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Public Transportation in Spain: Getting from A to B

Moving to another country, the effectiveness of its public transport may not necessarily be one of the factors that influences your decision. However, it is something that can later impact your opinion of the country and your experience living there. From my experience of living in Logroño, the capital of the northern region La Rioja, I can say that public transportation in Spain is – for the most part – reliable, inexpensive, accessible, comfortable and clean. And I can’t help but compare the Spanish transportation system to the Irish one, which is very unreliable, expensive and limited, especially in the south where I’m from.

Pros and Cons of Public Transportation in Spain

Every country and system has pros and cons and therefore so does Spain’s transportation. In this article, I talk about the pros and cons of the train, bus and metro system in Spain. This is based on my own experience, observations, and conversations with friends and family who have also used it.

Public transportation in Spain
Visiting Valencia

Travelling by Train in Spain

Pros of Travelling Around Spain by Train

Price

Travelling by train is cheap in Spain, especially if you book your tickets in advance. RENFE is actually one of the cheapest rail transportation systems in Europe. The only drawback is that the price does jump up quickly in a matter of days, even less, if you don’t grab your tickets straight away.

Time and reliability         

It goes without saying that travelling by train is one of the fastest ways to travel and the trains in Spain are quite reliable when it comes to departure and arrival times.

Accessibility

Travelling by train in Spain Renfe
Travelling by Train in Spain-Renfe

There are a lot of routes that allow you to travel around Spain by train and there are a variety of choices for the time of travel. There are even some early morning trains, at like 4am.

Ease and comfort

Trains are clean and comfortable. You can entertain yourself with the TV screen they have, and they even give out free earphones so that you can listen to it. I have also witnessed someone helping elderly people and other people struggling to get on the train with their bags, which is something my family and I noticed as different to our former experience.

Cons of Getting Around Spain by Train

Security checks

It is important to note that, in some of the major train stations (such as Barcelona Sants), there are security checks like in the airport where they scan your bag and coats, etc. Okay, in the world we live in today, this is not a bad thing! But it is something you have to be aware of because, if you show up to the train station with only 5 minutes to spare, it will not be enough time to get through the security and to your platform on time.

WIFI

One of the worst things about travelling by train is that there may not be WIFI as firstly, not all of the trains have it. Moreover, you will not get it in the ones that do unless you are willing to pay for it by opting for preferente class (1st class).

Food

The other con is that food and drinks on the train is expensive, although this is something that is common in most countries. It is always better to buy something in a shop before going on a long journey on the train.

Travelling by Bus in Spain

Pros of Choosing Buses within the Public Transportation in Spain

Price

Similarly to the train, travelling by bus in Spain is considerably cheap, especially if you book your tickets in advance. When I first came here, I travelled from Barcelona to Logroño by bus, roughly 6 hours, and my bus ticket was only around €30. Bear in mind, I booked way in advance online. Since then I generally opt for the train, as it is faster.

Travelling by bus is much cheaper here than in Ireland and comparing really puts it into perspective for me. A bus ticket from the town I am from to the city where I studied (about 2 hours) was around €32. I recently bought a ticket from Logroño to Bilbao (around the same distance) for only €16.

The city buses are cheap also, here they cost 72 cents and cheaper if you have a bus card. In bigger cities they are a bit more expensive, I remember in Valencia they were €1.20. Again, in the city where I studied in Ireland, the price for the city buses was €2.20 and this keeps rising all the time.

getting around spain
Buses in Valencia

Time and reliability

Both the national and city buses are reliable when it comes to keeping time and while train is faster, sometimes bus can be the cheapest option. Timing and reliability are so important for me, because in Ireland both the national and city buses are late more often than not.

Accessibility

There are a lot of bus routes to get around Spain with a variety of times and tickets can easily be bought online or at the bus station. However, sometimes it is necessary to go into the train station to find the timetable.

Ease and comfort

While they aren’t as fast as trains, buses are also comfortable, especially for long-haul journeys. Like in the trains, there is a TV.

WIFI and Charging ports

Thankfully there are charging ports on the buses and there is also WIFI on most of them!

Cons of Transportation in Spain by Bus

Correct change

Sometimes, on the city buses especially, it is necessary to have the correct change or at least as close to it as possible.

Holidays

As in any country, bus times run differently on Sundays and Public Holidays.

Bus times

Depending on where you are in Spain, sometimes the bus times can be a little awkward. For example, for me to travel to Logroño to a nearby village, sometimes there isn’t a bus coming home for hours, which may be more time than I want in that place.

Bus seat numbers

Not really a “con” but the bus seat numbers are placed in weird places on the buses. On my first bus ride from Barcelona to Logroño, I was searching for my bus number on the overhead panels as they usually are there but couldn’t see them and ended up sitting in a random seat. After the pit stop, I faced the embarrassment of being told that I was in someone’s seat and then wandering around with a confused face looking for the numbers, which were below, near the armrest.

Buses not stopping

For the city buses, they may not always stop for you unless you signal that you want to get on.

Travelling by Metro in Spain

travel around spain
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Pros of the Metro System in Spain

Price

The price of the metro is cheap and even cheaper if you buy a card like the T-10 card for 10 journeys, which is €10.20 in Barcelona.

Time and reliability

It goes without saying that travelling by metro is the best way to get around a big city: they are always reliable and come every few minutes.

