Exploring Spain/ How to travel around: ways and tips
Spain has quite a dense network, introduced by all possible means of modern and convenient transportation:
- Airline and ferryboat companies offer high-quality and regularized services, taking you from mainland to islands (Balearic Islands and Canary Islands) and back.
- The railroad covers most of Spain’s territory, linking together administrative centers and important communities all around the country. In addition, currently there’s a growing network of AVE or high-speed trains, running about form Madrid to country’s most popular tourist destinations.
3) On the other hand, if you prefer low-cost way of travelling, you can easily take a bus to any location; buses usually run more frequently and are more convenient than trains, since railway stations are often far from the town or community they operate for, while a bus may get you directly to the point of your destination.
- Getting around by car, contrariwise, will give you a wonderful opportunity to explore the country’s hidden and underrated treasures on your own, making amazing discoveries for yourself and keeping away from conventional tourist destinations.
Note: During the public holidays and on Sundays all public transport around the country sharply decreases, which makes it almost impossible to get to distant and remote areas in this period. You can find all necessary information beforehand on schedules of public transport. When reading it, pay attention to the following words: laborables (working days: from Monday to Saturday), festivos y domingos (public holidays (festivals) and Sundays), diario (on a daily basis).
Air and Sea Transport
If your time is limited, local airline companies such as Iberia, Vueling, Ryanair, are are convenient way of traveling across the country, as well as from mainland to the islands such as Ibiza and Tenerifehttp://iberia.com. Domestic flights are usually a short trip, between 1 to 2 hours.
Another way to travel from mainland to islands is by sea transport: taking a catamaran or ferryboat from major sea ports such as Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz and Alicante. You can request for more information on schedule, prices and services in the port where you set out from.
Renfe (Renfe Operadora) is a company which operates passenger trains within Spain. The company is known for its punctuality and compliance with high service standards. Their website is quite convenient for usage, offering an English version; all you have to do is click on the welcome tab on the top to change the language to English. There you can see all available information, schedules, and buy your tickets online with a debit card.
Attention: make sure you have a printed copy of the ticket, before you take the train!
Generally, there are three types of trains, differing from each other in speed, quality of services and number of stoppages i.e. the faster the train is and the less the number of stops is, the more it costs. These are: cercanias – shuttle trains, running within and around the main towns; media distancia – regional trains; larga distancia – distant trains. For more information, please, contact by phone: 902 320 320.
The main and most popular routes have to do with high-speed trains such as Euromed (Barcelona-Alicante round) or Renfe AVE Alta Velocidad Española (offering round trips from Madrid to the major cities: Barcelona, Seville, Zaragoza, Malaga and Valencia etc.). AVE significantly shortened travel time e.g. currently Madrid-Seville or Madrid-Malaga train takes only 2.5 hours, while an average train travels the same distance within 6-9 hours.
In the near future, Alta Velocidad Española has the purpose to spread its railway network to the most distant borders of the country: to Castilla y León region, to the border with France, to Asturias and the Basque country and even to Lisbon of Portugal.
Ticket Purchase/ Prices/ Train Travel Passes
You may sometimes be able to get last minute tickets for short-distance travels by train. But it’s strongly recommended to take care of it beforehand: to book a ticket and reserve a seat (especially when it comes to long distance trains). Tickets are usually available from 60 days to 5 minutes before departure and you can buy one at a ticket-office at the station. However, if you didn’t take care of it in advance, you’ll most likely have to stand a long line to purchase a ticket. For greater comfort, there are automatic vending machines, where you can select and purchase a ticket on your own.
For the best offers go to the official website :Renfe.com, where you have a chance to buy an ‘Estrella’ or ‘Web’ ticket with up to 60% discount, saving a great deal! On the other hand, ida y vuelta or return tariffs offer advantageous terms as well: 10-20% discount for single one, if you provide the ticket; 25-40% for retirees, disabled, 4-11 y.o. children and those under 26.
However, there’s a huge gap between fares; prices differ significantly e.g. Madrid-Salamanca (2.6 hours) ‘media distancia’ train may cost you €19, whereas Madrid-Barcelona (9.5 hours) ‘Estrella’ night train will cost you €45 and ‘Alta Velocidad Española AVE’ fast train (3 hours) of the same route may cost you up to €120.
If your trip includes visiting other European countries, along with Spain, you’re recommended to pay attention at InterRail (Passes for residents of Europe, including Russia and Turkey) and Eurail (Passes for non-European residents): these are the main and, probably, the only noticeable European train passes. This might be the cheapest rail-pass, since those two offer special rail pass for travellers, visiting Spain. Let’s see. InterRail Spain train pass can be applied by solely EU residents. It has wide variety of options, and it’s up to you to choose the parameters of services: 3,4,6, or 8 days travel time in 1 month, having different tariffs for individuals under 26 and offering 1st and 2nd classes. However, there’s a number of options for other residents. In this case, InterRail Spain has 3 days within 2 months train travel pass option with the same class system. When browsing fees and tariffs, presented on the official website, remember, that individual tickets are mainly lower in price and give you opportunity to travel independently, change course of the route whenever you want, allowing you to freely make use of bus services to any destination. Also, keep in mind, that before embarking on a journey, you should have the passes, and then, later, during the trip, you will be responsible for additional services and booking of seats, when taking high-speed or so-called ‘larga distancia’ trains.
