Alta Velocidad Española . The line that runs from Madrid to Sevilla takes 2.5 hours to complete, much of the distance traveled at nearly 186 miles per hour.

The Euromed is a high-speed train that operates between Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante.

A reservation is necessary to travel on any train other than Regional Exprés or Cercanías (suburban train).

You may also wish to check out the special  touristic trains .

Spain Rail Passes and Discounts

A variety of different Spain rail passes are available, including the two-country France-Spain Pass and Spain-Portugal Rail Pass.

If you have achieved 60 years of age or more, you can purchase a  Tarjeta Dorada Card  for €6 at Renfe stations, Ticket Offices and Travel Agencies. It offers a considerable discount on all trains, ranging from 25% to 40%.

You can book many tickets online, including the AVE trains: AVE Booking Center.

Don't understand which of the many rail passes might be for you? See  Rail Passes - Which Eurail Pass is Right for You?

Where You Should Go

If you are unfamiliar with European train travel, you might be surprised at the places you can get to by rail. Damian Corrigan, About's expert on Spain, offers his choice for the best rail trips:  Best Train Journeys in Spain .

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Train Travel in Spain – How to Get Renfe Tickets

Train travel in Spain

As one of the largest countries in Europe – and the second most visited – there is no doubt that Spain as an important travel destination. Most people come in by air, but once you’re in Spain, it makes sense to take the train to get around.

Here is a guide to train travel in Spain. We look into popular routes, types of trains, travel times, prices and international connections.

  • 1.1 AVE trains in Spain
  • 1.2 Other types of trains
  • 1.3 Light rail and metros
  • 2 Travel time between Spanish cities
  • 3 Night trains in Spain
  • 4 International connections
  • 5 Interrail in Spain
  • 6 Where to buy Spanish train tickets

RENFE: The main operator in Spain

Renfe (officially styled as RENFE) is the national train operator in Spain, covering most domestic routes and some of the international ones as well. However, Renfe has many different types of trains, from high-speed long-distance routes to smaller suburban trains.

AVE trains in Spain

AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) is the most modern network of high-speed trains in Spain. Trains within the AVE network travel at speeds up to 350 km/h, so they easily cover long distances quite fast. There are only a few AVE routes so far, but the network is being expanded.

Get a full overview of the current AVE network in the picture below:

spain train travel times

Overall, train travel in Spain gets a lot easier with the AVE trains. You can go from Madrid to Barcelona in just two and a half hours, something that would take much longer with a normal train.

The downside is that it is more expensive to travel with AVE. Most tickets will average around 50€ in price, sometimes even more, so it is not exactly cheap. There are not many stops in between the routes. If you go from Madrid to Barcelona with an AVE train, it will often be direct with no stops in between. Sometimes, there will be one stop in Zaragoza, but don’t expect it to stop in smaller cities and towns along the way. That can be an advantage, as well as a downside.

But the journey is very comfortable: The seats are quite spacious, and the service is great compared to normal Spanish standards.

Other types of trains

There are other long-distance trains in Spain: Alvia, Avant, Altaria, Trenhotel, Celta and others.

And then we have the MD (Media Distancia) – very common to see. As the name so clearly dictates, these trains cover medium distances, usually within the same regions, but sometimes crossing regional borders as well. It is often affordable to travel with Media Distance trains. A trip from, say, Seville to Córdoba will only set you back around 10€.

Light rail and metros

Several Spanish cities have a metro (subway). Madrid has the second-largest metro system in Europe, only surpassed by London: Barcelona also has a major metro with many travelers, and so does Valencia.

Here are all the cities in Spain with metros:

  • Palma de Mallorca

Several other cities have light rail. That is the case for Alicante, Granada, Zaragoza and several others. A light rail system is under construction in A Coruña.

Additionally, you will find RENFE Cercanías in many cities. These are suburban trains that connect larger cities to their suburbs. Most major cities have Cercanías, although they may come under different names (such as ‘Rodalies’ in Catalonia).

Here are the cities/regions with Cercanías (or Rodalies):

  • Catalonia (Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona)
  • San Sebastián
  • Asturias (Gijón, Oviedo, Avilés)
  • Murcia/Alicante
  • Cádiz/Jerez de la Frontera

Travel time between Spanish cities

Madrid is the center of train travel in Spain. Most major routes – particularly the high-speed routes – go to and from Madrid.

Here are the expected travel times with high-speed trains on the most popular routes:

Madrid – Barcelona: 2h30min Barcelona – Málaga: 5h50min Madrid – Granada: 4h30min Madrid – Málaga: 2h25min Madrid – Santiago de Compostela: 5 hours Madrid – Seville: 2h30min

You can always see the expected travel time of your journey by going to Renfe’s website and typing in the cities you have in mind.

Night trains in Spain

There are several night trains in Spain. This section will be updated.

International connections

It’s never an issue to take a train from Spain and into one of the neighboring countries.

For example, there are connections between Madrid and Lisbon, Madrid and Marseille, Barcelona and Marseille, Barcelona and Paris, along with several trains departing into France from the Basque Country in Spain.

