Spain has an enviable public transport system which generally runs efficiently at a reasonable cost to the traveller. It includes trains, underground (metro), buses and coaches and certainly many people living here use these services rather than their car wherever possible. Smoking is prohibited on all transport services throughout the country.
The train network is extensive and you can get to all major cities. Trains are operated by RENFE, the national railway company, which has a good online booking service in English as well as other languages. For anyone over 60, Renfe offers an annual discount card called the tarjeta dorada and it costs just €5.05 a year. With this card, you can get between 40% and 25% discounts on all train services. Children under six travel for free and those under 12 get a 50% discount on fares. Prices are low compared to the UK.
There are several different types of train which can be confusing at first. The AVE (very high speed train) is the flagship service, and runs from Madrid to Barcelona, Sevilla, Malaga, Valladolid and Huesca. More startions are in the offing, connecting Madrid to Alicante and Valencia. The AVE now runs from Barcelona to Paris, a journey taking 5.5 hours from city centre to city centre. Tickets for the AVE are more expensive than for other train services but if you book early, as you would with budget airlines, you can get good deals at most times of the year. Interestingly, you might be able to get a first class ticket for less than an ordinary ticket in the UK.
The commuter trains are called cercanias and operate in all of Spain’s major cities. RENFE runs regional train networks which are called media distancia. There are also local region trains such as FEVE, a narrow gauge railway in the north of the country and a local service in the Basque region, the EUSKO TREN.
Most trains are modern and comfortable, with the AVE offering a bar and snacks, or a dinner or lunch for first class passengers. Some of the local trains are old and somewhat basic do tend to be slower than the more modern trains.
Several cities have a metro system - Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Sevilla and Palma de Mallorca (one line only). Málaga has also recently opened a new metro, and this will be extended over time.
The bus services running between cities in Spain are privately owned, and numerous companies offer different national schedules. Information can be found at bus stations and online. Bus travel in cities, run by local authorities, is efficient but in smaller towns and country areas services are rather sporadic. Generally buses in Spain are modern and thankfully air conditioned. The major companies include ALSA and SARFA, which covers Catalunya. A return journey from Madrid to Barcelona will cost in the region of €24-€40, depending on time of day, time of year.
Taxis operate in all areas, but the costs vary enormously and can be very high for a journey from an airport to a location some distance away. Taxis have meters, and are licenced by local authorities. If you can, arrange to be met at the airport knowing in advance what the price will be. Most hotels and villa or apartment owners can arrange this for you. Some larger hotels will have minibuses available for their clients. Living here, we all need a taxi from time to time but they are expensive outside Madrid and a few other cities, so consider public transport where possible.