Interrailing in Spain

Interrailing in Spain requires a bit more planning than in other countries, but it’s still possible. Generally, Interrail is seen as a discount pass that allows you to buy cheap tickets for all long distance trains. (See the Reservations section below). You show your Interrail pass at the ticket office and get your reservation there, which train staff will treat like a regular ticket. This makes it difficult to use Interrail on the trains that don’t require reservations. You will need to go to the ticket office, show your pass and get a €0.00 “Sin Perception” ticket to get through the ticket barriers.

You will need seat reservations for all trains except Regional, Cercanias and Feve trains.

Assistance for disabled travellers: https://www.renfe.com/es/en/viajar/informacion-util/servicio-de-asistencia/what-is-it

Train types & pass validity

Interrail is valid on all Renfe trains in Spain, except for the low-cost high speed train Avlo.

AVE: High speed trains, These run on high speed lines at 300km/h.

Alvia/Euromed/Intercity: Long distance trains. All Alvias and some intercity trains use high speed lines for certain parts of their route.

AVANT: Regional high speed trains (200+ km/h)

MD: Literally Medium Distance, higher quality regional trains, generally skip stops (not high speed but they do reach 160 km/h)

Regional: These trains run over medium distances, but stop at every station.

Cercanías: commuter trains in areas around cities (Madrid, Barcelona [Rodalies], Valencia, Seville, Málaga, Alicante/Murcia, Zaragoza, Asturias, Santander, Bilbao, Irún/San Sebastián)

Feve: (sometimes referred to as Cercanías AM): narrow gauge trains on the north coast of Spain. Very slow but scenic. No reservation required.

There are also various regional operators like: FGC trains (Catalonia), FGV (Valencia/Alicante), SFM (Mallorca) and Euskotren (Basque Country). None of these accept Interrail, but tickets are generally very affordable. Interrail is also not valid on Avlo, Iryo and Ouigo high speed trains. These services are still worth checking, since they often sell €9 tickets, making them cheaper than a seat reservation.

Reservations

You will need reservations for all trains, except for Regional, Cercanias and FEVE trains. Be aware that trains can sell out in advance at peak times (particularly in July and August and around Easter).

Prices

They cost either €0 (some Regional trains), €4 (MD, Avant), €7 (Alvia/Euromed 2nd) or €11 (AVE in 2nd class, Alvia/Euromed in comfort 1st class seats) per train ride. They will also charge a small service charge, generally about €1.

If you have a 1st class Interrail pass, you can also choose the Premium fare (€23.50) on AVE and Euromed which includes a snack/drink/meal depending on time of day, but you can also ask for the Comfort fare (€11, 1st class seat but no meal/drinks offered). The Premium fare also includes Club lounge access (some complimentary snacks and drinks are available there too), though there are reports of people being let in with a DB-issued ticket.

How to get reservations

Obtaining reservations for Spain is a right pain – which makes using interrail there tricky – if you are prepared to commit to trains in advance it is worth looking at buying standard full priced tickets as they can be easily done online. If you are using a pass you can try and obtain reservations through these methods:

  • Renfe ticket desks, including (despite not being on the list posted on the interrail site) some commuter stations. There have been some reports that that if you visit on a weekend reservations won’t be issued beyond the next 3 days. More information
  • By phoning Deutsche Bahn at +49 30 311682904, they speak English and can be sent by post [€5.90 delivery charge per order]. As of 2023 it is no longer possible to collect a phone order from a DB ticket machine. If you have issues try asking the staff to select “Pass 1”. Staff also cannot see if a train is full or there is some other problem. More information
  • By visiting a Deutsche Bahn or SBB ticket office, however they can only make reservations for domestic trains in Spain. For the international trains between Spain and France, it’s not possible in any ticket office outside Spain – conductors sell the reservations onboard the trains.
  • EDIT as of 7-7-2023: It now seems like it is possible to book via the interrail reservation service website.

If a Deutsche Bahn member of staff has issues issuing the reservation try telling them to search by train number (I need a reservation for AVE123 on 5th August from X to Y vs I need a reservation on the 1053 on 5th August from X to Y) – however even then doing so is hit and miss with not all members of staff knowing how. And sometimes it just not working even if they do.

