Getting there & away
Spain is one of Europe’s top holiday destinations and is well linked to other European countries by air, rail and road. Regular car ferries and hydrofoils run to and from Morocco and there are ferry links to the UK, Italy, the Canary Islands and Algeria.
As competition in the air grows, flying is increasingly the cheapest and fastest option from other European countries.
Some good direct flights are available from North America. Those coming from Australasia have fewer choices and will usually have to make at least one change of flight.
Citizens of the 25 European Union (EU) member states and Switzerland can travel to Spain with their national identity card alone. If such countries do not issue ID cards – as in the UK – travellers must carry a full valid passport (UK visitor passports are not acceptable). All other nationalities must have a full valid passport.
If applying for a visa, check that your passport’s expiry date is at least six months away. If you are not an EU citizen you may be required to fill out a landing card (at airports only), scattered about in the area just prior to passport control.
By law you are supposed to have your passport or ID card with you at all times in Spain. It doesn’t happen often, but it could be embarrassing if you are asked by the police to produce a document and you don’t have it with you. You will need one of these documents for police registration when you book a hotel room.
World aviation has never been so competitive and the Internet is often the easiest way of locating and booking reasonably priced seats.
Full-time students and those under 26 have access to discounted fares. You have to show a document proving your date of birth or a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC) when buying your ticket. Other cheap deals include the discounted tickets released to travel agents and specialist discount agencies. ‘No-frills’ carriers, however, sell direct to travellers. Many airlines also offer excellent fares to Internet surfers, and there is no shortage of online agents:
Ferries run to mainland Spain regularly from the Canary Islands, Italy, North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla) and the UK. Most services are run by the Spanish national ferry company, Acciona Trasmediterránea (902 45 46 45; www.trasmediterranea.es).
An Acciona Trasmediterráneacar ferry leaves from Santa Cruz de Tenerife (5pm) and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (2pm) every Saturday for Cádiz. It’s a long and bumpy ride, taking about 48 hours from Santa Cruz.
You can sail from the Moroccan ports of Tangier, Al Hoceima and Nador, as well as from Ceuta or Melilla (Spanish enclaves on the Moroccan coast) to Almería, Málaga, Algeciras, Gibraltar and Tarifa. The routes are: Melilla–Almería, Al Hoceima–Almería, Nador–Almería, Melilla–Málaga, Tangier–Gibraltar, Tangier–Algeciras, Ceuta–Algeciras and Tangier–Tarifa. All routes usually take vehicles as well as passengers.
The most frequent sailings are to/from Algeciras to Tangier (taking 1¼ to 2½ hours) and Ceuta (35 to 45 minutes). Extra services are put on during the peak summer period (mid-June to mid-September) to cater for the stream of Moroccans resident in Europe heading home for the holidays and the Tangier–Tarifa route may be restricted to people with EU passports or EU residence papers during this period. Acciona Trasmediterránea and various other companies compete for business. A weekly service between Genoa (Italy) and Tangiers calls in at Barcelona as well. It is run by Grandi Navi Veloci (Grimaldi). The trip takes 24 hours and leaves Barcelona at 7pm.
Throughout the year P&O Ferries (0870 5980 333 in UK; www.poferries.com) operates a service from Portsmouth to Bilbao. As a rule there are two sailings a week. Acciona Trasmediterránea (0871 7206 445 in UK; www.atferries.com) launched a similar service in 2006.
You can transport your car by Hoverspeed or ferry to France from the UK. Hoverspeed (0870 1642 114; www.norfolkline-ferries.com) fast boats take about two hours to cross from Dover to Dunkirk. P&O Ferries (0870 5980 333 in UK; www.poferries.com) has frequent car ferries from Dover to Calais (1¼ hours).
You can enter Spain by train, bus and private vehicle along various points of its northern border with France (and Andorra) and the western frontier with Portugal. Bus is generally the cheapest option but the train is more comfortable, especially for long-haul trips.
The main road crossing into Spain from France is the highway that links up with Spain’s AP7 tollway, which runs down to Barcelona and follows the Spanish coast south (with a branch, the AP2, going to Madrid via Zaragoza). A series of links cut across the Pyrenees from France and Andorra into Spain, as does a coastal route that runs from Biarritz in France into the Spanish Basque Country.
The A5 freeway linking Madrid with Badajoz crosses the Portuguese frontier and continues on to Lisbon and there are many other road connections up and down the length of the Hispano-Portuguese frontier.
