There are lots of sites that offer to sell train tickets for Spain. So my team and I ran dozens of searches on them to see what’s best—and we’ve been monitoring them this way (as we travel) for years.
The starting for many looking to take a train is the official site for the national Spanish operator Renfe, but that site is full of problems (error messages, declined credit cards for the non-Spanish, odd translations, etc.).
Even worse, a Renfe search doesn’t show the opportunities to save a lot of money on the new high speed trains run by competing companies. We’ve reviewed the experiences riding French entrant Ouigo, private budgety-upscale Iryo, and Renfe’s own super-cheap Avlo, and these are all great ways to go from Barcelona to Madrid and many other destinations; we definitely want to see all of these options when booking Spanish train tickets and choose based on the best price for the route, time, and day of travel.
So as we’ve done for France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Europe generally, we did a deep dive into the better ways to book. And while most countries’ official rail websites were pretty bad, Spain’s Renfe site is arguably the least user-friendly. We’ll discuss all of the best ways to book Spanish tickets below, but start with quick links to our top picks.
The Best Way to Book Train Tickets for Spain
- The exact same dynamic fares as all operators (Renfe, Iryo, Avlo, and Ouigo)—side-by-side so it’s easy to see which one has the best deal at the time of your search
- None of the error messages and bad translations of Renfe
- Convenient ticketing: print out your tickets or show a code on your phone
- Smarter, cheaper routing for complex trips and quickly pointing out the best, cheapest options
- Bus suggestions that can sometimes offer significant savings
- The downside: There is sometimes a small booking fee tacked on at the end of the process of around 3%.
Another platform that we like for Spain is Omio. It’s as smooth and easy-to-use as Trainline and offers the same range of train operators, also has a small booking fee (but often higher than Trainline’s). Its search results are a little bit more difficult to wade through than Trainline’s, but look for the useful tags of “cheapest”, “fastest”, and so on. It also has flights.
This article is continuously fact-checked and updated by savvy, sweaty, human travel writers
Our Top Train Ticketing Platform and How We Chose it
We’ve tested out all of the top ticketing portals and comparison shopping websites for train tickets for Spain and the rest of Europe, and unlike with many of the articles we write, this one was not a difficult choice. Trainline is much easier to use than the official sites from Renfe, Ouigo, Iryo, and Avlo, and offers great comparisons of all of them. And compared to most other comparison platforms, it offers better deals.
Trainline’s Advantages for Spanish Train Tickets
Here’s why Trainline did better than Renfe and competing portals:
- Trainline gives the same prices on routes as when buying from Renfe (and is, on occasion, cheaper): The same is true if you’re booking tickets on Trainline for France, Germany, Eurostar (Paris to London), Italy and more. Since Renfe’s booking system isn’t particularly smart, to say the least, it can actually charge you more for complex routes within and especially crossing outside of Spain than Trainline does.
- Trainline shows extensive bus options that can save you money or help you reach small towns in Spain as well as cross over into Portugal (which is only very poorly connected to Spain by train).
- Especially if you’re crossing borders, the Renfe site has too many errors to be useful. In many of our international test cases we were unable to actually select the tickets for purchase that the Renfe website claimed to offer.
- Trainline comes up with time-saving options for international routes across Europe. This is a major advantage; Renfe itself generally has terrible prices on any parts of your trip that cross into France, so you end up with major savings on Trainline, which connects to the French train system without the huge markup.
- Flexible dates search: While unfortunately this is not immediately obvious, Trainline does offer this feature. Enter a date and run your search and then, above and to the right of search results, you’ll see a small calendar icon and pricing for “other days from…”. Click it to see how you could travel three days before or after and save a bit more.
- Trainline’s website is smooth and functional. It is in (real) English, accepts foreign credit cards, and is well-designed and streamlined.
- Quality, fast customer support: Trainline is a hand to hold for navigating the complex European systems should something go wrong. Their service is not at the level of, say, a mom-and-pop travel agency that will talk to you about what to see in Seville or Malaga, but it is much better than the national train companies and private ticketing portals.
- Easy cancellations: If you purchase a ticket that has a refundable option, you can take care of this directly and easily through the Trainline website instead of having to deal with Renfe or the other operators.
