Renfe

Traveling in Spain – Why do you have to fly when you can use the bullet train (high-speed train)! Simply, with a train from Madrid to Barcelona takes only 2 hours and 40 minutes, while from Madrid to Sevilla is takes only 2.5 hours, why do you have to drag your suitcase to the airport, check in and waiting for a long time to boarding?! With the AVE high-speed train, travel around Spain by train (travel by train in spain) is much simpler than that. So, how to travel in Spain by train? Let’s check out our guide to rail transport in Spain on travel around Spain by train (travel by train in Spain) to find out the answer!

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Gran Via, downtown of Madrid
Ronda spain.1
Ronda
RENFE
RENFE train

Eurail Pass for Spain (3, 4, 5, 6 or 8 Days)

Rail transport in Spain: National rail and ticket booking websites

The railway system in Spain is operated by Renfe – the Spain’s national railway company, which includes many different types of trains, the high-speed AVEs train is one of them. Renfe’s train cover almost every major city and the suburbs of Spain. Renfe’s website, www.renfe.com, is also the main ticket booking site for trains traveling within Spain.

Inside Renfe train

In addition to Renfe’s train, in Spain there are two smaller transport company that specialize operating in the vicinity (areas or regions near or about cities, districts, or neighborhoods). That are:

FEVE train | rail transport in spain
Inside FEVE train | travel by train in spain
FEVE train route map
  • Euskotren (www.euskotren.es): Operates local trains from the French border in Hendaye & Irun to San Sebastian and Bilbao.
Intercity Train Euskotren | travel by train in spain
Euskotren route map

The most popular route in Spain is definitely the route to Barcelona from Madrid and vice versa, it takes about 2.5 hours and the ticket price ranging from € 40, faster than taking plane. If you buy ticket close to the travel date, the ticket price can be up to EUR100. Renfe’s AVE trains can run at speeds up to 310 km/h (193 mph) is one of the fastest trains in Europe. The Trenitalia’s train in Italy running only about 180-200km/h.

Renfe high-speed rail map

Eurail Global Pass

Travel around Spain by train: The websites used to book tickets when travel by train in Spain

A little different from other countries, there are some local routes in Spain that you may still need to reserve seats in advance. Train ticket in Spain usually don’t run out of tickets, but on holidays, long holidays won’t be foreseen, Spaniards are known to be lazy and playful! Tickets open for sale about 60 days in advance, but with AVE’s train is a bit more special.

Barcelona street | travel by train in spain

AVE train tickets can open for sale before 90 days, but sometimes before 60 days still have not seen they allow for booking. Especially during the season-changing period when they adjust the train schedule for the whole season, for certain routes, it is the time on the 2nd Saturday in June and December. Many times they only open for sale 30 days before travel date. The rule is that the earlier you buy tickets, the better your chance of getting cheap tickets.

Renfe AVE train at Barcelona Sants Station
Renfe train ticket

The websites you can use to book tickets

  • www.renfe.com: You can buy tickets directly from Renfe’s website, but this site is quite difficult to use, sometimes it fails to load and pay by credit card usually also has problem. In that case you still have other options: The website of Loco2, Captaintrain and Petrabax.
  • www.loco2.com: Loco2 links directly with Renfe’s online ticketing system and of course the fare is the same. Booking ticket via Loco2 is quite quick, convenient, intuitive interface easy to use.
  • www.captaintrain.com: Similar to Loco2 in terms of ticket price, convenient, without fee of booking.
  • www.petrabax.com: Petrabax an American agency directly linked with Renfe.

The way to travel between Lisbon and other major cities of Portugal and Spain like Porto, Madrid, Barcelona you can book train tickets on Renfe. Or most convenient, you go to the train booking website of Trainline which is a combination of all the above websites. Go to the Trainline.com and choose the arrival and departure stations that will display the best routes and the best prices. Booking on Renfe is actually quite confusing and complicated, or faulty.

Ascensor da Glória lisbon.2
Weaving in the streets of Lisbon.

Buying tickets from Renfe’s website

The fact that booking tickets at Renfe’s website from Vietnam was quite annoying, I had many times using laptop and normal browsers but quite difficult to navigate, unable to reach the ticket selection webpage. But switch to 3G network on phone or laptop is OKAY (may be due to internet connection when access from Vietnam). If you encounter problems, try changing the browser and changing the type of network connection again. Also when paying, Renfe sometimes have credit card errors, or have to use Paypal as a main payment method. This error is most common with transactions outside of Spain, and usually it only accept Visa or Master cards.

AVE train bar

The train routes are shown on Renfe are also very jumble and inconvenient, the website will report no results found if you choose the routes that have to change the trains. For example, when you’re going from San Sebastian to Sevilla you won’t find any results, but if you choose a train departs from San Sebastian to Madrid, then choose from Madrid to Sevilla, it is OK. Means, they should have shown all possible results like other pages, this is not so heres, quite inconvenient. You have to use an intermediary website like www.bahn.de to see the train routes and then return to find tickets on Renfe.

Bus and Train Stations in Seville, Spain

However, using Renfe has an advantage point because this is the official website of the Spanish railway, so you have a lot of options for promotional tickets, combining the types of tickets together and also easier to choose your perferred seats. Fares on Renfe of course are many options as well as the cheapest.

Explain the steps for booking tickets via Renfe as follows.

