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timing of train ticket after airport arrival

Hello, we are planning a trip to Andalusia and I have a question about arriving at the Madrid airport, and then taking a train to Sevilla.

Our plane from the USA arrives in Madrid around 8am. We plan to go straight to Sevilla (and not sightsee in Madrid). We want to travel by train (or bus). What is the best way to approach our purchase of bus/train tickets, logistically? I understand train tickets for this route must be purchased in advance; how much time buffer should we leave in case we have a flight delay or a long wait at customs/immigration?

And what happens if we miss the train due to a delayed flight; if we purchase the more expensive flexible fare, do we just hope there are seats available on the next train out, and work with a ticket agent to change the tickets?

Or should we book the cheaper inflexible fares, and if we miss the train, use our travel insurance to pay for whatever re-routing we need to do (which might need to be a bus or rental car, if we can't buy a ticket on another train?)

We will be traveling at a busier time of the year.

Thank you.

Posted by
1508 posts

I have been buying the deeply discounted non-refundable train tickets for all my high-speed train travel in Europe and have never missed a train in over 24 years. Assuming you’re not arriving into Madrid’s Barajas Airport on a national holiday, you can buy a non-refundable ticket 2-5 months before the train’s departure date and pay as little as $25. There are flexible tickets also, but the refund amount is never 100% so the risk is if you miss your train, you then need to process the refund and buy a replacement ticket at whatever cost it is on your arrival date. And that can be quite expensive.
There are travelers who have landed at Madrid’s Airport at 8am and reached Madrid Atocha by taxi by 9:30am. There also are jet-lagged travelers who don’t collect their luggage and get through Passport Control in lightning speed like that. But allowing a generous 2 hours to get through the airport gauntlet and 1 hour more to reach Madrid Atocha is a reasonable timeframe. Commuter trains called “Cercanias” trains depart from underneath Terminal 4 (the “Aeropuerto 4” train station). every 15 minutes and reach Madrid’s Atocha train station in 31 minutes. If you arrive at a terminal other than Terminal 4, you can take a shuttle bus to Terminal 4. Once there, you can buy tickets from the ticket machines for €2.40. It doesn’t matter which train you hop on- either the C1 or C10 will do. Always keep your train tickets in Spain because you often need to use it to get through both the turnstiles at your departure station and your arrival station. For official taxis outside each Terminal there is a flat €30 fare to Atocha train station including all luggage. A taxi takes 25-30 minutes in regular traffic, and about 45 minutes in rush hour traffic. Once at Atocha, which is a large train station, you need to make your way to the high-speed train security checkpoint where you will have to put your luggage through the machine and then collect it. This only takes a couple minutes. Allow 25 minutes once you arrive at Atocha to walk to the luggage checkpoint, and then proceed to your train’s departure platform. There are electronic signs indicating the number of the train’s departure platform about 10-15 minutes before the train arrives at Atocha. For your arrival at Madrid’s Airport around 8am, Renfe has high-speed AVE trains departing for Seville Santa Justa station at 11:05am ( the very optimistic choice). arriving in Seville at 1:48 pm; and a train at 11:53am ( the safer choice) arriving at 2:45 pm. IRYO also has its high-speed Frecciarosa trains on the same route. If you arrive at Madrid Atocha way ahead of time, you can always relax and have lunch at a cafe in the station.

For train schedules and prices check the user-friendly website of a company authorized to sell them: The Trainline will sell digital tickets once Renfe releases them for sale. You can always check and. for ticket prices direct from the source.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
274 posts

We're planning to do the same thing in May (but in the opposite direction - heading to Valladolid upon arrival), and this is incredibly helpful. Thank you!

Posted by
27431 posts

To add to what Kenko said, a bus or even a rental car is not a good substitute for a train when you're traveling from Madrid to Seville. The train is much, much faster--as quick as 2 hr. 43 min. city center to city center. estimates the driving time at 5 hr. 19 min., and who knows how much extra time dealing with the rental-car agency would take.

