Spain transportation: Trains, metro and buses in Spain
If you are living or travelling in Spain, you will find high quality Spanish public transport. Here's a guide on metros, buses and trains in Spain.
The Spanish public transport system offers some of the best public transport services in Europe, ranging from modern metro systems to well-connected speed rails between major Spanish cities. Using Spain's public transport system can help reduce the cost of transport in Spain.
Metros in Spain
There are underground railway systems (metros) in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia, where public transport tickets and passes permit travel on all modes of public transport including metro, bus and suburban train services. Metros offer the quickest way to get around these cities, although they’re crowded during rush hours. No smoking is permitted on metro trains or in stations, which are clean and fairly safe.
Crime is generally rare on Spanish metros, although you should watch out for pickpockets, especially on the Madrid system. Metro systems are also planned for Malaga and Seville.
Metro in Madrid
Madrid has the largest and oldest metro system in Spain with 13 lines (plus one branch) and 300 stations covering most of the city, operating from 6am until 1.30am and used by some three million people daily.
The fare is EUR 2.00 per journey for most lines (EUR 1.50 for select lines only) or EUR 18.30 for a 10-journey ticket across all of the stations in the Metro Network and Metro Ligero: ML1, ML2 and ML3, which may include bus travel (metrobús).
Monthly or annual season tickets are available for young people aged under 23 (abono joven), commuters (abono normal) and for pensioners over 65 (abono tercera edad). Season tickets offer exceptionally good savings for unlimited travel on public transport including the underground, city buses and local trains (cercanías). Pensioners who pay only EUR 10.90 a month for unlimited travel get a particularly good deal.
A free map (plano del metro) showing the lines in different colours is available from ticket offices. Tickets are sold at station ticket booths and from machines. You can also plan your best travel route online.
The metro is easy to use; simply note the end station of the line you want and follow the signs. When entering or leaving a train, car doors must be opened manually by pressing a button or pulling a lever. Apart from Sundays and late at night, trains run every five to eight minutes (more frequently during rush hour), although no timetable is published.
Comprehensive information regarding the metro is available by phone (902 444 403 from 7am to 11pm) or on the Internet at www.metromadrid.es.
Metro in Barcelona
Barcelona’s metro is one of the world’s most modern and best designed systems. It has 11 lines: L1 to L11. Stations are indicated at street level by a large red ‘M’ within a diamond. Trains are frequent and run every three or four minutes at peak times. There’s piped music on platforms to keep you entertained while waiting for trains, most of which are air-conditioned.
A map (xarxa de metro in Catalan) is available from tourist offices and at ticket windows in stations (there’s also a metro map on the back of the free tourist office city map). Lines are marked in colours, and connections between lines (correspondencia) and between metro and train systems (enlace) are clearly indicated. You can also download a metro map online, or plan your best travel route in the Barcelona metro.
Stops are announced over an intercom and illuminated panels show where the train has come from, the station you’re approaching, and as the train departs after stopping, the next station (an excellent idea which could be adopted by all metro systems). Flashing red chevrons at the end of each carriage indicate the side of the train from which to exit. Announcements on trains (and in stations) are made in Spanish (Castilian) and not in Catalan.
You can find the most updated fees and tickets for Barcelona's public transport.
In general, a single journey costs EUR 2.15 and a T-10 (tarjeta multiviaje) pass costs EUR 9.95 for a single zone and is valid for 10 journeys on the metro and city buses, and can also be used on the blue tramway (Tibidabo), the Montjuic funicular railway and Catalan railways Generalitat (FFCC) city lines.
Numerous other passes are also available such as the T-mes valid for a month’s unlimited travel (EUR 52.75 for one zone), the T-70/30 valid for up to 70 journeys and transferable and the T-joven valid for 90 days’ unlimited travel for those under 25. One, two, three, four and five-day passes are also available, which can be particularly userful for short visits.
