- Renfe is the national railway company of Spain. Long-distance trains always run on time, but be aware that short-distance trains (called cercanías) can have significant delays of ten to twenty minutes, especially in the Barcelona area, where delays of up to thirty minutes are not uncommon. To be safe, always take the train before the one you need. Since 2013, it has also managed the FEVE narrow-gauge trains, which mainly run near the North Atlantic coast (from Ferrol to Bilbao). Buying tickets online with a foreign credit card can be difficult, but for those with a PayPal account, paying through the website may be easier.
- FGC operates several local routes near Barcelona. In the places where Renfe and FGC operate, FGC generally offers more trains per hour, has better punctuality results and the stations are closer to the city centre; on the other hand, the trains are slower and the one-way fares are more expensive.
- FGV offers local transport services in the Valencia region, discovered by Renfe, as well as a tram service in Alicante.
- Euskotren operates cheap services from Bilbao to Gernika, Bermeo and San Sebastian, as well as a line from San Sebastian to Irun and Hendaye (France). Note that the journey from Bilbao to San Sebastian takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes and that buses connect the two cities in just one hour, although bus tickets cost about twice as much as train tickets. All lines, except the Bilbao – San Sebastian line, run twice an hour, with additional trains during peak hours.
The cheapest way to get around most of Spain is by bus. Most of the main routes are point-to-point journeys with a very high frequency. Many companies serve several routes in some autonomous municipalities or provinces of the country, or a single route from a large city to several surrounding villages and towns. The following operators serve more than one region:
- ALSA (formerly Continental Auto), +34 902 422242. The largest bus company with point-to-point routes throughout the country and alliances with various other regional companies and/or subsidiary brands.
- Grupo Avanza, +34 902 020999. Operates buses between Madrid and the surrounding autonomous communities of Extremadura, Castilla y León and Valencia (via Castilla y León). In some regions they operate through their subsidiaries Alosa, Tusza, Vitrasa, Suroeste and Auto Res.
- SocibusySecorbus, +34 902 229292. These two companies jointly operate buses between Madrid and western Andalusia, including Cadiz, Cordoba, Huelva and Seville.
At the bus station, each operator has its own ticket counter and usually only one operator for a particular destination. The easiest way is therefore to ask the staff, who will be happy to tell you who operates which route and point you to a specific counter or window. You can also see everything available on Movelia.es, or see “By bus” under “Getting on” or “Getting around” in the article for a particular region, province or locality of the Autonomous Community. It is usually not necessary or more advantageous to book tickets in advance, as you can just turn up and take the next available bus.
Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and escape the inevitable tourist crowds that flock to these destinations. The month of May is a particularly pleasant time for chartering on the Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and Balearic Islands, as the weather is fine and the crowds have not yet left. July and August are the hottest months and the winds are generally weaker. There is no low season in the Canary Islands as the weather is similar to spring all year round. If you wish to sail unmanned throughout Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard licence is the only acceptable certification Americans need to sail unmanned. For all others, an RYA Yacht Captain’s Certificate or an International Certificate of Competency will normally suffice. Although a Captain may be required, a Steward/Chief may or may not be required. Meals in restaurants are an integral part of Spanish customs. If you plan to dock in a port and explore fabulous bars and restaurants, a hostess/chef may be helpful to serve drinks and make beds. Extra crew can take up valuable space on a narrow ship.
In big cities like Madrid or Barcelona and in medium-sized cities like San Sebastian, getting around by car is both expensive and stressful. Fines for parking incorrectly are uncompromising (85 euros and more).
It is essential to have a road map: Many streets are one-way; left turns are rarer than right turns (and unpredictable).
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to drive from town to town every other day, ideally if you don’t plan to park in big cities at night. It also doesn’t hurt to have beautiful scenery that makes a drive worthwhile. However, you should be aware that the price of gas has increased significantly in the last two years and that taxes on gas are much higher than in the United States, for example. With a good public transport system connecting (almost) all points of interest for travellers, you may wonder if it is really worth driving, as it is often much faster to travel by train than by car.
