The two last words you want to hear on holiday are 'commuter trains'. However, commuter trains are one of Spanish rail travel’s best kept secrets. Because they are free, if you know how.
Few train booking platforms will share this wonderful fact, but we are generous with our tips. The magic words to get free train travel in Spain are Combinado Cercanías - a system whereby you can add a free commuter ticket onto your long distance train ticket to or within Spain. Commuter networks can sometimes take you out as far as 100km from the city, to mountains, lakes and other tranquil, tourist-free terrain. There are, however, various conditions to getting one of these free tickets, although they are actually pretty straightforward:
First and foremost, your main ticket needs to be a Renfe long distance or high-speed train ticket. These include tickets bought on AVE, Altaria, EuroMed, Talgo, Alvia and Trenhotel which all come under the Renfe umbrella. So, for example, if you take an AVE train from Barcelona to Madrid, Madrid to Seville or Avignon to Zaragoza, to name but a few, you can get another trip out of the city for free. De nada.
Cercanias commuter networks
There are Cercanías commuter train networks in twelve Spanish cities. They are: Asturias, Bilbao, Cádiz, Madrid, Málaga, Murcia/Alicante, Santander, San Sebastián, Seville and Zaragoza. In Valencia and Catalonia, these commuter services are called Rodalies, but the same principle applies.
To get your free commuter ticket, you first need to locate the Combinado Cercanías code printed on your long distance train ticket bought with us. Enter this code at the ticket machine in the commuter train station, enter your destination and choose the fare, called 'Tarifa Combinado Cercanías'. Depending on the machine, you'll be prompted to enter your code or scan the barcode (for machines equipped with a barcode reader). If in doubt, just go to the ticket office, tell them where within the commuter zone you want to travel to. A free ticket will then be issued.
Here is the limitation: You must use the suburban ticket within four hours of your long distance arrival. Not too cheeky a caveat really.
Examples of free commuter routes into a whole other Spain
If you want to find out some things to do in Barcelona that are well off the beaten track, while still staying on the local track, explore Montseny Natural Park. Just 50km from Barcelona, magnificent hiking routes can be accessed by taking the Rodalies route R2 or R3. Rambling that will take you into a very different world than Las Ramblas. See more details here. One fine example is by taking the commuter R3 train from Plaça Catalunya to Sant Martí de Centelles to join the GR5 international hiking route, just one of many trekking trails in the Park.
Cyclists will do a wheelie in celebration at the fact that you can take your bikes on Cercanías and Rodalies trains without restriction or an additional cost. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of passengers. So, if a train is particularly busy, you may be asked to hold back until it is quieter. Check out cycle routes in Montseny Natural Park. You can even rent a bike just five minutes’ walk from Plaça Catalunya station, so you can arrive into town, grab a bike and a bocadillo and jump on a Rodalies train just like a local.
Another gem of a service that you can use this commuter freebie on is on the Renfe Feve network. This is a stunning narrow gauge route along the north coast of Spain. Take one of the eligible trains to Bilbao’s Abando station and enjoy a coffee taking in its wonderful art and stained glass window, before taking the Renfe Feve train from La Concordia station and then into another world. This train journey is a little-known gem in northern Spain and almost impossible to find on any tourism website.
The Madrid Cercanías train network takes you into the Guadarrama Mountains, the best stop being on the C3 route to El Escorial. Here you can visit a stunning medieval monastery, take in views of the Machotas peaks and enjoy some fine traditional restaurants. You won’t want to get the train back to the city, so be prepared to find a lovely place to stay here in Madrid’s mountains.
From Seville you can pick up a commuter Cercanias train from Santa Justa station out to the historic hill towns of the Sierra Norte, Aljarafe, Dos Hermanos and Utrera. To explore the Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park, in the heart of the Sierra Morena mountains, take the C3 train from Seville to Cazalla-Constantina and just get walking. You will be hard pushed to meet one other tourist in this well kept Sevillian secret.
For more detailed information on Combinado Cercanías see our help article. You may also be interested in our latest blog on the new train route between Madrid and Granada.
Image credits top to bottom: High-speed train iStock ©pedrosala, Santa Fe de Montseny iStock, ©santirf, High-speed train iStock, ©pomah1986 Santa Marina beach of Ribadesella in Spain iStock ©PLG.
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