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Renfe is Spain’s national railway company, running most regional and high-speed AVE trains on the country’s extensive railway system. It’s easy to visit the biggest Spanish cities on the AVE train, such as Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. The latest addition to the AVE network is Granada, just 53m from Antequera.

What is Renfe?

Renfe (pronounced “Ren-Fay”) is the state-owned railway company in Spain. Renfe is responsible for the running of passenger and freight traffic on Spain’s railway network. Trading under the official name of Renfe Operadora, Renfe operates trains on standard and broad-gauge railway lines, which account for most services in the country.

Several train companies run services in autonomous communities independently to Renfe, such as Euskotren Trena in the Basque Country and FGV in Valencia.

Renfe map

To give you an idea of how extensive Renfe train services are, we have drawn up a map to show you some of the major routes and destinations in Spain. Most major routes are in and out of Madrid and Barcelona, but Renfe can take you all over Spain.

This map shows you the most popular train routes taken in Spain. There are thousands more you can take to explore each corner of this country. Using AVE, Alvia and Avant trains, you can create the perfect trip around Spain, with this map a perfect starting point.

There are many more places in Spain to visit by rail, including Cordoba, Malaga and Alicante. If you want any more inspiration around where Renfe trains can take you, then visit our trains in Spain page.

The map includes the recently completed Antequerra-Granada high-speed line. This connects Granada to the high-speed Madrid-Malaga line – one of the main arteries running into the south of Spain. Work is currently ongoing to connect Seville and Antequera via a high-speed line.

Renfe ticket types

There are three Renfe train ticket types for all journeys: Promo, Promo+, Flexible. Depending on your date of travel and what type of Renfe train you take, then the ticket that suits you best may change. Visit our cheap train tickets in Spain page to find out more about finding the best ticket for you.

Promo

The Renfe ticket that offers you the best discount is the Promo fare. You can save up to 70% on the full price of a high-speed train ticket. These are usually the first tickets available to buy and are released well in advance of the time of travel.

There are limitations with the Promo ticket, though. These tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable, so if for any reason you cannot make the train, then you cannot redeem your money back, or change the time of travel. Promo tickets are not available for regional trains.

Promo+

You can save up to 65% with a Promo+ ticket, giving you a great chance to save if all the Promo tickets have been bought. The difference between a Promo and a Promo+ ticket is the flexibility you can get. When buying a Promo+, you can amend the journey time by paying 20% of the cost of the ticket. If you want to cancel the ticket altogether, then that can be done at the cost of 30% of the ticket’s price.

If you are travelling on a route with a connection, then it may be ideal to purchase a Promo+, as it gives you a bit more time to decide when to travel.

Flexible

As the name suggests, buying a Flexible ticket gives you greater freedom to change your ticket, without a large price to pay, unlike the Promo+. These are the most flexible but costliest tickets. If you want to change your train, you will simply have to pay the difference in the price of the tickets if the new journey is more expensive.

If you want to change for a cheaper ticket, then the cost is 15% of the price of the ticket. This ticket is available for both First and Second Class seats. The price of Flexible tickets is also fixed, meaning it’ll cost the same on the day as it would in advance.

How to find cheap Renfe tickets

Book in advance

In theory, the cheapest tickets for AVE services come on sale 90 days ahead of the date of travel. For other services, such as Alvia and Avant, it’s around 60 days. Promo fares are the most heavily discounted fare option available, offering savings of 70% on the full fare. These fares work like airline tickets – becoming more expensive as the departure date approaches. The further in advance you book, the cheaper they will be.

In practice, Renfe often release blocks of tickets in one go. When that happens, the booking horizon can shrink to 45 days ahead of the date of travel. It’s not ideal – but stay patient and you’ll find a good deal!

Use loyalty cards

You can also use Renfe’s various loyalty cards to knock down the price of your train ticket. These are only worth purchasing if you’re planning on travelling extensively by train in Spain. There are two loyalty cards available:

Card Price Traveller requirements Discounts available Validity period
Tarjeta +Renfe Joven 50 €50 Aged 14-25 AVE and long-distance trains:
  • 50% discount for tickets bought 30 days or more in advance
  • 40% discount for tickets bought between 15 and 30 days in advance
  • 30% discount for tickets bought less than 15 days in advance
1 year
Tarjeta Dorada €6 Aged over 60 AVE and long-distance trains:
  • 40% for journeys on Monday-Thursday
  • 25% for journeys on Friday-Sunday
1 year

Renfe tickets explained

If you buy a ticket online, you will receive an e-ticket by email. You can print this at home or display it on your device.

The key information about your journey is spotlighted in the sample ticket above:

  1. CombinadoCercanias code: this handy 5-digit code gives you free suburban rail travel to your departure station and onwards from your arrival station. Just type the code into a ticket machine in a Cercanías station to redeem it.
  2. Train and carriage number: the 5-digit number after AVE is your train number. The Coche number is your carriage.
  3. Departure time: when your train will leave the platform. If you have a Promo ticket, you cannot exchange your ticket for a different time – make sure you get on that train!
  4. Platform number: listed next to Plaza – in this case it’s 6B.

 

Refunds, exchanges and cancellations

Alterations to your booking, like cancellations or exchanges, are only available with certain ticket types. Cheap Promo fares offer the least flexibility, while Flexible fares allow a fair bit of leeway for alterations:

Fare Exchanges Cancellations
Promo Non-exchangeable Non-refundable
Promo+ An exchange fee of 20% will apply, plus the difference in price if the new ticket is more expensive. Cancellations are allowed for a 30% fee
Flexible Exchangeable at no cost if the new ticket is more expensive (you'll pay the difference).
If the new ticket is cheaper, you'll receive 85% of the price difference as a refund.
Cancellations are allowed for a 5% fee

Renfe trains

Most high-speed trains have onboard WiFi and air-conditioned carriages, with spacious seats and a restaurant carriage. First Class travellers will be served an in-seat meal and benefit from wide, leather seats. Here’s what to expect on Renfe trains.​

Seating and classes

There are two classes on high-speed trains – Turista (Second Class) and Preferente (First Class). Second Class is comfortable and cost-effective. Seats are arranged in a 2+2 formation and there are luggage storage racks at either end of the carriage.

