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Rental car? Spain 6 weeks May- June 2020

We are flying into Madrid on May 5th and flying out of Barcelona on June 18th. Are there alternatives to renting a car that are more economical? We do not have a set itinerary yet. (we house swap!)
In our previous European trips, we have relied on public transportation with an occasional rental car, but it looks like Spain requires a personal vehicle to really see the country.

Posted by
17089 posts

I have spent 4-1/2 months in Spain (2 trips) since 2016, and I have done all my traveling by public transportation. Sometimes there are trade-offs in terms of speed, and there are super-small places that are impossible to reach by public transportation. But will a 6-week itinerary necessarily include any of those places? Possibly not. Or, worst case, most likely just a few of them. In all likelihood your ultimate itinerary will be something that can be accomplished primarily by train and the occasional bus. Then you can add on a short-term car-rental or two to deal with otherwise-thorny segments of your trip.

You don't want a car for the big cities, obviously ($$$ parking fees, and the car will just sit). There's extremely fast rail service (much speedier than a car) running from Barcelona through Madrid to Cordoba and Seville as well as from Barcelona to Girona and Figueres (on the line that heads to Paris). There's fast-enough service from Cordoba to Malaga, Cadiz and Granada. Madrid to Toledo (dead-end spur line) is very rapid, as is Madrid-Valencia. Beyond those segments, a car might be about as fast as a train or train/bus combination, but in many cases it will not be any faster.

Areas where a car is very desirable are the small white villages in Andalucía (if you want to see more than one or two of them) and the Pyrenees. A car will often make trips across northern Spain more efficient but is unnecessary if you just want to travel to San Sebastian and Bilbao from Barcelona or Madrid.

Do you have any thoughts yet on where you want to go?

You can take a quick look at train travel times on the Deutsche Bahn or Renfe websites. Unfortunately, the Renfe database doesn't seem to recognize the existence of such a thing as a connection. Frequently one needs to change trains in Madrid, and Renfe will simply not display those routes. If in doubt, break a trip up into segments into Madrid and out of Madrid. You need to look elsewhere on the Renfe website for some local/commuter trains, but it's quite possible your itinerary will not involve any of those.

You can use the website for high-level information about whether rail service and/or bus service is available to a particular town and where you might need to change trains or buses. Unfortunately, the more specific information displayed there (fares, travel times, frequencies) is wildly unreliable. Rather than trusting it, you really must drill down on Rome2Rio to find the name of the bus company providing the service (or check Renfe for trains). Usually you'll eventually find a link to the appropriate website. Otherwise, just Google something like bus Bilbao to Oviedo.

Posted by
133 posts

We have made three trips to Spain and Portugal. Each time we rented a car. We found it more suitable for us as couple. We do not visit big cities as a rule. There is no right answer, just your preference. With a car, there is more freedom, but parking and driving in or around cities can be a challenge. We have used trains and this mode of transportation comes with it’s own set of advantages and challenges. Restrictions on where you can travel and when. So do not listen to any one who tells you one way is the only way to travel. It is your choice and depends on what you wish to see and where it is located. Enjoy your trip

Posted by
726 posts

For six weeks, I would look at doing a lease. Check our Auto France or Auto Europe The car comes insured to the hilt and there is no extra fee for your wife to be able to drive it. The car will be what you have reserved, not "or similar vehicle". If you want an automatic trans. order it now, the allotment runs out fairly quickly. A car can be a chore in the big cities an you have to do a little bit of planning around it ( like pick it up on your way out of Marid and drop it off on your way into Barcelona we found both cities highly walkable ) but the freedom in the rural areas is great.

Posted by
14015 posts

It depends so much on where you'll be that there's no definitive answer with so little information.

Take into account that Spain is a big country. It's about 3/4 the size of Texas. So day-tripping depends on whether you're in cities or rural areas, and what the train and bus service is locally.

In general, high-speed train tickets go on sale 2 months in advance and a limited number are offered at highly reduced fares, making it very affordable to travel by train, if you are able to commit in advance (no refunds, no exchanges). For example, the full-price ticket from Madrid to Sevilla is €76.30, but there are promo fares for as little as €29.

Posted by
16788 posts

Rail lines in Spain don't necessarily serve everywhere you want to go, but multiple private bus companies usually fill in those gaps, for instance along the north and south coasts of Spain. That may be part of what's prompting you to consider driving all or part of the trip, but don't overlook bus options if they help to make a section of the trip more feasible by public transport. Rick's Spain guidebook will usually address all three options for connecting the areas it covers.

Posted by
1 posts

We rented a car several times in Malaga last month to do day trips and also to drive to Toledo. (The Marriott there had parking.) We got 2 speeding tickets in the mail upon arriving back in Florida from Avis. They were each 100 euros so drive slowly!