Stop navigating from one website to another, and read ALL the information you need before you leave home.
Train is the best means of transportation to travel around Spain. The country benefits from a wide railway network, especially in terms of high-speed trains. As a matter of fact, this network covers the main tourist destinations in Spain and is used by millions of travellers each year.
After many years using high-speed trains myself, I decided to come up with a complete guide related to train travel in Spain based on my own experience. The following document contains all the information that you need to know to make the most out of the Spanish high-speed train service.
Here’s a summary.
1. The Operator And The Different Types Of Trains
2. The Main Routes Covered By Renfe High-speed Trains
3. The different types of classes
4. Renfe Train Tickets: Price Structure
5. Train Tickets Availability. When Is It Best To Get Yours?
6. How To Purchase Renfe Train Ticket Online
7. Renfe Bagagge Requirements And Restrictions
8. The “Combinado Cercanías”
9. The Punctuality Commitment
10. Experience A High-Speed Train Trip Before Setting Foot On The Train!
11. The Renfe Spain Pass
12. Traveling With Children Younger Than 4
13. Traveling on Preferente (Business) Class
14. Train Travel In Spain With A Disability
Renfe Operadora, a public company, is in charge of managing all the passenger train routes throughout Spain. The country has currently almost 14,000 km (8,700 mi) of railway infrastructure and more than 1,550 stations.
Renfe has different types of trains linking the most important cities in Spain.
Save money with the Renfe Spain Pass, an individual pass that you can purchase online and that allows you to do a limited number of trips during a certain period of time.
In Spain, the main high-speed routes are the following:
Just a couple of things:
Obviously, some routes are complementary (e.g. you can book a ticket from Seville or Malaga to Barcelona but you’ll have to take 2 trains).
Not all trains stop everywhere every time. It depends on the timetable.
You can have a look at the routes on a map.
You should also note that there are NO high-speed trains covering the following routes:
Once you decide to get your Renfe tickets (more about that in my step-by-step tutorial), you will notice that high-speed trains offer seats in different classes. Don’t confuse the train seat classes with the different types of tariffs.
As you would see when purchasing a plane ticket, each class (e.g. first class, business and economy) has a different tariff allowing two different people traveling in the same class to pay a different price for the same type of seat.
High-speed trains have 3 classes:
Since there are currently several train models provided by different manufacturers, along with a bunch of types of trains (AVE, Alvia and Avant), the car you will travel in may have a different configuration. To keep with the airlines analogy, a business class seat may differ from one plane to another even if you travel with the same airline.
You can see Renfe’s train seat numbering plans as listed in the best online resource related to train travel, The Man in Seat 61.
It is the most basic class and the one with the largest number of available seats. The seats’ configuration is 2 on the left | corridor | 2 on the right.
All seats have 220V sockets.
The cars are equipped with small TV monitors where movies are generally played (check out the current programming). You can choose to either watch the movie dubbed or in original language by selecting the audio channel. At the beginning of the trip the crew distributes complimentary headphones.
This class is very similar to the previous one. The main difference is that you have more space between the seats. The seats’ configuration is 2 on the left | corridor | 1 on the right.
Preferente offers a much more comfortable seats, displayed as following: 2 on the left | corridor | 1 on the right.
In addition to this, you can benefit from these extra services:
Unfortunately, as a Preferente passenger you are not entitled to a different baggage policy than any other passenger. You can read more about the luggage allowance.
In addition to the classes described above, Renfe started offering a Coche en silencio (Quiet car). This economy car has several restrictions allowing you to enjoy a more comfortable and relaxed trip.
You can read all the details regarding Renfe’s rates in the next section.
When purchasing your high-speed train ticket to travel in Spain, you should understand the different types of classes available and the different fares.
You can also have a look at a step-by-step tutorial about how to buy Renfe train tickets.
When you are looking for a train ticket in Renfe’s website, a long list of results will be displayed. Among other information, you will see the different tariffs of a high-speed ticket according to the available classes (Turista, Turista Plus, Preferente and Turista con enlace).
Here is the explanation for each of them:
Promo. It is a promotional ticket with a cheaper tariff, up to a 70% discount on the general fare. You cannot change or cancel your ticket. You cannot choose your seat.
