Best way to travel across Spain: road trip or train?

travel across spain

Embarking on a road trip to travel across Spain is one of the most common ways to visit the country. But what’s best? The car or the train?

It all boils down to what you’d like to do during your trip.

Do you want to explore many different cities and other highlights that are not near major cities? Then, you’ll definitely want to make it a road trip.

But if your objective is just to see large cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville or Valencia, the train is a great way to go.

Depending on what you decide,

What’s the best way to travel across Spain: a road trip or take the train?

You doubt between renting a car or taking the train. What’s best for you?

Well… It actually depends!

So to help you decide between taking the train and renting a car while you prepare your trip, here’s a list of variables you should consider:

  • Geographical range. Trains are better if your itinerary covers a wide area. Americans, Canadians and Australians usually believe that Spain is a small country, which is true compared to this specific countries. And while Spain has an excellent road network, the train is a better option if you plan to travel across the country. This is particularly the case for an itinerary including Barcelona, Madrid and Seville.
  • Rail coverage. Fortunately, train travel in Spain is extremely easy, comfortable and safe. There are more than 14,000 km (8,700 mi) of railways. Such a vast network serves almost every town in the country.
  • Urban vs. rural. Do you plan to spend most of the time in big cities or do you prefer to explore off the beaten path little towns? The answer to this question will determine your final choice. A car is a pointless hassle in most Spanish cities, but it can be really helpful in the countryside where train communications are less frequent.
  • Number of travelers. How many people are going to be traveling with you? As soon as you share it with more than 2 people, a rental car is 9 times out of 10 the cheapest option. And it’s a great option if you’re traveling on a budget. But do you math and take into account all the extra costs and fees that a rental car can imply.
  • Luggage. Actually, it’s not really a matter of packing light or not. But if you’re traveling by car around Spain, you can basically fill the trunk with all kinds of stuff and luggage. On the contrary, traveling by train has its limits: Renfe, the Spanish railway operator, lets you carry up to 3 pieces of luggage that may not exceed 25 kg without any chance to buy extra baggage allowance. Other low cost train operators (e.g. Avlo, OUIGO, iryo) are even more restrictive.
  • Kids. Car travel is more flexible, but trains give kids room to move around. Travel times will also be considerably lower so your patience won’t be challenged by their usual “when are we getting there?” question. In addition to this, did you know that children younger than 4 can travel by train around Spain for free?
  • Energy and time. First of all, by taking the train you won’t get tired having to drive yourself. And, depending on where you’re going, the train can take you there much faster (e.g. the high-speed train from Madrid to Seville).

7 reasons for a road trip in Spain

Traveling across Spain by car is one of the most common ways to visit the country. Here you have 7 reasons why taking a road trip in Spain is an excellent idea.

Freedom to travel where and when you want

One of the great advantages of a road trip around Spain is having the flexibility and freedom to go at your own pace, as well as the ability to get off the main road to explore the lesser known towns. And you can stop whenever you need to.

So leave the highway behind, turn on Google Maps on your smartphone, and set it to a random town you saw on the screen map.

It’s easy to get off the beaten track

Over-tourism has raised its ugly head in Spain in recent years. Talk to anyone living in Barcelona or Seville and they will share a bittersweet tale. Tourism in Spain has been booming for decades, bringing much needed receipts to the country. But we’ve paid a hefty price.

Interestingly enough, not all of Spain has suffered in an equal measure. While the large cities and most beach destinations have had to accommodate ever increasing hordes of tourists, once you get away from the cities and head to the interior of both countries, you’ll find a territory waiting to be explored.

Distances are relatively short

Since the distances in Spain are relatively short compared to other countries (e.g. The US, Canada or Australia), exploring Spain by car is one of the best options to know the country.

On top of it, Spain’s roads and highways are in very good condition. In fact, if you choose alternative roads instead of highways, you’ll discover amazing villages and admire wonderful landscapes.

Spain is the perfect destination for a road trip

Since Spain’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, you’ll find that even the smallest of towns provide information and services catering for all types of tourists.

Car parks and viewpoints along the roads are built wherever necessary. As for the accommodation and food industry, it goes without saying that they rank among the most professional in the world.

You’ll enjoy a mind blowing and diverse scenery

Spain is in many areas, a densely populated country. This means that the close proximity between locations, and the diverse landscapes, make a trip through Spain an adventure that has something for everyone.

Do you like the coast?

No road trip is complete without a trip to the coast to take in the beach, admire the rugged shoreline and sample the delectably fresh fish. Spain, whether you’re on the northern or southern coast, has miles upon miles of uninhabited scenery that you can explore thanks to a rental car.

On the contrary, do you prefer the mountain?

Having a car in Spain allows you to explore the mountains and find some amazing hiking trails. There are tons of scenic hikes that trail off from the foot of every mountain range that will leave you physically and mentally breathless.

It’s the best option to explore the islands

If you are planning to explore any of the beautiful islands off the coast of Spain, a rental car is the way to go. Public transportation is limited and very often will not take you to all the extraordinary places you will want to go.

Whether you head to the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands, you should definitely consider a road trip.

Let the adventure begin!

Savor the experience of slow travel

When you have limited time to travel but much to see, your trip in Spain can feel a bit rushed. While short train trips mean you can cover more ground, you won’t have much time to truly experience any destination.

Traveling by car, on the other hand, lends itself to more meaningful experiences that are about the journey, not the destination.

With a car, you’ll enjoy a dynamic itinerary without rushing to catch a train, make a check-in time, or nail a photo. This will allow you to savor more, rather than rushing to check the next thing off your agenda.

If you prefer a scenic adventure, you can prioritize back roads over highways and see where they lead. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can set aside the map to discover some off-the-beaten path surprises.

Once you’re not racing against the clock, you can discover places you didn’t even know they existed.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Best way to travel across Spain: road trip or train?
2. Full guide on traveling to Spain by car
3. 10 epic Spain road trips to do on your own
4. How to book your rental car online
5. How to find cheap car rental rates?
6. 8 essential rental car tips to get the best deal
7. Drive in Spain with an international driver’s licence
8. Guide for getting around Spain: rental car
9. 6 essential tips for driving in Spain
10. Guide to car parking in Spain: tips, costs, and regulations

Scroll to Top