As Spain, France and Portugal are members of the EU and the Schengen area there are usually no border controls between them. The tiny principality of Andorra is not in the EU and border controls remain in place.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) and its partner bus companies run an extensive network of international buses across 26 European countries and Morocco. In Spain they serve many destinations from the rest of Europe, although services often run only a few times a week.
Every vehicle should display a nationality plate of its country of registration. A warning triangle (to be used in case of breakdown) is compulsory. In Spain, a reflective jacket is also compulsory. Other recommended accessories are a first-aid kit, spare-bulb kit and fire extinguisher.
Pre-booking a rental car before leaving home will enable you to find the cheapest deals. No matter where you hire your car, make sure you understand what is included in the price and your liabilities.
Spain is great for motorcycle touring and motorcyclists swarm into the country in summer. With a bike you rarely have to book ahead for ferries and can enter restricted traffic areas in cities.
An interesting website packed with advice for people planning to drive in Europe is Ideamerge (www.ideamerge.com), with information on the Renault company’s car leasing plan, motor home rental and much more.
Your vehicle could be searched on arrival from Andorra. Spanish customs look out for contraband duty-free products destined for illegal resale in Spain. The same generally goes on arrival from Morocco or the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In this case the search is for controlled substances.
The principal rail crossings into Spain pierce the Franco-Spanish frontier along the Mediterranean coast and via the Basque Country. Another minor rail route runs inland across the Pyrenees from Latour-de-Carol to Barcelona. From Portugal, the main line runs from Lisbon across Extremadura to Madrid.
Direct trains link Barcelona with Paris, Geneva, Zürich, Turin and Milan at least three times a week. Direct overnight trains also connect Paris with Madrid. Check details on the Spanish national railways (Renfe; 902 24 34 02 in Spain for international trips; www.renfe.es) website.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.fr) heads to Spain from Paris and more than 20 other French cities and towns. It connects with Madrid (17½ hours), Barcelona (15¼ hours) and many other destinations. There is at least one departure per day for main destinations.
About the only truly direct trains to Madrid and Barcelona are the trenhoteles, which are expensive sleeper trains. The Barcelona service leaves from Paris Austerlitz at 8.32pm daily and arrives at 8.24am (stopping at Orléans, Limoges, Perpignan, Figueres, Girona and Barcelona Sants). The Madrid equivalent leaves from Paris at 7.43pm daily and arrives in Madrid Chamartín at 9.13am (stopping at Orléans, Blois, Poitiers, Vitoria, Burgos and Valladolid).
There are several other less luxurious possibilities. Two or three TGV trains leave from Paris Montparnasse for Irún, where you change to a normal train for the Basque Country and on towards Madrid. Up to three TGVs also put you on the road to Barcelona (leaving from Paris Gare de Lyon), with a change of train at Montpellier or Narbonne. Two daily direct Talgo services connect Montpellier with Barcelona (and on to Murcia). A slow overnight train runs from Paris to Latour-de-Carol, where you change for a local regional train to Barcelona.
For more information on French rail services check out the SNCF (www.voyages-sncf.com) website.
Buses from several Moroccan cities converge on Tangier to make the ferry crossing to Algeciras and then fan out across to main Spanish centres. Several companies, including ALSA (www.alsa.es), run these routes.
Other services from the Portuguese capital run to Seville via Aracena; to Málaga via Badajoz, Seville, Cádiz, Algeciras and the Costa del Sol; to Granada via Albufeira, Huelva, Seville, Málaga and Almuñécar.
Another service runs north via Porto to Tui, Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña in Galicia. Local buses cross the border from towns such as Huelva in Andalucía, Badajoz in Extremadura and Ourense in Galicia.
Eurolines (0870 5808 080; www.nationalexpress.com/eurolines) runs buses to Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish destinations several times a week. The London terminal is at Victoria Coach Station (Buckingham Palace Rd). Journey times (including a wait in Paris of up to two hours) can range from 24 to 26 hours to Barcelona and 25 to 30 hours to Madrid.
You can take your car across to France by ferry or via the Channel Tunnel on Eurotunnel (0870 5353 535; www.eurotunnel.com). The latter runs four crossings (35 minutes) an hour between Folkestone and Calais in the high season.
The passenger-train service Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) travels between London and Paris, from where you can connect with trains to Spain. Alternatively, you can purchase a train ticket that includes crossing the English Channel by ferry, SeaCat or hovercraft.
For the latest fare information on journeys to Spain, including the Eurostar, contact the Rail Europe Travel Centre (0870 8371 371 in UK; www.raileurope.co.uk). Another source of rail information for all of Europe is Rail Choice (www.railchoice.com). Travel times depend in large measure on what connections you make in Paris.