Tickets and passes can be purchased from automatic ticket machines at most stations, ticket windows, and from ServiCaixa ATMs and special sales outlets. If you purchase a multi-trip ticket, it must be inserted in the slot of an automatic gate, which clips off a segment of the ticket, illuminates a flashing yellow light and releases the gate. Always keep your pass or ticket until you leave the metro, as riding without a ticket incurs a EUR 50 on-the-spot fine. The metro is open from 5am (6am on Sundays) and closes at midnight from Mondays to Thursdays, on Sundays and public holidays, and at 2am on Fridays, Saturdays and the day before public holidays.
Comprehensive information on all Barcelona’s public transport systems is available on the Transports Metropolitans Barcelona website (www.tmb.net), which includes a useful guide to public transport based on the name of a street. When you type in the name of a street the public transport operating in the area is shown.
Metro in Bilbao
Bilbao’s metro system, designed by Sir Norman Foster, was completed in 1995 and consists of two lines. A one-journey ticket costs between EUR 1.50 and EUR 1.75 depending on the zones and a day ticket costs EUR 4.60 for all three zones. Further discounts and passes are also available. See the latest fees and tickets for Bilbao's transport. Trains generally run from 6am to 11pm. Information is available on: www.metrobilbao.net.
Metro in Valencia
The metro system, which opened in 1988, consists of nine lines. Single tickets cost EUR 1.50 for single zones (A, B, C, D) or EUR 2.90 return. For single tickets covering multiple zones, the price ranges from EUR 2.10 to EUR 3.90 a ticket. A 10-journey travelcard costs EUR 7.20 for a single zone. Further discounts and passes are also available. See up-to-date fares and tickets for Valencia's metro or plan your route. Trains generally run from 5am to midnight. Further information can be found on www.cit.gva.es, which includes details of other public transport in Valencia, or at www.metrovalencia.es.
Buses in Spain
There are excellent bus (autobús) services in all major cities and towns in Spain and comprehensive long-distance ‘coach’ (autocar) services between major cities. Buses are the cheapest and most common form of public transport in Spain and most coastal towns and rural villages are accessible only by bus. The quality and age of buses vary considerably from luxurious modern vehicles in most cities to old ramshackle relics in some rural areas.
Private bus services are often confusing and uncoordinated, and buses may leave from different locations rather than a central bus station (estación de autobuses), eg. Madrid has several major bus stations and most cities have two or more (possibly located on the outskirts of town). There are left luggage offices (consignas) at central bus stations. Note that smoking isn’t permitted on buses.
Before boarding a bus at a bus terminal you must usually buy a ticket from the ticket office or a machine. Otherwise you can buy a single ticket from the driver or conductor as you enter the bus (there may be an extra charge).
Passengers usually enter a bus from a front door (marked entrada) and dismount from a centre or side exit (salida). Most buses are driver-only operated, although some city buses (eg. blue buses in Madrid) have the entrance at the rear where you pay a conductor who sits by the door. You must usually signal before the stop (parada) where you wish to get off by pressing a button (which activates a bell in the driver’s cab).
City buses in Spain
Most bus services in cities run from around 6am until between 11pm and midnight, when a night service normally comes into operation (which is usually more expensive than day buses). There’s usually a 10-minute service on the most popular routes during peak hours and an hourly night service, although services are considerably reduced on Sundays and public holidays.
City buses are often very crowded and buses that aren’t air-conditioned can be uncomfortable in the summer (some urban buses are air-conditioned). Most city buses have few seats, so as to provide maximum standing room.
There are numerous bus routes in major cities and it can be difficult to find your way around by bus. Urban buses are generally very slow and although there are special bus and taxi lanes in some cities, such as Madrid, there are still frequent traffic jams. Consequently, many people prefer to use the metro (eg. in Barcelona or Madrid) or taxis (which are generally inexpensive).
Routes are numbered and terminal points are shown on buses and displayed on signs at stops in most cities. Bus timetables and route maps are available from bus company offices, bus stations and tourist offices. Tourist buses are provided in major cities, most of which follow a circular route, and bus companies offer excursions throughout Spain (packages may include meals, sightseeing and ferry travel).
