Spain’s Free Trains Explained – How Travellers can Benefit

Cercanias train

Spain is the latest European country to launch a scheme designed to entice people to its railways whilst reducing costs for existing travellers. You may have heard about it. Since its launch on September 1st, many international media outlets have run stories promoting free travel thanks to Spain’s free trains between now and the end of the year. It all sounds like a wonderful opportunity for travellers and digital nomads to explore the Iberian country this autumn without spending a cent. 

The reality is a little different though for those dreaming of seeing Spain by train for free. Once you dig a little deeper into the smallprint, you will soon realise you cannot simply jump on any train in Spain and travel where you want without spending any money. In fact, most long distance and all high-speed services are excluded from the “free” bit of the scheme, but there are still ways you can use it to your benefit if you are just visiting the country.

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Spain launches Free Trains throughout Autumn – The Basics

Spain’s free rail initiative is designed to reduce the cost of travel for commuters during these challenging economic times. Therefore it is centred around reducing and in some cases entirely wiping out the cost of passes or season tickets as opposed to one-way or return tickets for individual journeys. Therefore you need to register for a pass (abono) to benefit from the scheme. You cannot just get a free ticket for a single journey.

Essentially there are two ways in which visitors to the country can benefit from the scheme, assuming they aren’t here for specific work or study purposes which requires repetitive travel to the same destination.

The first, is by getting a pass for regional Cercanías/Rodalies services. Essentially the metropolitan rail networks in and around major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. 

The second, is by getting a pass for a specific route on some “medium distance” trains which cover larger areas and mostly connect neighbouring regions, although there are some Media Distancia services which do actually cover really large portions of Spain. More on that below.

The other aspects of the scheme won’t really benefit casual visitors who are not making repetitive journeys as they only feature 50% discounts on season passes for the faster medium and long distance trains. You’d have to make A LOT of the same journeys to make it cost effective so for travellers and nomads looking to benefit, the only relevant parts are the Cercanías/Rodalies and Media Distancia passes.

Free Cercanías & Rodalies Regional Passes

Spain rail station

The most viable way for travellers and digital nomads in Spain to actually get free train travel through this scheme is to go and base yourself in a city for a week or more and do lots of trips in and around that city using a pass for the Cercanias (commuter) trains – known as Rodalies in Catalunya. You need to pay a €10 deposit to get the pass but that will be refunded as long as you make 16 individual journeys between now and December 31st 2022.

In which Regions can you get Passes?

These passes can be obtained for travel within any of the following metropolitan regions:

  • Asturias
  • Barcelona
  • Bilbao
  • Cadiz
  • Madrid
  • Murcia/Alicante
  • Malaga
  • San Sebastian
  • Santander
  • Seville
  • Valencia
  • Zaragoza

These networks vary considerably in size. You’d have a hard time getting much out of your Zaragoza Cercanías abono for example given there are only six stations. However there are over 100 stations to choose from with the Barcelona Rodalies pass while Madrid and Valencia also have extensive regional networks with plenty of travel opportunities and interesting places to visit.

Note that these passes can be used on the railways only. They cannot be used on a city’s bus or metro network, although there are some reduced fares available on those services too.

How to get your regional pass

Buying rail pass in Spain

You can buy most train tickets in Spain online and the same is true for these passes. The easiest way is to download the Renfe Cercanias app on your phone (make sure you get the right one as there are various Renfe apps) and complete the brief registration process.

You can then select the region (from those listed above) that you want to get a pass for. Click on the menu button in the top left corner and select BUY TICKETS – BUY. 

You are then directed to a screen where you must select an origin station and a destination station. It doesn’t really matter which ones you choose as the passes are valid for the whole network but you need to select two. Click on “Seleccione tarifa” and choose “Ab. Recurrente”.

The price should come up as €10 which is your deposit. Click on “BUY” and you will then reach a screen where you need to enter your passport or identity number. Once you’ve done that, you can complete your purchase with a debit/credit card and your €10 will be returned to you via the same method after your 16th journey. You may also be asked to create a 4-digit security code at some stage in the process for reasons that aren’t entirely clear!

You should be able to see your pass by going back to the menu and selecting BUY TICKETS – MY TICKETS. Your QR code will be there which will enable you to access the trains. If you have any problems, the abonos can also be purchased in stations by using ticket machines or at ticket kiosks.

Medium Distance Trains

Tarragona Train Station
Tarragona Station in Catalunya.

The other way anyone visiting Spain during the latter months of 2022 may be able to get some benefit from this scheme is with the medium distance passes. These are only available on media distancia trains which are the slowest of the rail services which connect different cities and regions in Spain. In some cases, the journey time on media distancia services are two or three times as long as the high-speed AVE trains which are excellent but unfortunately aren’t included in the free passes.

Therefore this is not going to be the fastest way for you to get around Spain but if you’re someone who is looking to save as much money as possible whilst visiting the country, you can still potentially make some savings on the regular fares.

The main difference between the media distancia and cercanias passes is that in this case the passes are only valid for travel between two specific stations. You must enter and exit the train at one of the two and you can’t just jump off at intermediary stations either. Again you must make 16 journeys to get your deposit back, which in this case is €20.

