The Spanish railway network today consists of private and public operators and it is the state-owned entity Renfe which serves most passengers travelling around the country, especially to the major cities. In addition to serving passengers, Renfe´s operations expand into train leasing, maintenance and freight services in Spain. Before taking a look at some of Renfe´s amazing trains, including the AVE which you might travel on when visiting Spain, let us have a brief look into Spain´s railway history. The high speed train in Spain is probably the best hassle-free way to travel to Spain main cities. You will find a high-speed train map in this link.
Booking trains in Spain can be an absolute pain in the neck. Even Renfe’s official website can be confusing to navigate, and with so many different train services, this is even understandable.
Our guides tested several different agregators to find the best and most complete service out there. The consensus was that Omio, to book travel within Spain, is the best aggregator you will find. It isnt perfect but it is you best bet.
The first ever railway line that was built in Spain was in 1848 which linked Barcelona and it´s neighbouring town Mataró in the Catalonia region. Despite it covering a short distance (approximately 20 miles), it was a start which lead to further expansions where railway lines eventually stretched from one side of Spain to the other, reaching both the French and Portuguese border by 1864. Was it all smooth sailing from here for Spain´s railway system? Not quite so. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Spain´s railway lines were left demolished and in 1941 it was nationalised with the formation of Renfe (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles). From this point onwards the Spanish railway system did not make much progress under Franco´s dictatorship and it was only after his death where new plans were created to modernize trains and restructure the network.
AVE : Renfe´s high speed train in Spain which reaches impressive speeds of up to 310 km/h, brings you faster than you can imagine to your desired destination in utmost comfort (see times below)
Medium distance: As the name says it, these trains run medium distances at slow speeds
Avant: Typically operate short-medium distances but at high speed
Alvia: These trains are used for long distance journeys around Spain and are slightly slower than AVE trains. Their max speed is 250 km/h
Cercanias: Commuter trains that get you fast to nearby towns and also cheaply (ticket price varies according to distance you travel). If you are looking to do some sightseeing in towns near Madrid, this train will get you there.
Feve: A slow, narrow gauge train which travels to some of Spain´s most beautiful untouched towns (3 different routes: Santander – Oviedo; Bilbao – Santander and Oviedo to Galicia). Be sure to take a camera if you travel with this train because there will be some stunning scenery
Train hotel: The train hotels can travel relatively fast at speeds up to 220 km/h and have all the comforts one can imagine from beds to dining areas. Renfe operates these types of trains on national and international routes
Tourist trains: There are two types of tourist trains which are Al-Andalus & La Robla Express. Al-Andalus is described as a “luxurious rolling palace” which runs exclusive tours of Andalusia. On the other hand, La-Robla Express offers a more affordable 2/4 day luxury tours in the North of Spain (see Renfe website for more information)
Madrid – Zaragoza –Lleida – Camp Tarragona – Barcelona (2:30)
Madrid – Ciudad Real –Puertollano – Cordoba – Seville (2:30)
Madrid – Segovia – Valladolid (0:55)
Madrid – Cuenca –Requena-Utiel – Valencia (1:40)
Madrid – Cuenca –Requena-Utiel – Valencia – Castellón (2:35)
Madrid – Córdoba – Puente Genil – Antequera – Málaga (2:20)
Madrid – Valladolid – Palencia – León (2:10)
Madrid – Cuenca – Albacete (1:20)
Madrid – Cuenca – Albacete – Villena – Alicante (2:15)
Madrid – Guadalajara – Calatayud – Zaragoza – Tardienta – Huesca (2:13)
As you can see from above, if you take the AVE high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, it will only take you 2 ½ hours. Busses running from Madrid cost much less than the train (20-40 Euros) however takes 8 hours on average to reach. In some cases, if the ticket is booked in advance, flying can be cheaper than taking the AVE train. Nevertheless, even though the flight is 1 hour 20 minutes, the overall time to get to your desired location in Barcelona can indeed take longer due to: security, baggage, delays and getting to and from both airports which are located out of the city center. We can therefore recommend with confidence that taking the AVE train is a good option! Be sure to have a look at our fun activities and tours in Barcelona if you visit the wonderful Mediterranean city in Spain.
The train journey from Madrid to Seville (vice versa) only takes 2 ½ hours which again makes the train a good option. The bus would take you 6 hours and 25 minutes – if you book yourself on the fastest one. Generally speaking, if you prefer comfort and speed and don´t mind paying a bit extra, then the high speed train is highly recommended. Taking the train also offers fantastic views of the Spanish countryside!
If you are visiting Spain for a period of less than a month, then it might be more economic to purchase Renfe´s Spain Pass. This pass, which is exclusive to non-Spanish residents, can be used on all AVE long distance and medium distance trains. You have the option of purchasing a pass which enables: 4, 6, 8 or 10 trips. Below you can find both the standard and first class fares:
First class prices
*Children: 4-13 years old
It is important to mention that this pass is only valid for 1 month after the first trip. You can buy it in advance as it is valid for 6 months from the date of purchase. You must also be aware that the pass does not include seat reservation. Purchasing the Renfe pass is an economic option if you intend to travel a lot during your vacation in Spain.
Additional information about taking trains in Spain