Ramon is the creator of Travelling Companion. He focuses on flight reviews, hotel reviews, and helping stretch your travel dollars, miles, and points further.
Our train ride on Renfe was comfortable but could use a refresh and was similar to an Amtrak coach experience. Pros- Good leg room, comfortable seats, good recline, and solid food options for purchase. Cons-Old train interiors, slow train equipment, no power outlets, hot train cars, and dated entertainment system.
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During our stay in Barcelona Christina and I took a day trip from Barcelona to Valencia Spain to visit Christina's family living in Valencia. We decided to take Renfe which is the national train system of Spain and bought advanced tickets in Clase Turista (economy class). I was excited to take an intra-European train for the first time. We walked from our hotel to the Barcelona Sants Station located in the northwestern section of Barcelona. This is the main train station in Barcelona and I found it to be crowded as we rushed to catch our train. I would recommend that you arrive at the station early because Barcelona Sants station is large and can be confusing for a first time rider. We ran to our gate and handed the check-in agent our boarding passes and we able to make our train.
Train and Seats
The train departed Barcelona Sants right on time and we made it on board with only a few minutes to spare. Renfe's Clase Turista does not have assigned seating so we grabbed two of the seats on the left side of train hoping to catch a view of the ocean for our over three hour journey.
My initial impression of the train was that it was similar to Amtrak's older regional train cars. The train seats were laid out in a 2-2 seat layout perfect for travelling companions. The seats were old but very comfortable and had very good recline. The seats featured a mesh pocket, tray table, and a foot rest similar to premium economy seats on airplanes. The seats had no power outlets at all and we resorted to charging our phones using a portable power brick. One of my biggest complaints about the train was that it was too hot and did not have individual air vents. The lack of air conditioning seemed to be a recurring issue in Spain and I think points to different expectations for travel amenities in the United States versus Spain.
One of best parts about this train ride was the views of the sea and the Spanish countryside. The views made me want to come back to Spain during the summer to try out the beaches and explore the rest of the country.
Entertainment and Food
The train featured overhead entertainment on circa 1990 screens similar to old American Airlines in-flight entertainment monitors. Near the start of the train ride Renfe employees came through the aisle to offer earbuds. The entertainment provided was Spanish only movies and the screens had poor resolution. Because of our early departure time Christina and I were hungry and I went up to the Cafeteria car to purchase breakfast. I ate an Iberian ham and cheese sandwich which was delicious! Christina's enjoyed her coffee but did not like her cold sandwich.
Even with the views out the window I found the train ride to be very slow. This was due to the fact that the train itself was slow and that it made numerous stops at cities and towns throughout eastern Spain. Towards the end of the trip I found myself wishing for an express train with limited stops between Barcelona and Valencia.
Valencia Joaquín Sorolla Train Station
On our journey back we arrived several hours early at Valencia Joaquin Sorrla train station. One note of caution is that if you buy the "Promo" fare which is the cheapest fare you cannot change to a different train. Because we bought this fare we ended waiting around at the train station for several hours. However, during our wait I was impressed by the modern train station which featured many restaurants and stores. The design of the station was very sleek and impressive for a relatively small city such as Valencia.
When I thought about European trains I envisioned high speed and modern trains whisking people from place to place in Europe. This train was more akin to an old regional Amtrak train with slightly better food but perfectly comfortable for our trip to Valencia. If I needed to explore cities in Spain I would take Renfe again. However, when possible I would opt for the high speed train and hope to get a more modern train car.