You can reach almost any destination in Spain by train or bus, and services are generally efficient and cheap. For longer distances there are plenty of domestic air services and prices have become more competitive in recent years. However, your own wheels give you the most freedom.
The main national ferry company is Acciona Trasmediterránea (902 454645; www.trasmediterra nea.es). It runs a combination of slower car ferries and modern high-speed, passenger-only fast ferries and hydrofoils. On overnight services between the mainland and the Balearic Islands you can opt for seating or sleeping accommodation in a cabin.
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially dangerous risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Hitching is illegal on autopistas and autovías, and difficult on other major highways. Choose a spot where cars can safely stop before highway slipways, or use minor roads. The going can be slow on the latter, as the traffic is often light. Overall, Spain is not a hitchhiker’s paradise. It is more difficult still in the south, where drivers tend to be more wary.
A selection of multinational car rental agencies is listed below.
Autos Abroad (0870 0667 788 in UK; www.autosabroad.com)
Avis (902 180854 in Spain; www.avis.com)
Europcar (91 343 45 12 in Spain; www.europcar.com)
Hertz (91 749 90 69 in Spain; www.hertz.com)
National/Atesa (902 100101 in Spain; www.atesa.es)
Pepecar (807 414243 in Spain; www.pepecar.com) This low-cost company specialises in cheap rentals of mostly small cars, such as Smarts, Seat Altea and Renault Modus, and some compact eight-seaters. They have outlets in Barcelona, Ibiza, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Seville, Valencia and a growing number of other locations. If you book far enough ahead, it can cost you around €15 per day (with 100km free), plus a credit-card handling fee and a €14 cleaning charge.
To rent a car in Spain you have to have a licence, be aged 21 or over and, for the major companies at least, have a credit or debit card. Smaller firms in areas where car hire is particularly common (such as the Balearic Islands) can sometimes live without this requirement. Although those with a non-EU licence should also have an IDP, you will find that national licences from countries like Australia, Canada, NZ and the USA are often accepted.
Third-party motor insurance is a minimum requirement in Spain and throughout Europe. Ask your insurer for a European Accident Statement form, which can simplify matters in the event of an accident. A European breakdown assistance policy such as the AA Five Star Service or RAC Eurocover Motoring Assistance is a good investment.
Car-hire companies also provide this minimum insurance but be careful to understand what your liabilities and excess are and what waivers you are entitled to in case of accident or damage to the hire vehicle.
A plethora of companies provide bus links, from local routes between villages to fast intercity connections. It is often cheaper to travel by bus than by train, particularly on long-haul runs, but also less comfortable.
Local services can get you just about anywhere, but most buses connecting villages and provincial towns are not geared to tourist needs. Frequent weekday services drop off to a trickle on Saturday and Sunday. Often just one bus runs daily between smaller places during the week and none operate on Sunday. It’s usually unnecessary to make reservations; just arrive early enough to get a seat.
For longer trips (such as Madrid–Seville, or to the coast), and certainly in peak holiday season, you can (and should) buy your ticket in advance. On some routes you have the choice between express and all-stops services.
In most larger towns and cities, buses leave from a single bus station (estación de autobuses). In smaller places, buses tend to operate from a set street or plaza, often unmarked. Locals will know where to go. Usually a specific bar sells tickets, although in some cases you may have to purchase tickets on the bus.
Bus travel within Spain is not overly costly. The trip from Madrid to Barcelona costs around €25 one way. From Barcelona to Seville, one of the longest trips you could do (15 to 17 hours) you pay up to €82 one way for the faster services.
People under 26 should inquire about discounts on long-distance trips. Occasionally a return ticket is cheaper than two singles.
ALSA (902 42 22 42; www.alsa.es) Has routes all over the country that it operates in association with various companies, such as Enatcar and Eurobus. From Madrid it runs buses to Barcelona, Zaragoza, Tarragona, Ávila, Segovia, Valladolid, León, major towns in Galicia, Alicante, Murcia and Almería. From Seville buses run up through Extremadura and Salamanca into Galicia, as well as through Córdoba through the east of the country to Barcelona.
Alsina Graells (902 33 04 00; www.continental-auto.es) Part of the Continental-Auto group. It runs buses from Barcelona across Catalonia to destinations west and northwest, such as Vielha, La Seu d’Urgell and Lleida.
AutoRes (902 02 09 99; www.auto-res.net) Operates buses from Madrid to Extremadura, western Castilla y León (eg Tordesillas, Salamanca and Zamora) and Valencia via eastern Castilla-La Mancha (eg Cuenca).
Continental-Auto (902 33 04 00; www.continental-auto.es) Runs from Madrid to Burgos, Logroño, Navarra, the Basque Country, Santander, Soria, Alcalá de Henares, Guadalajara, Granada (and most of Andalucía) and Toledo.
Cities and provincial capitals all have reasonable bus networks. You can buy single tickets (up to €1.20, depending on the city) on the buses or at tobacconists, but, in the case of cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, you are better off buying combined 10-trip tickets that allow the use of a combination of bus and metro, and which work out cheaper per ride. These can be purchased in any metro station.
Regular buses run from about 6am to shortly before midnight. In the big cities a night bus service generally kicks in on a limited number of lines in the wee hours. In Madrid they are known as búhos (owls) and in Barcelona more prosaically as nitbusos (night buses).
