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How to Travel Spain by Train

Discovering exactly how to travel Spain by train will depend on your immediate needs. For example, have you arrived her to learn about long distance travel in Spain from a tourist perspective, or do you want to know how to get around the domestic connections? Perhaps a bit of both? Either way, are Spanish train journeys expensive or relatively cheap, when compared to other European destinations? What kind of rail passes can you get in Spain?

In this article, we will answer all these perspectives, so if one if not your “thing” then just scroll down to find what you’re looking for.

Spanish Rail Passes – Your Options

Here’s the first rule to remember:

  • If you live in Europe, then you qualify for an InterRail pass.
  • If you live outside of Europe, then you should be looking for a Eurail pass.
  • What about point-to-point tickets?

So we’re going to begin by assuming that you’re a tourist and therefore will need either a Eurail pass to get where your itinerary requirements can be fulfilled, or that you’re happy to simply purchase point-to-point tickets. Point-to-point tickets are individual tickets to get from one location to another – and in this regard, both European residents and tourists from outside Europe are on an equal footing when it comes to pricing. Point-to-point tickets can be purchased online, directly from the various train operator sites.

Who Runs the Trains in Spain?

The Spanish national train operator is Renfe (prounounced Ren-Fay) which is the brand name for the service. This service runs superb high speed trains, as well as local and suburban trains nationwide. There are also some regional train operators, which run on their own train lines and for specific purposes. For example, Euskotren (www.euskotren.eus) runs narrow-gauge local trains from the French border at Hendaye & Irun to San Sebastian & Bilbao. And in Barcelona, you might want to use the FGC local railway to reach the famous monastery at Montserrat.

But we’re going to focus on the Renfee national brand, because they are the largest network and therefore, more likely to satisfy most traveler’s needs.

AVE trains…

AVE is an acronym for Alta Velocidad Española and 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 but also available to those in turista class who have also 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. AVE trains come in various types.

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

If You’re a Senior

If you’re over 60, then in most cases the best advice for a visitor to Spain who is only making one or two pre-planned train trips, is to just go online in advance and buy a cheap advance-purchase Promo fare, which is up to 60% cheaper than the Flexible price whatever your age. So being a senior in this case, is no advantage.

However, if you are over 60 you can buy a Tarjeta Dorada card for around €6. This gives a 25%-40% discount on Renfe’s Flexible full-price fare. You can only buy a Tarjeta Dorada card at Renfe stations or agencies when you get to Spain, and you can only buy reduced-fare tickets at stations or online at Renfe.com when you have the card number. You’ll find full details if you go to www.renfe.com and look for the Tarjeta Dorada page.

Being over 60 won’t give you a discount on Promo or Promo+ fares, however. Promo (shown as P, no changes, no refunds) and Promo+ (shown as P+, limited changes & refunds) are cheap advance-purchase fares, the price & availability vary in a similar way to airline tickets, so book early for the cheapest prices.

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

Will You Have Children With You?

There is a child rate for children under 14. Infants under 4 travel free as long as they don’t occupy a seat, but since 2014 it’s been mandatory to get a free infant ticket before you travel. You will get the necessary free infant ticket If you book all your tickets at Raileurope.co.uk or renfe.com as you can simply add your child to your booking by entering their age.

Long Distance Tickets and Free Suburban Tickets

When you buy an AVE or other long-distance Spanish train ticket of any type or class for a journey within Spain, you can also get free travel from any Renfe suburban station at the start of your journey, i.e. to connect with your long distance train … and free travel to any Renfe suburban station at the end of your journey, so that you can get to where you want to end up.

This deal applies to 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 and Cartagena.

To use these suburban (Cercanias) trains you must get a free suburban train ticket from a self-service ticket machine or staffed ticket office using the “Combinado Cercanias” password printed on your Renfe long-distance ticket. It sits underneath the main ticket number & localizador. 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.

The CombinadoCercanias offer applies to any Spanish domestic long-distance tickets bought directly from Renfe.com or from websites which directly connect to Renfe.

Food, Drink and Complimentary Meals On Board

On most long-distance trains there’s a cafe-bar serving tea, coffee, drinks and snacks. Of course, you’re also free to take your own food and even wine or beer onto the train.

If you buy an in Preferente class ticket, an airline-style hot tray meal with wine is included in your journey, but only on AVE & EuroMed trains on Mondays-Fridays, not usually at weekends. You can find out what you’re due to be served on the renfe.com website when purchasing your tickets. If it says breakfast, lunch or dinner great, but if it says Sin Restauración you’re out of luck.

travel spain by train
A hot at-seat meal with wine is included in Preferente on Monday-Fridays, see info above.

Cheaper Fares For Return Trips

Train travel can be expensive in Spain but there is one trick worth knowing. Return tickets cost considerably less than two one-way tickets. If you’re certain that you’ll be returning on the same route sometime over the coming months (three months is usually the limit), buy a return ticket and you can later change the return date, which works out a lot cheaper than buying two one-way tickets.

travel spain by train
Spanish Train Routes – Map

Acknowledgements:  Seat61.com


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