- Indicating seat preferences: As with direct purchases from train operators, Trainline offers the choice of aisle, window, or solo seats where available, and to choose to face the direction of travel. You can also choose first or second class (first class is in a drop-down next to ticket prices; you automatically see the cheapest option first).
- Unlike some other private ticketing platforms (Omio, etc.), there are no pop-ups or other pitches for hotels, rental cars, and the like. You’re there to buy tickets and Trainline makes it seamless, without trying to sell you extras
A Few Disadvantages — But They’re Not Derailing Us
There are a few downsides we still note with Trainline.
- Trainline’s booking fee structure is opaque and only shows up on the last screen. The fee depends mainly on the train you are booking and where you are booking from and ranges from 0% (that is, free, quite common in my searches for Spanish train tickets) to ~3%.
- I like the little map that Omio and RailEurope show in their search results; Trainline doesn’t have that.
Trainline merged with CaptainTrain in 2016 and is the leading portal for train tickets for Europe. This gives it the most data and resources of any platform, so it’s not so surprising that it tends to offer the better routing and makes pretty good order out of the mess of conflicting European national rail systems, as well as the competing rail operators in Spain.
The Runner Up: Also a Great Train Search Engine+Flights
Like Trainline, Omio offers a great comparison and booking engine for buses and trains operating in Spain, as well as flights. We think flying within Spain is completely unnecessary—but if you want to compare that option as well this is the site to do it. Be sure to figure in, however, the extra time and expense of getting to and from airports, and the extra wait times flying involves. Spain is well-served by fast trains that are almost always a better option.
(The one case where you really may want to consider flying is for travel in and out of Portugal. As you’ll see from Omio or Trainline searches, train connections are nearly non-existant and bus connections are a bit arduous.)
The booking fee for Omio is variable, and, as with Trainline, you don’t see what it will be until late in the booking process. In our tests, it was generally higher than Trainline’s by a few euros.
Omio shows lots of options and its routes are smart and combine various train operators when it makes sense to do so. I prefer Trainline’s search results because they immediately point to what is almost always the best option, but Omio does show tags if you look carefully that point you to the 1st cheapest, 2nd cheapest, 1st fastest, and 2nd fastest options.
A Word on Renfe for Booking Spanish Train Tickets
Renfe’s official site is such a pain. It doesn’t hurt to double-check their site, but Trainline and Omio connect directly into Renfe’s system and in all of our tests was able to offer the same prices for individual routes.
It is important to note that there are some tickets for smaller regional trains in Spain that are not sold online at all, and Renfe’s site can be useful for seeing those routes and times even when it can’t sell you those tickets; you often have to buy them at a train station. At very rural stations that are un-staffed, you just get on the train without a ticket and then buy one, explaining where you got on, from the ticket inspector. If done honestly this is never a problem.
On Renfe’s site, you can find Renfe’s attempt at English by clicking on the globe icon second from the top right on the main page, and then selecting “Inglés”. From there, you’ll still need to know the names of your destinations in Spanish and that the word “todas” is a way of searching for any and all train stations within a larger city.
The Cercanías (Communter) menu shows Renfe’s local small-train services around the outskirts of major cities. The “Rodalies de Catalunya” is the local network serving areas outside of Barcelona and around Catalonia.
The other advantage of Renfe’s site is that there is no booking fee. But this doesn’t mean you’ll save money; you miss out on (often much cheaper fares) from competing operators, as well as routes combining those operators and Renfe. Also, you’re also rather likely to experience error messages in Spanish and failed transactions, especially if using a non-Spanish credit card.
Other Ticketing Platforms We Tested
ACPRail shows results for Renfe trains, but it only shows some Renfe trains, and doesn’t show competitors’ options. The search results page shows only three possibilities, which leaves you clicking quite a bit to try to compare prices through the day for a particular journey. The results that it does offer are more expensive in our tests than purchasing through Trainline, Renfe, or other options. And there is a booking fee on top of that.
RailEurope (formerly Loco2, and now owned by the company that owns SNCF) works just as smoothly as Trainline and Omio, and has the same prices, but tacks on a booking fee that is generally a bit higher (though at least Rail Europe is transparent and declares its fees for each currency up front). Its European coverage is also not quite as extensive in general; it shows Ouigo but not other competing rail companies in Spain. I do like that it’s a quite usable site, up front in search results about the booking fee, and not polluted with a lot of extra add-ons. In its previous incarnations RailEurope/Loco2 was once our top pick for European train booking, and it could still make sense for some countries in certain cases, but it’s missing out on too many of the competing rail operators in Spain to be worth it here.
