Spain Train Ticket Booking: We Tested the Best Legitimate Sites for Deals and Smarter Routes

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-06-28
PUBLISHED ON  2018-08-23
An Iryo train stopped in Zaragoza Delicias Station; this is one of the options in Spain that are not bookable via the official Renfe site

Your Guide

Mose Hayward

Travel Nerd

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 FranceItaly, 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 sharply designed powerhouse Trainline overall produced the best options for buying train tickets for Spain. It offers:

  • 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.

Our Top Train Ticketing Platform and How We Chose it

The Runner Up: Also a Great Train Search Engine+Flights

A Word on Renfe for Booking Spanish Train Tickets

Other Ticketing Platforms We Tested

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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6 thoughts on “Spain Train Ticket Booking: We Tested the Best Legitimate Sites for Deals and Smarter Routes”

  1. Carleton Hoffman

    thank you for another great article.
    i went to Trainline and was confused by their designation of trains as both Renfe and AVE. what’s the difference? as with Renfe, i don’t see any way of contacting them.

  2. I tried Train line from Madrid to Alicante this morning for a future date in September, and it did not show a single option for Renfe. Has Renfe pulled out their data?

    I went on the Renfe app for the same date and saw lots of options on Renfe… So Im wondering why those options didn’t appear on Trainline…

    1. Mose Hayward

      I just checked this and Trainline is showing lots and lots of options for this route in September. Be sure to select the city of Madrid (any station) to Alicante (any station)… I’m wondering if you may have searched for some specific station for which there is no connection?

  3. Hello! I see that was not mentioned in your review of buying tickets for Spain travel. Any thoughts?

    1. Mose Hayward

      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.

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