Spain is a huge country with so many amazing places to visit. In order to reach all the small towns and big cities throughout Spain, you’ll need a way to get there. One of the easiest ways to explore Spain is by train. It might be a bit intimidating the first time you attempt to buy a train ticket in Spain, as well as figuring out which platform to head to, but once you do it your first time it will seem easy. Read all about how to buy a train ticket in Spain as well as some tips for using Spain’s Train System.
Why travel by train in Spain
Spain has a large rail network stretching across the entire country. Traveling by train in Spain is one of the most popular forms of transportation. Why travel by train in Spain?
- Traveling by train is efficient. The trains are fast and almost always on time, give or take a few minutes. You can easily get from one city to another fairly quickly. Traveling from Barcelona to Madrid only takes 2.5 hours by train while driving would take just over 6 hours.
- Traveling by train is affordable. You can travel by train for as little as $10, depending on the distance. For a high speed train with a seat in first class expect to pay around $45 or more. Still very affordable compared to renting a car or flying. But some are as much as $150.
- Traveling by train in Spain is really easy. You’ll have an assigned seat that you pick when you book your ticket so there’s no worrying about whether or not you’ll have a place to sit. The seats are roomy and comfortable too.
About Spain’s Train System
Spain’s first railway line was built in 1848 and today Spain has the 2nd largest high-speed rail network in the world, with more than 2000 miles (3200km) across the country. The entire rail system in Spain streches over 9900 miles (16,000km) which includes both high-speed and regular speed lines.
Spain has it’s own state-owned rail company called Renfe. Most of Spain’s railways are operated by Renfe but there are also other companies that also operate in Spain. Two other companies that operate long distance passenger trains on high speed lines are Ouigo Espana, a French company, and Iryo which is a Spanish-Italian company. There are several other companies that also operate lines such as local metro light-rail systems and shorter distance non high speed lines.
Spain’s rail system also extends to the nearby countries of France and Portugal.
different kinds of trains in Spain
There are basically four different kinds of trains that operate in Spain. Which train you’ll take when you buy a train ticket in Spain all depends on the route.
High Speed Long Distance or Larga Distancia Trains
The high speed long distance trains are exactly how it sounds. Trains that travel at high speed and go to major cities throughout Spain such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Sevilla. The high-speed train, also known as AVE, is operated by Spain’s state railway company of Renfe. These trains travel at about 300 km/h, or 186mph, and will have you at your next destination within just a few hours.
These high speed lines travel through smaller towns along the way with some of the trains stopping at these smaller cities. But there are also some non-stop trains that you can book that will skip the smaller towns and just go from one major city to the next.
Mid-Distance or Media Distancia Trains
The Mid Distance trains are through Renfe’s Avant Trains and are also high-speed trains but they travel short distances. This service will have you at your next city or town quickly. These routes are typically from major cities such as Madrid or Barcelona to nearby smaller cities.
AVE International Train Lines
The AVE International Train Line also runs between Spain and France. This goes from Madrid to Barcelona to Lyon France.
Commuter Train Lines
Spain has many commuter lines that connect smaller towns to major cities. These are used daily by people who live outside the large cities but work in the city. As you can guess, these trains will be busy during rush hour. These commuter lines also run within the city as well.
Traveling by train
The things that determine the type of train line you’ll be on is the speed of the train and the number of stops the train has. The high speed trains will cost more but you’ll arrive at your destination much faster. Trains with more stops will cost less, but will take you much longer to arrive.
When you buy a train ticket in Spain online you’ll be able to see exactly how long the train takes to reach it’s destination. You’ll also get to choose which class of car you want to sit in and choose your seat.
Popular lines will sell out faster than others but if it’s a popular route it will have more trains leaving throughout the day so you’ll have more options to buy a ticket. Less popular routes might only have one or two trains leaving that day so you’ll want to buy a train ticket in Spain early for those routes.
How to buy a train ticket in Spain online
Buying a train ticket in Spain online is easy and pretty straightforward. I like to buy mine on the Renfe website since they are the ones that operate the rail lines and I don’t have to worry about whether or not there are any extra fees involved. But you can also buy at Rail.Ninja or Trainline. It’s always a good idea to check the other sites if you aren’t seeing what you want on the Renfe website. You can also just show up at the train station and either use one of their machines or go to a ticket counter to purchase your ticket.
For this example of what to expect when buying a train ticket in Spain online, we are using the Renfe website. You’ll be able to choose your language of choice so you know exactly what you’re buying. When you get to the site you’ll automatically see the options to choose your departing location and the arrival location. If you start to type in Barcelona, you’ll see several train stations to choose from. If you know which station you want to leave from and arrive at then you can just choose that one. If you don’t know or don’t care, you can just choose “todas” and it will give you options for all the train stations in that city.
