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

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.

A guide to taking the train in Spain...

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

  Railpasses for Spain & the Renfe Spain Pass

  Spanish train classes explained

  What are Spanish trains like?

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

  How to use www.renfe.com

  Transferring between Atocha & Chamartin in Madrid

  Madrid Atocha station guide

  Barcelona Sants station guide

  Custom-made tours of Spain by train

  Hotels & accommodation in Spain

International trains to & from Spain...

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

  Trains from Barcelona to other European cities

  Trains from Madrid, Malaga, Alicante to other cities

  Trains from other European cities to Spain

  Paris to Barcelona by TGV high-speed train

Other train travel information...

  Eurail passes - the railpass for overseas visitors

  InterRail passes - the pass for European residents

  General European train travel information

  Luggage on trains & Left luggage at stations

  Taking your bike & Taking your dog

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 - you'll find www.loco2.com easier to use.  Local trains around Bilbao, San Sebastian, French frontier:  www.euskotren.eus.  Local trains in northern Spain (ex-FEVE): www.renfe.com/viajeros/feve.  Madrid metro: www.metromadrid.es.  Barcelona-Montserrat railway: www.fgc.cat.




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


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


£1 = approx €1.11,  $1 = approx €0.8.   Currency converter

Tourist information:


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:

1 May 2019.

Spain by train, in a nutshell

The key things to know, in a nutshell..

Railpasses for Spain...

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Spanish train classes explained

Turista, Turista Plus, Preferente...

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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.  AVEs are now being fitted with WiFi, free to all travellers in preferente class or those in turista who have signed up to Renfe's free +Renfe loyalty scheme.  Internet access costs a few euros for other passengers.  A hot meal with wine is usually included in Preferente on weekdays, see the information above.  AVE trains come in various types.

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

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, see info above.

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 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 included in Preferente on weekdays, see the information above.

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...

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How to buy train tickets for Spain


Buy Spanish train tickets online


Option 1, buy at www.loco2.com, recommended...

The quickest & easiest way to buy Spanish train tickets is at www.loco2.com with cheap advance-purchase fares & print-at-home or collect-at-station tickets.  You can choose to pay in €, £ or $. 

Loco2 links directly to Renfe's (Spanish Railways) ticketing system and charges the same price in euros as Renfe themselves with the same print-at-home tickets and no added booking fees.  Unlike Renfe's own site it's in plain English without any of Renfe.com's quirky translations and credit card rejection problems.

Anyone from any country can use Loco2 as 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, Italian & British ticketing systems.  Who are Loco2?

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 www.trainline.eu, also easy to use...

www.trainline.eu also connects to Renfe's ticketing system to sell Renfe tickets at exactly the same prices as Renfe themselves with the same print-at-home or collect-at-station tickets, very easily, all overseas credit cards accepted.  However, they now impose small booking fee of around €3.45.  You should also avoid departures marked ALSA as these are long-distance buses and not trains.  Spanish trains are marked Renfe.

Option 4, buy at www.petrabax.com, easy to use, in US$...

If you'd rather pay in USD, use www.petrabax.com.  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.  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 Renfe.com.  Anyone from any country can use Petrabax, including the United States, Canada, Australia, India & Singapore.

Option 4, buy direct from Spanish Railways at www.renfe.com...

You can of course buy tickets direct from Spanish Railways at www.renfe.com, in € with print-at-home tickets.  Unfortunately, Renfe.com has more than its fair share of quirks and a reputation for rejecting a significant proportion of overseas credit cards.  It's very fiddly to use.

Pretty much the only reason to battle with renfe.com rather than buying easily from www.loco2.com or www.trainline.eu is that it may allow you to select a specific seats from a seating plan, although only if buying an expensive Flexible fare, and only if you manage to spot the easily-missed link.  However, www.loco2.com or www.trainline.eu allow you to choose seating options and they both show you your seat numbers before you pay, so you can always compare them with a a seating plan then run multiple enquiries if you don't like the first ones you are given, adding seats to your basket until you get ones you like.  Then cancel the ones you don't need and pay for those you do.

If you want to try using Renfe.com please read the advice on using Renfe.com below.  It frustrates many 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 really want to choose an exact seat and are prepared to overcome the odd few words of Spanish, try using Renfe.com with the help of the advice below.

Option 5:  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


The search results page...

Renfe ticket website screenshot


Close up of search results...

Renfe ticket website screenshot

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Changing 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...

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Lonely Planet Spain - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring - 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!

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.

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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 set up a private venture and resumed publication of the famous 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-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.

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Find hotels anywhere in Spain


Favourite hotel search & price comparison: hotelscombined.com

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

Favourite hotel booking site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings in one place here. 

You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...

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

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Custom-made tours of Spain


020 3327 0761 (UK)

1-888-829-4775 (USA)

1-855-882-2910 (Canada)

1300 971 526 (Aus)

0800 000 554 (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 train tour 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.

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.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.co.uk

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

  Canada call 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 000 554 or see website.

Car hire

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, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

        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 ww.nhs.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for 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.

Get a VPN for safe browsing when you travel.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use them myself.


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