However, the most frequent international route is the one between Vigo and Porto. It only costs around 12€ for a ticket there, so it can even be quite affordable to leave the Spanish borders and head down to Portugal if you so choose!

Interrail in Spain

Spain is one of the best countries to visit on an Interrail/EU Rail trip. Trains cover almost the whole country, and with many fast connections, you will get to the next destination in no time.

With a Global Pass, you can visit all the countries that are part of the Interrail agreement (which is basically all EU countries + a few more). But if you only want to travel around in Spain, you can get a One Country Pass just covering Spain. It will be a bit cheaper.

If you want a One Country Pass, you still have to choose between a normal pass or a premium pass. The difference between them is that with the normal pass, you have to pay an extra fee when you book a seat reservation (which is obligatory with AVE and other long-distance trains). But with the premium pass, all additional costs are already included, so there are no extra payments for seat reservations – although you still need to select seats in advance for the high-end trains. We recommend the premium pass since it makes everything easier. Prices start at 172€.

Where to buy Spanish train tickets

You should buy your train tickets directly with Renfe. That ensures you will get the legitimate price without any further fees. Visit Renfe’s own website to search for departures and book your fare.

When booking with Renfe, you will need to give information such as phone number, email address, passport number or another kind of ID (even though it will rarely be checked on board) and of course the full name of you and your co-travelers.

You can pay with any major credit or debit card, such as VISA and MasterCard, and you can also pay with PayPal.

It is generally best to book online in advance, as it will give you the best price and you will be sure to get a seat. You can also book tickets by simply going to the ticket office of a station once you are in Spain: But that comes at the risk of getting a higher price and some trains might be fully booked.

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Spain by rail is a breeze with its network of fast and modern trains. You'll see wine regions, small villages, and sunny beaches - all on a single train ride. Our Spain travel itinerary has lively cities, delicious cuisines, and great opportunities for  fiestas . Whether you're backpacking in Spain, or going on a flashier trip, you'll love the exciting cultural offerings! 

Itinerary in short

Cities visited in this trip:  .

  • Barcelona, Spain  
  • Valencia, Spain  
  • Madrid, Spain  
  • Seville (Sevilla), Spain  
  • Malaga (Málaga), Spain  

Click here or on the map to view this route in our Trip Planner


For this itinerary we recommend:

  • Eurail pass: Spain
  • Travel days:  4 days within 1 month

Most of the high-speed trains in Spain require reservations. These reservations are not included in your Eurail Pass. Make sure to book your seats in advance, there are limited seats available for Eurail Pass holders. It's also possible to avoid reservations altogether, simply by taking  regional trains . 

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has a Mediterranean climate, a cosmopolitan atmosphere, and an endless list of things to do. Antoni Gaudí’s architectural work is all around you, from Park Güell to the Casa Batlló , and the incredible Sagrada Familia . Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of La Rambla (Las Ramblas), a lively pedestrian boulevard. Stop at La Boqueria Market and lose yourself in the maze of food stalls. Then relax on the white sand beaches of Barceloneta , and congratulate yourself on a great start to your trip.

Park Güell in Barcelona

From Barcelona to Valencia

Travel time:

Reservation needed:

Barcelona Sants

Reservation required

Valencia, Spain

Valencia Joaquin Sorolla

Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain. Its sights range from ancient Roman structures, to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences . Walking through the city is like taking a time machine through architectural history! Tuck into Valencia’s signature dish of paella. Still hungry? Sample the food at Mercado Central , one of the longest running markets in Europe. Valencia Cathedral is just minutes away – a trip up its tower will give you a beautiful view over the city. Round up your day by people-watching in the Turia Gardens (Jardines del Turia).

Mercado Central, Valencia, Spain

From Valencia to Madrid

Madrid, spain.

Madrid Puerta de Atocha

Spain's capital buzzes with culture and energy. There's no shortage of things to add to your Madrid itinerary! Stroll along the Art Walk and explore numerous museums, including the world-class Prado . Then check out the nearby Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro). Las Ventas Bullring - the birthplace of bullfighting - will get your heart pumping. Learn the history of this controversial Spanish tradition, or watch a torero (bullfighter) in action. Fans of European football shouldn't miss a trip to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium,  home to Real Madrid.

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Real Madrid football club

From Madrid to Seville

Seville, spain.

Sevilla Santa Justa

Seville (Sevilla), Spain

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan began the first voyage around the world in 1519, and it all began in Seville. This city is a place for true world travelers! Home to flamenco dancing and tasty tapas, you can easily immerse yourself in Spanish life here. Start with the colorful Calle Betis , which runs along the waterfront and is lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs. The Alcázar of Seville is worth a visit, as is the large and distinctive Metropol Parasol wooden structure.

Patio in the Alcazar of Seville

From Seville to Malaga

Malaga, spain.