Promo+. It is a promotional ticket with a cheaper tariff, up to a 65% discount on the general fare. You can change (20% fee of the original ticket price and if the price of the new ticket is higher, you will pay the difference) or cancel (30% fee of the original ticket price) your ticket. You can choose your seat.
Flexible. It is a more expensive ticket allowing you to change at no cost (but if the price of the new ticket is higher, you will pay the difference) or cancel (5% fee of the original ticket price) your ticket. You can choose your seat.
Mesa or Table for 4. This tariff is ideal if you are traveling with your family or a party of four. High-speed trains offer spaces made up of four seats with two seats facing each other.
Renfe’s website allows you to combine different tariffs for a return ticket.
For example, you could do the outward trip in Turista and the return one in Preferente. Or you could pick an outward Promo rate and a Flexible tariff on the return ticket.
A few years ago, Renfe’s policy stated that tickets could be purchased 62 days in advance. This is not the case anymore. Today, high-speed train ticket fares can be available in a time range that goes from 4 to 7 months in advance.
However, since there are no official dates, my advice is to try to get your tickets 6 months in advance. If the rates are not available, wait for a week and try again.
You should note that the rates are gradually displayed which means that the regular (and more expensive) fares are showed first and the cheapest ones are introduced little by little. Watch out for the fares’ releases.
If you are looking to travel on a specific date and Renfe’s website does not retrieve any results, it’s probably because the company has not release its fares yet. Try to get your tickets some time in advance, otherwise you could end up not traveling at all – some dates (particularly public holidays) and some days of the week are very busy.
On a final note, it’s interesting to point out that Renfe releases it’s December and the end of the year tariffs only a few weeks earlier.
As stated before, Renfe is gradually introducing a tariff system similar to that of the airlines. Prices are dynamic, and they rise when the demand is higher.
As a rule of thumb, whenever you find a promotional rate that suits you in terms of date, time and price get it instantly because it won’t last forever. Having said that, you’ll have a higher chance of getting a promotional fare only a few days before the trip. But I don’t recommend you taking the risk: the later you buy, the higher the chance of paying more.
If you are thinking to train travel in Spain, the best way to organize your trip is purchasing your tickets online through Renfe’s website. You will avoid the hussle of long lines at the stations’ ticket offices, and you can buy your ticket whenever you like. In addition to this, Renfe offers superb cheap online tariffs not available at ticket offices or travel agencies.
This is a step-by-step tutorial that will guide through all the steps you need to complete to safely purchase your ticket from your computer. You can also have a look at a complete video tutorial on how to use Renfe’s website made by Man in The Seat 61.
The website is sometimes not translated to English. But don’t worry, follow this simple instructions and everything will be fine.
Some readers have reported problems while purchasing their tickets through Renfe’s website. If this is your case, you can still try purchasing them through a couple of resellers that avoid any possible payment problems. The first one is Petrabax (small fee). The second one is Rail Europe (4€ fee).
Go to www.renfe.com.
If possible use Internet Explorer. I’ve successfully bought tickets using with Firefox, Chrome and Safari but Renfe’s website is not as reliable with these browsers. Furthermore, you should allow cookies and pop-ups on your computer and make sure that it has the latest version of Acrobat Reader installed.
To switch to English click ‘Welcome’.
At this stage, you should register even if you’re only going to buy one ticket. As a registered user you can log in and retrieve your booking in case (a) your internet connection fails for any reason, (b) the ticket pop-up doesn’t appear and (c) you need to change or cancel bookings.
If you want to register go to the ‘Sing In’ box located on the right side of the top sidebar and click the ‘Register’ link. A new window will open up. Fill in all the information required. Tick ‘I have read and accept the General Terms…’ and click the ‘Accept’ button.
Quit this window and return to the homepage.
Make sure that you are now logged in. If not, do so.
The left sidebar allows you to fill up a form with your trip details.
First, choose your origin and destination. You will see that some cities display more than one train station. In this case, pick the name of the city that has ‘(TODAS)’at the end. For example Madrid (TODAS) or Barcelona (TODAS).
