By Plane

By European standards, domestic flights within Spain are relatively inexpensive, and considering the distances within the country, flying between distant points sometimes makes sense. For reservations on Iberia, visit Iberia's website, or call tel. 800/772-4642. Air Europa (tel. 90-240-15-01), Vueling, and Ryan Air fly even more connections in Spain than Iberia.

Jetting Around Europe

If you plan to travel to a number of cities and regions, the OneWorld Visit Europe Pass can be a good deal. Sold only in conjunction with a transatlantic ticket from American, Iberia, or British Air airlines, it’s valid for most airports in Europe, but you are required to choose up to four different cities in advance in the order you’ll visit them. Restrictions forbid flying immediately back to the city of departure, and you’re only allowed one change within the preset itinerary once the ticket is issued. The dates and departure times of the actual flights, however, can be changed without penalty once you arrive in Europe. Costs depend on what kind of ticket you are issued—consult the folks at your OneWorld transatlantic carrier if you’re interested in a multi-stopover ticket and see what the best deal is at the time of your visit. The ticket is valid for up to 60 days after your initial transatlantic arrival in Europe. 

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By Train

Spain is crisscrossed with a comprehensive network of rail lines on RENFE, the national rail line. High-speed AVE, AVANT, ALVIA, and ALTRIA trains have reduced travel time between Madrid and Sevilla, Madrid and Valencia, and Madrid and Barcelona to two and a half hours or less. Trains are now so fast that few hotel trains (sleeper trains) are offered, apart from those going to Portugal or France. The RENFE website has possibly the world’s easiest-to-use online schedule. Pay close attention to prices on the schedule; AVE trains often cost twice as much as other high-speed trains but are not much faster. Reservations are required on all high-speed trains, even with a discount card or pass, and reservation fees vary depending on the class of train.

Junior & Senior Discount Cards: If you are between 14 and 25, you can purchase the Tarjeta Joven Renfe, which gives you a year of purchasing tickets within Spain for a 30% discount regardless of class, type of train, or day of the week. The pass costs €22 and must be purchased at a RENFE customer service window. Travelers age 60 and older may purchase a Tarjeta Dorada for €6 at any RENFE customer service window. Also good for a year, it provides 40% discounts on AVE and AVANT tickets Monday to Thursday, 25% Friday to Sunday, and 40% every day on MD (media distancia) and cercanías (commuter rail) trains.

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Spanish Rail Passes: RENFE also offers discounted rail passes that must be purchased before arriving in Spain. The Eurail Spain Pass, which entitles you to unlimited rail travel in Spain, is available for 3 to 8 days of travel (within a month’s span) in either first or second class. The pass works most economically for long-distance travel—the kind of routes you might otherwise fly if trains weren’t more convenient and faster (Madrid to Barcelona, for example, or Barcelona to Málaga). For 3 days, the cost for an adult is $267 first class or $201 second class; for 8 days, the charge is $439 first class, $331 in second class. Children 4 to 11 pay half-fare on any of these discount passes. Note: This pass must be purchased before arriving in Spain. In the U.S. and Canada, contact Rail Europe (tel. 877/272-RAIL [272-7245]).

Eurailpass: The Eurailpass Global permits unlimited first-class rail travel in any country in western Europe except the British Isles (it is valid in Ireland). Purchase passes before you leave home—not all passes are available in Europe, and passes purchased in Europe will cost more. This pass permits unlimited travel in 21 Eurail-affiliated countries. You can travel on any of the days within the validity period. The time period and season determine the price. Generally speaking, the Global Pass offers more convenience than savings. See the Rail Europe website and run the numbers. 

Other Rail Passes: Many different rail passes are available in the United Kingdom for travel in Britain and continental Europe. Stop in at the International Rail Centre, Victoria Station, London (tel. 0870-5848-848 in the U.K.). Some of the most popular passes, including Inter-Rail and Euro Youth, are offered only to travelers ages 25 and under; these allow unlimited second-class travel through most European countries. The main North American supplier, Rail Europe (tel. 877/272-RAIL [272-7245]), can also give you informational brochures and counsel you on which passes work best for your circumstances.

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By Bus

Bus service in Spain is low-priced and comfortable enough for short journeys. The efficiency of train travel has cut drastically into available bus routes. Almost every bus schedule in Spain is available on the Movelia website, which also allows you to buy tickets on-line, provided you have access to a printer.

By Car

A car offers the greatest flexibility while you’re touring, even if you’re just doing day trips from Madrid. But don’t plan to drive in the congested cities. Rush hour is every hour.

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Rentals: All the major international rental car firms maintain offices throughout Spain. These include Avis (tel. 800/331-1084), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001), Budget (tel. 800/472-3325), Enterprise (tel. 90-210-0101 in Spain, 855/266-9289 in the U.S.), and Europcar (tel. 91-110-0000). Prices vary little among the companies, but you can find the best deals at Holiday Autos. Tax on car rentals is 15%, so factor it into your travel budget. Prepaid rates don’t include taxes, which will be collected at the rental kiosk.

Most rental companies require that drivers be at least 25 years of age and, in some cases, not older than 72. To be able to rent a car, you must have a passport and a valid driver’s license; you must also have a valid credit card or a prepaid voucher. Citizens of non-E.U. countries should obtain an International Drivers Permit before arriving in Spain. Without one, some agencies may refuse to rent you a car. 

Driving Rules: Spaniards drive on the right-hand side of the road. Spain has two kinds of express highways: autopistas, which charge a toll, and autovías, which don’t. To exit a highway, follow the salida (exit) sign (except in Catalunya, where exit signs read sortida). On most express highways, the speed limit is 120kmph (75 mph). On other roads, speed limits range from 90kmph to 100kmph (56–62 mph). You will see many drivers far exceeding these limits.

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If you are fined by the highway patrol (Guardia Civil de Tráfico), you must pay on the spot, either to the officer or online using a cellphone and credit card. There are stiff penalties for driving while intoxicated.

Breakdowns: On a major motorway you’ll find strategically placed emergency phone boxes. On secondary roads, call for help by asking the operator for the nearest Guardia Civil. The Spanish affiliate of AAA, Real Automóvil Club de España (RACE; tel. 90-240-45-45), provides limited assistance in the event of a breakdown.

Gasoline (Petrol): Service stations abound on the major arteries of Spain and in such big cities as Madrid and Barcelona. They are open 24 hours a day. On secondary roads, most stations open at 7am daily, closing at 11pm or midnight. All gas is unleaded—gasolina sin plomo. Many vehicles run on clean diesel fuel called Gasoleo A or on more expensive Biodiesel. Fuel prices change often—to check prices and available stations, visit the Geoportal. Tip: We generally rent diesel vehicles for much better gas mileage for a given vehicle size.

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Maps: For drivers who don’t like or trust GPS, there are still old-fashioned paper maps available. Michelin map 990 (folded version) or map 460 (spiral-bound atlas) cover Spain and Portugal. Google Maps are pinpoint accurate in cities, but the database can be sketchier on rural roads.

 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.