That’s not going to be a realistic scenario for most casual visitors to Spain so to all intents and purposes, these passes are better viewed as a single or return ticket that can be purchased for €20. There is no limit to the amount of passes you can buy, so you could potentially purchase ones for several different routes.

Examples of Medium Distance Routes

You can view Spain’s media distancia rail map here. In theory, you can purchase the free abono (€20 unless you make 16 trips) for any direct link between two stations. In other words, you can’t just pick two points on the map and buy a pass unless there is a direct media distancia train that links to the two. Here are some examples of medium distance passes you could purchase:

  • Madrid to San Sebastian
  • Madrid to Seville
  • Seville to Malaga
  • Seville to Cadiz
  • Valencia to Alicante
  • Almeria to Granada
  • Vigo to A Coruña
  • Barcelona to Girona

How to get your Media Distancia Abono

Renfe ticket machine
Look for the Renfe ticket machines inside stations!

To get your media distancia abono, you need to go to a station and find a Renfe ticket machine (make sure it is not a Cercanias/Rodalies machine) or ticket office. The process is then similar to the regional passes where you have to nominate an origin and destination (be sure to name the correct station as some cities have more than one), enter your passport/identity details and pay your deposit which in this case is €20.

However with this pass, you must also “formalise” any journey you wish to make. In other words, you have to select the specific train you want to travel on. It is wise to do this as far in advance as possible as many media distancia services are only once or twice daily and may well get fully booked during this promotional period. You can do this via the Renfe app (a different app to the Renfe Cercanias one), the Renfe website, self-service ticket machines and ticket offices at the station.

Spain’s “Free Train” Scheme – Frequently Asked Questions

Is it really free?

For most nomads and travellers visiting the country, which is one of the most popular digital nomad destinationsthe only realistic way to use the scheme without spending a cent would be to buy the Cercanias/Rodalies pass and make 16 journeys within that region. That would see your €10 deposit refunded.

For anyone here wondering how to get free train tickets in Spain, you may be a little disappointed as the inter-regional medium-distance passes are only really going to end up being free for commuters or anyone with a specific reason for going back/forth between two different places.

Do you need a passport to ride the train in Spain?

You need a passport or Spanish identity number to purchase tickets. In practice, it’s very rare that you are asked to show this when ticket inspectors come by and they normally just scan your barcode or QR code. However you’d be wise to carry it if you’re using the media distancia or other long distance services as they may be more vigilant at this time to prevent multiple people using the same pass. You won’t need it on Cercanias/Rodalies trains which can be entered by just scanning your QR code at the entry/exit barriers.

Do you need to be a Spanish resident?

No. Although designed to be used by commuters in Spain, anyone can buy these passes.

How long are the passes valid?

Passes are valid from September 1st to December 31st 2022. There is no limit on how many times you can use them within that period.

Are these passes better value than the usual train prices in Spain?

A typical single journey on a Cercanias service is between 2 and 4 Euros depending on how far you are travelling. Therefore the €10 deposit Cercanias passes will pretty quickly pay for themselves even if you don’t quite make it to the 16 journey point where you get the deposit back.

As for the media distancia services, these are already the cheapest train tickets in Spain for intercity travel. In many cases, you will be able to find single tickets on some routes for less than €20, in which case it makes no sense to purchase the pass if you are not in need of a return ticket. However many of the longer media distancia trains do cost more than €20, in which case you’re obviously better off with the pass, even if you only use it once. You can easily check the cost of individual tickets via the usual methods (Renfe app/website/ticket machines).

Does a round trip count as two trips or as one?

It counts as two. Therefore to get your deposit back, you would need to make 16 individual trips or 8 round trips.

Can I travel on Avant and AVE trains?

The Cercanias and Media Distancia passes are only valid on those specific services. You can’t use them on Avant or AVE trains which instead have season passes available at 50% the usual rate.

Madrid Atocha Station
Madrid’s iconic Atocha Station. At the heart of both the national and Madrid regional rail networks.
Spain’s Free Trains Explained – How Travellers can Benefit

Mark is a freelance writer currently based in Madrid, Spain. He writes about travel and football and has visited most countries in the EU. He has lived and worked remotely from various cities across Iberia.

17 thoughts on “Spain’s Free Trains Explained – How Travellers can Benefit

  1. hi, thank you – this is one of the most helpful pages i could find on this topic, for non locals. i had 2 questions that I could not understand:

    1. if i take a media distancia abono between girona and Valencia, I understand i need to select my train before travelling. but then can i break my journey and for eg. get off at Barcelona? or will the trip not get registered because i didn’t get off at Valencia and this would affect my ability to book future trips on the Girona -Valencia route?

    2. the Media distancia map is quite broad. how do I know if there is a direct train connection between two cities (or is it not necessary for a direct train connection and i just need to “formalize” my trip on all connecting trains)?

    thank you so much!