Then, enter your travel dates.
Select the number of passengers according to the number of people you are traveling with. If you are traveling with children younger than 4, make sure you book their ticket too (even if you don’t need to pay for it!).
If you don’t have a +Renfe Joven (a Spanish Youth Card) or a Tarjeta Dorada, don’t select theses options.
The option ‘Atendo Request’ applies if you or someone of your party is traveling with a disability.
A new screen shows timetables and fares for your trip. Depending on you route, you can end up with a long table of results. Moreover, if tickets are not available for the date you chose, you’ll see a message indicating that there are no tickets.
The results screen is divided into three columns.
Let’s see what information displays each of the columns.
On the left, the Filter column allows you to apply different filters to increase or decrease the list of results. You can filter according to the Departing Time, the Journey Prices, the Class and several other minor filters.
On the right, the Your Purchase column shows the selected ticket price (if you have not selected a ticket yet, it will display 0.00€).
The central part is the most important column. Here is showcased the city of origin and of destination, and the date(s) that you selected for your trip. Then, all the trains complying with the criteria you filled up, with the following information for each one of them:
If you click now at the price displayed in the Price from column, you will go straight to the payment page. Hold on for a few minutes, because there are some additional information that may prove interesting in this screen. Once you have selected you preferred train, clink on the ‘+’ symbol to have something like this:
Now you have three drop-down boxes where you can select the class, the fare and the seat to select a window seat (Ventana) or an aisle seat (Pasillo).
You will also see a summary of the restrictions associated to the ticket you are about to purchase.
If this is the train you are interested in, click ‘Select this train’ to go to the payment page. If you want to have a look at other trains, click on the ‘-‘ symbol at the Options column.
In case you haven’t registered previously as I advised, the system will ask you to provide your personal and contact details.
In the ‘Type of document’ drop-down box, select ‘Pasaporte/Doc. comunitario’ and fill up the ‘Document’ field with you Passport’s number.
Forget about ‘Surname 2’ but make sure you fill up the rest of the fields.
Please DOUBLE CHECK your email address. The tickets will be sent to the address you provide and you will retrieve them there.
Confirm that everything is correct and continue filling up the bottom of the page.
The payment box is pretty straightforward. You can choose to pay with your credit card, your debit card or Paypal.
Dismiss the ‘Points’ option unless you have Renfe’s frequent traveler card (called +Renfe).
If you select the credit/debit card option, fill up the ‘Card Number’, ‘Card Holder’ (your name), ‘Expiry Date’ and the ‘CVV/CID’ (the last 3 digits located at the back of your card) fields. All of them are mandatory.
Tick ‘I have read and accept the General Terms…’ and click the ‘Buy’ button.
When paying, make sure your bank accepts foreign credit/debit card payments. Renfe’s secure payment systems use both Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode. Your card must comply with one of them. Otherwise, try another credit/debit card or contact your bank.
If you still have problems purchasing your tickets through Renfe’s website, you can still try purchasing them through a couple of resellers that avoid any possible payment problems. The first one is Petrabax (small fee). The second one is Rail Europe (4€ fee).
Once your purchase process has been correctly completed, a new screen will appear offering you different options to download your train tickets.
Once your tickets are in your mobile phone, you don’t need to print anything. Bring your smartphone with you to the station (make sure your battery is not dead!) and show the ticket to Renfe’s staff.
If you get them by email, you must print them. Make sure that each ticket is printed on a different sheet of paper. You will have to show them to Renfe’s staff before boarding the train.
Here is what a Renfe train ticket looks like:
As you can see, the ticket displays the following information:
Now you are ready to travel!
As a rule of thumb, try to travel light. Renfe’s requirements and restrictions are very clear.
All ticketed passengers may carry up to three pieces of luggage. The sum of the dimensions of the three items may not exceed 290 cm, and the largest of the three may not exceed the following dimensions: 85 x 55 x 35 cm (width-height-depth). The total weight of the three may not exceed 25 kg.
Renfe does not offer the possibility to buy extra baggage allowance.
