Last updated on March 1, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, travelling and renting cars In Spain

Getting around Spain: Car Vs. Train/Bus with 2 CASES SCENARIOS

Navigating the vibrant landscapes and diverse cities while getting around Spain can be an adventure in itself.

The choice between renting a car and using public transportation in Spain can significantly shape your travel experience.

Based on your type of trip, you can find all the advantages and drawbacks of both options.

I’ll explore two distinct travel scenarios, each highlighting the advantages and challenges of car rental versus public transportation.

Are you a solo traveller or planning a family holiday? This guide will help you with the insights you need for an unforgettable Spanish trip.

Spain - Winding Road of Palma de Mallorca
Spain – Winding Road of Palma de Mallorca

Getting around Spain with Public Transportation: Process, Costs, Benefits, and Drawbacks

The public transport system in Spain is convenient and easily accessible.

There is an extensive network of buses and trains to cover the major destination in the country.

Moreover, you can take metros, trams and buses to explore the major cities, like Madrid, Barcellona and others.

Getting around Spain with public transportation has plenty of benefits, however, they are a few drawbacks that you should know before taking the final decision on the meaning of transportation to use in your future trip.

There are today 3 companies offering rail transportation. They differ in price and quality of service.

  1. Renfe: Once the sole rail operator in Spain, Renfe continues to provide a wide array of services. In addition to its main operations, it also offers budget-friendly options through its subsidiary, Avlo.
  2. OUIGO: This low-cost, high-speed train service is operated by SNCF, the French train operator. OUIGO provides long-distance services on the Spanish rail network’s core routes, making it a popular choice for budget-conscious travellers.
  3. Iryo: Operated by ILSA, a consortium that includes Spanish airline Air Nostrum, transport infrastructure company Globalvia, and Italy’s main train operator Trenitalia, Iryo brings a wealth of experience and expertise to Spain’s rail industry.

Costs

The price tag of public transport in Spain is as varied as the country’s landscapes. A bus ticket for a single journey in Madrid costs around €1.50.

The ticket price for a train trip can vary widely based on the time of the year, time of the day and other factors.

As an example, expect to pay anything between €40 and €130 for a high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Barcelona.

But don’t fret – discounts often come to the rescue for children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Here is a table of the 15 most popular routes with the travelling time and a cost estimate. As a rule of thumb, the closer to the trip you book your ticket the more expensive it gets.

Train TypeRouteTimeEstimated Cost in July
(if booked in advance, higher on the day)
AVEMadrid to Barcelona2h 30mFrom €40 if booked in advance, up to €130 on the day
AVEMadrid to Seville2h 21mFrom €30
AVEMadrid to Valencia1h 40mFrom €22
AVEMadrid to Malaga2h 30mFrom €25
AVEBarcelona to Seville5h 15mFrom €35
EuromedBarcelona to Alicante4h 40mFrom €32
AVEBarcelona to Malaga5h 40mFrom €35
AVEMadrid to Alicante2h 22mFrom €22
AVEMadrid to Zaragoza1h 20mFrom €20
AVEBarcelona to Zaragoza1h 30mFrom €20
AVEMadrid to Cordoba1h 40mFrom €20
AVEBarcelona to Valencia2h 40mFrom €25
AVEMadrid to Granada3h 5mFrom €30
AlviaMadrid to Bilbao4h 50mFrom €25
AlviaMadrid to San Sebastian5h 10mFrom €25
The 15 most popular train routes in Spain

Benefits

Public transport in Spain is a ticket to convenience. The extensive network of trains and buses ensures that you can get around cities and regions without breaking a sweat.

Plus, by choosing public transport, you’re doing your bit for the planet by reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

Summary Card on the benefits of public transportation in Spain

  1. Cost-effective, especially for solo travellers.
  2. Eco-friendly way to travel.
  3. No need to worry about parking.
  4. Allows time to relax or sightsee.
  5. Often offers reliable schedules.
  6. Can be faster in congested cities.
  7. No need for a driver’s license.

