The 10 most scenic rail journeys in Spain

The most scenic rail journeys in Spain
Visit the Montserrat monastery on one of the country's most scenic train trips - Alamy

There are few countries where train travel is as cheap, accessible and downright enjoyable as Spain. Much as the locals love to complain about state-run railway company Renfe, the truth is that the lines and rolling stock in Spain are constantly updated and the network reaches into the most remote corners of the country.

Prices are reasonable too, even for the high-speed AVE trains that connect a handful of the major cities. Government funding is generous; a scheme involving free local trains to get people moving after the pandemic has been extended to ease the cost of living crisis, and there are further subsidies on long-distance trains.

Spain’s trains have always been within most budgets, however, and the country’s extensive rail ­network makes train travel a relaxed way to experience Spain at a gentle pace. The north-west of the country, Madrid, Barcelona and Andalucia, are all part­icularly well-served, along with the eastern coast from Murcia right up to ­Alicante, Valencia and beyond.

Complementing this efficient ­structure criss-crossing the land is a handful of quirky and heritage side routes, often using trains made up of rolling stock from rail travel’s glory days. Some were constructed for the ­convenience of royalty and local ­dignitaries, others to transport ­produce or coal. Some are unabashedly kitsch, staffed by serving wenches and minstrels in medieval ruffs, but will nevertheless delight children as well as railway buffs.

Local tourist boards have also seized the opportunities of regular train lines to create themed routes showing the best of their regions or to access parts of the landscape that would be impossible to reach by car.

This is all great news for the sustainable traveller, and the journeys below are unforgettable experiences in themselves.

Tren de la Fresa

Start point: Museo del Ferrocarril, Madrid
End point: Aranjuez

Madrid’s first train line was opened originally in 1851 as a way for the ­Spanish Royal Family to travel between the capital and their spring residence, the elegant Royal Palace in Aranjuez, about 30 miles south of the city. The train once cut through fields of strawberries (fresas – hence the train’s name) and this special service includes a strawberry tasting on the return leg, with servers in period costume. The rolling stock is made up of carriages from different periods, comprising wooden, open-sided passenger coaches and two 1920s dining cars. The train takes around an hour, and leaves from Madrid’s Museo del Ferrocarril at weekends in spring and autumn. It can include walking, tourist train or boat tours of Aranjuez and its spectacular palace and gardens.

How to do it: Stay at the colourful Only You Hotel (doubles from £188 per night; 00 34 9100 52746;, close to the railway museum. Plan the perfect trip to Madrid with our guide.

Tren dels llacs Vintage Rail Travel
The ‘Lake Train’ passes through spectacular landscapes from Lleida to La Pobla de Segur - Alamy

Tren dels Llacs

Start point: Lleida
End point: La Pobla del Segur

The “Lake Train” meanders up into the foothills of the Pyrenees from the quiet city of Lleida, known for its looming cathedral and its annual snail-eating festival. The train is a 1960s diesel locomotive in jaunty green and yellow trim, with a vintage mail carriage and dining car. It runs along the banks of the rivers Segre and Noguera Pallaresa on a single-track railway, passing the four lakes (reservoirs, strictly speaking), to the town of La Pobla del Segur. The journey takes just under two hours and the train runs on Saturdays from April to October.

How to do it: Stay at the stately Parador de Lleida (doubles from £83 per night; 00 34 9730 04866;, set in a 17th-century convent, with rooms around the former cloister

Tren Groc

Start point: La Tor de Querol
End point: Villefranche de Conflent

The jolly little “yellow train”, also known as the Canary, is a French/Catalan concern, beginning at the station of La Tor de Querol on the border between France and Spain and running up through the eastern Pyrenees through 63km of mountainous landscape and over vertiginous viaducts and a dizzying suspension bridge. It runs between four and nine times a day and is best taken in summer, when you can sit in one of the open-topped carriages. Passengers can embark from any one of its 22 stations, or settle down for the full three-hour route from La Tor de Querol to Villefranche-de-Conflent.

How to do it: Stay in nearby Puigcerdà for a wider range of eating and sleeping options. Try the smart Villa Paulita (doubles from £63 per night; 00 34 9728 84622;

The Yellow Train on Cassagne bridge
The Yellow Train on Cassagne bridge - Alamy

Mr Henderson’s Railway

Start point: Algeciras
End point: Ronda

The train that runs from Algeciras to Ronda might not be historically interesting in itself, but the story behind the line is a fascinating one. It took place in the late 19th century, when bored British officers garrisoned at Gibraltar were frustrated with the difficulties of travelling into Spain and a British financier, Sir Alex Henderson, stepped in. With the help of a British engineer they created a single-track line through difficult terrain and bandit country. Regular Renfe (the state-owned railway) trains still run along here today, through magnificent scenery – described by Michael Portillo as “one of the most picturesque train journeys in Europe”.

How to do it: Stay at one of the luxury hotels specially constructed to house the passengers at the time: the Hotel Reina Cristina (doubles from £50 per night; 00 34 9566 02622; in Algeciras, or the Catalonia Reina Victoria (doubles from £127 per night; 00 34 9528 71240; in Ronda

Ferrocarril de Sóller

Start point: Plaça de Espanya, Palma de Mallorca
End point: Sóller

Built in 1912 to transport fruit from Sóller’s citrus groves, this narrow-gauge line now serves to carry daytrippers to and from Palma de Mallorca in a wooden train with mahogany panels and brass fittings. The train runs several times a day and connects with the similarly picture-book tram from the town of Sóller to its port. The hour-long journey takes passengers north out of Palma past olive plantations and oak forests, through tunnels and over viaducts, into the heart of the Serra de Tramuntana.