High season in Spain generally means Christmas/New Year, Easter and roughly June to September. This varies somewhat, however, depending on the specific destination. You may find reasonably priced flights available to places such as Madrid in August because it is stinking hot and everyone else has fled to the mountains and the sea. As a general rule, November to March is when air fares to Spain are likely to be at their lowest, and the intervening months can be considered shoulder periods.
The main gateway to Spain is Madrid’s Barajas airport (Aeropuerto de Barajas; national flight information 902 40 47 04; www.aena.es), although many European direct flights serve other centres, particularly Barcelona’s Aeroport del Prat, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia. Charter flights and low-cost airlines (mostly from the UK) are flying direct into a growing number of regional airports, including A Coruña, Alicante, Almería, Asturias, Bilbao, Girona (for the Costa Brava and Barcelona), Ibiza, Jerez de la Frontera, Murcia, Reus and Seville.
Iberia, Spain’s main national carrier, flies to most Spanish cities (many via Madrid) from around the world but is generally the expensive way to go.
Among the airlines that fly to and from Spain are the following:
Aer Lingus (EI; 0818 365000 in Ireland; www.aerlingus.com) Flies to Alicante, Almería, Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia, as well as to Alicante, Barcelona and Málaga from Cork.
Air Berlin (AB; 01805 737800 in Germany, 902 320737 in Spain; www.airberlin.com) German budget airline with direct flights from cities all over Germany, as well as Amsterdam, Helsinki, London and Zürich, to Madrid, Barcelona and other destinations. Many flights run via Palma de Mallorca.
Air Madrid (DRI; 902 51 52 51 in Spain; www.airmadrid.com) An intercontinental budget airline linking Madrid with various South American destinations, including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru. There are connections to Barcelona and other Spanish and European destinations.
Brussels Airlines (SN; 902 90 14 92 in Spain, 070 351111 in Belgium; www.flysn.com) Operates flights from Brussels to Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Málaga, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia.
EasyJet (U2; 0905 821 0905 in UK, 902 29 99 92 in Spain; www.easyjet.com) Flies to Alicante, Almería, Asturias, Barcelona, Bilbao, Ibiza, Madrid, Málaga, Maó, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia from various London and other UK airports. Some of these destinations are also served from Berlin (Schönefeld), Dortmund, Geneva and Paris (Orly).
Germanwings (4U; 0900-1919100 in Germany, 91 625 97 04 in Spain; www15.germanwings.com) Flies from Cologne, Stuttgart and other cities to Alicante, Barcelona, Ibiza, Jerez de la Frontera, Málaga, Madrid and Palma de Mallorca.
Iberia (IB; 902 40 05 00 in Spain; www.iberia.es) Destinations all over Spain from major cities worldwide.
LTU (LT; 0211 941 8456 in Germany; www.ltu.com) Flights from all over Germany to Alicante, Almería, Ibiza, Madrid, Maó, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia. It also offers all-in packages.
Monarch (ZB; 0870 040 5040 in UK, 800 099260 in Spain; www.flymonarch.com) Has scheduled and charter flights from London Gatwick and Luton and other UK cities to Alicante and Málaga; London Luton to Alicante, Almería, Barcelona, Málaga, Menorca and Palma de Mallorca.
Ryanair (FR; 0906 270 5656 in UK, 0530 787787 in Ireland, 807 220032 in Spain; www.ryanair.com) Flies to Girona (Ryanair’s hub for Barcelona), Granada, Jerez de la Frontera, Málaga, Murcia, Reus, Santander, Santiago de Compostela, Seville, Valencia, Valladolid, Vitoria and Zaragoza. Flights run from London Stansted to all these destinations (except Malaga, which is connected to Dublin, Shannon and Brussels). A plethora of connections from all over Western Europe also fly to some or all of these destinations.
Spanair (JK; 902 13 14 15 in Spain; www.spanair.com) Direct flights to Barcelona and Madrid from Ancona, Copenhagen and Oslo, and a web of domestic flights. Also connections to other European and some US cities.
Sterling Airlines (NB; 7010 74 74 in Denmark; www.sterlingticket.com) Flights from Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and other Scandinavian airports to Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga and Palma de Mallorca.
Swiss (LX; 0848 700700 in Switzerland, 901 11 67 12 in Spain; www.swiss.com) Now owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, Swiss sometimes has surprisingly good deals from Geneva and Zürich to various Spanish cities.