In our tests with complex routes involving various countries, Trainline performed better than RailEurope — the routes it proposed were cheaper, shorter, and with fewer changes.
Rome2Rio shows results for Spanish trains that are apparently taken from Omio (discussed above), so you might as well just use that instead.
Petrabax: This is Renfe’s partner for the USA and shows only Renfe tickets in US dollars with a bit of a markup as compared to the other sites. There’s no real reason to choose it, even if you’re American, as you can use an American credit card to purchase from any of the other options listed here. It also tacks on an expensive service fee.
Rail.ninja consistently showed much higher fares in our test searches than what Renfe charges, and doesn’t seem to offer tickets with any of the competitors to Renfe. I like it that there is a pop-up next to these fares with a picture of the seating and some train information, although it was outdated. But that’s hardly worth the prices.
The French national train company’s website, SNCF Connect (formerly known as “Voyages-SNCF” and “OUI.sncf”) tries to sell Spanish tickets but doesn’t tend to work so well, and we’ve previously discussed the problems foreigners have with using it even for tickets in France itself.
It is very difficult to find English and other languages; to get there scroll to bottom and then back up part way within the black footer on the right side to where it says “country choice” and, for English, choose “Europe (other countries)”.
The search feature doesn’t have different fields for your origin, destination, and dates. There is instead one box, where you’re supposed to type a phrase about the type of trip you want. It doesn’t work, of course. But after you type something there that it misinterprets, you will get a more traditional trip search feature with origin, destination, and date search fields.
Previously the SNCF had a great “flexible dates” feature, but that has now been eliminated. It’s good to see that Trainline has since added it.
Once you get results, you’ll be able to book trips on Renfe trains. Ouigo trains are also shown, but infuriatingly, there is no button to actually buy those trips.
Prices are not shown in search results; you have to click through to screens after the search results to see the prices. Then you are taken to a screen that sometimes doesn’t even show the trip that you originally clicked on, but does show prices. But these SNCF-Connect prices can be extremely inflated compared to booking on Trainline, RailEurope, or Renfe; one recent search showed a Madrid-to-Barcelona AVE train via SNCF-Connect at four times the cost of any of those other sites.
SNCF’s sites were never good for booking for France and are just terrible for Spain; it’s striking to see how they’ve gotten even more difficult to use and bizarre over the years and many crazy redesigns.
Conclusion: The Easiest, Cheapest Way to Book Spanish Train Tickets
Our tests found Trainline to be the overall best bet for convenience, routing options, and prices for train travel in Spain.
Omio is now our second choice and we’re keeping a careful eye on it as it improves. We still use Renfe once and a while to see timetables for smaller and regional trains—but buy those tickets in stations.
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No one seems to factor in suitcase charges and other odds and ends. I missed a train the other day and had to get another and the woman behind the counter just kept pointing to her screen and as I don’t speak Spanish didn’t understand she eventually called another clerk over and she said had I got a suitcase and I pointed she looked at it and I got charged for it . This turned out to be an Avlo train I had never been charged for suitcase on Renfe.
Sorry to hear about your experience! Thanks for sharing. I’m guessing you booked on Renfe’s site? The luggage restrictions are pointed out quite clearly on the Trainline site when booking and we have a lot more on the four different Spanish different train options and factoring the luggage costs here.
I clearly said that the woman behind the counter, and that I had missed my booked train so surely you can see it was at the train station ticket office so how could I book it on line as I didn’t have the time to peruse the web sites.
We are planning a trip to Portugal and Spain in the Fall. Do the sites that you discuss take into consideration the 20 Euro free train ticket that are currently in effect?
Hi Bob. That offer only works for repeat trips on the same line on small regional and local trains. Unless you’re going back and forth frequently over short distances, it’s very unlikely to help you. We hope to get a full article on this up soon; thanks for the question!
Hello! I see that Spainrail.com was not mentioned in your review of buying tickets for Spain travel. Any thoughts?
We just checked it out, ran a few tests, and added it to our coverage above. It has less coverage, higher booking fees, and seems a bit fishy to be honest. Thanks for the suggestion; we love to check out everything.