Once you choose where you’re departing from and arriving at, you’ll see all of your buying options. Some might be sold out already and that’s because the most popular times and cheaper options will sell out the soonest.
There are three types of tickets to choose from: Basico, Elige, and Premium. If you click each one you’ll see what is included with that ticket.
The Elige ticket has two different options to choose from.
The premium ticket option will have more benefits.
I don’t think it’s worth paying the premium price for a train ticket. You’re only on the train for a short time and as long as you are sure about your dates then save the money. We took about 10 different trains the last time we were in Spain and every single seat we sat in (not premium seats) was comfortable. We had plenty leg room and we brought our own drinks and snacks.
Once you’ve picked your coach class you’ll go to the next page to pay. You’re going to enter all of your information including your passport number. You’ll also see other options to choose in case you need to add on to your ticket.
Your Train Ticket
Here’s what your train ticket will look like if you decide to print it before you leave from home. You can also create an account with Renfe (definitely do this) so all of your purchases will be in one place.
YELLOW: Shows the city you’re starting from and your destination.
PURPLE: Shows the date and time you leave and arrive.
GREEN: Shows the train number. This is what you’re going to look for on the electronic board.
BLUE: This is the train coach you’re assigned to. You’ll see the coach numbers by the doors.
PINK: This is your seat number. You’ll see seat numbers up above the seats.
What to expect at a Spanish Train Station
Spain has 1500+ train stations and the majority of them are very nice. They are a lot like airports. There are ticket counters in case you want to purchase your train ticket in person and they have an information office if you need help with something.
The train stations almost always have at least one cafe but many have multiple restaurants and/or cafes. Train stations also have shops to purchase souviners, travel items, clothes, really anything you can think of. Some of these train stations are so big they look like malls! Madrid’s Atocha Train Station even has a botanical garden inside. And they all have restrooms. Be prepared to have small coins because you might have to pay to use the restroom at the train station. However, you won’t have to pay to use the restroom on the train.
When you arrive at the train station you’ll find electronic boards that show the times of trains departing and arriving as well as which platform they depart or arrive at. On your train ticket you’ll find the train line number, which coach car you’re in, and your seat number. You most likely won’t have a platform number until you get to the train station so you’ll have to look on the board for your train number. Make sure you choose the right one because sometimes there are multiple trains leaving for the same destination.
Once you’ve figured out your platform you’ll go through security, similar to the airport but much better. You won’t have to take your shoes or belt off but you will have to put your bags on the conveyor belt and it will go through the x-ray machine. Grab your bags on the other side and start heading to your platform.
Not all train stations will have someone checking your ticket before you get on. Usually, it’s just the larger busier stations and they will scan your ticket and then let you through. At some stations you’ll just go to the platform and get on the train. There may be an official on the train walking around checking tickets
Final thoughts on how to buy a train ticket in Spain
Buying a train ticket in Spain is really easy and taking the train is even easier. It’s affordable, comfortable, and you’ll reach your destination quickly. Traveling by train in Spain is one of the best ways to get around Spain.
If you’d rather drive, fly, or take some other form of transportation, read my article on 7 easy ways to travel around Spain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the train a good way to travel in Spain?
Absolutely! Trains in Spain are fast, on time, and affordable.
Should I book trains in Spain in advance?
It’s always best to book your train early. The earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. Tickests are usually available 60 days in advance and that’s when it will be the cheapest. Depending on the route there may be dozens of trains leaving throughout the day so you could just show up at the train station and buy a ticket. But, if you’re going to a smaller city, there might only be one or two trains leaving that day.
What is the best company to buy train tickets in Spain?
There are multiple companies that sell train tickets online. I like to buy through Renfe since they are the ones that actually operate the trains but there are other sites where you can make your purchase.
Can I use Eurail Pass on trains in Spain?
Yes, the Eurail Pass does work but not on every train. It is only valid on trains run by Renfe except for Avlo and Ouigo. You’ll need to make sure you don’t book one of those trains. Click the Eurail Pass link to find out about how it works on the trains in Spain.
Do Spanish trains serve food?
If you have purchased a first class seat and are on a long distance high-speed train then you will have food service complimentary. Depending on the route you might be able to purchase food when the cart comes through the car.
Are there toilets on Spanish Trains?
Yes, there are toilets on the train and the dozen or so times I’ve been on the Spainish trains they’ve all been pretty clean.
Is First Class on a Spanish Train worth it?
The first class car will have nice leather seats with a little extra room, food will be served, and it will likely be quieter than the other cars. These seats are generally double the price than the other seats so you’ll have to decide if you want to spend that much.
Is there a limit to how many bags you can take with you on a train?
Yes, but I never saw anyone check how many bags we had or check the weight.