Málaga-María Zambrano

Malaga (Málaga), Spain

Malaga is a stunning coastal city of sun and sand. It seamlessly combines natural beauty with a rich history and a modern skyline. The 11 th  century Moorish castle of  Alcazaba  can be found in the middle of the city. Below lie the remains of the old  Roman Theater  (El Teatro Romano), which is free to visitors. After gazing in awe at the ancient ruins, fast forward to the 20 th  century. Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, so it's fitting to tour the  Picasso Museum ! Then it’s time to complete your Spain trip with a visit to one of  Malaga’s famous beaches .

Panoramic view of Malaga, Spain

Get ready to discover Spain by train!  

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spain train travel times

Buying and using Tickets & Rail Passes in Spain

This guide to buying tickets and using rail passes for train journeys within Spain will help you save money, time and confusion.

Simon Harper

This guide explains what to look out for when booking Spanish train tickets online, so that you can buy the optimum ticket. The aim is to provide context for the tickets and journey options you should encounter, in usual circumstances when making a booking either online or at the station. SMTJ has striven to ensure that the advice presented is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

The Spanish rail operator RENFE has recently simplified the range of tickets it offers and the terms and conditions of how they can be used , with the key change being is that there are now only three core types of ticket available for long-distance (larga-distancia) journeys:

A key thing worth knowing is that any ticket, including Basico tickets, can be canceled free of charge within two hours of purchase.

They are in ascending order of price from cheapest to most expensive.

  • Basico tickets :

You can only travel in Estander (2nd) class when you book Basico tickets.

After two hours since purchase has passed, the following terms apply:

  • no transfer available to a different departure
  • no refund if you cancel your trip or miss the train
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket costs an additional price, from €12 to €30.
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €40
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €8
  • sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class

Basico tickets are not available for journeys by Avant or Media-Distancia (MD) trains.

  • Elige aka Pick n Mix tickets :

You can choose Estander (2nd) class OR 'Confort' (1st) class when booking Elige tickets for journeys by all AVE, Euromed and all Alvia (and most IC) trains The initial price shown on Renfe will be for the 2nd Class Elige ticket, but if you click on the price you will see the option to upgrade to 1st class - and the additional cost of doing so. If you book an Elige ticket you can opt to add a food/drink service to your booking regardless of which class you choose to travel by, you can select and pay for your choice of light meal, which will then be delivered to you at your seat(s).

  • transfer to a different departure ahead of your travel date; you will only have to pay 20% of the cost of the replacement ticket
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 70% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train you will only have to pay 30% of the price of the replacement ticket
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket to an entirely different departure at no extra charge costs €20
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €30
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €5 Sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class OR a Comfort Plus seat in Estander Class when available (the Comfort Plus seats are available on avlo trains)

Elige tickets are not available on the trains between Spain and France.

  • Prémium Ticket :

You will be travelling in Confort (1st) class when you book Prémium tickets. On journeys within Spain, all drinks and a hot light meal served at your seat will be complimentary, and as hot meals are only served on AVE and Euromed services, these are the only two train services, on which Prémium tickets will be made available.

  • transfer to a different departure = no charge
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 95% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train and need a replacement ticket = no charge (which gives the freedom to choose between departures on your travel date)
  • change named ticket holder = no charge
  • select a specific seat = no charge

Complete your journey by local trains

Book any ticket to travel on AVE, Alvia, IC or Torre Oro trains, and the journey will include travel to and from the station at which you will be starting or completing your express train journey. The tickets will have barcodes which will open ticket gates and give access to local Cercanías trains (in Asturias, Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Valencia, Bilbao and Zaragoza); and the Rodalies trains in Barcelona and on the Alicante tram.

Booking tickets for rail journeys within Spain:

If you're not used to booking tickets for train journeys in Spain online, then it can be particularly quirky; Renfe is the national rail operator in Spain and its website uses unique terminology; hence the guide to booking with Renfe .

So either take 10 minutes to go through the info below, it should help save you money and confusion, or click on a specific question on the Content menu And yes there's a lot of text, but hopefully not too much; SMTJ wishes booking Spanish tickets wasn't quite as complicated as it can seem.

Though if you're used to booking with Trainline , it can be a good option for Spanish rail journeys. It enables particularly easy comparison between the different high speed services on the routes between Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga.

How soon you can book ahead for a journey by a Spansih express train varies according to the route and trains you will be taking.

If you'll be taking AVE services you can usually book up to 6 months ahead. For Alvia train services the the booking period is more variable:

  • Routes between Madrid and southern Spain and north-west Spain = up to 4 months ahead
  • Routes between Madrid and north-east Spain = up to 2 months ahead

If you will be travelling on other trains, including the Euromed and IC services, bookings open up to 62 days ahead (2 months) ahead of the travel date.

The use of 'up to' is because Spanish train ticket booking periods typically don't straddle the end and beginning of a month. Meaning that, for example, tickets available for journeys in June can be released for sale on the 1st of May, So in this scenario if you want to travel at the end of June you will see tickets on sale for your journey if you look it up in the first week of May = up to 2 months ahead. But if you want to travel at the beginning of July and look up a journey in the last week of May, you'll only find tickets on sale for travel until the end of June = five weeks ahead. The same pattern is used for the 4 month periods, so for example tickets for journeys up until September 30th are released for sale on June 1st, but tickets for travel on all dates in October are released for sale on June 1st.

