Planes, Trains or Automobiles?
If you’re planning on doing some independent travel in Spain then you’ll find many reliable and efficient forms of transport to help you get around what is the second largest country in Western Europe after France. Just to give you some idea of the size of the country here are distances between some of the main travel destinations on the mainland:
- Madrid to Barcelona = 620km
- Madrid to Bilbao = 400km
- Madrid to A Coruña = 610km
- Madrid to Seville = 540km
- Madrid to Valencia = 350km
- Barcelona to Bilbao = 610km
- Barcelona to A Coruña = 1120km
- Barcelona to Malaga = 1000km
If you want to check exact distances between any two places simply go to Google Maps and select “Get Directions”. Type in the two places and the results page will show you alternative routes between them and what the exact distance is.
Rail Travel in Spain
Twenty years ago travel in Spain by train was archaic in comparison with the excellent services offered in France and Germany. I recall a 10 hour train journey from Malaga to Madrid that was so slow I felt I could get off for a stroll next to the carriage! But with Expo’92 being held in Seville all that changed as the first high speed (AVE) service opened between Madrid and Seville connecting the two cities in just 2½ hours. In more recent times ‘Alta Velocidad Española’ train lines have been completed which connect Madrid with Barcelona in 2½ hours and Madrid with Valencia in 1½ hours.
Whilst the AVE is Spain’s flagship rail service there are a number of other train types which offer excellent services around the country at slightly lower speeds but with significantly reduced prices. Check out the Renfe website which is the official site of Spanish Rail for Englsh speaking travellers. All kinds of discounts are available if you plan ahead such as the following:
- The web price offers up to 70% discount for tickets purchased at least 15 days before travelling.
- The Estrella Price offers up to 40% discount if the train is booked at least 7 days before departure.
- The Dorada Card is available for purchase to the over 60s for just €5,05 at Renfe stations and offers discounts of 40% for travel between Monday and Thursday (25% at weekends).
These offers are always subject to change so please check the Renfe website for the latest discounts and the rules associated with them.
Bus Travel in Spain
You can travel in Spain a lot cheaper by bus than by train but journeys don’t offer the comfort provided by the excellent rail service. Many companies offer services connecting just about every town and village in the country but for the purpose of foreign visitors trying to get around the main tourist destinations the main bus operator that you should take a look at is ALSA website which has a network covering the whole country.
There are a number of other bus companies offering significant services of interest but in the main their websites aren’t reliable which isn’t acceptable for international visitors so make the ALSA site your main reference point. You should get tickets in advance for long journeys especially during Spanish holiday periods. For local buses just get a ticket from the driver.
Domestic Flights in Spain
For many years I used to drive pretty much everywhere in Spain but after countless visits to Barcelona from Madrid and the south coast I decided it was time for a change. Not only are these long drives tiring they prove very expensive when you factor in the cost of fuel. road tolls and overnight parking in cities. My semi regular journey was between Malaga and Barcelona and to my surprise I was able to get cheap domestic flights which put an end to my 10 hour drives.
The main operators of domestic flights in Spain include the following:
Vueling Airlines who are based at Barcelona’s El Prat airport whilst operating additional bases at Bilbao, Madrid, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia. They also offer an expanding selection of European destinations.
Ryanair who offer services to around 30 Spanish airports and have important bases at several including Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia. Their service might be considered ‘cheap and cheerful’ but you’ll really struggle to find many better deals on flights within Spain and internationally.
Iberia is the flag carrier airline of Spain and the largest airline in the country. Along with its subsidiary airline, Iberia Regional-Air Nostrum, Iberia offers an extensive network of domestic flights in Spain though prices tend to be higher than Vueling and Ryanair.
Other options include Air Europa which is based at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport and Volotea which is based at Asturias Airport. Both offer a selection of domestic flights within Spain.
Driving in Spain – Take a Road Trip
It will come as no surprise that with over 55 million annual visitors car rental in Spain is big business. To rent a car you simply need to be over 21 years of age with a driving licence and a credit card. All the major operators including Avis, Alamo, Budget, Europcar and Hertz have a strong presence in the market whilst many local operators compete with them at airports and in holiday resorts around the country.
You generally get better deals by booking online rather than waiting until you arrive but be very careful about the small print when confirming a reservation as there are too many unscrupulous operators out there who add on all kinds of hidden extras when you come to collect your car so what seemed like a bargain at the time of booking suddenly becomes quite an expense. If you haven’t already seen it take a look at our Goldcar article which explains how I was ripped off at Malaga Airport.
Whether car rental is right for you is another matter. Car hire is usually a good idea when you’re on a beach holiday and you pick up your car at the airport or if you’re on a touring holiday through some of Spain’s stunning countryside. If, however, you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in Madrid, Barcelona or Seville then it might not be such a good idea.
Driving in and around these cities can prove very tricky unless you know exactly where you’re going and there are many lunatics on the roads who won’t exactly go out of their way to help out fellow drivers who might not know the roads the way they do. For the majority of visitors to Spain who want to travel around independently rail, bus and air travel provide a more stress free way of getting around.
8 thoughts on “How to Travel and Get Around in Spain”
For any cyclists reading this article, you may be interested to know the situation about taking bikes on trains in Spain. We have just published an article explaining which trains you can and cannot use to transport a bicycle:
Bikes on Trains in Spain
Thanks Christine for emailing this useful tip:
“From Palma de Mallorca I find Air Berlin will take you to a variety of cities, both in Spain and throughout Europe. We have travelled with them several times and they are without hesitation the first airline I look at for flights. They are efficient, moderately priced, and their staff both on land and in the air are knowledgeable, helpful, courteous and professional. A breath of fresh air in this industry which seems to find infinite ways to frustrate their passengers!”
Both my wife and i allways find your Spannish Fiestas very informative,and there is one or two on this one that we are definately going to try and we will let you know our feed back.
Kind Regards,and thanks for the information e-mails
You’re very welcome Chris … let me know how you get on.
Hi Gerry! Wife and I are off to become vagabonds in Spain for a month or so (sold house and everything we own, so we can afford it). Thanks for all the tips! We’ll keep you posted on our experiences as we go. We’re starting in Malaga to rest up, then heading to Sevilla and from there we will wander east.
Ron and Ginger
Great news Ron
I love stories like this. Just read Timothy Ferris’s “Four Hour Week” which is basically a guide to financing ‘vagabonding’. Beats working for a living any day.
Have a great time & keep us posted on your progress.
All the Best
I agree re internal flights….and we always use Vueling or Air Berlin.
We wanted to visit Barcelona but its a long old drive and a difficult city to drive around so we flew from Alicante in 40 minutes for 30€ each return!…and a regular coach shuttle service took us to our central hotel for 6€….much cheaper and less stressful.
We also went to Mallorca to see our son and family who were on holiday there. At first I intended to drive to Valencia and get the ferry but the cost was enormous. Instead we flew with Vueling from Alicante in 30 minutes for 23€ each….no contest!
Absolute bargains & relatively stress free … thanks for sharing Emlyn
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