Spain is Europe´s 3rd biggest country, with 505,992 km2, after France and Ukraine (not counting Russia or Turkey), so it’s quite a big country by European standards. When looking at a global level, Spain is the 51st biggest country, so quite small compared to countries on other continents.
The difference however with countries that are bigger than Spain, has a lot to offer nature and culturally wise within a small area, and doesn’t have a large desert, plains, or impenetrable mountain ranges or jungles like Argentina’s Patagonia, the plains of Central USA, or a Gobi Desert in China where 24-hour bus rides are common. Did you know that, within 24 hours from Barcelona, you could either be in northern Scotland, Eastern Poland, Sweden or cross the entire Spain and Morocco?
For this reason, Spain is a great country to travel around by road, since within every hour there are always several new sights to visit, and doesn’t have roads where no other car passes in the next three hours. In Spain, by just visiting a city for a week, there are multiple possibilities for day excursions. Actually, from Madrid, you can reach any point in entire Spain within six hours.
In this blog, I want to inform you of the options you have to travel around Spain with public transportation, whether by land, sea or air. I´ll give you the options, and advantages, so you can decide which way will suit you the best.
The most obvious way of traveling through Spain is on land. This way of moving through the country gives the opportunity of admiring the landscapes, meeting local travelers and giving a quick peek of towns where the mode of transport, whether it be the bus or train, is stopping.
The train is by far the most efficient and comfortable way of traveling around Spain. This does have a price though, being the costliest forms of travel.
The first trains were created in the early 19th century in mining villages to transport the minerals. Seeing the benefits, the development of the railroad escalated throughout Spain. In 1941 the company called RENFE was born, which still operates the whole 12,000 km. (7,450 m.) railroad network of Spain.
In 1992, Spain was one of the first countries worldwide to introduce the high speed train. The train called the AVE, short for Alta Velocidad Española, also meaning bird in Spanish, inaugurated its first route from Madrid to Seville. Since then Spain has had for decades one of the most advanced high-speed railway networks worldwide currently counting with more than 3,500 km. (2,175 m.) with trains going at more than 300 km./h (186 m./h).
Comparing a bus going from Madrid to Barcelona which would take about 9 hours, driving the 625km. (388 m.) distance, while the train only takes 2 hours and 40 minutes, the same time it takes going from Madrid to Málaga or Seville by train, while going to Valencia is only 90 minutes.
When visiting places in Spain, which are not connected by AVE train, the trains are still comfortable but don’t have the same luxury. These trains travel at around 170 km./h (106 m./h) and stop very frequently. The advantage of this train stopping frequently is that also smaller towns can be reached. The train for example from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela takes 5 hours, instead of 5.5 hours by car, to travel the 600 km. (373 m.) distance, making a total of 8 stops.
Finally, there are also local commuter trains that travel shorter distances and stop more frequently called Cercanías. These trains are quite useful in the regions of Galicia, Asturias, Basque Country, Catalunya and the cities of Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Málaga, and Cádiz. These trains can be great for those who want to visit specific places quickly and affordably.
For the first two types of trains, it’s very recommendable to purchase the tickets well in advance, since the prices go up, once the trains get fuller, just like with the airplane tickets. Also, during busy holidays, they tend to sell out weeks before the departure date.
For the commuter trains, it works differently since there are no seats assigned. You can buy the tickets from the machines at the stations like a metro ticket and board the train. Do watch out that sometimes the metro and the commuter trains will both go to a destination, but they are two different trains and two different tickets.
The bus is far cheaper going from A to B then by train. An extensive network communicating the smallest villages with the larger towns, and non-stop buses traveling from one city to the other.
Since each town has a bus service, Madrid is connected with most towns in all of Spain through local operators, and the capitals of each province will be again connected with all the towns and villages. The buses however are not the most comfortable way of traveling. They have bad working Wi-Fi, and the seats tend to be narrow. Forget about working with a laptop, or stretching those long legs.
The company with the largest bus network is called Alsa who offers for the larger distances 3 different types of buses, including the Premium one, which offers individual screens with movies and series. Another large company is called Avanza, mostly serving those places its competition doesn´t offer.
