Getting Around in Spain: Bus vs. Train
Spain’s rail system isn’t quite as developed as those in other Western European countries, such as Italy. It is improving and adding new high-speed routes, like the one between Madrid and Barcelona, however many of the smaller towns are not serviced by rail, so you’ll need to supplement your rail journeys with other methods of transportation.
Trains in Spain are comfortable, fast and generally reliable. Most train routes have a fixed timetable and trains generally leave and arrive on time. For long-distance journeys, there are express train routes that reduce traveling time by half or even more – for example, a high-velocity train from Madrid to Seville takes just 2.5 hours, while by bus or car takes up to 6 hours.
Spanish trains, however, are not the cheapest mode of transport in the country. For the journey from Madrid to Seville, a bus ride costs 19.40euros while the train ride costs approximately 70 euros each way. If you are on a tight budget, then bus travel makes a better alternative. For those who are seeking to veer off the beaten path and time is not an issue, bus travel in Spain also allows you to explore secret corners of the country at your own leisurely pace.
The main train operator is Spain is called RENFE. The website is quite easy to navigate, it is available in English and a few other languages – although some pages are not available in English and foreign credit cards often cause glitches during payment.
Buses in Spain are comfortable, reliable, and usually cheaper than trains (when trains are an option). Buses for journeys over an hour or two usually have toilets on board, and those for long distance journeys will stop every few hours so passengers can get out for snacks, to use the restroom of just for some fresh air and few minutes to stretch the legs. Of course, these stops generally mean that the buses take a bit longer than the trains.
In off season and to journey to less-visited places, you can buy your ticket at the bus or train station on the day of (or a few days before) your trip. However if you are traveling along popular routes, are visiting during peak season, or are traveling on a route that only makes one or two trips per day, you’ll want to book farther in advance. On regional routes (like the 20-minute ride from Logrono to Laguardia in Rioja) you can just buy your ticket on board the bus in cash.
To explore your bus options, check out the website Movelia.com, which aggregates bus routes and schedules from several different transportation companies. All you need to do is put in your current location and the name of you destination, and the website will show you all of your options for bus companies and times, along with the price of your ticket. From there, you can connect directly to that company’s website to purchase your ticket. Three of the most popular bus companies are Vibasa, La Estellesa and Alsa.
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