Getting Around Spain
The best way to travel and get around Spain
Most of Spain is well covered by both bus and rail networks and for journeys between major towns there’s often little to choose between them in cost or speed. On shorter or less obvious routes busses tend to be quicker and will also normally take you closer to your destination.
Spain has improved greatly its rail and its road network ten fold over the last decade including upgrading and the construction of many new motorways which now exist between all the major cities.
The Ave ( High speed train service ) is now in operation between the north from Lleida dn Huesca, to Seville stopping at the principal towns and cities between, this is comfortable and fast service which has drastically reduced travelling times around Spain.
Add to this an efficient air travel network and there’s no excuse in travelling to all parts of the country if that’s the type of holiday or visit you haver in mind.
Iberia is the main carrier of Spain and provide an extensive schedule for flying around the major cities in Spain. Iberia and the smaller, slightly cheaper subsidiary Aviaco, as well as the independent companies such as AirEurope, operate an extensive network of internal flights.
There is also a growing selection of Low Cost carriers to choose from and its worth checking out each of them to guarantee you the best rate.
From North America, Central Holidays/ Discover Spain Vacations sell the Spain Airpass for £133 per flight on Iberia within Spain (in conjunction with an Iberia transatlantic flight); a minimum of two passes are required but there is no limit to how many passes you may purchase.
Air Europa is a carrier offering internal flights which can be booked from North America.
In Australia, the Spain Airpass is available from Spanish Tourism Promotions in Melbourne. The Spain Airpass isn’t available in Britain and Ireland.
One important point to remember is that all public transport, and the bus service especially, is drastically reduced on Sundays and holidays – it’s best not even to consider travelling to out-of-the-way places on these days.
The words to look out for on timetables are diario (daily), laborables (workdays, including Saturday), and domingos y festivos (Sundays and holidays).
Renfe is the Spanish rail company, and offers services divided into three main areas. Cercanias are local commuter trains in and around the major cities.
Regionales are equivalent to buses and run between cities – Regional expres and Delta trains can cover longer distances.
Largo recorrido (long-distance) express trains have a number of names in ascending order of speed and luxury, they are known as Diurno, Intercity (IC), Estrella (often just signified by a star *), Talgo, Talgo P(endular), Talgo 200 (T200), and trenhotel.
Anything above Intercity can cost upwards of twice as much as standard second class. There is also a growing number of super-high-speed trains from Madrid, such as AVE to Sevilla and EuroMed to Alicante; for those who can afford it, these have cut travelling times dramatically, with Madrid to Sevilla, for example, taking 2hr 30min compared with 6-9 hours on the slower trains.
For budget travellers however, it can mean switching between regional trains to find an alternative route, and rail staff can be reluctant to work these out for you. However, you can ring the centralized Renfe information and reservation number on 902 240 202 – though you’ll need to speak Spanish – or look on the internet at www.renfe.es (English version available).
In recent years many bona fide train services have been phased out in favour of buses operated jointly by RENFE and a private bus company. This is particularly the case when the connection is either indirect or the daily train or trains leave at inconvenient times. On some routes the rail buses outnumber the conventional departures by a ratio of four to one. Prices are the same as on the trains, and these services usually leave and arrive from the bus stations of the towns concerned.
The Spanish tend to use largo recorrido trains in much the same way as aeroplanes, with advance booking essential for both the outward and return journey.
Most RENFE train tickets can be booked in advance from North America through V.E. Tours (tel 1-800/222-8383, fax 305/477-4220); there’s no RENFE representation in Britain, Ireland or Australasia.
Whilst getting around on public transport is easy enough, you’ll obviously have a great deal more freedom if you have your own car and driving in Spain is mostly enjoyable and hastle free.
Major roads throughout the country are generally good, and traffic, while a little hectic in the cities, is generally well behaved – though Spain does have one of the highest incidences of traffic accidents in Europe. Equally, it also has some of the lowest fuel prices on the continent (but still almost double US prices).
In the big cities at least you’ll probably want to pay extra for a hotel with parking, use a guarded pay-car park, or be prepared to strip the car of all its contents should you park on the street (see “Vehicle crime” section); the only alternative to this is to stay on the outskirts. Car hire is a great way to explore Spain and is readily available and easy to book.
