High-speed Spain:  An S103 AVE about to leave Madrid Atocha for Barcelona, now taking just 2 hours 40 minutes...

Buy train tickets for Spain...

Buy a Spain Pass...

www.renfe.com or www.petrabax.com/renfe

See Spain by train...

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 186mph, and if you book in advance online you can find some great cheap fares at the official Spanish rail website, www.renfe.com.  This page will give you a heads-up on how to travel cheaply around Spain by train.

Information on this page...

  Spain by train, in a nutshell - the key points you need to know.

  Railpasses for Spain

  Spanish train classes explained

  What are Spanish trains like?

  How to buy train tickets for Spain - the cheapest way!

  How to use www.renfe.com

  How to transfer between Atocha & Chamartin in Madrid

  Custom-made tours of Spain by train

  Hotels & accommodation in Spain

Information on other pages...

  UK to Spain by train - Train times, fares, how to buy tickets.

  Paris to Barcelona TGV trains

  Train travel from Spain to other European cities

  Train travel from other European cities to Spain

  Eurail passes   InterRail passes

  General European train travel information: luggage, bikes, pets, maps, timetables, tips.

Sponsored links...

 

Useful country information

Train operator in Spain:

 

Renfe, see www.renfe.com for train times, fares & online booking in Spain, but see this advice on using it.  RENFE's UK agent for trains to & within Spain: www.spanish-rail.co.uk.  Local trains around Bilbao, San Sebastian, French frontier:  www.euskotren.es.  Local trains in northern Spain (ex-FEVE): www.renfe.com/viajeros/feve.  Madrid metro: www.metromadrid.es.

   

Railpasses:

 

Beginner's guide to European railpasses    Buy a rail pass online

Time:

GMT+1 (GMT+2 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October)

Currency:

£1 = approx €1.25,  $1 = approx €0.8.   Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.okspain.org

Cars & car hire:

Taking your car by train = Motorail     Car hire in Spain

Hotels & hostels:

Find hotels in Spain    Hotel reviews see www.tripadvisor.com.

Page last updated:

25 July 2015


Spain by train, in a nutshell

The key things you need to know, in a nutshell..

Railpasses for Spain...


Spanish train classes explained

Turista, Turista Plus, Preferente...


What are Spanish trains like?

AVE trains...

AVE or Alta Velocidad Española is Spain's front-rank high-speed train.  Reservation is compulsory, and all trains have a cafe-bar.  AVE trains come in various types. 

S100:  The original French-designed AVE used between Madrid & Seville, shown below.

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

S103:  The German-designed AVE used between Barcelona & Madrid also a few Madrid-Malaga trains, see photos inside an S103 here.

An AVE train to Seville ready to leave Madrid Atocha   Inside the Sala Club (1st class lounge) at Madrid Atocha.

All aboard!  This is an S100 AVE from Madrid to Seville.  All AVE trains have a cafe-bar serving drinks and snacks, or you feel free to bring your own food, wine or beer on board. 

 

Cafe-bar.  All AVEs and most Altaria & Alvia trains have a cafe-bar serving snacks, hot & cold dishes, tea, coffee, beer & wine...  This is an S100 cafe-bar.

AVE Preferente class on an S100 AVE train   Complimentary at-seat meal in Club class from Madrid to Barcelona

AVE Preferente (1st class) with reclining leather seats, power sockets for laptops & mobiles.

 

A hot at-seat meal with wine is included in Preferente on Monday-Fridays.

AVE Turista Plus class on an S100 AVE train to Seville   AVE Tourist class on an S100 AVE train from Madrid to Seville

AVE Turista Plus (premium 2nd class) with reclining seats, power sockets for laptops & mobiles.

 

AVE Turista (2nd class) with comfortable seats, power sockets for laptops & mobiles.

Alvia & EuroMed trains...

These S130 trains operate the EuroMed services linking Barcelona, 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.