Drawbacks

Now let’s get t the painful part. Public transport in Spain can sometimes be a victim of its own success, with crowdedness during peak times being a common gripe.

Services may also not cover all areas, particularly in rural regions. And if you’re a tourist, the language barrier and complex ticketing systems can sometimes turn navigating the public transport system into a bit of a puzzle.

Summary Card on the drawbacks of public transportation in Spain

  1. Limited service to remote areas.
  2. Can be crowded during peak times.
  3. Fixed schedules may limit flexibility.
  4. Potential for delays or cancellations.
  5. May require transfers between lines.
  6. Limited operating hours for some services.
  7. Language barriers can complicate use.
Spain - Waiting for the next train
Spain – Waiting for the next train

Getting around Spain with a Car: Process, Costs, Benefits, and Drawbacks

Renting a car in Spain can be your passport to freedom and flexibility.

But before you rent your next car to get around Spain, let’s see what works well and what is not.

Costs of Renting a Car in Spain

The cost of car rental in Spain is a bit like a tapas menu – it varies based on the below factors.

  • size of the car
  • duration of the rental
  • season

The most expensive time of the year to hire a car is usually summer

Moreover, the popular cities tend to charge more for a car, however, you will find a wider choice of vehicles too.

Here is a table of the average daily price in EUR for a mid-size car. This table was built from a huge data cloud and the actual price may vary widely based on how long in advance you book your vehicle.

CityMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberWinter (December)
Madrid37384041383737
Barcelona35363839363535
Valencia33343637343333
Malaga34353738353434
Sevilla39404243403939
Zaragoza32333536333232
Bilbao37384041383737

The average fuel price is around €1.60/litre. Diesel is usually 10-15% cheaper.

And remember, there may be additional costs such as insurance, GPS, child seats, and extra driver fees. Plus, many rental companies require a deposit, which is usually pre-authorised on your credit card.

Attention. Debit cards are often not accepted for the deposit. Make sure to have a credit card to pick up your car. You can still use the debit card during the booking process.

As aforementioned, I always highly suggest booking your car well in advance. The sooner the better choice and prices.

I usually rent my cars on the DiscoverCars website, a rental aggregator that compares the prices of local and global operators providing the best deal around, with the possibility to add full insurance for just 7 Euros/day, such a great peace of mind.

They also have a rating system of the rental companies based on customer reviews (similar to Airbnb but for cars), such a piece of mind when you book a vehicle and you want to stay away from possible scams

Spain - Winding roads in Confrides - Marina Baixa
Spain – Winding roads in Confrides – Marina Baixa

Benefits

Renting a car in Spain can be a ticket to adventure.

Getting around Spain with your own vehicle will allow you to explore the hidden gems of Spain: the small villages along the route.

I will forever remember my drive in Andalusia, in the southern part of the country. Absolutely stunning, such a diverse landscape from the rest of the country.

And I still remember my detour to Gibraltar for an easy day trip, something that would require lots of planning with public transportation.

There is also another great advantage. It is probably cheaper to rent a car for a group of people, family or friends, than buying train/bus tickets.

And surely, it is more convenient to load and unload your bags to/from the car than carrying them around on public transportation.

Summary Card on the benefits of renting a car in Spain

  1. Flexibility to visit off-the-beaten-path locations.
  2. Convenience for families or groups.
  3. No waiting for public transportation.
  4. Control over your travel schedule.
  5. Comfort and privacy during travel.
  6. Ability to carry more luggage.

Drawbacks

As usual, when you drive in a foreign country, you will come across new challenges. There are possibly new laws or rules that you should be aware of.

You may be used to driving on the left side of the road like I do in Australia. Well, budget a bit of adaption. I usually master the right side of the road in a couple of days.

Parking in the big cities can be challenging. This is a problem that you will not have with public transportation.

And the cost of fuel, toll roads, and potential fines for traffic violations can add to the overall cost of renting a car.