Don't be overly concerned about this being a tad vague; Spain is no longer country in which you have to rush to book when tickets are placed on sale, in order to obtain the cheapest price.

*= Tickets for most routes taken by Regional Express (RE) trains are not usually sold online, but the RE trains to/from Barcelona can be an exception.

The short answer to that question is usually, but not always.

You definitely won’t if you be travelling by Avant or Media-Distancia or RE train services; that's because tickets for journeys by these train services aren't discounted.

In contrast, for any journey by a (‘larga-distancia’) express trains; AVE, Alvia, Euromed, IC and Torre Oro, booking online, or using an Advance Travel desk, is cheaper than buying tickets from the counters which sell tickets for travel that day.

Although Spain’s national rail operator Renfe applies a particularly extreme form of ‘airline style pricing’ to its tickets. Those Spanish high speed lines cost €billions to build, so Renfe is understandably keen to ensure that travellers pay the maximum possible price for journeys by the full service AVE trains. Meaning that demand often has a bigger impact on ticket prices, compared with how far ahead you are booking.

Also there aren't any specific types of ticket which are money savers. All three types of ticket (Basico, Elige and Prémium) for a journey by a long-distance train (AVE, Alvia, Torre Oro, IC) can initially be placed on sale at at cheaper price.

If you will be travelling on AVE or Euromed services, the more popular departures can be always more expensive, no matter how far head you book.

In contrast you’ll be much more likely to make big savings if you can book ahead for journeys by Alvia train; particularly when travelling between Madrid and northern Spain.

The type of train service and route you will be taking also impacts on how far ahead you need to book, in order to make big savings. If you want to travel on a specific AVE or Euromed departure you might only save less than €10 when booking two months ahead, compared with booking only a few days ahead. Though on the routes taken by IC trains and Alvia trains you can, more often than not, save 30-40% (or more) by booking at least a couple of weeks ahead.

However, that is broad advice, the core point we’re making is that saving more than 30%, when booking Spanish train tickets in advance, can be the exception rather than the norm. Spain is not a country where you can typically save more than 50-60% of the ticket price by booking ahead for specific depatures..

Though if you want to be able to:

  • choose from any departure on your chosen route, or;
  • need to travel at a specific time, on routes with less frequent services then booking a minimum of five days ahead is recommended as some departures can sell out.

Basico are the cheapest type of tickets sold by Renfe for long-distance 'larga-distancia' journey and they are now available up until departure. Renfe tends to differentiate the different types of ticket by their terms and conditions, so Basico tickets aren't cheaper because you can book ahead to save money; they're cheaper because how they can be used is more limited than the more expensive Elige type of ticket .

When booking on the English language version of the Renfe website, the terms and conditions of each type of ticket aren’t translated, but the key thing to note about ‘Basico’ AND 'Elige' tickets is that they are departure specific

If you have booked a Basico ticket and then ahead of your booked travel time you subsequently need to change your travel plans, and you haven't upgraded, you'll have to buy an entirely new ticket.

Upgrading a Basico ticket so that you can:

  • transfer it to another departure ahead of your booked travel time
  • take another train if you don't make it on time
  • receive 95% of the price paid in the event of cancelling your travel plans will cost €30; and can only be paid at the time of booking.

In contrast if you opt to book an Elige ticket, which are now always offered as an alternative to Basico tickets, when travelling by AVE, Alvia, Inter City and Torre Oro trains, you will pay a higher price, but will have more flexibility;

  • if you miss the train you will only have to pay 30% of the price of the replacement ticket.

In addition to how soon in advance you are booking and the terms of conditions of using each type of ticket, these four other factors are worth keeping in mind:

(1) Both the route you will be taking AND the train services that travel on them impact on ticket prices; see the notes below.

(2) It’s not unusual for one or two specific departure per day on a route, to be (much) cheaper than the other departures.

(3) Tickets tend to be more expensive on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays and around national holidays.

(4) Taking a direct train can be more expensive than journey options which involve a change of train.

These four factors aren’t exceptional, they also matter when booking tickets in advance in other European countries, but they appear to be more extremely applied in Spain.

If you are fortunate enough to fall into this age group enquire about the Tarjeta Dorada discount card , when you are at a station with a staffed ticket office. It costs only €6 and will give you access to a 20-40% discount on ticket prices.

Aside from local train services, Spanish national train operator Renfe places the majority of the train services it operates into categories, with each category having a specific service name.

Ticket pricing and the type of tickets available isn’t a factor in how each train service is defined; the train categories are based on speed and what percentage of the journey the train service spends travelling on a high speed line.

But these specific types of train can impact on ticket prices; so here are six factors to be aware of when looking up Spanish train journeys;

(1) AVE train services stay on the high speed lines for their entire journeys, so they’re the fastest trains in Spain, but the cheapest prices available can be harder to track down on AVE services.