Most foreign driver’s licences are honoured in Spain – including all EU, US and Canadian ones – but an International Driver’s Licence (available from motoring organizations, like the AA or RAC, in your home country) is an easy way to set your mind at rest.
If you’re bringing your own car, you must have a green card from your insurers, and a bail bond or extra coverage for legal costs is also worth having, since if you do have an accident it’ll be your fault, as a foreigner, regardless of the circumstances. Without a bail bond both you and the car could be locked up pending investigation.
Away from main roads you yield to vehicles approaching from the right, and barring the odd ” loco ” the rules of the road are generally adhered to.
Speed limits are posted – maximum on urban roads is 50 kmph, on other roads 90k kmph or 100 kmph where there is an arcen , or hard shoulder; the limit on autopistas or motorways is 120kph. On the main highways speed traps are common, especially in the morning.
If you’re stopped for any violation, the Spanish police can and usually will levy a stiff, on-the-spot fine (which can range from ?300-600) before letting you go on your way, especially since as a foreigner you’re unlikely to want, or be able, to appear in court.
Should you not have the cash on you they will obligingly escort you to the nearest cash machine and issue you with a receipt there and then; should you lack the ability to pay up immediately they can impound the vehicle and take your passport as security.
Parking laws are rigorously enforced in cities, and any illegally parked vehicle will be removed promptly – the authorities sometimes (but don’t count on this) leave a sticker on the road telling you where to pay the hefty fine (?90 upwards) to retrieve it.
If your car disappears off the street it is best to assume that it has been towed to the local pound and enquiries in any hotel, government office or police station should produce the address. You will be required to pay the fine in cash.
It’s worth noting that it is also a towable offence to park on a taxi-rank, so study any street signs carefully wherever you park and if in doubt ask locals to be absolutely sure. The EU’s new disabled parking badges will satisfy even the most pedantic of police.
Hitching a lift
As in most other countries these days, we do not recommend hitching in Spain as a safe method of getting around. For pure safety reasons we would not advise you to travel this way unless it is the last resort.
If you are determined to hitch, be warned that the road down the east coast (Barcelona-Valencia-Murcia) is notoriously difficult, and trying to get out of either Madrid or Barcelona can prove to be a nightmare (you’re best off taking a bus out to a smaller place on the relevant road).
Thumbing on back roads is, however, often surprisingly productive; the fewer cars there are, the more likely they are to stop.
Regionally there’s considerable variation as well: the Basque country, and the north in general, often prove quite easy, whereas Andalucia tends to involve long (and very hot) waits.
Taking your own bike can be an inexpensive and flexible way of getting around, and of seeing a great deal of the country that would otherwise pass you by.
Do remember, though, that Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe and in the searing high summer temperatures, attempting to scale hills becomes an endurance test. Seasoned cycle tourists start out at dawn, covering the main part of the day’s schedule by mid-morning, before the temperature peaks.
That leaves the rest of the day for sightseeing, picnicking around riverbanks or dipping into the often pleasant village swimming pools, before covering a few more kilometres in the cooler hours before sunset.
The Spanish are keen cycle fans – both on and off-road – which means that you’ll be well received and find reasonable facilities. There are bike shops in the larger towns and parts can often be found at auto repair shops or garages – look for Michelin signs.
On the road, cars tend to hoot before they pass, which can be alarming at first but is useful once you’re used to it. When cycling on major roads in a group always go in single file – never side by side – as this is dangerous and has resulted in several deaths in recent years. Cycle-touring guides to the better areas can be found in good bookshops – in Spanish, of course.
Getting your bike there should present few problems. Most airlines are happy to take them as ordinary baggage provided they come within your allowance (though it’s sensible to check first and get an agreement in writing from the agent or airline as they may try to charge you up to £60/$80 at the airport); crowded charters may be less obliging.
Deflate the tyres to avoid explosions in the un pressurised hold. Spanish trains are also reasonably accessible, though bikes can only go on a train with a guard’s van ( furgon ) and must be registered – go to the Equipajes or Paquexpres desk at the station.
If you are not travelling with the bike you can either send it as a package or buy an undated ticket and use the method above.
When staying in major towns and cities try not to leave your bike on the street overnight, even with a secure lock, as thieves view them as easy pickings.