You are probably considering traveling in Spain with the train. But you still have many questions and are unsure on whether this is the option that best suits your needs.

For instance, based on your trip itinerary, will you be better off buying point-to-point tickets or a rail pass? If it’s a rail pass, which one is better?

A great trip starts with good planning, so keep reading for some helpful tips. Whether you are traveling alone, with your family or with a large group, you will learn how to get the best price and book your reservation.

Below is a list of the most frequent questions you will face while planning your train trip.

You can find more information, including a step-a-step tutorial of the purchasing process, reading a complete guide to train travel in Spain.

What’s Best: Renting A Car Or Taking The Train?

Deciding between taking the train and renting a car is one of your biggest pre-trip decisions. Take these variables into account when determining whether your Spanish experience might be better by car or train:

  • Geographical range. Trains are better if you are covering a wide area. While Spain could be perceived as of small size by Americans, Canadians and Australians, you would surely prefer the train if you plan to travel across the country. This is particularly the case for an itinerary including Barcelona, Madrid and part of Andalucía.
  • Rail coverage. Fortunately, Train travel in Spain is extremely easy, comfortable and safe. There are more than 14,000 km (8,700 mi) of railways. In other words, the network serves almost village in the country.
  • Urban vs. rural. This is an important decision. Do you plan to spend most of the time in big cities or do prefer to explore far away little towns? A car is a pointless hassle in most Spanish cities, but it can be really helpful in the countryside where train communications are less frequent.
  • Number of travelers. How many people will be traveling with you? A car is usually the cheaper option when shared with more than 2 people so it may be a good option if you are traveling on a budget. But don’t forget to add the parking costs and the extra fee the rental car company will charge you if you return the car in a different city.
  • Luggage. Are you bad at packing light? Then your best option is a car. Renfe, the Spanish railway operator, lets you carry up to three pieces of luggage that may not exceed 25 kg without any chance to buy extra baggage allowance.
  • Kids in tow. Car travel is more flexible, but trains give kids room to move around. Travel times will also be considerably lower so your patience won’t be challenged by their usual “when are we getting there?” question. In addition to this, did you know that children younger than 4 can travel for free?

Determine If You Should Get A Rail Pass

Internal view of a Spanish AVE train carriage

What’s the difference between a point-to-point ticket and a rail pass?

On one hand, point-to-point tickets are tickets bought individually to get you from Point X to Point Y. It’s easier to buy these online, which can be handy if you need to secure an advance booking for a certain train.

On the other hand, a rail pass covers train travel in one or more countries for a certain number of days. This pass can allow traveling either for a continuous span of days or for a number of days spread over a wider period of time. Renfe has several passes, the most popular being the Spain Pass.

Most rail passes available to non-Spaniards can only be bought outside Spain. Therefore, sketch out your itinerary before your trip. Then, answer the following questions:

  • How many days do you expect to take the train?
  • How many countries or regions will you be visiting by train?
  • Roughly how much would your point-to-point tickets cost?
  • How does your point-to-point ticket cost compare to the price of a pass?

How To Choose Among Rail Passes

A view of the railtracks departing from Atocha Station in Madrid

Compare passes thoroughly to find the best fit for your itinerary and style of travel. The range of options may look intimidating, but you only need to decide which countries you intend to travel in and for how many days.

You will travel in Spain only: Renfe Spain Pass

You can choose a pass of 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 journeys with two class modalities: Business/Club or Tourist. It is valid for all AVE, Long Distance and Medium Distance trains (excluding couchettes). This pass is active for 6 months as from the date of issue and is valid for 1 month as from the date on which it is first validated for a journey.

You will travel in Spain and other European countries: Eurail Pass (non-European residents)

It can only be used by non-European residents, living outside of Europe for at least 6 months. Your Eurail pass will serve as your ticket on most trains. However, keep in mind that many European high-speed and night trains require bookings.

There are 4 types of passes:

  • Global Pass. You can travel up to 24 countries.
  • Select Pass. It allows you to travel around 4 bordering countries of your choice.
  • Regional Pass. Combine two countries.
  • One country Pass.

If you’re still unsure which Eurail pass is best for you, see how to choose the right pass.

You will travel in Spain and other European countries: InterRail Pass (European residents)

An InterRail pass can only be used by European residents, living in Europe for at least 6 months. There are two types of passes: the Global Pass and the One Country Pass. Your choice will depend on the countries you want to visit.

  • If you want to see as much of Europe as possible, I recommend the InterRail Global Pass, which is valid for train travel in 30 European countries.
  • If you plan to visit a single country, you can buy an InterRail One Country Pass instead. If you intend to visit 2 or 3 countries, it’s better to buy several One Country Passes.

Buying Spanish Train Tickets

Passengers purchasing or printing their train tickets prior to enter the boarding area

You have three main options for buying point-to-point tickets: in person at Europe’s train stations (and at some European travel agencies), through a US-based retailer before leaving home, and through Renfe’s website which is the option I always recommend.

Unfortunately, the Spanish railway site is sometimes not translated into English and has been unreliable not allowing US credit card holders to purchase their tickets online. If this is your case, make sure you contact first your bank so that you can use your card on international websites. You can always use a third party if you still can do it yourself although you will have to pay an additional fee, but at least you will have your tickets!

The process is very straightforward and it will only take you a few minutes if you already know when and where you would like to travel.

This is a short summary of the tariffs you could find on Renfe’s website:

  • P (Promo). It is a promotional ticket with a cheaper tariff, up to a 70% discount on the general fare.
  • P+ (Promo+). It is a promotional ticket with a cheaper tariff, up to a 65% discount on the general fare.
  • F (Flexible). It is a more expensive ticket allowing you to change at no cost.
  • Tarifa Ida y Vuelta (Return ticket, icon with the two arrows). This is cheaper rate than the Flexible one, offering a 20% on both the outward and return journeys.
  • 4M (Mesa or Table for 4). This tariff is ideal if you are traveling with your family or a party of four.

What Are You Waiting For? Book Now Your Tickets!

The main hall at Atocha Station in Madrid built in the early 20th century

Taking the train allows you to travel stress free – have a drink, read a book or enjoy the landscape! Moreover, you will arrive right at the city center avoiding annoying transfers. Just drop off your luggage and enjoy your holiday right away.

But the best advantage of train travel is that you don’t need to check in hours in advance, or waste time waiting in line. The best way to make the most out of your time is plan ahead, organize your itinerary and book your tickets ahead.

Once you are in Spain all you will have to do is have fun and discover this amazing country!