An Alvia train at Barcelona Sants   Turista (2nd class) seats on an Alvia train

An Alvia train at Barcelona Franca.  It's a type S130 nick-named 'patito' or 'little duck', for obvious reasons!

 

Turista (2nd class) seats on an Alvia train...

Preferente (1st class) seats on a EuroMed train to Alicante   A EuroMed train at Barcelona Franca station

Preferente (1st class) seats on a EuroMed train.

 

An S130 EuroMed train at Barcelona Franca.

Altaria trains...

These run on many long distance routes, including Madrid-Ronda-Algeciras and Madrid-Granada.  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 125mph 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 network.  All Altaria trains have a cafe-bar.

An Altaria train at Madrid Atocha  

An articulated Talgo Altaria train at Madrid Atocha.

 

Preferente (1st class) on an Altaria train.

Turista (2nd class) on an Altaria train  

Turista (2nd class) seating on an Altaria train...

 

An Altaria train at Algeciras, about to leave for Madrid...


How to buy train tickets for Spain

 

Buy Spanish train tickets online

 

Option 1, buy at www.loco2.com, easy to use, cheap fares, no fees...

The quickest and easiest way to buy Spanish train tickets is to buy online in UK £ at www.loco2.com with cheap advance-purchase fares & print-at-home tickets.  Loco2 links directly to Renfe's (Spanish Railways) ticketing system to sell the same cheap fares as Renfe themselves (give or take conversion into pounds) with the same print-at-home tickets and no booking fee.  But unlike Renfe's own site it's in plain English without any of Renfe.com's quirky translations and overseas credit card rejection problems.  Anyone from any country can use Loco2 as all international credit cards are accepted.  It can also sell international trains between Spain and Portugal or France, as it also links to the French, German & British ticketing systems.  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. Who are Loco2?

Option 2, buy at www.petrabax.com/renfe, easy to use, in US$...

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

Option 3, buy direct from Spanish Railways at www.renfe.com...

You can of course buy tickets direct from Spanish Railways at www.renfe.com, in euros with print-at-home tickets.  The disadvantage over Loco2 & Petrabax is that Renfe.com has more than its fair share of quirks and a reputation for rejecting a significant proportion of overseas credit cards, so if you want to try it please read the advice on using Renfe.com below.  It frustrates some people, though I have to say it has always worked fine with my own credit card and it now also accepts PayPal.  Renfe.com also doesn't handle connections well, so if you want to book (say) from Bilbao to Seville you'll have to guess that this involves a change in Madrid, then book as two journeys, Bilbao to Madrid and Madrid to Seville - whereas Loco2 can generally book from anywhere to anywhere as one transaction, even if connections are involved.  The advantage of using renfe.com is that (a) it sells in euros which you may prefer if your own bank account is in euros, and (b) it allows you to pick a specific seat from a numbered seat plan graphic with all fares Promo+ and above (i.e. not if you buy the very cheapest Promo fares).  Loco2 allocates your seat, but allows you to see the proposed seat number before you pay, so you can always re-book if you don't like it.   

So if you want a quick and easy transaction, use www.loco2.com, but if you want to pay directly in euros or to choose a specific seat and are prepared to overcome the odd few words of Spanish, try using Renfe.com with the help of the advice below.

If renfe.com appears to be 'down':  You are (a) probably Australian and (b) probably a customer of Telstra Bigpond.  I originally thought the problem was Telstra's DNS settings, but it does now seem to be Renfe website that's set up incorrectly.  You can get around this problem by downloading & installing the excellent Hola! add-on for Google Chrome browser at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/hola-better-internet/gkojfkhlekighikafcpjkiklfbnlmeio?hl=en then setting the browsing country to Spain.  Or buy tickets at www.loco2.com instead..  Feedback appreciated.

Option 4:  Buy by phone in the UK on 0844 248 248 3...