When leaving from larger cities such as Barcelona or Madrid, look at which bus station the bus is leaving from, since Madrid, for example, has four bus stations, depending on the destination of the bus. Another tip is that most buses have a very limited amount of change and don’t accept banknotes higher than € 10,-. If possible, always try and buy your ticket online or at the bus station, and avoid buying the tickets directly from the bus driver.
Hitchhiking – Sharing a car
I certainly don’t recommend hitchhiking in Spain. It is both dangerous and not common. Especially in larger cities catching a ride is unknown. Only in rural areas going from village to village, there is a chance cars will stop because there is little public transportation.
There is a car-sharing app called Bla Bla Car, which is safe to use. The app consists of drivers offering to share their car, stating the point of departure and the destination. They´ll state if they like to talk, if they like music, whether they smoke or allow pets. Together with a picture and an age you can get an idea with whom you´re going to share your trip, and is very reliable.
This is a great option for those on a low budget, and wanting to meet people while traveling.
Spain has two main airports which are Madrid and Barcelona. From here you can fly to one of its forty airports, in every corner of the country. Planes tend to be cheaper than the high-speed train, but if there isn’t much difference in the price I would opt for the train. Remember that even though the flight is an hour, you need to travel at least half an hour to the airport, be there 1,5 hours before, then flying to the destination, getting out of the airport and then going to the center. In total the whole trip will be about five hours, while the train station is near the center and only requires around half an hour in advance to be present.
Having said that, the route Madrid to Barcelona by plane is the most flown route in Europe with around 2,5 million passengers transported by air annually. This is nothing compared to the 4,3 million who made the same journey by train
The main airlines dominating Spain are its national airlines Iberia, Air Europa, and Vueling, but also the low budget airlines Ryan Air is rising in popularity. There isn’t much difference price-wise. Personally, I prefer Air Europa for its better service and is more comfortable. Several times I had a Boeing Dreamliner transporting me to Barcelona.
There are two archipelagos in Spain. The Balearic Islands, which are just over 200 km. (125 m.) east off the coast from Barcelona, with its main islands being Menorca, Mallorca, and Ibiza. The other archipelago is the Canary Islands, which are 100 km. (62 m.) from Morocco´s mainland, and 1400 km. (879 m.) south of Spain, with its most famous islands being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura.
You can reach the Balearic Islands by ferry, however, for me the only benefit of this would be to take your own car onboard, since each boat ride is around six to nine hours, depending which boat you take and whether you cross from Barcelona, Valencia or Denia, and to where you are taking the boat to. A lot of the crossings are actually done at night, with some boats arriving as early as four o´clock in the morning.
Going to the Canary Island can be even more complicated, traveling the 1400 km. (879 m.) from either Huelva or Cádiz can take even a day and a half by boat. You have to really hate flying and really love the Canary Island to make this voyage.
Those who want to make the voyage over water can check out the companies Balearia and Trasmediterránea who have different routes, boats, and time schedules.
Just to conclude is that the more comfort you want, the more expensive the trip gets. For example, going from Madrid to Málaga on a regular Tuesday, I dropped down the time it would take on average and the cost with all the explained ways of traveling … unfortunately there is no boat going to Málaga, so I’ll skip this option.
|Mode of transport||Duration of voyage||Duration incl. |
check-in and check-out
|Bla bla car||5,5 hours||6 hours||€ 25,-|
|Bus||6 hours||7,5 hours||€ 35,-|
|Plane||1 hour||5 hours||€ 50,-|
|Train||2,5 hours||4 hours||€ 80,-|
The largest advantage of the train is that you arrive at the station maybe half an hour early, but the train is already there. You´ll board, wait for the train to leave. Then you reach the station, and you have no hassle with taxis or public transportation since you´re already in the city. You can take your luggage with you, and not wait for it to arrive (add an extra half an hour if going by plane with luggage).
I hope that with this blog I’ve cleared the options there are, and let you, and your budget choose the option that is most suitable for you.