Your Guide To Train Travel in Spain
Spain is perfectly set up for train travel. It may be a large and diverse country, but it always feels as if you’re a scenic high-speed train ride away from the next big adventure – whether you’re devouring pintxos in Basque Country, or marveling at the white villages of Andalucía. And with a Eurail Pass in hand, train travel in Spain can be done with ease and efficiency.
Each region offers something unique, whether it’s in the food, scenery, language or culture. And while many visitors jet in to Madrid or Barcelona for a few days and then head off, there’s really only one way to get to the heart of Spanish culture. And that’s on a rail journey that takes in all corners of this fascinating country.
Types of trains in Spain
FEVE operates the train in the north of Spain, and you’ll use these to get between cities in Basque country. Media Distancia trains run on other regional routes. Both offer good connections with Spain’s high-speed network.
Spain’s high-speed rail network is efficient, comprehensive, and blisteringly fast. The AVE trains will catapult you between major cities at over 180 miles per hour.
If you’re traveling between Madrid, Barcelona and France, look for the Renfe-SNCF trains; if you’re traveling to Portugal, look for Internacional trains. These will get you across the border in most efficient manner possible.
There are several high-speed domestic trains that service routes between major centers, including Altaria (connecting Madrid to the south of Spain); Alvia (operating between Madrid and the north of Spain); Avant; AVE (operating between Madrid and Barcelona); and Euromed (operating between Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante).
If you’re traveling longer distances to and from Spain, there are several night options aboard InterCités de Nuit and Trenhotel. These will get you as far as Paris, Luxembourg, Geneva and Paris to the east, and Lisbon in the west. Trenhotel also operates domestic overnight trains that link the north of Spain with Madrid and Barcelona.
Train travel in Spain
How to get to Spain using international trains
It may feel as if Spain is tucked away in a distant corner of Europe, but it’s easier than ever to reach the country by train. There are direct high-speed trains between Paris and Barcelona, which take approximately 6.5 hours, and between Vigo and Porto, which take approximately 3.5 hours.
You can also arrive by sea from Italy and Morocco on Grimaldi Lines. Eurail Pass Holders get a 20% discount on select routes.
Domestic train travel in Spain
Once in Spain, there are domestic trains that will connect you to all corners of the country. If you opt for the high-speed trains, you won’t need to travel for more than 4 hours at a time before you reach a new exciting stop. Most journeys take you through the best of Spain’s iconic scenery.
Making reservations for trains in Spain
You’ll need to reserve a seat for most high-speed trains in Spain, including domestic, international and night trains. You can reserve these seats up to three months in advance. Outside of peak season (mid-June through to August), you should still be able to get a seat on the day of travel at the departure station. Reservation fees are usually low. Domestic routes seldom cost more than €10.
Suggested itinerary: Two weeks in Spain
There are several ways to tackle a Spanish rail adventure. With a rail pass in hand there’s no reason to limit yourself to the big cities. Just bear in mind that the more you try to fit in, the less time you’ll have to soak up Spanish culture. So consider spending more time in fewer cities. You may retrace your steps at times, but starting in Barcelona will allow you to get around in an enjoyable, somewhat linear fashion.
Barcelona (Days 1 – 4)
Barcelona is diverse, enthralling, and utterly exhausting. It’s also an easy city to reach by plane or international rail to serve as your starting point.
Valencia (Days 4 – 5)
Take the coastal train from Barcelona to Valencia, where an historic Old Town populated with spectacular architecture and stunning beaches await.
Granada (Days 5 – 7)
Catch a high-speed train to Granada – a stunning city that is home to the Alhambra, one of the world’s most iconic examples of Moorish architecture.
Ronda / Cordoba / Seville (Days 7 – 8)
There are trains from Granada towards several iconic southern cities. Choose from Ronda, Cordoba, Seville or a combination of each to get a taste of this fascinating corner of the country.
Madrid (Days 8 – 11)
The Spanish capital deserves as much time as you have available. Museums, history, architecture and day trips to the likes of Toledo will vie for your attention from the moment you arrive.
Pamplona (Days 11 – 12)
Pamplona may be famous for its annual bull run, but there’s a lot more to this beautiful city outside of the one week of revelry.
San Sebastian (Days 12 – 14)
End your Spanish tour in Basque Country. There are several interesting cities to explore in the north, but few are as captivating as San Sebastian.
Practical tips for train travel in Spain
- Stations in Spain are well equipped. You can expect lockers, cafés, information offices and foreign exchange desks in most city stations.
- Be prepared to find Spanish spelling on timetables and signage. It’s usually just a letter or two difference, but it’s easy enough to work out.
- Connections via rail to Portugal are difficult from the south. If you want to get to the south of Portugal there are several buses to the Algarve that are cheap and fast.
- Don’t underestimate the size of Spain. Although there are good rail connections, if you’re pressed for time it’s better to follow a shorter itinerary that focuses on fewer regions.
Traveling Spain with a Eurail Pass is an ideal way to get around. You’ll get the best of the scenery close to the ground and be able to reach even some of the most remote cities to leave with a new appreciation and understanding for this celebrated European gem.
For more about train travel in Spain:
5 overlooked cities in Spain you should make time for
France to Spain by train
5 day trips from Madrid (by train)