Unfortunately, sold-out trains on the Madrid-Seville line are far from rare. Don't be too optimistic in selecting the departure time for your train, because if you miss it, there could be quite a long wait for the next train with empty seats.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all so much, this is extremely helpful information. It's good to know the tickets are only $25 each purchased far in advance. I almost wonder if we should hedge our bets and buy 4 tickets at 11:05 or 11:53 as our optimistic choice; and then buy another 4 tickets much later in the day, like 4:00 pm or thereabouts, so we have a Plan B ready to go. We would be wasting $100 with this approach, but it would be a sort of "trip insurance" to make sure we can get to Seville. Hmmmm... or we just buy one set of tickets at 11:53, and have a list of Things To Do In Madrid ready to go, in case we are very delayed in getting to Sevilla.

Three follow-up questions:

1 - I am planning way ahead. This is for a trip at Christmastime. We will be arriving on Monday December 23. Am I right thinking this may be a busier time with higher demand for trains on the Madrid - Sevilla route? (Meaning, we should be more cautious and conservative with our selection of trains, with stronger plans if there is a delay with our flight or clearing customs.)

2 - Taking a taxi from the airport to Atocha was mentioned upthread. Is this the preferred method to get to Atocha? It looks like there is also a train from the airport; is that a wise choice or are taxis preferred? We are more interested in getting to Atocha quickly and reliably, and not seeking the cheapest route.

3 - Regarding the security screening of luggage at Atocha: it was mentioned to enter the secure area at Atocha 20-25 minutes before the scheduled train time, and it was later mentioned that the specific track assignment is posted 10-15 minutes in advance. So just to clarify, there is only one area for all high-speed trains and we would enter that secure area before our train track is known, and hang out in the secure area waiting for the track assignment. Correct?

Thank you all so much, you've been super helpful.

Posted by
30 posts

Also: a related question about buying tickets for train travel in Spain after the timetable change.

Since we will be traveling in late December after the Europe-wide timetable change, I know there can be delays with Renfe loading their new routes/timetable into the "system" and the typical advance purchase window might be much smaller.

And I assume Iryo loads their routes separately? Or do all the Spain trains get loaded at the same time?

Is there a reliable way to know when the train schedules have been loaded and are available for purchase (like a website that will send a notification)?

We traveled in France and Germany this past Christmas. I was following the German bahn system on FB and saw them announce the date that their tickets would be available for purchase (a mid-October date) and I wrongly thought that applied to the entire european system. I went to buy all our tickets on that date, and had no trouble getting my trains in Germany, but my preferred train time within France had already sold out (just two seats left and we needed four). The French train system had loaded their trains into the system one week prior, so those tickets sold very quickly. I bought tickets for a different train, and it worked out fine, but I had to pay a higher price because the cheap seats were gone. This was specifically for Paris - Strasbourg which I assume is a high-demand route at Christmastime, but I was surprised by how quickly those tickets sold, and far in advance. So I'd like to be prepared for this upcoming Spain purchase.

Any thoughts regarding reliable ways to be notified of the tickets loading into the system are appreciated! Thank you so much.

Posted by
1508 posts

Good morning Smallsea, Your arrival on December 23 during Christmas week puts this in the light of heavy holiday travel. The Christmas crunch means planning conservatively and only reserving train 🚂 tickets for times you are as certain as possible that you can make. In this case, that would be the 11:53am train.