Buying online is cheapest, but if you don't mind paying a phone booking fee you can also buy Spanish train tickets by phone with one of Renfe's UK agents:

How to use www.renfe.com


Changing trains & stations in Madrid

Some trains use Madrid's modern Chamartin station in the north of the city.  The trains to Seville, Granada, Malaga leave from Madrid Atocha station (also known as Puerta de Atocha) about 20 minutes walk south of the city centre.  It's easy to transfer between stations by frequent suburban train.  The Spanish for suburban train is 'Cercanias', look for the orange and white 'C' logo.

  Spanish suburban train ('Cercanias')

An air-conditioned Spanish suburban train at Madrid Chamartin, going to Madrid Atocha...

   
 

Madrid Atocha station:  The old historic trainshed at Madrid Atocha has been turned into an attractive tropical garden, with café...  High-speed trains to Barcelona, Malaga & Seville leave from a modern concourse, out of shot directly behind the photographer.  For train departures to Seville, Malaga, Barcelona & Algeciras, you must climb the stairways or escalators shown in the right and left of this photo to a first-floor departure area and X-ray check.  Suburban trains to/from Chamartin station (plus a few mainline trains that start at Chamartin) use underground through platforms shown in the renfe.com timetables as 'Atocha Cercanias'.

Panorama photo of Madrid Atocha old hall.

Madrid Chamartin ▶ Madrid Atocha

Madrid Atocha ▶ Madrid Chamartin

Maps of Madrid...


Guidebooks

Lonely Planet Spain - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring - click to buy onlineThe Man in Seat 61 book - click to buy onlinePaying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, if you have a decent guidebook.  For the independent traveller I'd recommend either the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide, both provide an excellent level of practical detail and useful background. You won't regret buying either of these guides! My own book, an essential handbook for train travel to Europe based on this website called "The Man in Seat 61", was published in June 2008, and is available from Amazon with shipping worldwide.

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.co.uk...

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.


The European Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at either www.stanfords.co.uk or www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

A Traveller's Railway Map of Europe covers the whole of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  On the back are detailed maps of Switzerland, Benelux & Germany, plus city plans showing stations in major cities.  Scenic & high-speed routes highlighted.  Buy it online for £14.50 + postage worldwide (UK addresses £2.80) at www.stanfords.co.uk/Continents/Europe/Maps--Atlases/Europe-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.


Find hotels anywhere in Spain

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...

Environmentally aware, actively ethical adventures in Spain:  www.wildsideholidays.com...


Tailor-made tours of Spain

 

020 3327 0761 (UK)

1-888-829-4775 (USA)

1300 971 526 (Aus)

0800 002 034 (NZ)

Custom-made tours of Spain by train...

If you want to tour Spain by train, with all your train reservations and hotels sorted for you to your own specification, contact rail travel specialists Railbookers and they'll create the best rail holiday for you, hassle-free.  Unlike some overseas travel agents, they really do know all about train travel in Italy and right across Europe, and they know some excellent hotels, too.  They take good care of their clients and it's not surprising they get a lot of repeat business, so I have no hesitation in recommending them.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

  US call toll-free 1-888-829-4775, www.railbookers.com.

  Canada call toll-free 1-855-882-2910, www.railbookers.com.

Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.


Car hire

Take the train to Spain, then hire a car:  www.holidayautos.co.uk

Spanish city centres and cars don't mix well, so stick with the train for city-based tours.  But if you want to get out of the cities and into the countryside, hiring a car can be a great idea.  Start by trying Holiday Autos, www.holidayautos.co.uk, they're part of Lastminute.com so are reliable and have a wide range of locations and very good prices.

Compare 50 different car hire companies:  www.carrentals.co.uk

The award-winning website www.carrentals.co.uk 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 & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without proper travel insurance from a reliable insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash & belongings (up to a limit), and trip cancellation.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year - I have an annual policy myself.  However, 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, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low/no ATM fees

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on mobile data and phone calls...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find a huge bill.  Consider buying a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone from www.Go-Sim.com, which can slash costs by up to 85%.  Go-Sim cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also allows cheap data access for laptops & PDAs.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not used between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


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