In the face of soaring fuel prices all across Europe, Spain announced a historical measure: from September 1 to December 31, multi-journey train tickets are to be free. 

This brand-new policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains, and it’s valid for journeys operated by Cercanías, Rodalies and Media Distancia, train lines that travel for local and medium distances, typically up to 300 kilometers. 

While there hasn’t been (yet) any official statement on what the requirements are, or how users will be able to claim such discounts, the Spanish government has already said that they will apply to round-trip tickets - to the same destination - for a minimum of 10 journeys.

Note that the measure doesn’t include either long-distance train journeys or the high-speed lines of AVE, Avant and Avlo. 

How to get around in Spain

Indalecio Prieto Station arrivals, Bilbao city, Spain
Bilbao, Spain; Indalecio Prieto Station arrivals, Bilbao city, Spain © gurb101088 / Shutterstock

Spain by train: the best local and medium distance itineraries

From Madrid

The capital of Spain is the main transportation hub in the country, with direct trains to almost every major city. Near Madrid, however, there are more than a few worthwhile cities located in the historical region of Castile, all of them making for excellent day trips from Madrid. 

Toledo is perhaps the most visited city around Madrid. Home to sword artisans and one of the largest old towns in Europe, its historical city was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1986. It is composed of architectural masterpieces: the result of the different civilizations that lived in Toledo for more than 2000 years, including Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Those looking for a rarely found culinary experience can take a train to Segovia, located less than 100km north of Madrid, nationally famous for their cochinillo asado (roasted piglet), always served crispy and washed down with local red wine. If the local food isn’t enough reason, Segovia is also home to the most well-preserved Roman aqueduct in the world, a Unesco World Heritage site since 1985. 

If you want to escape the crowds, you might want to try Cuenca, a fortified medieval town also part of Unesco for its unusual hanging houses and Spain’s first Gothic cathedral.

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From Barcelona

The most touristy city in Spain is the perfect base for exploring the region of Catalonia

First-timers should take the train to Girona, a 2000-year-old city founded by the Romans, which also contains one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in the world. The entangled, medieval alleys of the old city were also a major filming location for Game of Thrones. Continue on the same train for an extra 30 minutes, and you will reach Figueres, the birthplace of the painter Salvador Dalí. The city houses his museum, which contains the largest collection of the artist’s work. 

An easy, short train trip from Barcelona could also be Sitges, a coastal, bustling, and sophisticated town with white-washed houses, filled with restaurants serving Catalan cuisine. Do try xató, a local sauce made from almonds, vinegar and red pepper, typically eaten with anchovies, cod fish and salads. Sitges is also the center for LGTB+ tourism in Spain. 

Furthermore, consider getting off the beaten track by visiting Vic, a rarely visited town located in the center of Catalonia, famous not only for its medieval architecture but also for producing the best embotit (pork cold meat) in all the autonomous region. Don’t forget to buy some fuet and llonganissa in one of their many butcheries. The locals from Vic are also known for having the strongest Catalan identity in all the region. 

The fishing port of Bermeo on a sunny day in Basque Country, Spain
The fishing port of Bermeo on a sunny day in Basque Country, Spain © Ivan Soto Cobos / Shutterstock

From Bilbao

Bilbao is the most populated city in the Basque Country. 

If you had to take one single train journey from Bilbao, it should be to San Sebastian (Donostia, in the local language) the most refined city in Spain. The main reason to come here, however, is that most Spaniards agree that San Sebastian offers the best food in all of Spain, ranging from budget pinchos (local tapas) to a wide range of Michelin-star restaurants. 

Wine enthusiasts may have also heard of Rioja wines. They are all produced in a Spanish region named La Rioja, Logroño being its capital. While the best wineries are not found in actual Logroño, all its bars and restaurants have an extensive list of Rioja wines to try. Moreover, the old city gets particularly busy around 1pm and 7pm, when locals gather over a few glasses of wine and tapas, before going for lunch and dinner respectively, making it a great local experience. 

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From Málaga

Málaga is the most cosmopolitan city in the region of Andalusia, and also a transportation hub for going anywhere in the area. 

The capital of Andalusia is Sevilla, the fourth largest city in Spain, and an open-air museum containing endless examples of jaw-dropping Moorish and Gothic architecture, like the Alcázar and the city’s cathedral. Andalusia is where flamenco originated, so the capital isn’t short of flamenco-related activities. With that and the fact that this is home to two important football clubs, Sevilla FC and Real Betis, it is no wonder that Lonely Planet chose Sevilla as the best city to travel to back in 2018.

Often overlooked by tourists, Cádiz is an ancient port city located in the Atlantic southern coast of Spain. Cádiz is known for its local and friendly nightlife, especially during the summer season. February should be an excellent time to come too, since their Carnaval is supposed to be one of the best in Spain. In Cádiz, they love seafood, and they tend to eat it fried. A must-try local specialty is tortita de camarones, consisting of deep-fried dough filled with shrimps.

Embankment of Segura river and old bridge "Viejo de los Peligros" Murcia, Spain
Embankment of Segura river and old bridge "Viejo de los Peligros". Murcia, Spain © Sergey Didenko / Shutterstock

From Alicante

Alicante belongs to the region Comunidad Valenciana, with Valencia as the capital, but Alicante has the main airport. 

Valencia is the third most important city in the country. They often like to compare it with Barcelona, since they are similar in many aspects but, being far less touristy, Valencia has a more notable local atmosphere, making it one of the most charming and welcoming cities to visit in the country. Remember that paella is a dish that originated in Comunidad Valenciana so, as the regional capital, here you are supposed to find the most delicious and authentic paella in the whole world. 

Very few travelers know about a city named Elche, but we believe it’s definitely worth a train trip because here you can visit El Palmeral, an actual oasis made of groves of date palms built by the Arabs during the 10th century, today considered a Unesco World Heritage site for its complex irrigation system. 

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Public transport Multi card of Madrid at an underground metro station
Public transport Multi card of Madrid at an underground metro station © Ivan Marc / Shutterstock

How to take a train in Spain

Renfe is the national train company in Spain, which operates several types of trains, depending on region and speed. 

These are the main trains operating in Spain.

Low-speed trains:

Cercanías: These trains link the main cities with their metropolitan area. Cercanías operates in Alicante, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cádiz, Madrid, Málaga, Oviedo Santander, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Valencia and Zaragoza. 

Rodalies: Same concept as Cercanías, but it only operates in the region of Catalonia.

MD: It usually links different cities, towns, and villages from a single Autonomous Region, 

Regional: Same concept as MD, but with more stops, hence being slower (and cheaper).  

Timings can be checked on renfe.com but tickets can’t be purchased online. You must buy them at the counter, or at the respective machines. MD and Regional also allow to buy tickets in the train itself, but you must bring cash. 

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Rodalies de Catalunya regional train at Franca railway station in Barcelona, Spain
Rodalies de Catalunya regional train at Franca railway station in Barcelona, Spain © Markus Mainka / Shutterstock

High-speed trains: 

  • AVE: This is the first and main high-speed train operating in the country, linking tens of Spanish cities with several trains a day.

  • Avant: Avant is the high-speed train used for short and medium distances. 

  • Avlo: This is the brand-new, low-cost, high-speed train. 

Timings and price of tickets can be checked on renfe.com. It is recommended to book well in advance. 

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