With some of the finest rail travel in Europe, exploring Spain by train is highly recommended.
Spain offers some of the finest rail travel in Europe and it is now easier than ever to explore the country by train - whether from England, France or elsewhere in western and central Europe. Besides the classic trips to Madrid and Barcelona, Spain has a vast regional diversity.
Taking the train to the north of Spain from the UK is easier than ever. TGV Atlantique trains, which run daily from Paris to Irun and take under 5 hrs, have revolutionised travel between the French capital and the Basque region. From the important rail hub of Irun, it’s a short 15 min hop to San Sebastian which enjoys an incomparable position overlooking the curved beach of the Bahía de la Concha. Relax in the Old Town (Casco Viejo), explore the wooded slopes of Monte Urgell, and take a swim in the calm summer waters of La Concha.
The Basque Region is well worth exploring in depth, you’ll find world-class food. Starting with a local variety of tapas, or pintxos which are bite-sized appetisers. Compared to tapas, pintxos are smaller, and served on a small bread with a toothpick pierced through the middle.
Trips from Madrid
When taking the train to central Spain, it’s tempting to only have eyes for Madrid. However, the Unesco city of Toledo is one of Spain’s most striking cities and should not be missed. Set on a rocky promontory by the River Tajo, the city is a jumble of superb buildings dominated by the imposing Alcázar fortress. See Toledo as part of a day trip from Madrid - the train journey only takes 30 mins - or as a stand-alone stopping point on your Spanish rail odyssey.
For a longer journey from the capital, travel north from Madrid to Oviedo - on the shores of the Bay of Biscay. This route will give you first-rate views of the mountainous landscapes as you take in a large chunk of Spain during the 5hr trip.
Andalucía by train
If you’re taking the train to southern Spain, Andalucía holidays are highly recommended. Seville, the capital of the region, is quite rightly one of the most popular cities to visit in western Europe. However, there’s a lot more to see when exploring Andalucía by train.
An Andalucía train tour can easily connect the many wonderful cities in the region. Trains from Seville to Cordoba take just 41 mins. Cordoba has its roots in history and culture and it was a major and eclectic religious centre in medieval times. Today it is a laid-back Andalucían city with a relaxed atmosphere, quite different from the passion and flamboyance of Seville.
From Cordoba, it’s a quick 48 mins trip to Malaga. The narrow streets of Malaga, are well worth taking the time to see and explore. The city is widely regarded as having the best seafood and wine throughout Andalucía. Some top local dishes to try include tarta Malagueña, a cake made with almonds, apricot jam and Malaga sweet wine. Of Malaga’s wine, the dulce natural and vino naturalmente dulce are the most famous - naturally sweet wines produced from an over-ripe Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grape.
Each May, Malaga hosts its annual Gastronomy Festival where the region’s finest food is showcased throughout the city. In October, Fiesta Andalucía is celebrated passionately by locals bringing a unique carnival atmosphere to the city.
From Malaga, there is a dramatic rail journey to the picturesque Ronda. The once-daily train to Ronda at 10:05 takes a different route from all other departures following the old El Chorro Gorge line.
This breathtaking line offers travellers outstanding views as you weave through the mountains en route to Ronda. The town is a lovely spot in the hills of rural Andalucía. Ronda is tiny, yet justifiably renowned for its dramatic mountain scenery. The town is virtually split in two by the great gorge of the El Tajo river, and there's a fine mix of Moorish and Renaissance architecture.
From Ronda, a short 25km bus ride takes you to the truly unique town of Júzcar. Since 2011, the buildings of Juzcar have been painted in ‘Smurf' blue. Initially planned as a short-term action to celebrate the premiere of the Smurf movie, the sudden influx of tourists compelled the town’s residents to vote to retain the smurf-like features indefinitely. If you’re up for something whacky, Júzcar is worth seeing.
- Loco2 offers bookings for all Spanish train tickets at the same price as booking direct with the local rail operator, Renfe.
- Print-at-home tickets available for every train, with plain English explanations and your Renfe ticket translated, as we do with other operators.
- Round-the-clock customer support from Loco2’s travel geeks
- Booking tickets for 'Preferente' Class offers great value giving you roomier seats and access to the Sala Club (First Class lounges) in major Spanish rail stations.
Photo credits top to bottom: La Concha beach and Igueldo mount, San Sebastian, Basque country iStock ©herraez, Old Bridge of Toledo city in Spain Dreamstime ©David Moras Sarabia, Oviedo city aerial panoramic view ©saiko3p, Andalusian landscape at sunset with olive trees in Spain iStock ©Joel Carillet, Patios de Cordoba iStock ©feradz, Malaga city iStock, ©WillSelarep, The gorge of Los Gaitanes, in Caminito del Rey iStock ©juanorihuela, Júzcar, el Pueblo Pitufo Flickr commons ©DonatellaD.
Looking for inspiration?
9 wetlands in Europe accessible by train
Wetlands are wonderlands in our view. We highlight some of these important and idyllic places in Europe that are accessible by train.