  • Go to www.renfe.com, this is a Spanish website, so you click on to the “world” icon in the upper right corner to switch to the English language or directly access this link: https://www.renfe.com/en.
Change the language | rail transport in spain
  • Fill the information for departure, arrival station stations, and fill the other options: one-way or round-trip, number of passengers (adults, children), departure date. As for the option “Promotional cards and codes” you leave blank for Renfe Joven and Tarjeta Dorada Card option if you do not have a train card in Spain or promotional code. As for station names, note that the terms “Todas” mean all stations in that city, such as Barcelona Todas, Madrid Todas, and go to Lisbon will be Lisboa Todas, unless you can determine the exact station name you want to go. In addition, there are also other options such as the departure time (morning, afternoon or night), suitable for those who want to take the night train.
Renfe booking screen for Madrid – Barcelona route
Select types of tickets | rail transport in spain
Select number of passengers
Skip this option if you do not have train travel card in Spain | rail transport in spain
  • Click “Search for a ticket” to find out all the train routes through the 2 stations that you chosen. If you plan to take the unpopular routes such as Barcelona – Madrid, you can use the Bahn.de website to see how to travel, where you will have to transit and change the trains, then return to Renfe to choose again. All train routes will appear according to the list.
Search results screen | travel around spain by train
  • Interpretation of terms:
    – Turista: 2nd class seat;
    – Turista Plus: 2nd class seat but a little more comfortable
    – Preferente: First class seat
    – Cama turista / Preferente / Gran Clase: for night trains, Cama means sleeping beds arranged by the convenience level.
  •  You should also register an account at Renfe for ease of booking, because if there is something wrong you can completely login into your account to review and reprint the ticket. Types of tickets like Promo, Promo+, Flexible will be explained below. If you do not see any ticket, it may be because the tickets have not been open for sale (before 90 days or 60 days), you should wait and watch regularly to be able to buy cheap tickets.
  • Select the tickets you want to buy, then fill in your details information such as phone number, payment method, choose a seat near the window or not, choose a quiet compartment or not … Click Purchase to buy.
Select your preferred seat | travel around spain by train
Seat selected
  • Payment: Fill in international credit/debit card information (VISA or MASTER Cards) to make payment.
Payment page screen | travel around spain by train
Fill your credit/debit card information
  • After paying, it will jump to a new tab on browser with a PDF file of your e-ticket, this ticket includes the reserved seat and you just need to print or save in your smartphone when get on the train, no need to do any procedure to check-in anymore. When the ticket checker asks you only need to show this ticket for them is OK.
Renfe Spain Pass (e-ticket) with QR code | travel around spain by train

Types of promotional tickets when buying via Renfe

When buying tickets through Renfe you will see some types of promotional tickets displayed in the list, including the following:

Sample Promo ticket from Madrid to Seville
  • Promo (P): Promotional tickets are not refundable, redeem or reserve seat in advance, this is a free-fall ticket like air tickets, but a little different is if you go with another friend will be arranged to sit with together. Promo tickets are discounted up to 70% of the full price ticket (list price).
  • Promo+ fare (P+): Refundable, redeem tickets but limited. This ticket is a bit more expensive than the Promo ticket above and you can choose your preferred seat in advance. Promo+ tickets are discounted up to 60% of the full price ticket.
  • Flexible (F): This is a full-priced ticket without discount, being returned tickets if not use (losts 5% fee), can be redeemed a higher price ticket without fee, but redeem a lower price ticket will lost 15% fee.
  • Mesa (M): For those who travel with family, up to 4 people. Buy this ticket, you will have to buy tickets for all 4 people though your family maybe less 4 members, ie if you go with 1, 2 or 3 people you still have to pay the same ticket price as go with 4 people. Mesa tickets are discounted 60% of the regular ticket price.
Refe Flexible ticket sample | travel around spain by train
Full Renfe e-ticket | how to travel in spain by train

Some cases which promotion is applied:

  • You buy round-trip ticket (Return ticket)? You have a chance to get a 20% discount and the maximum interval between two turns is 1 year. If you canceling one-way (a single trip), the fee is 40% while canceling both trips will be charged 15%. However, this condition only applies when you buy Flexible tickets, then at the list of train routes you will see the words “Ida y Vuelta” means round-trip ticket, will be discounted 20%.
  • You travel with children? Will be discounted 40% for children from 4 to 14 years of age, younger than 4 years are free.
  • Free tickets (Combinado Cercanías): If you buy long-distance trip tickets or AVE tickets in domestic Spain, you will receive a free ticket (free transfer) that allow you take any train from any suburban station of the local train system Cercanías to another suburban station or Renfe’s station. For example, if you stay in the outskirts of Madrid and you already have the AVE train ticket to Barcelona, ​​you can take a free train from this suburbs to get to the central station of Madrid and from there take the train to Barcelona. This free ticket is taken from the ticket vending machines, based on the 5-digit code that printed on the long-distance route ticket that you previously purchased. Note that you can only use this free ticket before 4 o’clock at the point of departure and after 4 o’clock at the ending point. Details you see here: Combinado Cercanías free ticket.
Combinado Cercanias ticket
Tickets vending machine where you can collect Cercancias ticket | how to travel in spain by train

Using Renfe’s website to buy tickets you have to be extremely careful, the web can down, get errors at any time, sometimes feel really uncomfortable, upset. Besides, you always need an international credit/debit card ready to buy tickets, (Visa or Master card). Tickets are generally allowed up to 62 days to book in advance for regular trains, with AVE trains can be up to 90 days or more (sometimes up to 120 days), you need to check regularly. Promo cheap tickets also run out pretty fast, the best time to hunt and buy the cheapest tickets is when you book tickets into the time zone at midnight Spain time, remember that when cheap tickets appear, you need to buy as quickly as possible.

| how to travel in spain by train

If buying through Renfe is too difficult, you should switch to the above alternative booking websites such as Loco2, Captaintrain or Petrabax.

Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Madrid you can refer to

Toledo

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