  • By phoning RENFE – +34 91 232 03 20 – they can issue you a “Pre-reservation” – you must then go to a ticket office in person within 48 hours of calling to pay for and confirm the reservation otherwise it is voided. You must call at least 24 hours before the train departures. In peak season some trains will have sold out at least 48 hours in advance of departure.
  • Through Discover by Rail travel agents – more information at: https://www.reddit.com/r/Interrail/comments/13tws9k/spanish_reservations_recommendation/ – expect a large extra booking fee.

Do please let the mod team know if you attempt to get a reservation from Deutsche Bahn – weather by phone or in person and weather you were successful or not so we can keep this up to date.

RENFE do not have a separate quota for interrail passholders – if you can see tickets available at https://www.renfe.com/es/en then reservations are available.

There is no way to get reservations through a website journey planner. Reservations for the SNCF TGV from Barcelona to Paris are not available from Barcelona railway station ticket office. You’ll need to phone SNCF. More information https://interrailwiki.eu/france

Searching timetables

Unfortunately, the available online timetables aren’t always up to date. Renfe trains are generally accurate, but other operators will be missing completely or show wrong times. For example: Feve trains display the wrong times in Google maps, but are accurate on their own website: https://www.renfe.com/es/en/suburban/cercanias-feve

The Interrail app timetables lack many Spanish trains, somehow they don’t get that information fed. The DB planner now seems to include more than a couple of weeks ago, so it might get better at some point. Note that the commuter trains (Cercanías) are never shown in neither DB nor Interrail apps nor in the main booking engine of Renfe: You need to go to the regional Cercanías pages (or Rodalies in Catalonia) to find the timetables. Journeys that don’t appear need to be added manually to the app logbook.

You can find a link to these regional Cercanías pages at: https://www.renfe.com/es/en/suburban

Getting to Spain

There are five possible border crossings from France. From west to east they are:

Hendaye/Irún, on the Bay of Biscay coast can be reached in about 4h30 from Paris by TGV, but no SNCF or Renfe trains run across the border. You will have to take Euskotren. Euskotren leaves from a seperate station next to the SNCF station in Hendaye. Simply walk out the main entrance and turn right immediately, you’ll see it in front of you. Euskotren tickets are quite cheap. Hendaye – Bilbao cost €6.50 (2023), for a three hour trip. If you are doing any more travelling than Hendaye – San Sebastian-Donostia, get a Barik card from the machine for €3. With this smartcard that you can use on all public transport in the Biscay region, fares are a lot cheaper than buying separate tickets.

Further east, between Toulouse and Zaragoza there is the railway via Canfranc. Trains don’t run across the border, but SNCF has set up a bus service between Bedous and Canfranc. Interrail is not valid, but tickets are cheap: €2.30 one way (2023). Timetables can be found on https://transports.nouvelle-aquitaine.fr/cars-regionaux/reseau-et-horaires/pyrenees-atlantiques. Enter “Bedous” in the form and it will give you a PDF timetable for bus 550. This is the bus to Spain.

In Catalunya, there are three border crossings: The standard trains that cross at Latour-de-Carol-Enveitg/Puigcerda and at Cerbere/Portbou. SNCF trains run to the border from Toulouse or Montpellier/Perpignan, from where you can take a Rodalies train to Barcelona. Timetables for Rodalies can only be found on http://rodalies.gencat.cat/en/horaris/. While Portbou gets regular service from Barcelona, Latour-de-Carol only gets five trains per day. Make sure to check the timetable on the Rodalies website, the Catalan name is La Tor de Querol.

Between Perpignan and Barcelona there is a high speed railway. Trains run direct from Paris to Barcelona, but reservations sell out far in advance and cost almost €50.

Crossing into Portugal is complicated currently. There are two routes with trains all the way, and a third with mostly bus:

  1. Daily Local train from Badajoz to Elvas.
  2. Daily Regional train from Vigo to Porto.

If you want to follow the southern coast, you can get buses from Sevilla or Huelva to cities in the Algarve (Portugal), where there is a railway along the coast for the entire southern coast. Buses are operated by Flixbus or ALSA, and tickets have to be bought via their own websites.


This article is based on the comment by u/structinfra. Thank you for contributing.