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 www.iberia.com, or call [tel] 800-772-4642.
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 and valid for most airports in Europe, it requires that you 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. Only one change within the preset itinerary is permitted once the ticket is issued. The dates and departure times of the actual flights, however, can be determined or changed without penalty once you arrive in Europe. Costs depend on what kind of ticket you are issued—consult the folks at your 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.
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.
Rentals -- All the major international rental car firms maintain offices throughout Spain. These include Avis ([tel] 800-331-1084; www.avis.com), Hertz ([tel] 800-654-3001; www.hertz.com), and Budget ([tel] 800-472-3325; www.budget.com). 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.
Driving Rules -- Spaniards drive on the right-hand side of the road. Spain’s express highways are known as autopistas, which charge a toll, and autovías, which don’t. To exit in Spain, follow the salida (exit) sign, except in Catalunya, where the exit sign says 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.
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. Penalties for drinking and driving are stiff.
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; www.race.es), 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. We generally rent diesel vehicles for much better gas mileage for a given vehicle size. Fuel prices change often. To check prices and available stations, go to http://geoportalgasolineras.es/.
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 version) cover Spain and Portugal. Google Maps(http://maps.google.com) are extremely accurate in metropolitan areas, but the database is somewhat sketchier on rural roads.
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 and Madrid and Barcelona to only 2[bf]1/2 hours. Trains are now so fast that few hotel 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 and 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 a 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.
Spanish Rail Passes -- RENFE offers discounted rail passes that must be purchased before arriving in Spain. In the U.S. and Canada, contact Rail Europe ([tel] 877-272-RAIL [272-7245]; www.raileurope.com).
The Eurail Spain Pass entitles you to unlimited rail travel in Spain. It is available for 3 to 10 days of travel within 2 months in either first or second class. For 3 days within 2 months, the cost for an adult is $314 in first class or $252 in second class; for 10 days within 2 months, the charge is $640 in first class or $513 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.
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). The Eurail Select Pass for travel in adjoining countries no longer includes France. Talk to a Rail Europe representative for pass solutions that allow rail travel in France as well as Spain.
Eurailpass and Rail Passes -- The Eurailpass permits unlimited first-class rail travel in any country in western Europe except the British Isles (good in Ireland). Passes are available for purchase online (www.eurail.com). Purchase passes before you leave home as not all passes are available in Europe; also, passes purchased in Europe will cost more.
The Eurail Global Pass allows you unlimited travel in 21 Eurail-affiliated countries. You can travel on any of the days within the validity period, which is available for 15 days, 21 days, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, and some other possibilities as well. Prices for first-class adult travel start at $810 for 15 days and range up to $2,234 for 3 months. Children 4 to 11 pay half-fare; those 3 and under travel for free. A Eurail Global Pass Saver, also valid for first-class travel in 21 countries, offers a 15% discount for two or more people traveling together. Note: This pass must be purchased before arriving in Spain.
Where to Buy Rail Passes -- The main North American supplier is Rail Europe ([tel] 877-272-RAIL [272-7245]; www.raileurope.com), which can also give you informational brochures and counsel you on which passes work best for your circumstances.
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 SWIV 1JY ([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.
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 Moveliawebsite (www.movelia.es), which also provides a means for purchasing tickets through the Internet if you have access to a printer.