Accessibility

It is easy enough to work out the routes of the metro and on the metro there is a light to show you in which stop you are at. It is also easy to get to the airport via metro.

Cons of Exploring Cities in Spain by Metro

Overcrowding

As is normal in any big city, the metros can get overcrowded, which make them uncomfortable. I had a “near-death” experience in Barcelona getting on the metro with a friend. He went on before me and I was trying to get on but there was a REALLY slow old man in front of me. The metro was pretty much full to the brim and I was trying to work out if there was enough space for me to get on because the old man wasn’t pushing in at all and when the doors started closing I jumped on out of sheer panic. If I had been any later the doors would have crushed me!

Overall, I Love Public Transportation in Spain

Getting from A to B in Spain by bus, train and metro is quite easy, cheap and reliable. Of course there are cons and things that can be improved, but generally, these things are small and can be seen in any country. As someone who despises the public transportation in Ireland, I love living in Spain and being able to get around with considerable ease.

P.S. I actually had a bad experience with the reliability of the train when I went on holidays for Easter. I was travelling from Logrono to Barcelona on the 4 am train in order to catch a flight at 11.50 am. I was supposed to arrive at 8.55am, which I had calculated would give me enough time to get the airport train from Barcelona Sants as well as the recommended 2 hours. However, the train in Logrono didn’t leave until 5 am or after, which made me really anxious and in the end I had to get a taxi from Barcelona Sants to the airport, as I didn’t foresee that it would only take me half an hour to get through security and find my area for boarding (and was too anxious to take a chance). At that point I was just happy I didn’t miss my flight! Moral of the story: don’t overtrust the reliability of transport and always give yourself enough time in case something happens.

By Paige K., 2017/18

If you enjoyed this post about public transportation in Spain, don’t miss out the following articles:

  1. Low-Cost Travel: Top Tips to Travel Spain on a Budget
  2. Teaching and Living in Spain for a Year After College: Girona
  3. Feeling Homesick on Holidays Abroad: 8 Ways to Fight It
  4. The Wandering Language Assistant in Spain
30 July, 2019

8 responses on "Public Transportation in Spain: Getting from A to B"

  1. I live in Barcelona and definitely agree with showing up to Sants at least 25 minutes before!! Cannot tell you how many times I have sprinted through that station to catch my train. great article!

  2. Such a cool article! I have found traveling around Spain through public transportation is relatively easy, but their time schedule is definitely on “Spanish time!” I personally favor the trains, they’re so much nicer than the ones at home!

  3. I more than often opted for the bus options. Living in Madrid, it was super easy to get to just about any corner of Spain in 5-6 hours. Mix that in with an overnight bus (for the adventurous and frugal like myself) and you’ve got yourself a deal for 30euros and a built in first night hostel if you’re willing.

  4. The public transport in Spain is actually one of my favourite things about the country. It’s so simple and you can always find cheap routes to basically everywhere!
    Also, living in Madrid and being so central, it is so perfect to be able to grab a train or bus to any city at reasonable prices and short times. Agree with Maryann above too about opting for over night buses! Saving money on trains, as well as accommodation!

  5. I have personally found that public transportation in Spain can be pretty reliable! It’s important to arrive early to the train station or a bus station before traveling so that you give yourself enough time to know where to go and to make sure you don’t miss the train or bus. I also think that if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable with communicating in Spanish to give yourself even more time, especially for bigger stations so that you aren’t lost! I do not live in a city where I need to rely on public transportation everyday (metro, bus, or a tram), but when I’ve traveled and visited other cities I’ve found that one should look into passes and prices. Like you mentioned in your article it tends to be more cost effective to buy tickets such as the T-10 instead of a daily pass! I went to Madrid for a weekend and was going to buy a two-day pass for the metro, but one of the attendants explained the T-10 day and it was perfect for the weekend and less expensive than the daily pass!

  6. Being on an island (lucky me haha!) I’m limited in terms of travel here, but ALWAYS use the public system. We have the added benefit of being able to use our residents card for travel discounts which is an added bonus! Other than that, I’ve found cheap flights to the rest of spain and europe are always available, which has made travelling so easy and accessible!!

  7. I like all these forms of transportation! I think Renfe is really useful especially when traveling between major cities, however if you’re traveling through small cities, Renfe times can be limited. I also like buses, which can get you to places pretty fast too, but to avoid all the bus stops, Blabla Car is an amazing tool for transportation. It’s an app on your phone, but can also be accessed online. Users with cars post trips that they are going on from certain places to specific destinations. You can search different trips and find one that accommodates when you’re leaving from a certain city. Many people use Blabla car in Spain so finding a trip isn’t difficult at all. I always use Blabla car when going from Murcia to Madrid and back and I’ve never had a bad experience!

  8. I LOVE public transportation in Spain! It’s fast, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. If you are living in a big city that has a metro, or even just visiting one, I recommend downloading the metro app for that city. It’s the best way to find out how to get from one stop to the other. I always try to arrive at least 30 minutes early for trains and 15 for buses. In bigger cities, the train and bus stations tend to be large and confusing and the more time you have to find your train the less stressed you’ll be. Also always double check the name of the station with maps before you book it. Some stations have the same name only one is in the north of the city and one is in the south and your commute time could change drastically if you book from the wrong one. Nevertheless, public transportation is easy, cheap, and better environmentally so it’s a win-win-win to use it while in Spain!

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