Buses in Madrid
In Madrid, bus fares are similar to those in other cities and there are reductions for pensioners and young people up to 23. Tickets are available from bus offices and tobacconists, or when you board the bus. Bus and metro fares are the same in Madrid and tickets can be used on both systems.
Buses in Barcelona
In Barcelona, a 10-ride T-10 pass can be used on all urban public transport including the metro. In Madrid and Barcelona (and some other cities) tickets are valid for an entire bus route, but not for transfers to other buses. Day and multi-day passes offering unlimited travel are also available, plus a range of season tickets (abono), eg. for a week, month or a year.
Regional and national buses in Spain
In rural and resort areas, bus services are often operated by the local municipality and services are usually irregular, eg. four to six buses a day on most routes, although some have an hourly service (there may be no service during the lunch break, eg. 1.30pm and 3pm). The first bus departs at anytime between 6.30am and 9am, and the last bus may depart as early as 4pm or 5pm on some routes (most last buses depart before 9pm).
However, bus services are usually reliable and run on time. Small towns can often be reached only via their provincial capital, and in the centre of Spain it’s difficult to get from one major city to another without going via Madrid. Local bus timetables may be published in free newspapers and magazines, or online.
Long-distance buses in Spain
In addition to local city and rural bus companies, there are many long-distance bus companies in Spain, one of the largest being Alsa-Enatcar. Inter-city buses are usually faster than trains and cost less.
There is free WiFi available on most city routes and buses in Spain.
Much like air travel, most buses offer several class options linked to different services and price ranges. Depending on what you opt for, you’ll find everything from movies and TV to even a host offering refreshments. Some of the main bus companies might offer, for example, a special waiting lounge, journals and magazines, choice of entertainment (movies and music), ample legroom, and free earphones depending on the class level purchased.
Each class can offer a different set of perks, for example:
- Premium: Luggage control, special menus, touch-screens for entertainment (with a decent range of of channels, movies, music, games), free WiFi, USB+ plugs, special assistance for children, the elderly and the disabled, baby seats and bottle warmer, space for pets, and door-to-door pickup service.
- Economy comfort: Free WiFi, additional travel security, free bottles of water, and animal transport.
Fares on long-distance routes are reasonable; some typical return fares are Madrid–Alicante for around EUR 42 and Madrid–Barcelona for about EUR 34. Long-distance bus companies are usually privately owned and their fares are quite competitive. The main bus operators in Spain are ASLA, Lycar, Linebus, Comes, Damas and Hife. The biggest and most-used bus operator in Spain is generally ALSA (913 270 540, www.alsa.es), as it serves all of the major cities. All the main companies have both telephone and Internet information and booking services.
International buses in Spain
There are regular international bus services between Spain’s major cities and many European cities. For example, Eurolines runs coach services from some 10 European countries to many destinations in Spain, including many connections from Britain. Journeys are very long, eg. from London it’s 26 hours to Barcelona and 28 hours to Madrid, and fares are often little cheaper than flying (it’s worth comparing bus fares with the cheapest charter flights).
Unless you have a fear of flying or a love of coach travel, you may find one or two days spent on a bus a nightmare. Buses are, however, comfortable, air-conditioned, and equipped with toilets and video entertainment.
Most services operate daily during the summer holiday season and two or three times a week out of season. Discounts are provided for students and youths on some routes. Bookings can be made at travel agents in Spain and abroad.
Trams in Spain
Few Spanish cities have retained their trams, although air-conditioned trams were reintroduced in Valencia in 1994 after an absence of 20 years. Barcelona has a ‘Combino’ tramline in the centre and in 2002 Bilbao reintroduced trams with the first line running through the centre of the city. Malaga and Zaragossa are also thinking of reintroducing them.
David Hampshire / Expatica / Updated by Busbud
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain, by David Hampshire, published by Survival Books.
This article was updated in 2015 by Busbud, a website and mobile app to search, compare, and book city-to-city bus tickets, all around the world.
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Updated from 2012.
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