In case if you decide to keep away from big cities’ bustle, bus services will perfectly suit you! As mentioned earlier, buses are convenient, since there are areas that are more better reached by bus. Generally, you take a bus to the main station of the region and then you get to another bus directly to the locality you’re heading to.
Bus prices are quite affordable and able to fit anyone’s needs e.g. Madrid-Leon bus (3.5 hours) will cost you only €23, while Madrid-Santander (6 hours) – €28. When purchasing an intercity bus ticket, you’ll automatically receive a seat. For some particularly popular destinations there’s a number of bus companies, carrying out passenger transportation there and back. Usually, at central bus stations you are met by English-speaking personnel and provided all necessary information on routes, schedules and services. Most bus companies have their own website on the internet, where you can also find schedules and services. For instance, two key companies, providing bus services, Avanzabus and Alsa, operate all around the country and their websites are available in English.
WiFi on board on most buses
Companies like Avanzabus and Alsa both offer wifi services, especially on the ones on Express service.
Travelling in big cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia or Zaragoza, you can take a bus of a special route to a local landmark, located outside of the city such as a castle, church, monastery or any popular point of interest, requiring a separate route. Generally, prices are quite cheap: €1-2 in average.
Spain accepts European Union, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, USA driving licences. However, it would be good to carry with you an International Driving Licence as well. Insurance documentation, car registration and ITV inspection is necessary if you’re travelling with your own car.
Note: Make sure you have applied for automobile insurance for driving abroad!
Rent-a-car services of Spain are introduced by several international companies such a as EasyCar, National, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, Europcar, Holiday Autos, Budget, Thrifty etc. Usually, the earlier you rent a car, the cheaper it will cost you. For more convenience, car rental offices are situated at railway stations, airports, being in close distance to any location in a city. Prices, along with the model and size of a car, also depend on the season of the year: thus, in high season, when there’s a large demand, prices, understandably, increase. Fees are quite flexible, but in general, renting a car like 2-door Renault Clio will cost you approximately $200 per week.
Requirements and responsibilities
Those renting a car in Spanish territory, should have a minimum of 1 year of driving experience and must be older than 21 years of age. Important note: before renting the card make sure to check for any existing damages that the car may have to avoid any misunderstandings. The car insurance should still active. Usually, companies collect a security deposit in case of damages; this amount is automatically returned to you at the end of rental period.
Parking Terms and Services
In large cities with heavy traffic or old towns with narrow streets and deadlocks parking can turn into an unsolvable problem. Special parking areas are free up for 2 hours, and completely free on Saturdays after noon and all Sundays, as well as every day from 8 pm to 8 am. Parking during the restricted hours may counter fines and towing fees. In order to avoid this, keep in mind that paid parking areas are marked with blue or green-coloured lines; however, it’s strongly recommended not to park a car in a certain place, unless you’re not fully sure it’s legal. Some cities with overloaded old-town areas, have set up rules and requirements that you may not be aware of as a tourist. To be sure that you don’t get any parking tickets you may park your car at the hotel where you are staying or simply park your car in a paid parking lot. In smaller cities other than Madrid and Barcelona you will hardly spend more than €20 per day in parking.
Spain, along with most of EU countries, has quite a dense highway network, presented by toll-free and so-called turnpike roads. The word to look out for tollways is ‘Peaje’; also, they are often marked with letter ‘R’ or ‘AP’. There are two types of tollways: ‘autopistas’ – ideal, smooth, first-class speedways and ‘autovias’ – second-rate turnpikes, having lower speed limits. Although a bit pricey, driving these roads will definitely guarantee getting to the point of destination without traffic jams and delay and with maximum comfort provided. How to pay? Generally, by debit card. However, make sure you have enough cash with you to pay, on the off-chance.
Speed Limits and Traffic Violations
The speed limits throughout the country are generally standard. In Autopistas the speed limit is generally 120 kph and 90 kph for autovias; in villages and and within the city the speed limit is up to 50 kph. Road police is entitled to penalize you for speeding and other violations. Payment for traffic fines can be paid through the bank or on the website of DGT and click on the link that says “You have received a traffic violation ticket.”
Here’s the list of items you’re demanded to have in a case of car accident or any unexpected situation: high-visibility reflective jacket, 2 emergency triangles, a set for primary care and reserve lamps. Also make sure that seat belts and baby seats are present. These are basic security measures you must take care of beforehand.
Biking around Spain is evidently not the safest or most comfortable way of moving, as the infrastructure is not yet developed enough: apart from Barcelona, bike ways are rarity and there are no appropriate conditions created. However: rent is available in main resort and touristy areas such as seaside resorts or big cities. Even in these places with huge demand of bikes, prices are quite high: a rental day may cost you about €20, whereas you’ll pay €25 for a few hours of biking trip. In bigger cities there is also the option of Bicycle sharing system where you can take a bicycle for a small free and return it to one of the drop off locations. There are also apps that can be downloaded on the smartphone that maps different places where the bicycle sharing system is available.