Tips for booking trains & tickets in Spain

Let’s be honest; when I first started considering backpacking in Spain (alone with three kids) I was apprehensive about how to get around. Taxis, Uber, BlaBlaCar – they’re all great but they’re restrictive and can be expensive.  Coaches and buses are cheap but slow and did I really want to spend HOURS on a hot bus with the kids? The only option was to catch a dreaded train…My heart sank, but really, it wasn’t like that at all.  It was brilliant.

Catching the train turned out to be the easiest method of travel we’ve booked so far. I didn’t have to map read, I didn’t have to watch the wing mirrors, I didn’t have to ask the driver to shout for me when we reached the ‘right’ stop, in fact I didn’t have to speak to anybody at all. I didn’t have to unpack all our electrical devices and panic about going through security on time, I didn’t even plan any activities for the kids to do. It really was that simple.  So here’s a few of my tips on how to book trains in Spain and how to enjoy the flexibility it can give you.

Explaining Spain’s trains

Renfe is the public owner, managing all the passenger trains in Spain. The country has currently 14,000 km of railway infrastructure and more than 1,550 stations.

The trains with the noses (AVE – High speed trains)

Reaching up to 310 km/h these are the fast trains that connect the major cities.  You can travel from Madrid to Barcelona in less than 3 hours!

Trains

Provided courtesy of: http://www.eurail.com/en/europe-by-train/high-speed-trains/ave

Alvia

Similar to AVE but a little bit slower, reaching a maximum speed of 250 km/h. These trains use both high-speed and regular tracks and reach a larger number of destinations.

Take a look at the map of main connections in Spain for train lines.

Avant

The Avant services are Media Distancia services provided by high-speed trains specifically designed for short journeys

Tourist trains

Quirky and slow, these trains take their time to pass through countryside. Some even serve food and offer sleeping accomodation.

Visit here to book.

Cercanias

Local, short distance trains that run as commuter trains serving Spain’s major metropolitan areas.

How to book tickets

When I was researching how best to book tickets, many websites suggested RENFE was unreliable and the English version rarely worked. I didn’t have that problem but here are some ways to book a ticket on RENFE trains.

  1. Visit RENFE – The website is in Spanish, French & English
  2. Visit a train station and buy the tickets from a desk or machine
  3. Visit Trainline – This site is in English and the price was 30 euros cheaper for exactly the same trains advertised on RENFE

Renfe Spain Pass

If you’re doing a multitude of AVE train journeys in under a month, it may be worth considering buying a RENFE Spain Pass.

  • It is a pass only available for citizens resident in countries outside Spain. You must present a valid passport as proof.
  • You can choose passes of 4, 6, 8 or 10 journeys, to be used within 1 month.
  • It is valid for all AVE Long Distance and Medium Distance trains.
  • To travel you must reserve a seat.

4 passes: 195,00 €
6 passes: 275,00 €
8 passes: 350,00 €
10 passes: 410,00 €

Printing the tickets

In order to print the tickets, we had to arrive at the station no less than 15 minutes before the train.  We visited one of the many ticket machines dotted around the station and using a reservation number and my credit card, the ticket machine spewed out 8 tickets for our return journey.

What to expect from your station

Seville is a big city and the train station was a reflection of this. It had a number of restaurants and coffee shops in it as well as a busy ticket office.  However Cadiz, which is a much smaller station, only had one small coffee shop that sold coffee and ham sandwiches.

We made the mistake of presuming our train station would have something suitable for breakfast however I guess my idea of ‘sensible’ is nothing similar to Spain’s idea and especially if you’re a vegan!

Ticket conductors

Our train was serviced by a guard and I think all trains are. He checked our tickets and walked on by.

Toilets

The only trains not to have toilets are Cercanias trains.  Most are large enough for wheelchairs.

bag storage

Except Cercanias, each carriage has a bag storage area as well as luggage racks located above the seats along the entire length of the carriage.

Our ratings

Ticket purchase through railline.eu 10/10

We were very happy with how easy it was to book tickets. Even happier we got a discount of 30 euros.

train stations 7/10

They were clean and tidy. No food we could eat and no toilet at one station. Printing the tickets was easy and detailed our carriage number and seats.

trains 10/10

Our four trains ran on time, were easy to board, easy to store our luggage, they were clean and didn’t smell.

Our perspective

A very successful introduction to Spain’s train lines. Certainly a much better experience than catching trains in the UK and Australia. The kids were happy and comfortable in their own chairs. We all had a great view out of the window and we could see the train’s speed as it was shown on the monitor in our carriage. The trains were very clean and in immaculate condition. I think the journeys were well priced and the prices matched what I was finding on Blablacar and of course didn’t come with any of the constraints of being in somebody else’s car. The timetable was very regular and offered a large choice, especially on a Sunday. All in all a great experience.

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