In Europe train travel in very common. Distances are shorter than in other continents and the reliability and comfort of the international train network means that rail travel is often a better option than going by air.

If you intend to travel to Spain, you should consider using the train. The railroad network is managed by a state-owned company, Renfe, and boasts more than 15,000km of tracks linking dozens of cities across the country.

In fact, travelling by train has many advantages compared to other means of transport, and with a little planning you will be able to save a lot of money and time — meaning you can spend your holiday looking at beautiful monuments rather than being stuck in an airport terminal.

Discounts

Although train tickets may seem expensive at first glance, there are many ways to save money. The best way is to plan your trip ahead of time, and buy your tickets soon after they go on sale 62 days before the travel day.

  • Renfe offers two bonus fares that are only available on the internet: Web (50% to 70% discount from regular fares) and Estrella or Star (30% to 40% discount).
  • You can get a 20% discount if you hold an International Youth Travel Card.
  • If you are a senior (60+ years old) you can benefit from discounts of up to 40% depending on which days of the week you want to travel on. You need to buy a Tarjeta Dorada (Golden Card) at any train station in Spain and use it to purchase your tickets. It will only cost you €5 (less than US$7).
  • Kids aged 4-14 receive a 40% discount.

A regular ticket from Madrid to Seville costs around €135 (US$183) but if you get in early enough to buy a Web fare, you can get it for €75 (US$100). However, discounts are not cumulative so you can only benefit from one at a time.

The views from Spanish trains can be amazing
The views from Spanish trains can be amazing

Don’t wait around

Spanish trains are very punctual. You know when you’re going to leave and when you will arrive. I wish I could say the same for planes or for travelling by car — traffic is unpredictable and planes seem to be hit by delays more and more often. In my eight years in Spain, the AVE from Seville to Madrid has been late only once and it was because of major works on the railroad network. Plus, I got a full refund because the train arrived 43 minutes after the scheduled arrival time!

While it may seem faster to travel by air, train travel can actually be quicker if you look at the door-to-door journey time. By the time you get to and from the airport, check and collect your bag, go through security and get on and off the plane… that one-hour flight time has multiplied considerably.

I’ve travelled several times from Seville to Madrid by plane. If everything goes perfectly, with no traffic or delays, it takes me at least one additional hour to get to my final destination using the plane compared to taking the train.

You don’t need to be at the station long before the train departs, 20 minutes will be enough. And security controls are very light; it will only take a minute to go through them.

Arrive in the centre of town
Arrive in the centre of town

Train vs car rental: what’s more convenient?

Apart from the traffic, travelling by car has three major inconveniences. The first is that driving can be exhausting. So by the time you get there you may want to rest or some sights may already be already closed.

Secondly, the parking hassle. Most European (and especially Spanish) cities have old city centres that weren’t designed for cars so you need to know in advance where the parking lots are and how to get there. Plus, these parking lots are generally very expensive.

Finally, rental cars can be expensive: In addition to the hire fee, insurance costs and petrol prices, returning a rental car in a different city from the one you picked it up in can cost you a fortune.

Inside a Spanish train
Spanish trains are very comfortable

In contrast, when travelling by train you’re not doing the work of navigating and driving, you can just enjoy the view. The train will usually deposit you in the city centre, not far from your accommodation, so you don’t have to find parking. And you know exactly how much you’ll be paying for your trip in advance, there’s no nasty extra charges.

Comfort

A train is much more comfortable than a plane or a bus. It’s wider and safer so you can walk to stretch your legs or go to the cafeteria for a drink. Besides, if you book a sleeping train you can lie down to sleep — an option not available on very many planes or buses! Oh, and you can also talk on the phone at any time (but don’t bother your neighbours).

I have to confess that I’m a big fan of trains, and I use them both in Spain and abroad whenever I can. You can call me a romantic but it sometimes feels like travelling as the 19th century explorers did. And I’ve had great experiences sharing my time with locals.

Have you recently travelled by train in Spain? (Sorry about the rhyme.)
Tell us your adventure in the comments below.

Your thoughts on "Take the train: the best way to travel around Spain"

  • I took the long bus journeys in Spain, and I think the train would be a lot more comfortable!

    on December 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm Reply
  • I agree with you, especially because if you plan in advance, the rates are almost the same in many cases! Where have you been in Spain?

    on December 22, 2011 at 4:22 am Reply
  • I personally always plan on the night rides to save on the hotel but the downside is you miss the scenery.

    on December 25, 2011 at 5:32 am Reply
    • Hi David, You are right, night rides are ideal for saving money but most of the itineraries in Spain are not such long distance. You advice is however great for bus trips. Thanks for sharing!

      on December 25, 2011 at 11:45 am Reply

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