After 12+ years train traveling around Spain, I’ve never seen a member of Renfe’s staff verifying the size or weight of any piece of luggage, no matter how heavy or bulky this looked. However, there is no baggage check-in option, so when a train is fully loaded with passengers, luggage storage space can become scarce.
Moreover, boarding a long distance train at any train station is a lot like going through security at an airport. Luggage will be x-rayed so you are expected to load it on the conveyer belt.
It has occurred to me seeing passengers coming straight from the airport with huge suitcases not having room inside to car to store them. Although I’ve never seeing it myself, the conductor could force you to leave the train for security reasons.
Prevention is better than cure.
Renfe, in collaboration with Correos – the Spanish postal service, offers a door-to-door luggage service to AVE and Larga Distancia (Long Distance) customers. You can book the service only through Renfe’s website and select the pick up and delivery addresses.
Here is some practical information that you should know about this service:
Renfe’s commuter rail service trains are called Cercanías.
The “Combinado Cercanías” is a combined ticket offered by Renfe to every AVE or Long Distance passenger enabling you to get one Cercanías ticket FREE at either the origin or destination stations.
Read the following examples if you still don’t get the pros.
Example #1: You land at Madrid airport and you have an AVE train ticket to travel from Madrid to Barcelona on that same day. With the “Combinado Cercanías” you can get a free commuter train ticket to catch a train that will take you from Madrid airport to Atocha train station, where you will catch your high-speed train to Barcelona.
Example #2: You are traveling on an AVE from Madrid to Barcelona. With the “Combinado Cercanías” you can get a free commuter train ticket to catch a train that will take you from Barcelona train station to the airport.
You train ticket includes a special code corresponding to the “Combinado Cercanías”. In the example above the code is A4EXP.
As soon as you get to the station where you will be catching your Cercanías, follow these instructions to get your free ticket.
Step #1: Go to a Renfe Cercanías vending machine.
Step #2: Select your preferred language. Then, in the first screen select “Combinado Cercanías” at the top-left corner.
Step #3: Scan your ticket’s QR code through the machine’s scanner as indicated in the screen.
Step #4: In case the scanner does not work, you can always type the special code of your train ticket.
Once you are done, the machine will print your ticket. Remember that you need one ticket per passenger and that you must keep the Cercanías ticket until the end of your trip. You will need it to exit the destination train station.
If you still have problems to retrieve your Cercanías ticket, you can always go to a Cercanías ticket window.
Please, bear in mind the following restrictions.
The Punctuality Commitment (Compromiso de Puntualidad in Spanish) establishes compensations in case your train is delayed.
Your right is determined by two facts: the cause of the delay and the duration of the delay.
The compensation right excludes cases where a delay is caused by force majeure. If the cause of the delay is due to events out of Renfe or ADIF (the company responsible for the rail tracks’ maintenance) responsibility, you won’t be able to claim a compensation payment.
For instance, neither a delay caused by a snowstorm does not entitle you to a compensation payment, nor a delay caused by a train accident. A train engine break or an electricity disruption will give you the right to claim a compensation payment.
The Punctuality Commitment varies from one route to another but here are the rules applicable to the most popular routes:
Refunds can be claimed at any point of sale at stations up to three months after the date of the journey. In the case of tickets purchased as part of travel packages, the customer must go to the travel agency where the ticket was purchased.
However, in most of the cases, you won’t be able to do it as soon as you arrive to your destination because Renfe takes at least 24 hours to certify that your train was effectively delayed.
The easiest way to do so is claiming your refund online.
As I suggested earlier, it is much better if you are already registered as a user in Renfe’s website. In any case, you can always go to the compensation payment page and claim yours. You will need to provide your train ticket number.
For those of us, frequent train travelers, catching a train becomes a routine like taking a bus or a plane. But if it’s your first time traveling in a high-speed train, you may still have some questions.
This is a full description of how it is to travel in an AVE or any other high-speed train.
The only thing that I won’t be able to reproduce is the thrill of traveling at more than 300 km/h!
On the day of your trip, make sure that you have your tickets with you, either printed or downloaded in your smartphone or tablet. You will be requested to show your ticket before boarding the train.
The access to the platforms is usually different than the rest of the trains. In some stations, such as Atocha in Madrid, you even do so through a different area located in the 1st floor.