(2) While Alvia train services spend only some of their journeys on the high speed lines, so prices per km can be cheaper on Alvia routes.

(3) When looking up long distance ('larga-distancia') journeys, it soon becomes obvious that when travelling between most cities, you will only have one choice of train service. However, when there is a choice of train services, tickets are often cheaper for the faster trains, if you can book ahead.

(4) In contrast to the larga-distancia routes, tickets aren’t discounted on the media-distancia routes, so if you will be travelling by an Avant or Media-Distancia train service, you won’t save money by booking in advance online

(5) However, if you WON'T be travelling on the 'larga-distancia' trains and routes you might be able to save money by being selective about which train service you take. If there is a choice between Avant and Media Distancia services, the Avant services will always be more expensive because they are (much) faster.

(6) Tickets for travel between cities with 'Cercanias' local train networks by the AVE and and Alvia services, have a barcode which allows a free transfer on to/from the main station by Cercanias train at the start and finish of an end-to-end journey.

Spanish train ticket prices are closely tied to demand, the more popular a specific train departure is, the more expensive it will be. But this impacts on routes too, the high speed routes , particularly those to/from Madrid, are inevitably popular.

The Spanish national rail operator Renfe, understandably wants to exploit this popularity, so high demand journeys such as Madrid ↔ Barcelona, tend to be more expensive. So the popularity of a journey matters more than distance when Renfe is calculating ticket prices.

For example it’s generally more expensive to travel between Madrid and Barcelona than it is to travel between Madrid and more far-flung cities such as Bilbao and Vigo.

Less-popular routes means less-frequent trains, but these are also often the routes on which you can make the biggest savings when booking in advance. So it’s still possible to find a bargain; for example, you can make the five hour + journey between Madrid and Bilbao for under €20!

It’s generally less expensive to travel between Madrid and cities in northern Spain, than it is to travel between the capital and destinations to the east and south.

Another very good reason for booking a route with less frequent trains in advance online, is that some train departures can sell out completely a couple of days ahead of the travel date.

On many ‘larga-distancia’ routes, trains don’t operate particularly frequently, but if you will be travelling between the larger cities on the high speed routes, you can expect to choose between more than 10 x departures per day On these journeys, some specific departures per day are inevitably more popular than others; so this is when the fact that demand impacts on Spanish ticket prices, particularly matters.

As soon as tickets are released for sale, some departures on these more frequent routes will be charged at a higher price, so some departures will be consistently more expensive, no matter how far ahead you’re booking. So try and keep your departure/arrival times as flexible as possible and search through the departures on your travel date.

It’s not unusual for one or two departures to be more than €30 cheaper than any other departure that day. So you can typically save MORE than €30 by choosing an earlier or later departure; but might save LESS than €30 by booking ahead.

The most popular departure times can vary per route, but on routes with several departures per day it can be wise to avoid setting off between 09:00 and 10:00 and between 16:00 and 18:00 Also on routes which have a choice of train services, the slower services may not be cheaper at times of high demand; so for example, a slower Alvia train service departing Madrid at 17:00 can be more expensive than a faster AVE train, leaving at 13:00.

On some routes ticket prices can be particularly expensive either side of holidays, especially on Fridays and Sundays; the rise in demand can mean that the cheaper tickets won’t be placed on sale.

Instead you can make big savings by travelling a week or two either side of a holiday weekend and other times of high demand. So if you can be flexible with your travel dates, it can pay off to look up prices for a week ahead and a week after the travel date you initially had in mind.

Though this seems to matter less on routes with more frequent AVE trains such as between Madrid and both Barcelona and Seville.

Renfe had a offered a particularly generous ‘delay compensation’ scheme when making long distance/larga-distancia journeys, but seemingly this is no longer the case. Buried fairly deep on the new Renfe website is info which when translated states:

'In the event of a delay in arrival at the destination for more than one hour , the traveler will be entitled to a monetary compensation equivalent to fifty percent of the price of the transport ticket. used. When the delay exceeds one hour and thirty minutes, the compensation will be equivalent to the total of said price.

Not withstanding the foregoing, High Speed and Long Distance may* establish generally more advantageous compensations for their clients than those previously expressed *Special compensation terms of delays less than an hour may be specific to each ticket purchased, so check the terms when booking.

When looking up some journeys, including between Madrid and Barcelona, you can often spot what seem like bargain prices, around 50% cheaper than the standard fare. But check the journey times carefully before rushing to book these, they can be much longer and also usually involve a change of train.

Renfe is the operator of the national rail services in Spain and it has a blissfully simple child tickets policy, namely children aged 5 -13 and under are entitled to a 40% discount on any of its rail tickets. If you want to place a child aged four and under in its own seat, they will also have a 40% discount on the ticket price, but if you'll be happy to travel with the child on their lap, then there is no charge.