There are two types of motorways in Spain: autopistas, or motorways, and autovías, which are more like motorways. Most autopistas are toll roads, while autovías are generally free. Speed limits range from 50 km/h in cities to 90 km/h on rural roads, 100 km/h on motorways and 120 km/h on autopistas and autovías.
Intersections of two motorways usually have a roundabout below the top motorway – so you can choose any turn and drive in the opposite direction.
The green light for cars wanting to turn is often on at the same time as the green light for pedestrians: check every time you turn to see if the pedestrians you are passing also have a green light for them.
The filling process at petrol stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill up yourself and then pay at the branch. Petrol is relatively cheap compared to other EU countries and Japan, but still more expensive than in the United States.
Spain is not a good country for hitchhiking. Sometimes you can wait several hours. Try to talk to people at petrol stations, car parks, etc. They are fearful and suspicious, but if you make them feel they have nothing to fear, they readily accept you and are usually generous too. In the south of Spain, in and around the Alpujarras, hitchhiking is very common and it is also very easy to get a ride. As long as you speak a little Spanish and don’t look too dirty or scary, you should be able to get a ride quite easily.
Rent a car
If you plan to travel to the big cities or explore further afield, you will find many companies offering cheap car hire. Due to the strong competition between car rental companies, consider renting a car with GPS navigation – it will be even easier to drive than with a car map.
Spanish drivers can be unpredictable and some of the roads in the southern region of Malaga and the Costa Del Sol are notoriously dangerous. Other drivers are not always careful when parking near other cars, especially if parking space on a road is limited. For this reason, you should consider taking out comprehensive insurance, which includes collision damage waiver (CDW) and car theft insurance in addition to third party insurance. Many car rental companies offer an insurance option that allows you to reduce your vehicle’s excess. This means that in the event of an accident, you will not have to pay for the entire excess. Check your travel and other insurance policies to make sure you are not paying twice for the same cover.
Child seats are also available in all vehicles so that the children in your group can travel safely and comfortably.
Air conditioning is a must during the hot Spanish summer months. However, you must make sure that you always carry water with you.
If you break down during your holiday, you need a car rental company that offers free roadside assistance from qualified mechanics. In Spain, cars often overheat and tyres are vulnerable on hot roads.
Car rental companies may accept payments in foreign currencies if you pay by credit card. Be aware of the normal costs associated with dynamic currency conversion
Spain is a good country for cycling and in some cities you can see many cyclists. Cycle lanes are present in most medium and large cities, although they are not comparable in number to those in other Central European countries, for example. It should be taken into account that, depending on where you are in Spain, you might be confronted with a very mountainous area. Central Spain is characterised by a very flat relief, but towards the coast the landscape is often very hilly, especially in the north. There are several options for sightseeing in Spain by bike: guided or escorted tours, renting bikes in Spain or bringing your own bike, or any combination. Guided tours are ubiquitous on the web. For non-subsidised tours, a little Spanish is very useful. Quiet seasons avoid extremes of temperature and guarantee availability of hotels in non-tourist areas. Good hotels cost 35 to 45 euros in the interior, breakfast is usually included. Menus del dia cost 8 to 10 euros and are served where the locals eat. Secondary roads are generally well paved, with good hard shoulders, and Spanish drivers are generally careful and courteous towards touring cyclists. Road signs are generally very good and easy to follow.
Currently, most Spanish municipalities, cities and towns are modernising their roads to introduce dedicated bike lanes. Self-service bicycle systems at mostly quite affordable prices are also being introduced in cities across the country.
All major cities in Spain are served by taxis, which are a convenient, if somewhat expensive, means of getting around. Apart from that, taxis in Spain are cheaper than in the UK or Japan, for example. Most taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign language. It would therefore be necessary to have the names and/or addresses of your destinations in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Also get a business card of your hotel to show the taxi driver in case you get lost.