First Class carriages are more spacious. Seats are arranged in a 2+1 formation and are usually leather, with more legroom than Second Class seats. On some trains, you’ll also find the Business Club Space. Ideal for business travellers or families, this section has eight seats facing each other, with TV screens that can be hooked up to a laptop.

All carriages on high-speed trains are air-conditioned.

WiFi and plug sockets

WiFi is available on some, but not all, high-speed trains. Look out for the WiFi symbol on the outside of the train. You will need your ticket number to generate a code which will be sent to your phone to get online. The connection is usually reliable, except for when the train is travelling through a tunnel.

Plug sockets are available in First Class on all high-speed AVE trains. Lots of the newer AVEs also have plug sockets in Second Class, located under the armrest. The plug sockets are European 2-pin.

Food on board

Renfe’s high-speed trains usually have a restaurant carriage serving drinks, snacks and full meals. There is also a snack cart service. Feel free to bring your own food on board as well.

First Class passengers on longer journeys will be served a complimentary meal at their seat. Depending on the time of day you’re travelling, you’ll be served breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, lunch or dinner. The at-seat dining is available every day except Saturdays.

Train types

Renfe's three major train services are AVE, Avant and Alvia. All three trains travel at high-speed, covering much of Spain on their different networks. Find out more about each different train and where it can take you, giving you a good idea on how you'll be travelling around Spain by train.

AVE

The introduction of AVE trains in 1992 to the rail network changed rail transportation in Spain. Short for Alta Velocidad Española, the AVE network has grown to cover all corners of Spain. Using Madrid as its major terminal, AVE trains travel throughout the country, connecting the rural south to the urban centre. AVE trains can hit speeds of up to 310km/h (193 mph).

All classes of AVE trains come with comfortable and spacious seats, buffet carriages and entertainment onboard. If you have a long train journey ahead of you, travelling on AVE will make it an enjoyable experience.

Alvia

Renfe Alvia trains are similar to the AVE, only calling at more stops on their routes. Alvia trains still call at all major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, but also towns and cities such as Cadiz, Pamplona and Alicante.

Alvia trains are engineered to run on high-speed and conventional railway lines, switching between the two during journeys. You can typically find Alvia trains in the north of the country, making it a vital link between cities in those regions and the central hub of Madrid.

Avant

The last of the high-speed train types in Spain, Renfe Avant trains still operate on much shorter routes than their AVE and Alvia counterparts. Avant routes are typically within the same autonomous region.

Avant trains are perfect for day trips or commuting, as the routes are much shorter, but you're still travelling at high speeds - making them time-effective.

For more information on the different train types, visit our guide to Trains in Spain.

Renfe routes

Renfe run frequent services on hundreds of popular train routes in Spain every day throughout the year. Whether you are taking the AVE train from Barcelona to Madrid, or an Alvia train from Valencia to Murcia, there's no shortage of trains to get you to where you need to go.

Renfe-SNCF

Renfe provides more than just national service across Spain. In a partnership with SNCF trains in France, you are able to take trains from Barcelona train station to cities in France such as Marseille, Lyon and ParisRenfe-SNCF trains have very similar classes to that on normal Renfe trains, although ticket types are slightly different:

Essential ticket

These tickets are the cheapest you can buy, and relatively flexible. You can either exchange or refund the ticket any time before departure for a 50% fee.

Flexi ticket

With the Flexi ticket, you can cancel the ticket for no charge up until 24 hours before departure. After that, you must pay 10% of the tickets price to cancel the ticket.

If you are travelling through Europe on an Interrail or Eurail pass, please note that while Renfe-SNCF trains are included in the pass, there are a limited number of spaces available on each train for pass holders. As with all stations in Spain, there are luggage checks, and this is no different for Renfe-SNCF. We also recommend having your passport ready for any inspections at the gate, as this will save not only you time, but other passengers also when trying to board.

Renfe destinations

With plenty of different cultures, sight and experiences to be had across the regions of Spain, it can be difficult to get a taste of each one. While it may be impossible to see every corner of Spain, using Renfe to travel the country is a great way to see as much as possible.

Good to know

Still got questions? Here are answers to some of our travellers' FAQs.

If you want to take advantage of the cheap Promo tickets, then you should book as early in advance as possible. Renfe tickets for Alvia and Avant trains are available 62 days before travel. You can buy AVE train tickets up to 90 days in advance.

You can search and buy Renfe tickets online using our Journey Planner. It’s simple, fast and most importantly, easy to understand. All prices, times and changes are clearly indicated, making it a hassle-free process from search to purchase.

Once you have purchased your Renfe ticket with us, we will send you a printable version. Using this, you can travel on your Renfe train with no issues.

You're also free to display the ticket on your device when travelling - printing it out is not required.

While it’s completely up to you how much time you leave before departing, it can’t hurt to arrive 20 minutes early! For AVE trains, you’re required to go through security checks before reaching the platform at major stations so it’s wise to factor this into your travel plans.

Renfe tickets can be cheaper online, depending on how far in advance you book. As per Renfe’s advice, the maximum discount for Promo fares when bought in a ticket office or self-serve machine is 40%. The very cheapest Promo tickets can offer discounts of up to 70% - so tickets bought online can be cheaper in the right circumstances.

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