In a move to combat climate change, Spain’s government introduced free travel on trains throughout Spain in a program whereby the Spanish can register with a nominal fee and then get their train ticket expenses on Rodalies, Cercanias (commuter trains) and short and medium-distance Renfe trains refunded by the government. It does not apply to long-distance AVE trains. It has made train travel essentially free on many Renfe trains for passengers who take a minimum of 12 journeys. As you can imagine, the program is
Incredibly popular and it is in place through all of 2024.
This has impacted train travel in Spain in a huge way as families and friends can visit each other without it affecting their budgets.
And the short and medium-distance intercity trains are getting completely sold out in record times with millions being able to travel for free.
Free travel= huge demand.
The other factor that is going to impact you is the European Revised Train Schedules that are issued two times each year at midnight on the second Saturday of June and December. That will be December 14. In reality, there is very little change in the train schedules, but the national train companies are loathe to sell tickets before the revised schedules are issued. Renfe, Spain’s national train company, normally will not sell train tickets for dates after the date the revised train timetables are released. This is usually—but not always—the case. Last year in April, I was able to go to The Trainline website and buy high-speed train tickets in April for travel in September and that was for travel after the release date of the new train timetable in June.
So, officially you may not be able to buy the tickets before midnight on December 14, but Renfe will be under pressure to sell them earlier. After all, this is Christmas! The problem is you will need to repeatedly check websites to immediately buy your train tickets when they go up for sale online. ( A word to the wise: I signed up to receive e-mail bulletins to be notified when train tickets would go on sale on two websites. I was finally notified tickets were on sale—days after they had already sold out. Fortunately, I had already bought our tix). So, be prepared to repeatedly check train ticket websites. I have found The Trainline to be the easiest and best site to do that. IRYO, a private train company with high-speed train service between Madrid and Seville and other routes, WILL sell tickets before the Timetable revision, so you might want to set your sights on a IRYO Red Arrow (Frecciarosa) train.

With regard to the luggage security check at Atocha— the location is very close to the tracks where the high-speed trains depart from. So, once you have your luggage screened, you walk a very short distance to the tracks where there is signage indicating the specific track number your train is departing from. It will all be in the immediate vicinity of the security checkpoint.

Posted by
11511 posts

Smallsea undoubtedly knows Chicago weather better than I do, but I wonder if counting on an on time departure in December from ORD is the best way to plan.

A rental car as an alternative plan is not a really good option. A 5+ hour drive after an overnight flight is rarely seen in a positive light.

Posted by
30 posts

holy cow, thank you so much for all of this. I had no idea that train travel was free in Spain. We had issues in Germany due to their monthly $59 pass for unlimited travel which created significant demand; this sounds even more extreme than that. Now you have me really nervous and I wonder if our trip will be possible at all, in the manner that we envision. So, another question / clarification.

In Germany (which I understand is a whole different country) they normally release tickets 4 months in advance. But at the timetable change, they don't know in August what their December schedule will be, so you can't get December tickets in August. But they do figure out their timetable sometime in October and start selling tickets then. Surely Renfe must figure out their schedule sometime before the actual day that the schedule changes... But are you saying that Renfe actually waits until the date of the timetable change to publicize the new schedule and start selling those tickets?! And only sells them sooner due to pressure by people who want to make their plans? Holy cow. That seems so difficult.

When you say "immediate purchase", is this like concert tickets where I need to be online at the moment the tickets become available? Or might I be safe if I am checking 2x/day every day leading up to the change? Have you seen them announce "tickets will be available beginning tomorrow" via any social media channel or regular news media?

Is it only Renfe trains which are free to Spanish residents? Are the Iryo trains also affected by this significant demand for free trains?

Once we get to Sevilla and are recovered from jet lag, we plan to rent a car to travel through Andalusia. We will return the car in Granada, and then take another train from Granada back to Madrid. But now I'm wondering if I should just keep the car all the way to Madrid, to avoid the hassle of booking a ticket on the Granada - Madrid route as well.

Lots to think about. Thanks so much for the heads-up, I had no idea.