On the larga-distancia services

On the standard long distance express trains, the AVE, Alvia, Euromed and IC services, you can add a dog as an extra when making booking: The flat rate prices, irrespective of distance and departure are: Basic (second class) = €20 Comfort XL or Elige + Comfort tickets (first class) = €10 Premium Class = no charge

However, dogs can only be taken on board most of these larga-distancia services if they can travel in a container measuring no more than 60x35x35 cm and do not weigh more than 10kg.

If your dog weighs between 11kg and 40kg it can be taken on a few departures by AVE trains on routes between Madrid and Alicante, Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza. These departures now have a dog paw symbol, when looking up a journey on the Renfe website . Though you will need to select the more expensive 'Elige' tickets and the reservation fee for the dog is €35.~

  • you can take smaller dogs which weigh up to 10kg on departures with no paw symbol,
  • you can't take dogs which weigh between 11kg and 40kg on any Alvia, Euromed or IC service,
  • the English translation implies that you will be reserving a seat for the dog, but you will be reserving a place on a special mat that will be placed on the floor in front of the seat,
  • you cannot use the seat selection service that's typically available when booking 'Elige' tickets.

On the media-distancia services

On the other trains operated by Renfe, including the Avant, MD and Regional-Express services, the dog can weigh more than 10kg and it doesn't have to be placed in a container. For travel on these services it looks as though the dog ticket price will be 25% of the Adult rate. .

Non-folding bikes can only be taken on board any of the express train services - Altaria ; Alvia ; Avant ; AVE ; Euromed and Talgo if they are disassembled and placed in a bag or case measuring no more than 120 x 90 x 40cm (length-height-width).

If you can fit a bike in the case or bag, then you don’t have to buy a bike ticket; for an express train or for a journey by the Media-Distancia services, it in effect becomes a piece of hand luggage.

If you don’t want to disassemble a non-folding bike, you can only take it on the regional/local ‘Media Distancia’ services , including those that are specifically branded MD or Regional-Express , and the local trains in cities – including the Cercanias and FEVE trains.

add a bike to a booking on the Renfe website

If you purchase a bike ticket at a major station allow plenty of time for this, as the process is what's used for oversized items of luggage, hence a procedure that's a lot more complicated than purchasing a typical train ticket; which is why it's now better to add the bike when booking online.

Some of these trains won’t have dedicated bike storage and on those that don’t, you can take a bike on board and be guided by the conductor as to where you should leave it – BUT there’s a slight possibility that the conductor will decide that there’s no room for a bike.

If bike storage is a provided for on the train you will be taking, you have to store a bike in these dedicated spaces, but by booking online you can be sure that space will be available.

How to book tickets for train journeys in Spain on the Renfe website

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Exploring Spain with rail passes:

Spain has a reputation for being something of a no-go zone when exploring Europe with 'global' Eurail and InterRail passes, due to the high volume of trains which require rail pass users to pay reservation fees. But those trains with the comparatively expensive fees happen to be some of the most fabulous trains on earth and they travel on high speed lines which cost billons of euros to construct. Also if you go long-distance on the popular routes, those fees can be comparatively good value for money.

If you want to explore Spain by making long-distance journeys on the express trains it's worth comparing a RENFE Spain Pass with an InterRail One Country Pass for Spain or a Eurail Pass for Spain .

The big tick in the box for the RENFE Spain pass is that despite reservations being required for journeys by the larga-distancia express trains and most Media-Distancia services, you won't be charged for them; so in effect they're included on the pass. With a RENFE-Spain pass you can book reservations at ticket counters at stations

With the Eurail and Interrail passes, the same reservation fees as 'Global Passes' will apply (see below)

If you will be travelling with a Eurail or InterRail multi-country ‘Global’ pass , don’t let the fact that you’ll have pay to reserve seats prior to boarding most Spanish train services, hold you back from including Spain on your travel itinerary.

Rail passes can be good value in Spain, tickets on the high speed routes between Madrid and Barcelona, Malaga and Seville can be comparatively expensive, so only paying the reservation fee can be a money saver; particularly when the limited numbers of discounted tickets have sold out.

Eurail and InterRail Reservation fees:

(1) AVE trains: 1st class =€13 OR €23.50*; 2nd class = €10 *The €23.50 charge includes a light meal.

All of the fastest high speed trains between Madrid and Barcelona, Girona Figueres, Malaga and Valencia are AVE trains. Most of the high speed trains between Madrid and both Alicante and Seville are AVE trains. AVE trains also operate between Barcelona/Madrid and Malaga/Seville and on some departures between Madrid and Leon.

(2) Euromed ,1st class =€13 OR €23.50*; 2nd class = €10 *The €23.50 charge includes a light meal. Euromed trains operate on the Barcelona - Valencia - Alicante route

(3) Alvia trains: 1st class = €10; 2nd class = €6:50 Alvia trains provide most of the services between Madrid and northern Spain

(4) Avant trains: 1st* and 2nd class = €4 These short distance high speed trains are 2nd class only, so 1st class pass users need to pay the fee and travel 2nd class.

