Public transportation in Spain

Public transportation in Spain

Home Living in Spain Transportation Public transportation in Spain
Last update on December 05, 2018
Written by David Hampshire 

Public transportation in Spain ranges from modern metros to well-connected speed rails between major Spanish cities, and it’s among the best in Europe. As a bonus, using Spain’s public transport system instead of driving yourself can help reduce the cost of getting around the country.

Metros in Spain

There are underground railway systems (metros) in major Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga, Seville and Valencia, and tickets and passes allow 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 can become very 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 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 €2.00 per journey for most lines (€1.50 for select lines only) or €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).

30-day 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 €12.30 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 12 lines: L1 to L12. 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.

Illuminated panels show where the train has come from, the station you’re approaching, and as the train departs after stopping, the next station. 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.

In general, a single journey costs €2.20 and a T-10 (tarjeta multiviaje) pass costs €10.20 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 (€54 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.

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 €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.

Diverse group of people wait for the train to arrive at the station

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 €1.50 and €1.75 depending on the zones and a day ticket costs €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 on weekdays, until 2am on Friday and all night on a Saturday. Further information is available on www.metrobilbao.net.

Metro in Valencia

The metro system, which opened in 1988, consists of nine lines.

Single tickets cost €1.50 for single zones (A, B, C, D) or €2.90 return. For single tickets covering multiple zones, the price ranges from €2.10 to €3.90 a ticket.  A 10-journey travel card costs €7.20 for a single zone, and further discounts and passes are also available.

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 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.

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 (though you may have to pay more).

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).

A back-to-front shot of a bus full of people in blue and tan seats

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). 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. 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 grocery stores, 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.

A drone shot of a bus at a stop on a tree-lined road

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.

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 €45 and Madrid–Barcelona for about €50. Long-distance bus companies are usually privately owned and their fares are quite competitive.

The biggest and most-used bus operator in Spain is generally ALSA as it serves all of the major cities. The other main bus operators in Spain are ASLA, Lycar, Linebus, Comes, Damas and Hife.

Blurred bus in motion on Europe street at night.

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.

Trains in Spain

Spain has an extensive high-speed train network, with routes connecting much of the country.

Taking the train is one of the fastest ways to get from city-to-city, with high-speed services between major destinations such as Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.

The Spanish rail market is dominated by Renfe, a state-owned company. Renfe operates many popular routes, including services connecting Spain with France and Portugal.

As well as long-distance high-speed AVE services between cities, train providers offer suburban services for those commuting in and out of the major cities.

By booking trains in advance you can secure discounts on the most popular routes. You can find out more in our guide on cheap train travel in Spain.

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David Hampshire / Updated by BusbudThis article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain, by David Hampshire, published by Survival Books.

Train information by Maxine Raynor, who runs the website MoneySaverSpain.com. You can also find her on Twitter @MoneySaverSpain.

MoneySaverSpain.com