Posted by
30 posts

@joe32F: yes, departing chicago in December is a concern in general, as well as with respect to a timely departure and arrival. International flights are given priority on the runways at ORD which helps, but it is a concern. The airport can usually keep up with a light snowfall, because that happens often. And if there is a major storm in the forecast, the major US airlines are good about letting people rebook on an earlier or later flight, even doing the rebooking several days ahead of time (in the past we've been able to rebook as soon as the NWS issues their official storm watch.) So for an international flight, it usually works out, KNOCK ON WOOD, because we can rebook to fly out ahead of the storm for a big storm, and the airport can keep up with a small storm. But we're flying a foreign carrier on this trip and I'm not sure if they offer that same type of proactive rebooking.

And I completely agree with NOT doing a 5-6 hour drive on the day of arrival after an international flight. I hadn't mapped out the time when i suggested that as a backup plan, above.

I'm pondering if we should just plan to spend that first day in Madrid, and take a late evening train to Sevilla, or an early morning train the next day, just to give us a generous buffer. The drawback is that I'd really rather be in Sevilla versus Madrid, and there are things we want to see/do before places close for Christmas, so I'd hate to lose a night in Sevilla. And we'll be tired once evening rolls around and I don't want to fall asleep on the train and mess up our jetlag recovery.

Or buy two sets of train tickets, to hedge our bets.

Lots to think about. Thank you all.

Posted by
30 posts

I just did some googling about the free train thing. It appears that it only applies to short and medium distance trains on Renfe, 300 km or less, and does not apply to high-speed long distance trains like the AVE trains. (at least, through 2023. I couldn't find a good description of the 2024 change/continuation except that it was likely to be the same.)

The route from Madrid-Sevilla, and from Granada-Madrid, are both longer than 300 km and on AVE trains, so I don't think the demand associated with free trains would apply to those routes. Although certainly, there will be demand due to holiday travel. And free train travel on short/medium trains might mean that someone takes a long train to get to a hub, and then uses the short trains for travel in between, so demand could still be greater.

Thanks so much for the heads-up. I'll start paying close attention next fall, and think through our itinerary again now and see if we need to change anything.

Posted by
1508 posts

Yes- the program of free train travel only applies to short and medium-distance Renfe trains ( the high-speed medium-distance trains are called “Avant” trains). along with commuter trains called “Rodalies” and “Cercanias” trains. The free program does NOT apply to long-distance Renfe AVE trains which is what most international travelers in Spain are interested in.
The government can only offer the program on the publicly-owned Renfe trains since it owns Renfe. IRYO and Ouigo Espana trains are owned by private train companies so they are not impacted by the free train ticket program.
I apologize for the oversight in my writing and any confusion it might have caused. I’ve since edited it so others don’t get confused. ( How great would it be if the days of the Eurail Pass without Seat Reservations returned)!
***. I learned today that Renfe started a new option that can be added on to two categories of Renfe train tickets that will be of interest to you and others who are in the same situation of arriving at an airport in Spain and unsure what train to book.
Renfe has a new “PUENTE AVE” option
that can be added to its “Elige Estander” and “Elige Confort” ticket categories. The Elige Estander ticket is the next category above the non-refundable Basico ticket and is less expensive than the Elige Confort category. The difference is an Elige Confort ticket comes with a larger seat.

If you purchase an Elige Estander ticket you can add the new PUENTE AVE feature for just €5 more and the Estander ticket becomes transferable to either an earlier train on the same day as the train that was originally booked, or a later train than the one that was originally booked. It is, of course, subject to the availability of a seat on the new train that the passenger wants to switch to.
The change can be made up to 30 minutes before the train’s departure time without paying for any price difference between the originally-purchased ticket and the one that a passenger wants to change to. All these upgrades are included for €5 more on both the Elige Estander and Elige Confort tickets.
The original ticket price also is 70% refundable if the passenger wants to cancel.

So, if you pay €40 for an Elige Estander ticket and add on the Puente Ave upgrade for €5, the problem of what AVE train to take is solved because you’re not locked in with a €25 nonrefundable, nonchangeable ticket. This is a game-changer for the Spanish national trains and welcome news!