(5) IC and IC (Talgo) trains: 1st class = €10; 2nd class = €6:50

(6) Media Distancia trains: 1stn and 2nd class = €4 Most of these trains are 2nd class only, so 1st class pass users need to pay the fee and travel 2nd class. A notable exception are the regional trains on the:

  • Barcelona - Girona - Figueres - Port Bou - Cerbere; and
  • Barcelona - La Tour De Carol routes, fees don't have to be paid to travel by these trains.

Booking these reservations:

Spanish national rail operator RENFE does not sell rail pass reservations online, but reservations for journeys on the AVE, Alvia and Euromed trains are now available by using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service .

The only option, other than booking them at a station in Spain, is to pre-reserve seats by calling Renfe phone sales: +34 91 232 03 20.

Pre-reserving a seat is possible up to 24 hours before a train's departure. You will receive a PNR code which you must use to pick up and pay for your reservation at a local station ticket office, making sure to show your Interrail Pass. You must collect your reservation within 72 hours. After this time the pre-reservation will expire. Please note that a pre-reservation is not the same as a reservation. It only holds a seat for you for 72 hours.

The ticket booking desks at Spanish stations can vary; at most large stations there will be separate ticket desks for reservations for trains leaving that day and for advance reservations.. Using an advance reservation desk can take time, so a good option is to use one of these ticket offices to book all the reservations you'll need while travelling in Spain.

Be aware that reservations may be completely sold out on the most popular trains, so if you want to book reservations on your travel date, the best option is to head for the station early in the morning; and then be flexible re: the times you will actually be travelling. If need be deposit your bags in a left luggage office and then return to the station later in order to catch your train.

Also not all ticket counter staff will speak English, particularly outside of Barcelona and Madrid, though don’t be overly worried about this; when SMTJ was using Spanish ticket desks with our InterRail Pass, the staff were exceptionally helpful.

Using Eurail & InterRail Passes for train journeys FROM Spain:

(1) On RENFE-SNCF trains on the Paris - Barcelona route: Fees vary depending on the journey: Barcelona to Paris: 1st class = €48; 2nd class = €34.

Or save money by following an alternative routing from Barcelona to Paris .

(2) On RENFE-SNCF trains from other cities in France to Spain including the Marseille to Madrid route: Fees vary depending on the journey: Madrid to Marseille: 1st class = €48; 2nd class = €34 Barcelona to Lyon: 1st class = €26; 2nd class = €19

When travelling to and from Spain on the high-speed RENFE-SNCF trains, you can use the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service , but you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation per person. Or (in theory) you can call 00 33 18494 3635.

Using Eurail and InterRail Passes - A starting point

This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help. We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please go here to say thank you .

spain train travel times

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney , which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.

Help keep us advertising and paywall free!

This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.

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So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.

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Spain’s Newest High-Speed Train: The Ultimate Travel Experience

After 20 Years, the High-Speed Rail Line is finally complete.

After two decades of extensive construction, the moment has arrived: the Pajares Railway Tunnel, a cornerstone of Spain's high-speed rail network, has opened. This colossal 4-billion-euro project connects Asturias with León, revolutionizing travel times in Northwestern Spain . Nearly 25 kilometers in length, this tunnel ranks among Europe's longest and serves as a testament to modern engineering, accommodating both passenger and freight traffic.

New High-Speed Rail Link Between Asturias and León 🌉

This new connection is more than a mere transportation route; it's a symbol of progress and innovation. The nearly 50-kilometer Pajares Bypass, comprising 12 tunnels and 10 viaducts, cuts through the majestic Cantabrian Mountains. Not only does this route offer travelers a shorter journey, but it also provides stunning views of the Northern Spanish landscapes.

4-Billion-Euro Project: A Milestone in Engineering 🏗️

This project represents a significant investment in Spain's infrastructure, highlighting the importance of sustainable mobility by reducing carbon emissions and making land travel more appealing. The Spanish government anticipates that ticket sales on this route will reach 1.25 million in its first year, underscoring the economic significance of this new link.

Tickets and More: Why You Can't Miss the Asturias Line

Asturias , a land of adventure, is now more accessible than ever. Known for its rugged coastline, towering peaks, and traditional villages, it offers an unforgettable travel experience. The new high-speed route allows for exploring these wonders more quickly and comfortably. Spain, boasting the largest high-speed rail network in Europe, continues to set milestones in its transportation history.

Spain's commitment to expanding its high-speed rail network is unparalleled. With further lines planned in Cantabria, the Basque Country, Extremadura, Navarra, and a potential resumption of the connection between Madrid and Lisbon, the country is poised to play a leading role in European mobility. These developments promise not only an enhanced quality of life for locals and travelers but also a significant step towards a more environmentally friendly future.

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    Share Post Spain is well-connected by rail so you can easily get just about anywhere quickly and fairly inexpensively. Luckily for travelers, Spain's rail network has improved immensely over the past few years and its high-speed AVE trains now connect Spain's major cities at speeds over 180mph. But, of course, it still has a few quirks.

