Spanish trains


In order to get to Madrid in time to fly home on October 14, we decided to take the train from Arriondas to Bilbao, as we planned to follow a suggested route from Bilbao to Madrid. If we knew the hurdles we would have to overcome to get to Bilbao again, we probably would have chosen a better option. But we knew not what we were doing, so we pressed on with the plan. Perhaps sharing our experience will prevent others from making the same mistakes.


We arrived at the Arriondas train station about 45 minutes before the train arrived in order to buy our tickets from the station manager.

He was great. He sold us two tickets for €22.30 plus two tickets for our bicis for €6 to reach Santander, where we’d have to change trains to Bilbao. Bikes cost extra when a trip exceeds 100km. He explained the whole process in Spanish that even I could understand.


The station manager received a phone call from a manager at the station just before us that we wouldn’t be able to put our bikes on the train because a family of four had just boarded with four bikes. Only four bikes are allowed per train.

Our station manager gave us the bad news. He then went off on an emotionally charged tirade about how terrible the train system is in these parts. Down south, where all the money is, they have new, fast trains and a modern system in place.

Before we could protest however, he called the other station manager to demand that we be allowed to bring our bikes because we had already paid for reserved bike space. Our manager won the argument and we were granted full passage. Hurray!


The train arrived and we boarded with our bikes without issue.


We arrived at the Santander train station with headaches and sore throats. The train’s AC system seemed to be pulling in coal smoke from the engine, which is strange because the train maintained connection to an overhead electrical line the whole trip.

The Santander station had no station manager that we could find, so we attempted to buy our tickets from the machine. Our machine however was very stubborn. It wouldn’t allow us to select Bilbao as our destination.

Carrie found someone cleaning our old train and asked for help. He abliged but the machine proved too stubborn for him too. The best we could do was to buy two tickets from Bilbao to Santander. We bought two tickets for €17.80 to take us to a place we were already at from the place we wanted to go. We all shrugged our shoulders and agreed that it was better than getting on the train with no tickets.


Our train arrived and we boarded. As the train took off, the conductor came around asking for tickets. When he looked at our tickets he shook his head and then gave us a lecture about how we messed up. It was too difficult for us to explain, so we apologized. He then charged us €6 for our bikes. Nevermind that we had already paid €6 for our bikes on the previous leg. Do airlines charge baggage fees for every connecting flight? No, you pay once for the whole trip.


We arrived in Bilbao. It took us about 7 hours to go 250km. That’s 36kph, or about 22mph. It cost a total of €52.10. Carrie got a migraine headache from inhaling so much exhaust.

You’ve been warned

Would we take the train in northern Spain again? Maybe. If we only planned to go a short distance. Otherwise we would take the bus or just ride.

We now know that the trains in Spain are mainly just a pain.