Posted by
30 posts

Kenko, thank you so much, the PUENTE add-on feature sounds like a great way to go. I suppose it still doesn't solve the problem of trains being sold out, but the flexibility (especially to travel earlier) sounds really wonderful. I'll look for that option.

However - at a busy time like Christmas, do you think there is a risk of EVERY train being sold-out between Madrid and Sevilla on any specific date? I understand that SOME trains might be sold out, but could EVERY train?

(Do we run a risk of not being able to get there at all? If this is a real risk and concern, then it still might be better to purchase a €25 train for our desired route, and a second €25 train for something much later in the day as a backup, for €50 total, versus a single €45 Estander + Puente ticket, if there aren't any available trains to transfer onto with the Puente feature.)

Posted by
27431 posts

I consult the Renfe website pretty often as I respond to questions on this forum, but I'm not typically looking at trains for holiday travel, and because of time-zone differences, I usually look at next-day rather than current-day schedules. I have often seen train after train marked as full for the next day, but I don't know that I've ever encountered a 100% sold-out day. I think it's possible all the fast trains could be full (and you wouldn't want to take the 8-hour Media Distancia train), but I don't know anything about Spanish travel patterns around the holidays, which could make a big difference.

Don't forget that Iryo will also be a possibility if you find yourself in a pickle, though that would mean buying a new train ticket, presumably at full price.

In the past I've sometimes suggested folks set up their trips to begin in Toledo since train tickets there are dirt-cheap and buses are also a practical alternative. The financial penalty of having to buy new tickets to Toledo after a delayed arrival in Spain is too small to worry about--11.10 euros one way. However, there's no guarantee either trains or buses to Toledo would have last-minute tickets available, and Toledo doesn't have Andalucia's warm winter weather, so it may not be on your itinerary at all. Great destination otherwise.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you acraven. I appreciate the insight and the honest response. The conversation yesterday got me thinking about starting in Toledo... I visited Spain many years ago, in 2000, and I really enjoyed visiting Toledo. I think my family would enjoy it too. In addition to reducing stress about missing the train to Sevilla, it has the benefit of starting right away in a place where we can start walking and exploring on Day 1. This would reduce the amount of time we spend waiting and traveling on the first day, and help us combat jetlag. The problem is our itinerary is really tight. I'll have to sit down with my husband and review... But I'd love your thoughts on our itinerary, if you don't mind...

Original idea:

Day 1 - land in Madrid 8am, travel to Sevilla, Sevilla in the afternoon (although based on this thread, we may need to choose a conservatively later train time and might not get to Sevilla until late afternoon.) Sleep Sevilla.

Day 2 - Sevilla. (Christmas Eve; I have a list of what is open vs closed). Sleep Sevilla.

Day 3 - Sevilla (Christmas Mass at the Cathedral, then lunch somewhere open.) Then pick up a rental car and drive to Tarifa. If time allows, stop somewhere for an hour or two en route. Sleep Tarifa.

Day 4 - early ferry to Tangier, then to Asilah (to get out of Tangier and hopefully see more than just the port city). (I know many people recommend NOT "wasting" a day with this, but my teens are very excited about the opportunity to set foot in Africa and get a small taste, even if it's not the most characteristic, so we're trying to find a way to make this work.) Sleep Tarifa.

Day 5 - visit the roman ruins at Baelo Claudia, then drive to Malaga, stopping en route at a coastal village. Sleep Malaga.

Day 6 - relax in Malaga / explore Malaga sights. Sleep Malaga.

Day 7 - day trip to El Torcal de Antequera for hiking, and to visit Antequera. Sleep Malaga.

Day 8 - drive to Granada, but stop at Frigiliana and Nerja en route. Return rental car in Granada. Sleep Granada.

Day 9 - Alhambra and Granada sights (we have tickets already, so I don't forget to buy them later). New Years Eve festivities. Sleep Granada.

Day 10 - New Years Day. Relaxing morning in Granada. Afternoon train to Madrid. Evening in Madrid (things will be closed, so we'll just sightsee on foot and have dinner).