Trams were stripped out of Spanish cities decades ago but they are making a timid comeback in some. Barcelona has a couple of new suburban tram services in addition to its tourist Tramvia Blau run to Tibidabo. Valencia has some useful trams to the beach.
Renfe (902 24 02 02; www.renfe.es) is the national state train system that runs most of the services in Spain.
Spain has several types of trains. For short hops, bigger cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Málaga and Valencia have a local network known as cercanías. Long-distance (aka largo recorrido or Grandes Líneas) trains come in all sorts of different flavours. They range from all-stops regionales operating within one region to the high-speed AVE trains that link Madrid with Seville, Tarragona and Barcelona. Similar trains used on conventional Spanish tracks (which differs from the standard European gauge) connect Barcelona with Valencia in the Euromed service. A whole host of modern intermediate speed services (Intercity, Talgo, Talgo 200, Alaris, Altaria and Arco) offer an increasingly speedy and comfortable service around the country.
You’ll find consignas (left-luggage facilities) at all main train stations. They are usually open from about 6am to midnight and charge from €3 to €4.50 per day per piece of luggage.
All long-distance trains have 2nd and 1st classes, known as turista and preferente, respectively. The latter is about 40% more expensive. Fares vary enormously depending on the service (faster trains cost more) and, in the case of some high-speed services such as the AVE, on the time and day of travel. If you get a return ticket, it is worth checking whether your return journey is by the same kind of train. If you return on a slower train than the outward-bound trip you may be entitled to a modest refund on the return leg. Alternatively, if you return by a faster train you will need to pay more to make your return ticket valid for that train.
Children aged between four and 12 years are entitled to a 40% discount; those aged under four travel for free. Buying a return ticket gives you a 20% discount on the return trip. Students and people up to 25 years of age with a Euro<26 Card (Carnet Joven in Spain) are entitled to up to 25% off some prices.
On overnight trips within Spain it’s worth paying extra for a litera (couchette; a sleeping berth in a six- or four-bed compartment). The cost depends on the type of train and length of journey. Only a few trains offer this service now. A more comfortable and expensive way to travel is by trenhotel, which offers turista (sitting up or sleeping), preferente (sleeping single or double) and gran clase (luxury sleeping, single or double) classes. The lines covered are Madrid–La Coruña, Barcelona–Córdoba–Seville, Barcelona–Madrid (and on to Lisbon) and Barcelona–Málaga.
Reservations are recommended for long-distance trips and you can make them in train stations, Renfe offices, travel agencies as well as online (this can be a little complicated though).
Iberia and its subsidiary, Iberia Regional-Air Nostrum, have an extensive network covering all of Spain. Competing with Iberia are Spanair, Air Europa and Vueling. They both rival Iberia on the busy Madrid–Barcelona run and fly to a host of other Spanish destinations. In late 2006, UK and Irish low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair won concessions to start operating on a handful of domestic Spanish routes.
Increasingly, customers are booking their domestic flights in Spain on the airlines’ websites. It is worth shopping around, and for return flights there is nothing to stop you booking each leg with a different airline.
Typical cheaper return fares between Madrid and Barcelona hover around €80 to €120, but it can range up to €250. Cheaper tickets are generally nonrefundable, must be booked up to two weeks in advance and allow no changes. All applicable airport taxes are factored into the price of your ticket.
Madrid has the country’s most extensive metro network. Barcelona follows in second place with a reasonable system. Valencia and Bilbao also have limited metros, and Seville is building one. Tickets must be bought in metro stations (from counters or vending machines). Single tickets cost the same as for buses (ie, up to €1.20). The best value for most visitors wanting to move around the major cities over a few days are the 10-trip tickets, known in Madrid as Metrobús (€6.15) and in Barcelona as T-10 (€6.65). Monthly and season passes are also available.
Few of the big cities offer much in the way of encouragement to cycle. Barcelona is an exception, where cycling lanes have been laid out along main roads and several hire outlets make it possible for visitors to enjoy them. Driver attitudes are not always so enlightened, so beware.
Years of highway improvement programmes across the country have made cycling a much easier prospect than it once was. There are plenty of options, from mountain biking in the Pyrenees to distance riding along the coast.
If you get tired of pedalling it is often possible to take your bike on the train. All regional trains have space for bikes (usually marked by a bicycle logo on the carriage), where you can simply load the bike. Bikes are also permitted on most cercanías (local area trains around big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona). On long-distance trains there are more restrictions. As a rule you have to be travelling overnight in a sleeper or couchette to have the (dismantled) bike accepted as normal luggage. Otherwise, it can only be sent separately as a parcel. It’s often possible to take your bike on a bus – usually you’ll just be asked to remove the front wheel.
In the UK the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC; 0870 8730 060 in UK; www.ctc.org.uk; Parklands, Railton Rd, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX) can help you plan your own bike tour or organise guided tours. Membership costs UK£33 per annum (UK£12 for those under 26).
Bicycle rental is not too common in Spain, although it is more so in the case of mountain bikes (bici todo terreno) and in the more popular regions such as Andalucía and coastal spots like Barcelona. Costs vary considerably but you can be looking at around €10 per hour, €15 to €20 per day and €50 to €60 per week. You can purchase any kind of bicycle you want in the bigger centres and prices are average by European standards. A basic city bike with no gears won’t come for much less than €100. For a decent mountain bike with 16 gears you’re looking at €250 or more and racing bikes can be more expensive still.