Train travel is one of the absolute best and easy ways to get around Europe, Spain included! The cities are well-connected, trains are super fast, the transport is especially comfortable, and the lines drop you right in the center of the action. It’s also exciting! Traveling in Spain by train allows you to see parts of the country you may not have seen otherwise had you traveled by plane or been focused on navigating the roads.

For folks who don’t want to deal with a rental car or are simply traveling from one major city to another, we always recommend traveling in Spain by train. If you’re not familiar with train travel, it may seem initially confusing or even overwhelming. But with these insider tips you’re sure to be a savvy Euro train traveler in no time.

Check routes

Spain has a number of high-speed trains that get you from one major city to another in no time. But don’t assume that there is a direct high-speed train from the center of Madrid to that small beach town in Catalonia you’re headed to. Check train routes before planning your trip so you know exactly how to get from one place to the next and can avoid unwanted surprises. Also keep in mind that there are still not train lines connecting Spain and Portugal. Any travel from those two countries must be done via rental car, bus, or private transfer.

Book in advance

Like airline tickets, train prices fluctuate based on availability and demand. Most train schedules will be available about three months out and increase in price as you get closer to the travel date. The tricky part is they don’t always release all of the routes immediately, and some are released just a month beforehand. If you see a train time that works for your schedule now, buy it as soon as possible. But if you’re not seeing the exact date, check back in every week to see what routes are added.

train seats

Check trip durations

In Spain, the majority of trains are run by RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles). RENFE operates trains from city to city, including the AVE, which is the country’s high-speed train. Though you’re bound to find AVEs running from major cities throughout the day, make sure you check the trip duration before booking. You may be enticed by a cheap ticket only to find that your 2.5 hour trip from Seville to Madrid just turned into 5.

Book flexible tickets

When it comes time to book your tickets, you’ll notice there are a few different options for the actual type of tickets you can purchase. Like with some airlines, there are options for flexible tickets that allow you to make changes to your reservation or even cancel them altogether. Though it will cost you a few extra euros, it’s definitely worth it to buy a flexible ticket. Plans change, trips are delayed, and you never know when you’ll need to switch things up.

Credit cards

Unfortunately, sometimes U.S. credit cards won’t work on the RENFE website. There’s nothing wrong with your card, the block is just there for security reasons. To prevent this, keep a few credit cards handy or notify your bank of the purchase, which could help push the transaction through. If your card happens to have Verified by Visa, this will often do the trick too. And if all else fails, a travel designer is an ideal partner to help handle all foreign transactions and bookings.

Renfe train through Spain
Courtney of RENFE & The Trainline

Print your ticket

When traveling in Spain by train, you want to make sure you have your ticket handy before you hop on. Download it to your phone via applications like your Spain Savvy app for easy access and to avoid misplacing a paper document. Printing off your ticket before you arrive isn’t necessary, but you can definitely do so if it makes you feel more at ease. To print something off while in Spain, you can either ask your hotel concierge or head to a local copistería (copy shop).

Arrive on time

It goes without saying that you should arrive on time for your scheduled train. Unlike planes, trains tend to leave exactly on the minute they’re scheduled, and there’s not going to be a gate agent calling your name if you’re not on it. So show up a little early (especially if you have a lot of luggage) and hop on before it leaves the station.

Give yourself a travel margin

Say you’re flying into Madrid and hopping on a train down south to Seville that same day. While we totally recommend this form of travel, we also always recommend a 3-hour minimum margin to get from the airport to the train station. Many airports (like Madrid or Barcelona) do have train connections from the airport to the central train station (though a taxi is another great option), but it’s still a good idea to give yourself some time to account for baggage pickups, customs, and any potential delays.

Madrid's Atocha train station

Check out luxury rails

Spain’s Al Ándalus rail was designed in the 1920s and consists of seven suite-style train cars. The train was originally used by British royalty to travel from Calais to the Blue Coast in France, but the train cars have been totally restored for modern travel. In the new suites you can enjoy comfy beds, impeccable restaurant service (don’t forget the cocktails and a mini bar in every room), laundry service, and live music. Their 7-day train takes you through Jerez, Ronda, Granada, Úbeda, Baeza, and Córdoba. Or, spend some time in Portugal on the 4-day route through Mérida, Lisbon, and Porto.

Check out new cheaper rails

RENFE has essentially had a monopoly on the Spanish rails for decades. But recently the government opened up the market to other companies, which are starting to offer more economical options from some of the bigger cities. There is already a line from Madrid to Barcelona, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for other cities opening up soon.

Book with an expert

The best thing you can do to avoid any confusion is to book your trains with someone who speaks knows the rail system and also Spanish. The RENFE website is incredibly confusing even for locals, and the translated version isn’t much better. So when it comes time to traveling in Spain by train, find a Spanish-speaker, or leave it to your travel designer to handle the logistics for you.

Ready to book trains through Spain? Reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help you design the trip of lifetime, trains and all.