Day 11 - fly home

but based on the discussions here, I'm now contemplating whether we should add a day at the beginning for Toledo (spending Night 1 in Toledo, then traveling to Sevilla on Day 2). Shift Sevilla and Tarifa by a day, and subtract a day from Malaga...

I'd welcome thoughts and feedback from anyone. Thank you.

Posted by
27431 posts

I don't know what to tell you. With kids involved, compromises are necessary. But you're terribly, terribly short on time at all your major destinations because of time devoted to places I (childless) would consider lower priority (or worse in the case of Tangier). To me Seville is a 4-night destination, for example.

There's more of top tourist interest in Toledo than in Malaga (although I liked Malaga), but your odds of nice weather are better in Malaga, and that's something I always take into consideration in my own planning.

Posted by
30 posts

I appreciate the candid feedback. I know our time is short. And I know our destinations are perhaps atypical; we each have things we want to see and I'm trying to accommodate all of that with this. (We visited Germany, France and Austria this past winter break... we had the most unusual itinerary and you'd never find our route on a typical tour, but it worked really well for us, and it kept our kids interested and engaged in the trip.)

So it's probably not fair to ask others for feedback, since our specific goals aren't known to others, and are fairly unique. (Like my husband wants to spend time hiking, which isn't typically on a tourist itinerary for a short trip to Europe.)

But I think it makes sense to revisit all of this with a goal of reducing stress and potential for snafus on our arrival day. And to take a hard look at Morocco, and maybe do that as a whole other trip some other year.

You've all answered my question about the train on our arrival day, which was the point of my original post, and you've given me a lot of great options and feedback regarding that day. Thank you all very much, I really appreciate it.

Posted by
27431 posts

The thing about Morocco is that there are great destinations there, including Fes and Marrakech, that have flights from many European cities, so you could easily include time in Morocco on a later trip to England, France, Germany, etc. It doesn't have to be this year just because you happen to be in Spain.

For future reference: There's nothing wrong with Casablanca, but it's a modern city without much of tourist interest, so it's recommended to minimize time in addition to avoiding Tangier.

Posted by
1508 posts

*****Iryo is now selling tickets on all its trains through December 14., 2024. That means IRYO’s not waiting for the revised June train schedules to be issued before putting its tickets up for sale. And that COULD mean in 8 more days IRYO will be selling tickets for December 23, 2024. You might want to check in 8 more days. Iryo has 7 high-speed Frecciarosa trains departing Madrid Atocha for Sevilla Santa-Justa each day with prices starting at €25.
And, lo and behold, The Trainline is currently selling Madrid Atocha to Sevilla Santa Justa tickets for Renfe AVE and Avlo trains through November 2024 on its website. Some of the Avlo tickets are going for $7.91
Never say never!

Posted by
30 posts

acraven, thanks for the great advice and perspective.

kenko, wow, being able to buy the tickets in eight days is super different than having to wait until a random unpublished date in October or November to purchase! LOL! Now you have my head spinning again, but for an entirely different reason, lol!! Although Dec 14 is the second saturday of December, which is when the timetables all change. So it makes sense that they've figured out the changes for the June timetable change and published those fares through Dec 14. I'm not convinced that they'll publish anything beyond Dec 14 for quite some time, but it's worth keeping an eye out. If they're releasing the post-June schedule now, four months in advance, perhaps they will also publish the post-December schedule four months in advance, which would be in August sometime.

I'd be surprised if they published anything beyond Dec 14 right now, since I thought all the operators had to generally be in agreement with each other's schedules "behind the scenes" to prevent accidents on the train lines. But I would be very happy to be wrong about this!

I'll keep an eye on the schedules for sure. Thanks so much for this heads-up.

Posted by
275 posts

Looks like a great trip you have planned! Like many, I'd do it a little differently but then hey you know your tastes and family better than we do!

Have a great time!