Thomson Fly (TOM; 0870 190 0737 in UK; www.thomsonfly.com) Frequent flights from Coventry (UK) to Barcelona and a host of less regular flights from various UK locations to Alicante, Girona, Ibiza, Málaga, Menorca and Palma de Mallorca.
Transavia (HV; 0900 0737 in Netherlands, 902 11 44 78 in Spain; www.transavia.com) Low-cost flights from Amsterdam and/or Rotterdam to Alicante, Almería, Barcelona, Girona, Madrid, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia.
From South Africa a host of major airlines service Spain but usually via major European hubs such as Frankfurt, London and Paris. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa are among the airlines offering the best deals flying out of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.za), STA Travel (www.statravel.co.za) and Rennies Travel (www.renniestravel.com) have offices throughout Southern Africa. Check their websites for the nearest branches to you
Morocco’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc (RAM), dominates the flying trade from Morocco to major Spanish cities, with flights to Barcelona, Madrid, Málaga and Valencia. Most of the direct flights are from Casablanca. Morocco’s Regional Air Lines operates some flights in codeshare with RAM to Málaga from Casablanca and Tangier. Iberia also flies to Casablanca and a few other Moroccan destinations.
The Iberia subsidiary Iberia Regional-Air Nostrum flies to/from Málaga (up to six times daily), Almería, Granada and Madrid from Melilla, the Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast. The Moroccan crossing point into Melilla is the neighbouring town of Nador.
Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong are the best places to shop around for discount tickets. STA Travel Bangkok (02-236 0262; www.statravel.co.th); Singapore (6737 7188; www.statravel.com.sg); Hong Kong (2736 1618; www.statravel.com.hk); Japan (03 5391 2922; www.statravel.co.jp) proliferates in Asia. Another resource in Japan is No 1 Travel (03 3205 6073; www.no1-travel.com); in Hong Kong try Four Seas Tours (2200 7760; www.fourseastravel.com).
STA Travel (1300 733 035; www.statravel.com.au) and Flight Centre (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au) are major dealers in cheap airfares, although discounted fares can also be found at your local travel agent. Look at the travel ads in the Saturday editions of Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. For online bookings, try www.travel.com.au.
Scan the travel agencies’ advertisements in the Toronto Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and Vancouver Sun. Travel CUTS (1-866 246 9762; www.travelcuts.com), called Voyages Campus in Quebec, has offices in all major cities in Canada.
Few visitors to the Canary Islands combine their trip with another to mainland Spain (or vice versa). There is no financial incentive to do so, as flights from other parts of Europe to the Canaries are often cheaper than those between the islands and the mainland.
Iberia, Spanair, Air Europa and charters fly from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and, less frequently, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura to Madrid, Barcelona and other mainland destinations.
Air travel between Spain and other places in continental Europe is worth considering if you are short on time. Short hops can be expensive, but for longer journeys you can often find air fares that beat overland alternatives.
Amsterdam is a popular departure point and a good budget flight centre. Try the bucket shops along Rokin. Or try Air Fair (0900 7717717; www.airfair.nl in Dutch). Kilroy Travels (0900 0400636; www.kilroytravels.nl in Dutch) is also worth checking out.
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights between New Zealand (NZ) and Spain. The New Zealand Herald has a travel section in which travel agencies advertise fares. STA Travel (0508 782872; www.statravel.co.nz) has offices in Auckland, as well as in Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Flight Centre (0800 243544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) has branches in Auckland and throughout the country.
Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for many travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend newspapers, such as the Independent, the Guardian on Saturday and the Sunday Times.
No-frills airlines are increasingly big business for travel between the UK and Spain. EasyJet and Ryanair are the main operators, getting some competition from smaller outfits like Jet2. Prices vary wildly according to season and also depend on how far in advance you can book them.
Most British travel agents are registered with the ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents). If you’ve paid for your flight with an ABTA-registered agent who goes bust, ABTA will guarantee a refund or an alternative.
From Ireland, check out offers from Aer Lingus and Ryanair.
Discount travel agencies in the USA are known as consolidators. San Francisco is the ticket-consolidator capital of America, although some good deals can be found in other big cities. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Examiner all produce weekly travel sections. STA Travel (800 781 4040; www.statravel.com) has offices around the country. Travel Cuts (1-800-592 2887; www.travelcuts.com) is a similar operation.
Discount and rock-bottom options from the USA include charter, stand-by and courier flights. Stand-by fares are often sold at 60% of the normal price for one-way tickets. Courier Travel (www.couriertravel.org) is a search engine for courier and stand-by flights. You can also check out the International Association of Air Travel Couriers (www.courier.org).