Transportation - Get In
Spain's national carrier is Iberia, although there are many airlines connecting from most European countries, Africa, the Americas and Asia. Virtually all European low cost carriers provide frequent services to Spain including: Monarch, Thomson, Vueling, EasyJet, Ryanair, and Jet2.com.
The busiest airports are Madrid–Barajas Airport, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Malaga, followed by Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante and Santiago de Compostela.
If your final destination is in mainland Spain, Madrid Barajas (IATA: MAD), Barcelona (IATA: BCN) and Malaga (IATA: AGP) are your most likely ports of entry, as they have by far the highest amount of international flights. If your final destination is on one of the islands, you will most likely directly arrive at an airport on the island, without connecting through another Spanish airport.
The train system in Spain is modern and reliable, most of the trains are brand new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe, the only problem is that not all the populated areas have a train station; sometimes small towns don't have one, in those cases you need to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish Rail network is that the lines are disposed in a radial way so almost all the lines head to Madrid. That's why sometimes traveling from one city to another geographically close to it might take longer by train than by bus if they are not in the same line. Always check whether the bus or the train is more convenient. That being said the Spanish high speed rail system is more reliable than that of - say - Germany, because the gauge of traditional and high speed trains is different and thus high speed lines are only used by high speed passenger trains meaning fewer delays due to congested lines or technical problems. All lines that cross the border into France have either a break of gauge (thus making changing train or a lengthy gauge change necessary) or are high speed, thus making the high speed trains the vastly preferable option to cross the border. Trains between Barcelona and France are operated by both SNCF and RENFE and both sell tickets for any international train on that route.
Bus travel in Spain is increasingly an attractive option for people traveling on a tight budget.
There are lots of private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities.
Traveling by bus in Spain is usually reliable (except on peak days when roads can be very crowded and you should expect long delays on popular routes), coaches are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay about €8 per 100km.
From the UK, Brittany Ferries offers services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao. The journey time from Portsmouth to Santander is approximately 12 hours.
In addition to the UK, Spain is also well connected by Ferry to Northern Africa (particularly Tunisia and Morocco) and the Canary Islands which are part of Spain. Routes are also naturally available to the Spanish Balearic islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera.
Another popular route is from Barcelona to Genoa.
Transportation - Get Around
- Renfe is the Spanish national rail carrier. Long-distance trains always run on time, but be aware that short-distance trains (called Cercanías) can bear long delays, from ten to twenty minutes, and especially in the Barcelona area, where delays up to 30 minutes are not uncommon. To be safe, always take the train before the one you need. Since 2013 it also manages FEVE narrow-gauge trains which mainly run near the northern atlantic coast (from Ferrol to Bilbao). Buying tickets online with a foreign credit card may be difficult, however, those with a PayPal account may find it easier to pay using the website.
- FGC operates several local routes near Barcelona. On these places where both Renfe and FGC operate, usually FGC provides more trains per hour, has better punctuality records and stations are closer to the city centers; on the other side, trains are slower and single fares are more expensive.
- FGV provides local services in Valencia area uncovered by Renfe and a tram service in Alicante.
- Euskotren operates affordable services from Bilbao to Gernika, Bermeo and San Sebastian plus a line connecting San Sebastian with Irun and Hendaye (France). Note that the Bilbao - San Sebastian trip is about 2h40 while buses connect both cities in around just an hour, although bus tickets cost about twice as the train. All but the whole Bilbao - San Sebastian line run twice an hour with extra trains on peak hours.
The least expensive way to get around most parts of Spain is by bus. Most major routes are point to point, and very high frequency. There are numerous companies serving within certain autonomous communities or provinces of the country on multiple routes or on a single route going from a major city to several surrounding villages and towns. The following operators serve more than a single region:
- ALSA (formerly Continental Auto), . Largest bus company with point to point routes across the country and alliances with various other regional companies and/or subsidiary brands.
- Grupo Avanza, . Operates buses between Madrid and the surrounding autonomous communities of Extremedura, Castilla y Leon, Valencia (via Castilla y Leon). In some areas they operate through their subsidiary brands of Alosa, Tusza, Vitrasa, Suroeste and Auto Res.
- Socibus y Secorbus, . These two companies jointly operate buses between Madrid and western Andalucia including Cadiz, Cordoba, Huelva and Seville.
At the bus station, each operator has its own ticket counter or window and usually a single operator from here to a particular destination. Therefore, the easiest is to ask the staff who will be happy to tell you who operates which route and point you to a specific desk or window. You can also see what is all available on Movelia.es or see "By bus" under "Getting in" or "Getting Around" in the article for a particular autonomous community region, province or locale. It is usually not necessary or more advantageous to book tickets in advance as one can show up and get on the next available bus.
Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy gorgeous scenery and distance yourself from the inevitable crowds of tourists that flock to these destinations. May is a particularly pleasant time to charter in the regions of Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands as the weather is good and the crowds have yet to descend. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and tend to have lighter winds. There is no low season for the Canary Islands, as the weather resembles springtime all year round. If you would like to bareboat anywhere in Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard License is the only acceptable certification needed by Americans to bareboat. For everyone else, a RYA Yacht Master Certification or International Certificate of Competence will normally do. Although a skipper may be required, a hostess/chef may or may not be necessary. Dining out is strong part of Spanish custom and tradition. If you are planning on docking in a port and exploring fabulous bars and restaurants a hostess/cook may just be useful for serving drinks and making beds. Extra crew can take up valuable room on a tight ship.
In major cities like Madrid or Barcelona and in mid-sized ones like San Sebastian, moving around by car is both expensive and nerve-wracking. Fines for improper parking are uncompromising (€85 and up).
Having a driving map is essential - many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable).
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities. It also doesn't hurt that the scenery is beautiful and well worth a drive. However do consider that gas prices have gone up considerably in the last couple of year and taxes on gasoline are considerably higher than in - say - the USA. With a good public transport network that connects to (almost) all points of interest for travelers, you might ask yourself whether driving is really worth the cost and the hassle, as you are often much faster by train than by car.
There are two types of highway in Spain: autopistas, or motorways, and autovías, which are more akin to expressways. Most autopistas are toll roads while autovías are generally free of charge. Speed limits range from 50 km/h in towns to 90 km/h on rural roads, 100 km/h on roads and 120 km/h on autopistas and autovías.
Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one--so you can both choose any turn and to start driving in an opposite direction there.
Green light for cars about to turn is frequently on at the same time as green light for pedestrians: every time you turn, check if the pedestrians pass you cross doesn't also have green light for them.
Filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill the tank yourself, and then pay inside the shop. Gasoline is relatively inexpensive compared to other countries in the EU and Japan, but still more expensive than in the U.S.
Spain isn't a good country for hitchhiking. Sometimes you can wait many hours. Try to speak with people at gas stations, parking lots etc. They are scared and suspicious, but when you make them feel that they don't need to be afraid, they gladly accept you and mostly also show their generosity. In the South of Spain, in and around the Alpujarras, hitchhiking is very common and it is also very easy to get a ride. As long as you can speak a bit of Spanish and don't look too dirty/frightening, you should be able to get a ride moderately easily.
Renting a car
If you plan to move around large cities or explore further afield you will find many companies that offer car hire at affordable prices because of the high competition between car rental agencies, consider renting a car with GPS navigation--it will be even easier to drive than having an automobile map.
Spanish drivers can be unpredictable and some of the roads on the Southern area of Malaga and the Costa Del Sol are notoriously dangerous. Other drivers are not always careful parking near other cars, especially when parking space on a street is limited. Therefore you should consider a fully comprehensive insurance package with includes a collision damage waiver (CDW) and a vehicle theft waiver, as well as liability cover. Many of the car hire companies offer an insurance option where you can choose to reduce your vehicle excess. This means that if you are in an accident you would not be financially liable for the whole excess fee. Check your travel insurance and other insurance to ensure you aren't paying twice for the same coverage.
Child seats are also available with all vehicles so that any children in your party can travel safely and in comfort.
Air conditioning is a must in the hot Spanish summer months. Nevertheless you should make sure to take water with you at all times.
If you break down while on holiday you will want a car hire company that gives you the free roadside assistance of trained mechanics. Cars often overheat in Spain while the tires are vulnerable on the hot roads.
Car hire companies may accept payment in foreign currency when you pay by a credit card. Beware the normal costs associated with dynamic currency conversion
Spain is a suitable country for cycling, and it is possible to see many cyclists in some of the cities. Cycling lanes are available in most of mid-sized and large cities, although they are not comparable in number to what you can find in other countries in central Europe, for example. It must be taken into account that depending on where you are in Spain, you could face a very mountainous area. Central Spain is characterized by being very flat, but towards the coast the landscape is often very hilly, especially in the north. There are several options for touring in Spain by bicycle: guided or supported tours, rent bicycles in Spain or bring your own bike, or any combination. Supported tours are ubiquitous on the web. For unsupported tours a little Spanish helps a lot. Shoulder seasons avoid extremes of temperature and ensure hotel availability in non-tourist areas. Good hotels are 35 to 45 euros in the interior, breakfast usually included. Menu del dia meals are 8 to 10 euros eating where the locals eat. Secondary roads are usually well paved, good shoulders and as a rule Spanish drivers are careful and courteous around touring cyclists. Road signs are usually very good and easy to follow.
Currently, most municipalities in Spain, towns and cities are modernizing their streets to introduce special lanes for bicycles. Bike share systems with usually quite reasonable prices are also being installed in cities throughout the country.
All the major cities in Spain are served by taxis, which are a convenient, if somewhat expensive way to get around. That being said, taxis in Spain are more reasonably priced than those in say, the United Kingdom or Japan. Most taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign languages, so it would be necessary to have the names and/or addresses of your destinations written in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Likewise, get your hotel's business card to show your taxi driver in case you get lost.