Have a look at the monitors to check your train’s departure platform number. If you have a Preferente or Club ticket, go to the VIP lounge (Sala Club) where you can wait comfortably. Make sure that you can access the Sala Club before going through the security control, in some stations (e.g. Atocha in Madrid you need to go through security first).
The boarding generally starts 15-20 minutes before the train actually leaves the station.
You are going to go through 2 controls in every station:
1. A security control. At the control, you must x-ray all your belongings (luggage, backpacks and bags) and show up your train ticket upon request.
2. A platform access control. Here a member of Renfe will scan your ticket.
This procedure varies from one station to the other.
When the Renfe staff member scans your ticket, he/she will tell you your car’s location.
Once you are at the platform where your train is (or will stop at), have a look at your car number. All trains have a screen displaying the car number, the train number, the origin and the destination.
If you train is not at the platform but it’s about to arrive, please wait for the passengers that are inside to exit the car before you enter it.
Every car has either one or to steps depending on the train model. Mind the gap between the train and the platform and be careful with the steps if you are carrying a heavy piece of luggage.
As soon as you enter the train, you should look for a place to store your luggage. Make sure you travel as light as possible as I recommended when explaining Renfe luggage restrictions.
The baggage store shelves are generally at the beginning and end of each car, although this varies depending on the train model. In general there is not a lot of space so it fills up rather quickly, especially if the train is full.
In addition to this, you can also store your hand luggage, backpack or bag at top shelves located over the seats.
You must find your seat now. Depending on the class of your ticket, the car will have the following configuration:
If you purchased a ticket with a 4M tariff your seat will be around a table. In case you have no clue what a 4M tariff is, read more about the ticket fares.
Every car is equipped with toilet facilities located at the end of each car. They are usually next to the doors and easily spotted thanks the toilet signs.
Most high-speed trains have a cafeteria car with a large area where you can purchase drinks, snacks and sandwiches that you can eat there or at your own seat.
Prices charged at the cafeteria are extremely expensive. Whenever you can, try to avoid it and bring your own food and drinks on board.
The cars are equipped with small TV monitors where movies are generally played (check out the current programming). You can choose to either watch the movie dubbed or in original language by selecting the audio channel. At the beginning of the trip the crew distributes complimentary headphones.
Depending on the train, it can stop once or several times along the trip. The stops are very brief, only a few minutes so that other passengers can get out and in the train.
As soon as the train reaches your final destination, make sure you take all your belongings with you. Exit the car paying special attention to the steps and the gap between the train and the platform.
Now all you need to do is follow the rest to exit the platform and enter the main terminal.
The Renfe Spain Pass is a travel document that entitles you to travel on Spanish trains, for a specific number of days.
This particular pass is only valid for non-residents in Spain. In addition to this, it is strictly personal, non-transferable. Therefore, you need to carry your passport with you any time you want to use it.
Your Renfe Spain Pass allows 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 journeys on either Business/Club class or Tourist.
The trips are valid for all Renfe trains excluding sleepers. This means that you can travel on AVE, Long Distance (Altaria, Alaris, …) and Medium Distance trains. Moreover, a free Cercanías (commuter train) trip is included 3 hours before and after your long trip. So you don’t need to purchase an extra Cercanías train ticket!
The pass is active for six months as from the date of issue and is valid for one month as from the date on which it is first validated for a trip.
Remember to always carry on your Renfe Spain Pass and reservation printed. You will be fined if you don’t show the proper documents when required.
To travel you must book a seat. This booking is free of charges. To do so, once you have purchased the pass, you print it and validate it. Then, you can get your train tickets issued.
If you are traveling in a few months from now and online discounts are still available, the pass might equal or be more expensive than the cost of online-discounted individual tickets. Do some research at Renfe’s website before purchasing the pass.
Here’s some additional information about the Renfe Spain Pass cancellation:
Here are all the details regarding ticket cancellations:
You can purchase your Spain pass online at Renfe’s website which is the cheapest option but can cause, unfortunately, some problems with certains credit cards. You can also get it at Petrabax and at ACPRail. Both options imply a charge of an additional fee at the time of the purchase but you will avoid the credit card payment problems. In addition to this, ACPRail has created a full guide on how to book your train tickets with a Spain pass.
