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by train to and from Madrid/Spain

A guide to train travel in Spain

An introduction to train travel in Spain, Spanish trains, buying rail tickets in Spain and using rail passes in Spain including InterRail and Eurail passes.

Arrived here from the Start Your Journey Page?

1 - Next click the trains link to the left.

2 - Next click the tickets link to the left.

3 - (optional) - next click the name of the city that you will be travelling to/from (if its listed)

4 - If you've clicked a city go back to the tickets link, you should now know all you need to know before making a booking.

National Rail Operator

State Rail Operator = RENFE

Further information for trains in Spain and Spanish rail tickets is available on the links to the left.

Train Travel Words/Phrases

We admit we used Google Translate for these, if they're wrong please contact us and we'll correct them

  • Train = tren
  • Station = estación
  • Track/Platform = plataforma
  • Ticket = billete
  • Single Ticket = billete de ida
  • Return Ticket = su boleto
  • 1st class = Preferente
  • 2nd class = Turista
  • Ticket/Booking desk = taquilla
  • Information Desk = tabla de información
  • Left Luggage office = Depósito de equipaje
  • Arrival = llegada
  • Departure = salida
  • Timetable = horario
  • Reservation = reserva
  • Destination = destino
  • Fridays only = viernes solamente
  • Saturday only = sabato solo
  • Sunday only = domingo sólo
  • Weekend only = Fin de semana solamente
  • Not Saturday = no el sábado
  • Not Sunday = no el domingo
  • Not weekend = No, en fines de semana
  • Public Holiay = día festivo

Travel by train on public holidays

Public Holidays in 2013 = March 19th/28th/29th; May 1st; Aug 15th; Oct 12th; Nov 1st; December 6th/9th/25th.

On public holidays many train services will not operate, particularly services that usually only operate on specific days of the week such as Mon-Fri
If you're planning to travel by train on a public holiday double check in advance that you're train service will be available.
When buying a ticket online for a holiday you may be offered an alternative train service due to the special timetable that is likely to be in place.

General Train Travel Info:

Travelling long distances by train in Spain requires forward planning as ALL express trains require passengers to reserve seats in advance.

The advance planning is generally rewarded as long distance train travel in Spain has been revolutionized for the better in recent years. On the majority of routes, trains are more comfortable and faster than ever before and Spain has the fastest growing network of high speed lines in Europe.

High Speed Trains:

High speed lines are now open on the following routes:

  • Madrid - Zaragoza - Barcelona
  • Madrid - Cordoba - Seville/Malaga
  • Madrid - Valencia
  • Madrid - Valladolid
  • Madrid - Toledo
  • Figueras (Vilifant) - the French border

Travellers often have no choice to pay higher prices for the faster journey times, as the high speed lines have replaced the slower conventional lines, particularly to/from Madrid.
Supplements/higher fares have to be paid on all trains that travel on high speed lines, including journeys for which trains travel on the high speed line for the smaller percentage of the total length of the trip.
As a result the cost of point to point travel on the high speed lines in Spain is comparable to that of other high speed lines in Europe, so as a result high speed journeys are expensive in comparison to other Spanish trains, which are often cheaper in comparison to other European countries.

Saving Money:

To offset these higher ticket charges, state operator RENFE, offers limited numbers of discounted tickets for travel by high speed trains, but these are in high demand so can sell out months in advance.
For more (a lot more!) information see the 'Tickets' link to the left.

Supplements/Reservations:

In addition to high speed trains, all other long distance express trains require a supplement to be paid, which includes the compulsory seat reservation.
For point to point journeys this is included in the ticket price whether booked online or at the station.
These supplements particularly impact on holders of Eurail and Inter Rail passes, but overall train travel is cheaper than many other European countries, pass holders must arrange supplements/reservations at Spanish stations.

Long distance trains which require advance reservations and supplements to be paid are classified as follows:

  • ALS (Alaris) - tilting trains that don't use high speed lines (mainly used to provide some of the express trains on route between Barcelona - Valencia - Alicante)
  • AVE (Alta Velocita Espanola) - long distance trains that travel on high speed lines for virtually all of the journey
  • ALV (Alvia)- long distance trains that travel on high speed lines for a percentage (often approx only 25% of the total journey)
  • ALT (Altaria) - long distance trains using the high speed line (on which they are not as fast as AVE trains) between Madrid for for much of their journey but serve destinations other than Seville and Malaga.
  • ARC (Arco) - Spain's closet equivalent to conventional express IC trains,which travel particularly long distances, primarily on journeys between Barcelona and north-west Spain
  • AV (Avant)- Short distance (shuttle) trains on high speed lines (rail pass users are advised to purchase separate tickets or avoid these trains)
  • EM (Euromed) - Use the non-high speed line on the Barcelona - Valencia - Alicante route (on which they are slightly faster than ALS trains
  • TLG (Talgo)- Uniquely Spanish long distance express trains that don't use the high speed lines

If you're unfamiliar with travel by train in Spain the different train types can seem daunting, but in fact the different classifications are a useful tool when planning rail travel in the country. Take a look at the 'Spanish Trains' guide on therebytrain.com - to the left.
Making the effort to learn how the Spanish rail system works is rewarded by the opportunity to travel on some of the most modern and comfortable trains in Europe. An added benefit is that many lines cross spectacular landscapes, so travelling by train in Spain is often a memorable experience.

Rail Passes in Spain :

Rail pass holders often avoid travelling in or to/from Spain because of the need to make so many preparations in advance of boarding the train including the supplements that have to be paid.
Therebytrain.com's advice is don't let the seemingly complex conditions that apply to using your pass stand in your way.
Reservations and supplements for multiple journeys (both within and to/from Spain) can be made in one visit to a station booking office and the supplements for travel on high speed lines can represent good value in 2nd class (particularly if the discounted tickets have sold out)
For example assuming a not untypical daily rail pass usage rate of €40 and paying the €10 supplement, a Eurail ot InterRail pass will still save approx €30-40 on a non-discounted Barcelona - Madrid journey by AVE train.

Aside from travel along the Mediterranean coast from the French border, as far south as Alicante, (local trains link the towns on this route) passengers often have little alternative to paying the premium for the fast services. The express trains that have been introduced in recent years have generally replaced the conventional services that previously operated between cities.

Reservations are also compulsory on certain journeys on shorter routes marked on timetables as MD, R-598 or TRD. Reservation fees can be paid when boarding the train, but they are cheaper when purchased in advance of travel.

The Costa Del Sol:

Outside of the major cities the only route that offers a ‘turn up and go’ service of trains that run at least every half hour throughout the day is the Costa Del Sol route, Malaga – Malaga Airport – Torremolinos – Benalmadena – Fuengirola.