Summary Card on the drawbacks of getting around Spain by car

  1. Potential high costs (rental, fuel, tolls).
  2. Stress of navigating unfamiliar roads.
  3. Difficulty finding parking in cities.
  4. Risk of traffic violations and fines.
  5. Driving can be tiring on long trips.
  6. Environmental impact of driving.
  7. Need for a valid driver’s license, possibly an International Driving Permit for Spain.
Spain - An amazing drone view of Barcelona
Spain – An amazing drone view of Barcelona

Renting A Car In Spain Vs. Public Transportation – 2 Case Studies

Case Study #1: A Cultural Odyssey Across Spain’s Major Cities

Car Rental

Imagine you’re behind the wheel, cruising from the architectural marvels of Barcelona to the vibrant life of Madrid, then onto the historic charm of Seville, and finally, the coastal allure of Valencia.

Renting a car gives you the liberty to weave your own journey, stopping at lesser-known towns or scenic spots along the way.

However, city driving can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, with traffic rules, one-way systems, and ever-elusive parking spaces.

Public Transportation

Alternatively, picture yourself hopping on Spain’s efficient public transportation, a tapestry of trains and buses.

Start in Barcelona, then catch the AVE, Spain’s high-speed train, to Madrid (2.5 hours) for around €40-€130.

From Madrid, a high-speed train can whisk you off to Seville in about 2.5 hours for approximately €30-€90.

Finally, board a Euromed train from Seville to Valencia, a journey of about 4.5 hours costing around €40-€80.

It’s a stress-free way to travel. Relax, read a book and you will be at your destination without worrying about parking or fuel.

Conclusion

If you’re planning a cultural odyssey across Spain’s major cities, public transportation might be your trusty companion.

It’s efficient, relatively cost-effective, and lets you avoid the potential headaches of city driving.

Sure, you will not experience any of the landscape between the cities. You will not also be able to stop in any of the typical small villages on the route.

But, this is a small drawback compared to the practicality of public transportation.

Spain - Cityscape of Murcia at sunset time
Spain – Cityscape of Murcia at sunset time

Case Study #2: A Coastal Voyage from Barcelona to Seville

Car Rental

Start your road trip from the vibrant city of Barcelona, heading south along the coast.

You pass through the charming city of Valencia, with its futuristic architecture and sandy beaches. Next, you reach Murcia, a city known for its rich history and delicious cuisine.

As you continue your journey, you arrive in Granada, home to the stunning Alhambra Palace.

You then drive through the sunny city of Malaga, before finally reaching your destination, the flamenco heartland of Seville.

Renting a car will give so much flexibility on this trip. It’s not only about travelling at your own pace but also stopping along the route to explore the hidden gems of Spain and the many beaches along the coast.

Public Transportation

Now, let’s imagine the same journey, but this time on public transportation. You start in Barcelona, then catch a Euromed train to Valencia, a journey of about 3 hours.

From Valencia, you take a combination of trains/buses to Murcia, which takes around 6.5 hours. The connections between Valencia and Murcia are not great.

Next, you board an ALSA train from Murcia to Granada, a journey of approximately 3.5 hours.

From Granada, you take an AVE/AVANT train to Malaga, which takes about 1.5-2 hours.

Finally, you catch a high-speed AVE train from Malaga to Seville, a journey of around 2 hours.

These are average times and the actual journey times may vary. Moreover, there may be just 1 or 2 trains/day. Sometimes they leave early in the day (6-7 AM) or late in the afternoon.

I highly suggest booking the train tickets in advance to save some money. Last-minute tickets are usually more expensive.

In saying that, this, unfortunately, takes away something from the spontaneous part of travelling.

Conclusion

If you’re planning a coastal trip from Barcelona to Seville, both car rental and public transportation have their merits.

Renting a car gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and make spontaneous stops.

Andalusia and Murcia’s regions have stunning landscapes which you will love it.

Besides stopping in smaller towns and villages along the route, like Osuna in the south or Alicante on the east coast.

With public transportation, you will reach all these destinations (Murcia being the complicated one) but you will surely miss the best part of the road trip, the countryside.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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