If you’re taking advantage of Spain’s excellent rail network for the first time, you might be wondering how early to arrive at a train station. Spain’s rail operator, Renfe, don’t actually specify a time frame for boarding the train. You just need to get on before it leaves. However, it’s not quite as simple as that! And we recommend arriving at the station at least 30 minutes before your train departure. I’d make that 45 minutes if you’re catching a train at Madrid Atocha and have never been to the station before. It’s the country’s biggest train station so it’s no surprise it may take a little longer to get your bearings.

Boarding a train in Spain

There’s no real check-in process so you won’t need to show a passport or other ID. But tickets are often checked before you board the train. For all long-distance and high-speed routes, your bags and luggage will also need to be scanned for security. As in airports, they’ll go through an X-ray machine. However, it’s a more simplified process. There aren’t limits on liquids and you don’t need to put them in a clear plastic bag. You can also keep those liquids as well as your electronics (such as a laptop and tablet) in your bags.

Before boarding your train, you will just need to place your bags on the belt to be scanned. There isn’t actually a security scanner for people. So once your bags have gone through the scanner, you can pick them up and get on the train. There doesn’t tend to be long queues for security and when there are queues, they move very quickly. However, it’s worth allowing a little more time if you’re travelling in the run up to a popular holiday such as Christmas or Easter.

Once through security, you just need to find the correct coach and seat. There is space at each end of the coach to put luggage as well as luggage racks above seats. And if your train is due to leave imminently, just get on the nearest coach and travel through the connecting doors if you’re not in the right one. At least you’ll be on! Obviously, if you’ve got a lot of luggage, it’s best to board the train as soon as you can to give you time to store your bags and get in your seat comfortably.

Long-distance travel in Spain

In lots of ways, taking a train to travel long-distance in Spain is much better than taking a plane. As well as being a lot less faff, the introduction of high-speed lines on many key routes makes train travel often faster than flying. Plus, there is the advantage that most train stations tend to have a city centre location and have great connections to local public transport. Train travel is also lots more comfortable than plane or bus travel. Seats are bigger, there’s more leg room, no seat belts and you can get up and walk around anytime you like.

More on train travel in Spain