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Train Travel in Spain

In this day and age, Eurail is no longer the most popular transport mode to get from one country/city to another in Europe. With the large network of budget airlines that fly to Spain , flying is one of the best and fastest ways of getting around Spain these days. The availability of cheap flights on a regular basis is making flying the preferred mode of transport in and out of Spain these days.
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 route 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.

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Getting to/from Spain by Train – From Another Country

To get from Spain to another country or vice versa, bus might be the cheapest option but going by train can be a more relaxing, comfortable and scenic choice. Train travel to other European cities tends to be slower and costlier as well, unless you are traveling on the InterRail or Eurail pass. Spain is bordered by Portugal and France, but there are also trains to other far-flung cities such as Italy and Switzerland.
If you are traveling within Europe on the passes mentioned above, most of the RENFE train routes are included in the pass. To purchase the Eurail, you can go to any of the Eurail Assistance Offices in Barcelona main train station, Madrid Airport, Madrid Chamartín train station, Seville main station and Valencia Nord station.
There are two ways of getting from Spain to Portugal by train:
1.)    Trenhotel LUSITANIA is the most popular way to get from Madrid to Lisbon and vice versa. The overnight train leaves at 10.25pm and arrives at 7.41am. Train ticket prices range from €58.60 to €144.90 each way, depending on type of seating.
2.)    Trenhotel SUREXPRESO departs from the Spanish border city of Irún (in the Basque Country) daily. You will have to take a train to Irún  It leaves at 10.20pm and arrives at 10.31am, with a 12-hour journey. Ticket prices range from €68.80 to €178.60 each way.
France makes an excellent side-trip from Spain, thanks to its proximity.  There are four trains that go from Spain to France,  with most of them making several stops in between.  All of these trains are overnight, taking over 13 hours and costing in the range of €100 to €500 each way – although if you book early, you can usually find some promotions.
1.) Trenhotel Francisco de Goya (Madrid Chamartín to Paris)
2.) Trenhotel Joan Miró (Barcelona França to Paris)
3.) Catalán Talgo.– (Barcelona França to Montpellier and vice versa)
4.)  Mare Nostrum (Lorca Sutullena to Montpellier, returning to Cartagena)
To get from Spain to Switzerland, there is only one train: the Trenhotel Pau Casals that goes through Girona, Figueres, Geneva, Bern and finally Zurich. Train ticket prices range from €175 to €333 each way. Promotional rates are €74, your best bet is to book in advance.
To get from Spain to Italy, Trenhotel Salvador Dalí brings you from Barcelona to Milan Central in 13 hours. Train ticket prices range from €135 to €419.

Getting Around Spain by Bus – From One Region to Another

To get from one region to another in Spain, train travel is the fastest and most comfortable next to flying.  Usually long distance journeys are run by slow trains and high velocity trains.  Most buses depart from the city’s main train terminal (in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, there are more than one train terminal).
There are several types of trains in Spain, each one of them running different routes and providing different services. All of them belong to RENFE, so you can easily book any train from their website.

  • AVE: New, high-speed trains that reduce travel time by half or more.
  • Alaris: Modern, innovative trains, both inside and out, and ideal for multi-frequency routes.
  • Altaria: Standard comfortable trains that run routes to the South.
  • Alvia: Standard trains that connect Madrid and Alicante to the North.
  • Arco: Standard trains that connect Catalonia and Valencia to Extremadura and Andalusia.
  • Day-time: Conventional trains that cover distances over 500 km with journey times of between 6 and 10 hours.
  • Estrella: Night-time service designed for long distance journeys arriving at major destination cities first thing in the morning, allowing passengers to make the most of a whole day of work or leisure.
  • Euromed: Best travel option for work and business-related journeys on the Mediterranean Coast.
  • Talgo: The Talgo product includes different long distance travel options between the main Spanish cities.
  • Trenhotel: Top class night service designed to reach the destination capital cities in the morning.

The online train reservation system works like airline booking systems. Once you’ve purchased your ticket online, print out your e-ticket and present it when boarding your train. Your train driver will have an electronic scanner to check when you’re on the train.

Getting Around Spain by Train – Within One Region

Taking a train within a region is relatively easy. There is usually no need to book your ticket in advance, unless you are traveling during the holiday season or on long weekends. As regions in Spain are not usually very big, the maximum time travel on a train within a region is 2 to 3 hours.
Train ticket prices when traveling within a region are also not too expensive. They tend to be slightly cheaper or around the same price as bus journeys. Trains within a region tend to leave quite regularly, it’s best to refer to the RENFE site for the full schedule.
Most cities have their main train station in their city center and/or are connected by underground metro system or bus networks.  You can also check the main plaza in town or the metro system.
Read more about:
>> Getting Around in Spain: Bus vs Train Travel
>>Bus Travel in Spain
Photo credit: Flickr photo by fui