    1. Hi Ajay,

      Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I’ll try to answer your questions:

      1. I don’t believe there are any media distancia services between Girona & Valencia but if there were you would always need to get on and off the train at either Girona or Valencia. I assume the ticket wouldn’t allow you to exit at Barcelona’s entry/exit gates in that case. In practice, you could probably get away with getting off at some smaller stations where they don’t check your ticket or have gates, but you’re not supposed to do that. In any case it’d then cause problems if you’re catching a later train where you’re not starting from one of the two stations on your abono.

      2. It has to be a direct media distancia train but you’re right, it’s not that clear from the map! The best idea is to go to and search for any routes you are interested in. Look for the letters “MD”. This means it’s a media distancia service for which you can use the abono. Note that MD-MD means two connecting media distancia services are required which effectively would require two abonos, although it will often be cheaper to just buy a single ticket if you’re only planning to do the journey once.

      Also, FYI and anyone else, they have recently announced they are extending the scheme throughout 2023 too.

      All the best!

  2. Thanks for writing the guide, as per another comment it has helped make sense better than any of the other articles that I’ve read on the subject.
    It would be great if you could update this for 2023, for example you don’t mention Andalusia which I think is now included in the scheme?.

    1. Hi thanks for your comment! The scheme has been extended throughout 2023 and as far as I’m aware, it still works in the same way across the country on Cercanias and medium distance trains. The first abono can be used until April 30th. After that, you need to pay a fresh deposit for a new one which presumably will be valid from May 1st until August 31st and again will be refunded if you use it enough.

      Regarding Andalusia, you can still get abonos for the Cadiz and Seville area cercanias trains, as well any medium distance routes in the region.

  3. Thank you for a very good explanation on how to travel for free in Spain

    Is this the same in 2023 or had anything changed.

    1. Hi Lizie,

      The scheme has been extended throughout all of 2023. You can currently purchase the abonos described in the article and they are valid from January 1st until April 30th and will be free if used enough. After that, you’ll need a new abono from May 1st which I assume will be for the following 4 months. Everything works in the same way as far as I can tell and there are also some free bus passes now for intercity travel too.

    1. No, the Cercanias and Rodalies passes are only for travel in a specific region and the networks don’t expand beyond that area.

      To travel from Barcelona to Madrid or vice-versa, your best option is to try to book in advance and look for the cheaper AVLO or Ouigo high speed services. You can often find one-way fares for less than 10 Euros if you book a couple of weeks or so in advance and are a bit flexible with days/times.

  4. I have 2 questions
    1. Once you reach 16 trips can you not use it for any more ? Or is 16 just the required amount to get refund?

    2. If I paid cash not card in the ticket machine how do I get the refund?
    Thank you

    1. Hi, you can use it more than 16 times. As many as you like. It’s just 16 is the point when you get a refund. Currently the cercanias passes are for the period 1st May to August 30th so you get unlimited use during that period and get your 10 Euros back if you hit 16 trips.

      Would suggest paying with card or buying online via the Cercanias App. The refund should be automatic. If you pay with cash, keep the card and ask for a receipt. I imagine you’d still be able to go to some stations and ask for a refund, but it’s probably way simpler and less hassle to just buy with card.

  5. Hi, do you know how to book the specific MD train you want to travel on once you’ve purchased the pass?

    1. Hi Carrie, you can do it in the Renfe app or on You need to click on “Mis abonos” and select the option “Nueva formalización”and then you should be able to select the exact train you want to travel on.

  6. I shall be staying in Benalmádena over Christmas 23 and want to go to Seviile one day and Cordoba another. Does the €20 free pass allow this or can I only go to the same place repeatedly?
    If not can I buy two €20 passes if that works out cheaper than the train ticket?
    Must I return the same day or can I stay overnight in Seville and use the free pass to return the following day?

    1. Hello, the 20 Euro passes allow unlimited travel in either direction between two destinations that have a direct “media distancia” train connection. Benalmadena is not served by media distancia trains, but you could use the 20 Euro pass to travel between Malaga & Seville for example. You could use a separate pass to go from Seville to Cordoba but there doesn’t appear to be direct media distancia trains between Malaga and Cordoba.

      Overall, I’d say you’re not going to benefit too much from the passes but it might prove cost effective if you did a return from Malaga to Seville.

  7. Can I use this pass for travel between Malaga and Cadiz and return? There is no direct connection between these cities, but can I therefore buy 2 passes? Between which cities would that then be? Perhaps one abono from Malaga an Seville and one from Seville to Cadiz?
    But in that case I dont want to go the whole way to Seville center, so can I chose a station where you change to Cadiz? I am not sure I am thinking right about these things, so please help me. One more question, can I make these reservation online from home? (Sweden)

    1. Hi Bjorn, the fastest way with the media distancia trains would be to change in Dos Hermanas (just outside Seville). So in theory you could buy a Malaga-Dos Hermanas and Dos Hermanas-Cadiz abono for 20 Euros each. You can buy them online here and it’d be valid until the end of December.

      Buying a return ticket from Malaga to Cadiz is only 47 Euros though, so you wouldn’t make a huge saving, assuming you are only doing the trip once.

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