Moving to another country, the effectiveness of its public transport may not necessarily be one of the factors that influences your decision. However, it is something that can later impact your opinion of the country and your experience living there. From my experience of living in Logroño, the capital of the northern region La Rioja, I can say that public transportation in Spain is – for the most part – reliable, inexpensive, accessible, comfortable and clean. And I can’t help but compare the Spanish transportation system to the Irish one, which is very unreliable, expensive and limited, especially in the south where I’m from.
Pros and Cons of Public Transportation in Spain
Every country and system has pros and cons and therefore so does Spain’s transportation. In this article, I talk about the pros and cons of the train, bus and metro system in Spain. This is based on my own experience, observations, and conversations with friends and family who have also used it.
Travelling by Train in Spain
Pros of Travelling Around Spain by Train
Travelling by train is cheap in Spain, especially if you book your tickets in advance. RENFE is actually one of the cheapest rail transportation systems in Europe. The only drawback is that the price does jump up quickly in a matter of days, even less, if you don’t grab your tickets straight away.
Time and reliability
It goes without saying that travelling by train is one of the fastest ways to travel and the trains in Spain are quite reliable when it comes to departure and arrival times.
There are a lot of routes that allow you to travel around Spain by train and there are a variety of choices for the time of travel. There are even some early morning trains, at like 4am.
Ease and comfort
Trains are clean and comfortable. You can entertain yourself with the TV screen they have, and they even give out free earphones so that you can listen to it. I have also witnessed someone helping elderly people and other people struggling to get on the train with their bags, which is something my family and I noticed as different to our former experience.
Cons of Getting Around Spain by Train
It is important to note that, in some of the major train stations (such as Barcelona Sants), there are security checks like in the airport where they scan your bag and coats, etc. Okay, in the world we live in today, this is not a bad thing! But it is something you have to be aware of because, if you show up to the train station with only 5 minutes to spare, it will not be enough time to get through the security and to your platform on time.
One of the worst things about travelling by train is that there may not be WIFI as firstly, not all of the trains have it. Moreover, you will not get it in the ones that do unless you are willing to pay for it by opting for preferente class (1st class).
The other con is that food and drinks on the train is expensive, although this is something that is common in most countries. It is always better to buy something in a shop before going on a long journey on the train.
Travelling by Bus in Spain
Pros of Choosing Buses within the Public Transportation in Spain
Similarly to the train, travelling by bus in Spain is considerably cheap, especially if you book your tickets in advance. When I first came here, I travelled from Barcelona to Logroño by bus, roughly 6 hours, and my bus ticket was only around €30. Bear in mind, I booked way in advance online. Since then I generally opt for the train, as it is faster.
Travelling by bus is much cheaper here than in Ireland and comparing really puts it into perspective for me. A bus ticket from the town I am from to the city where I studied (about 2 hours) was around €32. I recently bought a ticket from Logroño to Bilbao (around the same distance) for only €16.
The city buses are cheap also, here they cost 72 cents and cheaper if you have a bus card. In bigger cities they are a bit more expensive, I remember in Valencia they were €1.20. Again, in the city where I studied in Ireland, the price for the city buses was €2.20 and this keeps rising all the time.
Time and reliability
Both the national and city buses are reliable when it comes to keeping time and while train is faster, sometimes bus can be the cheapest option. Timing and reliability are so important for me, because in Ireland both the national and city buses are late more often than not.
There are a lot of bus routes to get around Spain with a variety of times and tickets can easily be bought online or at the bus station. However, sometimes it is necessary to go into the train station to find the timetable.
Ease and comfort
While they aren’t as fast as trains, buses are also comfortable, especially for long-haul journeys. Like in the trains, there is a TV.
WIFI and Charging ports
Thankfully there are charging ports on the buses and there is also WIFI on most of them!
Cons of Transportation in Spain by Bus
Sometimes, on the city buses especially, it is necessary to have the correct change or at least as close to it as possible.
As in any country, bus times run differently on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Depending on where you are in Spain, sometimes the bus times can be a little awkward. For example, for me to travel to Logroño to a nearby village, sometimes there isn’t a bus coming home for hours, which may be more time than I want in that place.
Bus seat numbers
Not really a “con” but the bus seat numbers are placed in weird places on the buses. On my first bus ride from Barcelona to Logroño, I was searching for my bus number on the overhead panels as they usually are there but couldn’t see them and ended up sitting in a random seat. After the pit stop, I faced the embarrassment of being told that I was in someone’s seat and then wandering around with a confused face looking for the numbers, which were below, near the armrest.
Buses not stopping
For the city buses, they may not always stop for you unless you signal that you want to get on.
Travelling by Metro in Spain
Pros of the Metro System in Spain
The price of the metro is cheap and even cheaper if you buy a card like the T-10 card for 10 journeys, which is €10.20 in Barcelona.
Time and reliability
It goes without saying that travelling by metro is the best way to get around a big city: they are always reliable and come every few minutes.
It is easy enough to work out the routes of the metro and on the metro there is a light to show you in which stop you are at. It is also easy to get to the airport via metro.
Cons of Exploring Cities in Spain by Metro
As is normal in any big city, the metros can get overcrowded, which make them uncomfortable. I had a “near-death” experience in Barcelona getting on the metro with a friend. He went on before me and I was trying to get on but there was a REALLY slow old man in front of me. The metro was pretty much full to the brim and I was trying to work out if there was enough space for me to get on because the old man wasn’t pushing in at all and when the doors started closing I jumped on out of sheer panic. If I had been any later the doors would have crushed me!
Overall, I Love Public Transportation in Spain
Getting from A to B in Spain by bus, train and metro is quite easy, cheap and reliable. Of course there are cons and things that can be improved, but generally, these things are small and can be seen in any country. As someone who despises the public transportation in Ireland, I love living in Spain and being able to get around with considerable ease.
P.S. Actually, I had a bad experience with the reliability of the train when I went on holidays for Easter. I was travelling from Logrono to Barcelona on the 4 am train in order to catch a flight at 11.50 am. I was supposed to arrive at 8.55am, which I had calculated would give me enough time to get the airport train from Barcelona Sants as well as the recommended 2 hours.
However, the train in Logrono didn’t leave until 5 am or after, which made me really anxious and in the end I had to get a taxi from Barcelona Sants to the airport, as I didn’t foresee that it would only take me half an hour to get through security and find my area for boarding (and was too anxious to take a chance). At that point I was just happy I didn’t miss my flight! Moral of the story: don’t overtrust the reliability of transport and always give yourself enough time in case something happens.