We will be joining the Rick Steves Best of Andalucía tour in spring 2022 and will be flying from Seattle to Paris and then onto Spain. Would it be better to fly into Madrid or to Sevilla? We are planning on taking the train from the airport to Cordoba and wonder which would be easier to do after the long flight to Spain.
If you are able to book a single ticket from Seattle to Seville via Paris (or Amsterdam) on Delta/Air France/KLM, then it makes the most sense: airport bus from Seville airport to Sevilla Santa Justa station, then frequent train to Cordoba taking only 45 minutes or so.
If going to Seville implies splitting the tickets, then book to Madrid instead, but the trains from Madrid to Cordoba are less frequent, longer, and more expensive (best to prebook them); also getting from Madrid Barajas airport to Madrid Atocha railway station takes longer than in Seville.
I'm sure you'll be checking airfares to both Spanish destinations if you haven't already done so. For me, traveling from Washington DC in 2019, Madrid was about $500 cheaper than Seville one-way. It's true, though, that the rail fare from Madrid will be quite a bit higher than from Seville. You can reduce that price difference by buying tickets really early, but that may be riskier than usual in the current environment. However, Renfe has both a Basico fare and an Elige fare; tickets at the Elige price are cheaper to change (but not free). Definitely click on a fare box in each category and read the rules.
It's always best to choose a travel date that matches the day of the week you'll be making the trip. It will be quite some time before the actual schedules for next spring will be available and tickets go on sale, but what you see now will give you a good idea of schedules and costs. I'd guess you'll only be able to see complete schedules and fares through early December right now. You'll see the fares for the current week are generally a lot higher than the fares for months in the future.
I've fairly often seen "Train Full" notices when looking at Renfe schedules for the immediate future. It's my impression that's more of an issue between Madrid and Cordoba than farther down the line between Cordoba and Seville; it would be interesting to know whether our Spanish posters agree with me. Although we often suggest that travelers not buy rail tickets in advance for day-of-arrival trips, since it's impossible to know when a transatlantic flight will actually arrive and a traveler will clear Immigration, it would be frustrating to arrive in Madrid and find the next 6 or 8 southbound express trains full. Of course, if you want to spend some time seeing Madrid (or Toledo or Segovia) before the tour starts, you will not face this conundrum.
Thank you all for your helpful replies. We have booked our flights and are planning to spend two nights in Madrid before going onto Cordoba to join the tour. Our trip is in late April. How much in advance are train tickets available and should we plan on purchasing a class higher than regular tourist class?
I'm not sure about the timing of ticket sales, but this is what the very useful Seat61 website says: "When does booking open? In theory, tickets should go on sale 60 days ahead for all trains other than AVE trains which should open 90 days ahead. However, this isn't exact - Renfe is a law unto itself, and loads dates in large blocks as and when it feels like it, often significantly less than 60 days and often loading some trains before others. If you go online and don't see the complete train service which you're expecting to see, and it's more than a month to go before departure, the chances are that all trains are not yet loaded. Renfe is particularly lax in opening bookings for dates after the timetable changes at midnight on the 2nd Saturday in June and 2nd Saturday in December when the booking horizon can shrink to as little as 30 days."
You can take a look at the schedule for the current week (on the day you plan to travel) to get an idea of how frequent trains will be. Then compare to your actual travel date; if your travel date has far fewer trains, that likely means not all the trains have been listed yet. You will save a lot of money by buying the Madrid-Seville tickets early.
It shouldn't be a problem, based on your plans to begin your trip by spending a couple of days in Madrid, but do not under any circumstances plan to buy a long-distance train ticket at Madrid's Atocha Station. That is very likely to be a multi-hour process. The vending machines are fine, but in the past there have been occasional reports of problems with machine acceptance of US credit cards.
I always buy tickets for the most basic fare class. It's a lot more spacious than coach seating on a plane.
Spanish trains are very comfortable. There's no need to get premium seats. There are two prices for standard seats, look at what's included (or more to the point, how much for any extras like seat selection or changes) and decide which you need. As acraven says, all the trains for your travel day may not be on sale yet. Look at the schedule for a day or two ahead to see which train suits your timetable, then look at the actual travel date.
We took the AVE train from Madrid’s Atocha Station to Cordoba yesterday and it was a very pleasant trip. There are several trains a day - we took the 12:35 train and arrived in Cordoba at 2:15. We purchased our tickets about 2 weeks in advance for a bit of a discount. We had assigned seats, the train was uncrowded, spotlessly clean, and everyone wore masks. I agree that there is no need to purchase Premium Seats.
Thank you for all of the information. I looked at the Renefe website today and they had schedules posted for our travel dates in late April 2022. I was able to purchase two tickets without any problem and at what appeared to be good rates. The site accepts credit cards and payment through PayPal. The payment processing took less than a minute and a pdf of my tickets were immediately available. I printed the tickets and saved the pdf to my computer files. They also emailed a copy of the tickets within a minute. The whole process exceeded my expectations - the website converted to English smoothly throughout the whole process and each step was logical and intuitive. We're excited about the trip and are hoping that the Covid problems will continue to go in the right direction. Thanks again and happy travels!!
I'm very glad to hear the Renfe website has received expert attention. It used to be somewhat problematic.
Hi neighbor! I too had problems buying tickets on the Renfe website a couple of years ago, so I'm glad you didn't.
Looks like a great itinerary. Cordoba is a top-choice place for me. I hope you have a little more time in Sevilla after the tour is over, and a chance to spend some time in Madrid.
We're excited about the trip. The Renfe website worked well and the schedules went many months out.
We'll spend two nights in Madrid and plan to visit the Prado and Thyssen and more. We get to Cordoba a couple of nights before the tour so we should be rested and ready and we'll have some margin for any snafus. We'll fly to Paris at the end of the tour and stay there for a few nights before returning. If this tour is like the others we'll be wanting more time in all of the places we visit!
The only real difference between ordinary and premium fares on the AVE is that premium passengers are served free food and drinks, and given free newspapers, and have access to a VIP lounge at the departure station, where they can avail themselves of free drink and snacks for up to one hour before the train's departure time.