How to do it: Stay at the Sóller Plaza (doubles from £123 per night; 00 34 8712 01 188; overlooking the café ­terraces of the town’s main square. Plan the perfect holiday in Palma de Mallorca with our guide.

Famous tramway tren of Port de Soller, Palma Mallorca, Spain
Enjoy a historic tram ride in Sóller - Shutterstock

Tren de Felipe II

Start point: Príncipe Pío station, Madrid
End point: El Escorial

Named for the fanatically devout Philip II, who built the vast and austere monastery at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, this handsome green 1960s diesel locomotive with yellow art deco “speed whiskers” is one of Spain’s finest, and pulls a series of 1940s carriages patrolled by actors in period dress. It leaves Madrid once a day at weekends, and cuts through the Sierra de Guadarrama to the town of El Escorial (the ticket includes entry to the monastery). The journey time is 50 minutes.

How to do it: Stay at the Exe Victoria Palace (doubles from £65 per night; 00 34 9189 67066; in El Escorial. It is set in an 18th-century palace close to the monastery. Plan the perfect trip to Madrid with our guide

The Rack Trains

Start point: Ribes de Freser/Monistrol
End point: Vall de Núria/Montserrat

Catalunya has two rack trains; one at the monastery of Montserrat and the other in the foothills of the Pyrenees at the Vall de Núria. The first was opened in 1892, created to whisk pilgrims from the town of Monistrol up the mountain to the sacred Montserrat monastery, and is still used to this day, though mostly by daytrippers. The train at Núria slices up through glorious scenery from the pretty little town of Ribes de Freser to the mountain resort of Núria, set around an impressive lake. Both run frequently, every day.

How to do it: Stay in Barcelona for Montserrat, taking a train out from Plaça d’Espanya, but in Ribes de Freser try the cosy,  family-run Els Caçadors de Ribes (doubles from £64 per night; 00 34 9727 27006;

View over Montserrat Monastery in catalonia, Spain
The view over Montserrat Monastery from one of the Rack Trains - Alamy

Trenes Turísticos de Galicia

Start/end points: Various

14 routes, traversed by small, modern trains, are a stress-free way to see the best of this uniquely verdant corner of Spain. The rides come with guides and are loosely themed around traditional Galician sights: lighthouses, monasteries, gardens, wine and of course the Camino de Santiago pilgrims’ route. There is even a route based around fishing and the lamprey, a gruesome prehistoric-looking creature that resembles an eel and tastes surprisingly good. Tourist train ticket holders are eligible for the Galicia Rail Pass, which allows unlimited further travel through the region for a period of three days.

How to do it: Stay at the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos (doubles from £261 per night, including breakfast; 00 34 9815 82200; in Santiago de Compostela.

Tren del Vino

Start point: Chamartín station, Madrid/Segovia
End point: Valladolid

The “Wine Train” is actually a series of trains running between Madrid or Segovia and Valladolid, an undervisited city in the northwestern region of Castilla y León. The trains on this occasion are gleaming and modern, whisking visitors through the different wine provinces entitled to the protected label of ‘denominación de origen’: Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Toro and Cigales. The routes run through vineyards and past winemaking bodegas, and the price includes wine tastings, guided tours and lunch. Join departures on the first Saturday of the month from February to November.

How to do it: Stay, if you can, in the fairy-tale town of Segovia, at the atmospheric La Casa Mudéjar (doubles from £84 per night; 00 34 9214 66250;

A train in the Ribeira Sacra winemaking region
Some trains run through Spain's beautiful winemaking regions - Alamy

Tren de Arganda

Start point: Estación-Museo del Tren de Arganda, Arganda del Rey
End point: Laguna del Campillo

“The Arganda train whistles more than it moves” as the saying goes. Straight from the pages of a children’s book, these two century-old steam locomotives pull vintage passenger carriages along a four-kilometre track from Arganda del Rey to the Laguna del Campillo, a short train ride south of Madrid, crossing the wrought-iron bridge that was at the centre of the infamous Battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War. The train runs four times a day, on the first Saturday of the month and every Sunday in spring and autumn.

How to do it: Stay in Madrid at the NH Madrid ­Atocha (doubles from £85 per night; 00 34 9153 99400;

Need to know


Spain’s extremes of ­temperature mean that some of these services, particularly those with open-topped carriages, do not always run at the height of summer or in the depths of winter, but otherwise do not require too much forward-planning.

The Spanish train system

Renfe is the national train operator, with a network of long-distance, regional and local commuter trains (known as Cercanías) covering every region of the country. Trains are comfortable and generally punctual, with WiFi and sockets on most longer routes. For medium and long-distance trains it’s wise to book in advance, online or at a station. Cercanías rarely cost more than a few euros, but you can also buy 10-journey tickets, which reduce the price further.

Those planning an extended stay in Spain might investigate the Renfe Spain Pass. Available to non-residents, it is valid for four, six, eight or 10 medium or long-distance journeys and lasts for a period of a month. See

This article was first published in July 2022, and has been revised and updated.