Spain’s railways are managed by Renfe, a state-owned company. Its networks span the country (the mainland), connecting many of Spain’s cities. And with the advent of high-speed trains, travelling by train has become increasingly popular. Where there is a high-speed route available, travel by train can be more far more convenient than flying and certainly a lot quicker than driving. As you might expect, all rail travel isn’t equal and there are different types of trains doing different routes. AVE and Alvia trains cover the vast majority of routes but there are a few other types of trains too. Here, we take you through the main types of trains you’ll find in Spain.

AVE: premium high-speed trains

AVE stands for Alta Velocidad Española and literally means ‘Spanish High Speed’. And fittingly for a super speedy rail service that sees itself as a strong competitor for air travel, the word ‘ave’ is Spanish for ‘bird’. You may notice a bird as part of the AVE logo! AVE trains can reach an impressive speed of up to 310kms/hour. Because it’s the capital and because it’s located in the centre of the country, Madrid is Spain’s most important hub for train travel. Indeed, many AVE routes start (or end) in Madrid Atocha Station. The AVE also goes across the country’s borders. It works in combination with France’s SNCF so you can travel high-speed from Madrid and Barcelona to Marseilles. Paris, Toulouse and Lyon are also connected to Barcelona by high-speed rail.

AVE trains are very comfortable and offer two classes of tickets: Preferente and Turista. Some routes also offer Turista Plus. You can see more on the these in our post on train tickets. Onboard services include a cafe and many already have Wifi (although the service can be a bit sketchy). Some AVE trains also show movies!

In Spain, there are 11 AVE routes, covering many of the major destinations in Spain including Alicante, Malaga and Seville in addition to Barcelona and Madrid. However, the furthest north it goes is Valladolid. You can see a full list of AVE routes at: renfe.com.

Alvia: high-speed and long-distance trains

Alvia trains also run on many of the same high-speed railway lines that AVE trains do. The trains that do reach speeds of up to 250kms/hour. However, Alvia trains also operate on the less speedy railway lines in Spain. Much of northern Spain has the less speedy railway lines. However, there is currently a high-speed rail network being constructed to connect the biggest cities in the Basque Country.

Interior of an Alvia train, Preferente class.

Interior of an Alvia train, Preferente class.

Like the AVE trains, Alvia trains have a cafe and there are two classes of travel.

You can see a list of Alvia routes at: renfe.com.

Altaria: long-distance trains

Altaria trains can reach speeds of up to 200kms/hour. The routes it covers are Madrid Atocha to Algeciras and Madrid Chamartin to Cartagena. They also have Preferente and Turista seats as well as a cafe onboard.

Trenhotel: sleeper trains

If you’re not in a rush at all, Renfe also has sleeper trains called ‘Trenhotel’. They’re actually particularly handy as a way to combine a night’s combination and cross-country travel. In addition to the two classes of seats, they also have three classes of sleeper cabins: Turista bed, Preferent bed and the premium Gran Clase bed.

There are two routes with Trenhotels:

  • Madrid to Ferrol via A Coruña and Pontevedra
  • Barcelona to Vigo via A Coriña

You can find out more about the trains at: renfe.com.

Cercanias: commuter trains

In addition to the intercity routes, Renfe also operate a number of commuter train networks called Cercanias. Cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga, Seville, Bilbao and Valencia all have a commuter network. You can see a full list of Cercanias networks at: renfe.com.