In 2022 the 48 Spanish airports administered by Aena received almost 245 million passengers. With air travel being one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions many travellers are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint and help protect the environment. If Greta Thunberg can cross the Atlantic Ocean by sea rather than air, surely there must be ways to travel to Spain without flying. Here are some alternative transportation options which will enrich your journey and open the way to unique experiences unknown to air travellers:
Travel to Spain by Ferry
One of the most popular ways to travel to Spain without flying is by ferry which is the lowest carbon way to get there. There are several ferry routes which connect Spain with other countries in Europe and Africa. For example, you can take a ferry from the UK and Ireland to Spain then travel around by bus or train.
From the UK to Spain: Brittany Ferries run ferry services from the south of England to the north of Spain. They operate routes from Portsmouth to Santander and Bilbao and from Plymouth to Santander.
From Ireland to Spain: Brittany Ferries run direct ferries from Rosslare to Bilbao.
Brittany Ferries also offer additional cross-Channel ferry routes to ports on the French coast. Travellers can take this shorter ferry journey then continue down to Spain by train.
Brittany Ferries has invested heavily in environmentally friendly ships. Their ferries to Spain include three LNG-powered vessels called Salamanca, Galicia and Santoña. Compared to diesel, LNG (liquefied natural gas) is a significantly greener fuel option. It is free from sulphur and particles which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Travel to Spain by Train
One of the most enjoyable ways to reach Spain without flying is to travel by train. Europe’s extensive rail network offers seamless connectivity to various Spanish cities. For instance, the Eurostar connects London to Paris, where you can hop on the high-speed TGV to Barcelona or Madrid. The picturesque journey takes you through the diverse landscapes of France and Spain whilst you enjoy the comfort and convenience of train travel.
Within Spain, the Renfe network provides excellent rail connections to all the major cities including Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville and malaga. Spain’s efficient AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) high-speed trains ensure swift travel times, making it a convenient option for exploring different regions.
Travel to Spain by Car
Another option enjoyed by many travellers is to drive to Spain on a classic road trip through France and into Spain. The well-developed road networks allow you to explore charming French towns en route before crossing the border into Spain. The journey can be customized to suit your preferences, offering flexibility and the chance to uncover lesser-known destinations.
Cruising the Spanish Coast
Whilst cruise travel has long been criticized for its negative impact on the environment, modern cruise ships are equipped with advanced technologies to minimize their environmental impact. Cruise lines continue to make great strides in reducing their carbon footprints, refining emissions and offering sustainable shore excursions. They also actively engage in conservation efforts by supporting marine research and promoting environmental awareness among passengers.
With a coastline of almost 6000km and many ports of call such as Cádiz, Malaga, Valencia and Barcelona, Mediterranean cruises are a surprising option when considering eco-friendly ways to travel to Spain without flying.
Travel to Spain by Bus
Another option for travelling to Spain without flying is by bus. There are several bus companies which operate routes to Spain from other countries in Europe. For example, you can take a bus from Paris to Barcelona, or from London to Madrid. Buses are a great budget travel option provided you’re happy to be on the road for many hours.
Walking to/in Spain
Just the other day I was reading about a young Englishman called Laurie Lee who in 1934 left his native land and headed for Vigo in Galicia. Over the course of the next year he walked through the centre of the country as far as the south coast spending nights under the stars or in very basic hostels for travellers. He describes a dreadfully poor country where he survived on the generosity of the people he met and the few coppers he earned from playing his violin outside cafes.
Eventually he made it to Almuñecar on the coast of Granada where he became trapped by the Spanish Civil War before he was rescued by a British destroyer. The story of his fascinating journey is told in the book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning which is available on Amazon.
Now I’m not suggesting that walking to Spain is a viable alternative to flying but once in Spain there are many opportunities for eco-friendly travellers. The best known of Spain’s walking routes is the Camino de Santiago which is a famous pilgrimage route across northern Spain. Whilst there are a number of different routes, the Camino Francés is the most popular with pilgrims.
This route runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles on the Spanish side. It then continues for 780km to the city of Santiago de Compostela passing through cities such as Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León. Typically, a pilgrimage along the Camino Francés takes a minimum of four weeks and whilst most pilgrims choose to walk, others opt to travel by bicycle or on horseback.
Cycling to/in Spain
Some years ago I put my bike on a train from London to Bordeaux then spent a week cycling in the foothills of the Pyrenees as far as Le Boulou where I headed into the hills and across into Spain. From there I made my way to Barcelona and took a ferry to Mallorca. Since then bicycle touring has become a popular pastime which attracts cyclists to Spain
from around the world.
With its diverse landscapes, favourable climate and well-developed cycling infrastructure, Spain offers an ideal destination for cyclo-tourists. From the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees to the scenic coastal routes of the Mediterranean and Atlantic, cyclists can explore breathtaking scenery while enjoying the thrill of two-wheeled adventures.
Spain is home to an extensive network of cycling trails known as Vías Verdes which follow the route of disused railway lines. Some of these reconditioned routes are easy day rides whilst others are more challenging long-distance tours. Another popular route is the Camino de Santiago across the north coast of the country.
Ferries from the UK to northern Spain always carry a few cyclists who get off in Bilbao or Santander then explore the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias by bike. Others arrive by train with their bikes and cycle all kinds of routes. The area around Girona in Catalonia is a particularly popular region for cycle tourism.