Renfe allows you to travel with a child under 4 years sharing your seat. This means that your child can travel for free.
However, it is mandatory to issue a train ticket for the child that you will to show along with your own ticket before boarding the train. Make sure that you issue the ticket; otherwise you may not be allowed to board the train.
Issuing a 4-year-old child ticket does not imply additional fees.
All you have to do is go to www.renfe.com and, as you are purchasing you own tickets, select the number of children traveling with you using the ‘Children < 4’ option located in the left sidebar.
Once you have completed the purchase, you should have your child’s ticket along with yours.
Apart from Preferente, there is a higher class, Club, that is only available in certain routes and that offer just a few additional services.
Here is an example of how a Preferente trip looks like.
The first benefit that you get when traveling in Preferente is there even before boarding the train. As a Preferente traveler you are entitled to access Renfe’s VIP lounges called Sala Club. All train stations have a Sala Club.
You can enter the VIP lounge up to two hours prior to your train departure and only in the station of origin.
As soon as you enter the lounge, a Renfe staff member will ask you your ticket to confirm that you are allowed to access the Sala Club.
The room is quite large with lots of chairs and couches and several reading, working and resting areas, including a “quiet area”.
Since you are entitled to stay for a maximum of two hours, you will rarely find the lounge crowded but a rather relaxing space in which you can chill and wait comfortably.
The lounge usually has a large self-service fridge with juices, mineral water, soft drinks and beer. You can have as many drinks as you want since the fridge is constantly restocked.
There are also a couple of coffee machines.
In addition to this, and depending on the time of the day, you may have some sweets (cookies and pastries) or snacks (chips and nuts).
The boarding generally starts 15-20 minutes before the train actually leaves the station and it goes pretty smoothly. When the Renfe staff member scans your ticket, he/she will tell you your car’s location.
The Preferente cars are located at one of the train ends.
The cars have the following configuration: 2 seats | corridor | 1 seat with several seat in each car.
However, depending on the train model, the seats configuration may change.
In fact, the trip on itself is pretty similar to the one I previously described. Nevertheless, the main differences between both classes are the following.
The seats are much more comfortable than the Turista class ones.
At the beginning of the trip, the main Spanish newspapers will be distributed.
In addition to this, there is a catering on board.
This includes an individual meal every day except on Saturday. This meal is included in the fare and varies depending on the time of the day of your trip. Lunches and dinners are made of hot dishes.
When purchasing your train tickets, always check the Preferente fares. Sometimes they will be slightly more expensive than the Turista ones. You should establish then if the Preferente privileges are worth the rate difference.
Renfe’s Atendo service provides free assistance for railway passengers with reduced mobility or other disabilities. As a specialized service, it offers you guidance, information and help with access to and transit at stations, as well as assistance for getting on and off trains.
The Atendo service staff is trained to assist and be aware of the specific needs of people with disabilities. The service also provides specific assistance as required during their journey.
This last group is rather imprecise. I’ve seen in many occasions an Atendo service staff member assisting old people during the boarding, especially with their bulky luggage. During another trip, I saw a mother traveling with an infant and another child in a stroller being assisted by an Atendo service staff member.
The Atendo service can be requested when purchasing your train tickets. Every station has a 24/7 service. That’s why I recommend you to use the Atendo service search tool to learn more about how the station you plan to go to looks like.
The service can be requested only 30 minutes in advance at Madrid-Puerta de Atocha, Barcelona-Sants, Zaragoza-Delicias, Sevilla-Santa Justa and Valencia-Joaquín Sorolla. Nevertheless, you should request it in advance at the time of the ticket purchase to grant you that a staff member will be there to assist you.
You can also read Renfe’s full Atendo guide, just in case you need additional information.
Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with Espanha Total, a specialized online tourist guide about Spain in Portuguese.
I do earn a small commission if you choose to get your tickets through some of the links above. There are obviously other vendors available, but this is my recommendation based on my experience. If you do purchase through these affiliate links, thank you so much for your support!