  8. A complete guide to Spanish trains

    6. Spanish trains are reliable and on schedule 7. Trains are peaceful and quiet 8. Renfe has a few luggage restrictions 9. Enjoy some beautiful views A complete guide to Spanish trains I love traveling by train. And it's something that I do very often, especially between Madrid and Seville thanks to Renfe's wonderful AVE high-speed trains.

  9. Train (all the info you need to know)

    Many of Spain's top tourist sites can now be reached by a high-speed train. If you jump on one of the high-speed rail lines, known as the AVE, and you take it south out of Madrid station for two and a half hours, you will arrive in Seville. Or, for the same 2 and half hour travel time, head north on the AVE, out of Madrid, and end up in ...

  10. Spain trains: everything you need to know

    OUIGO. It's French SNCF's low-cost service high-speed trains, offering long-distance services on core routes of the Spanish rail network. iryo. It's operated by ILSA, which is part of a consortium made up of Spanish airline Air Nostrum, Globalvia (a Spanish multinational transport infrastructure company) and Italy's main train operator Trenitalia.

  11. Renfe

    Renfe official sales agency, RailClick, provides train reservation service for Spain and international train reservation service for France. ... In your country, language, time zone. Free Virtual City Guide +150 cities in your hand. Global Awards. Most Popular Routes

  12. Spain By Train from $169

    Tips and tricks Train types in Spain The majority of trains you'll take on the Spanish rail network are run by RENFE, the country's national train company. High-speed and night trains connect Spain to other European countries. You can search for Spanish train times in the Eurail timetable as well as on the RENFE website. Route map Domestic trains

  13. Train Travel in Spain: A Helpful Guide

    By: Hannah Cooper Last updated: January 19, 2024 Train travel in Spain is an environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and scenic means of getting around this huge country. Operated by Renfe, the train system in Spain is sophisticated and efficient. It links major Spanish cities with smaller towns inland and on the coasts of Spain.

  14. The ultimate guide to exploring Spain by train

    No planes in Spain, just mainly on the train - this is the perfect 10-day Spain itinerary by rail By Matt Charlton 21 October 2022 Getty Images

  15. Trains in Spain: Cheap and Fast Routes

    136K reviews More than 1,000 travel companies trust us to sell their tickets all in one place. Popular Destinations Tickets Spanish Train Companies Train Stations Trains in Spain Train travel in Spain allows travellers to admire the scenic landscape, while conveniently reaching their destination in a timely fashion.

  16. Rail Map of Spain and Portugal

    This map is intended to be used for travel planning and to get an idea of the extent of Spain's rail network. It shows the major Spanish cities and rail lines. The lines in blue show high-speed train routes. The red lines are only suitable for slower trains. Spain is also well served by bus service. The bus is often cheap and slow, the train ...

  17. Train Travel In Spain → How To Get Renfe Tickets

    Travel time between Spanish cities. Madrid is the center of train travel in Spain. Most major routes - particularly the high-speed routes - go to and from Madrid. Here are the expected travel times with high-speed trains on the most popular routes: Madrid - Barcelona: 2h30min Barcelona - Málaga: 5h50min Madrid - Granada: 4h30min


    Schedule & Prices Why Our Clients Trust Us? Learn more about trains in Spain and book Renfe e-tickets for any Spanish train online. Travel between cities in Spain with comfort & enjoy your trip!

  19. Spain Itinerary

    Travel days: 4 days within 1 month Most of the high-speed trains in Spain require reservations. These reservations are not included in your Eurail Pass. Make sure to book your seats in advance, there are limited seats available for Eurail Pass holders. It's also possible to avoid reservations altogether, simply by taking regional trains .

  20. Trains in Spain

    These take place on the 2nd Saturday in June and 2nd Saturday in December, when the furthest you can book in advance is just 30 days. Renfe fares explained A new fare system has been in operation since July 2021. The changes apply to long-distance services - namely, AVE, Alvia, Intercity and Euromed services.

  21. Buying and using train tickets & rail passes in Spain

    The short answer to that question is usually, but not always. You definitely won't if you be travelling by Avant or Media-Distancia or RE train services; that's because tickets for journeys by these train services aren't discounted.. In contrast, for any journey by a ('larga-distancia') express trains; AVE, Alvia, Euromed, IC and Torre Oro, booking online, or using an Advance Travel desk ...

  22. Spain travel: Rail chaos expected in February amid train strikes

    Rail travel across Spain will be severely disrupted this month as staff begin walkouts tomorrow (Friday). Hundreds of trains have already been cancelled throughout February including long and mid ...

  23. Discover Spain by train: your guide to buying online tickets

    How about this: you're hopping from the artistic wonders of Barcelona to Madrid's royal grandeur in a breezy 2.5 hours, thanks to Renfe's ultra-speedy AVE trains — no fuss, no hassle.

  24. Train timetables in Spain

    Discover the timetables of trains departing from all Spain stations

  25. Spain's Newest High-Speed Train: The Ultimate Travel Experience

    Spain, boasting the largest high-speed rail network in Europe, continues to set milestones in its transportation history. Spain's commitment to expanding its high-speed rail network is unparalleled.