In the late 1990s the Spanish government unveiled a large project to improve road safety and made extensive improvements to the network infrastructure. As a result, Spain has a good national network with the majority of major cities linked by modern motorways. There are two types of motorway in Spain: autopistas, which are usually toll roads; and autovias, which tend to be older roads with steeper gradients and tighter turns. Vehicles are driven on the right-hand side of the road and the maximum speed limit is 120kph (≈73mph).
To drive legally in Spain, you must be at least 18 years old, hold a valid licence and have car insurance and road tax. You also need to carry your vehicle documents and some photo ID at all times, along with two EU-approved warning triangles. Depending on where your licence was issued, you may be allowed to drive in Spain for a defined period, but some foreign nationals will need to exchange their licence for a Spanish one or take a Spanish driving test to qualify. For more information, consult the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) website.
Taxis are considered quite reasonably priced in Spain and are a popular way to make short journeys. Services are operated by several companies, but all should have a taxi licence clearly displayed and charge fares based on a meter. Standard rates should also be displayed in the car. Although it is not illegal to hail a taxi, it is usually easier to wait at a designated taxi rank.
Buses and coaches
There are several bus and coach operators running services in Spain and the standards of both are usually very good. Even the public buses are usually air-conditioned and fares on local services are often heavily subsidised. Punctuality is generally considered good, although this is perhaps not so true in smaller towns and rural areas. Information about routes and timetables is available from central town bus stations. Some of the main intercity coach companies include ALSA, Avanzabus, Eurolines and Movelia, and competition between these operators means prices are quite reasonable.
The Spanish railway network is operated by the state-owned company RENFE and offers very cheap fares compared to most of Europe. It consists of several different services from modern high-speed intercity links to far more ponderous local lines. High-speed services are understandably more expensive than the regional rail routes, but they are also less crowded as commuters tend to stick to the local services. It is usually advisable to book seats on any service if possible.
Trams and underground rail
Light rail and metro systems are very popular and affordable means of cutting the traffic in Spain and almost all major conurbations have some form of trams or underground. Some regions, such as the northern Basque Country, also have narrow gauge services running independently of the main lines.
With tourism such an integral part of the Spanish economy, it is no surprise that there are a large number of busy commercial airports located around the country, with Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport and Barcelona-El Prat Airport carrying the largest number of passengers. Domestic services are also important in Spain as they are the quickest and usually the cheapest way to reach the Spanish getaways spots of the Balearic and Canary Islands as well as the Spanish enclaves in Morocco. Flying between cities in mainland Spain is also a viable option, but it is worth comparing the speed and price carefully against rail and coach services before choosing to do so. Major carriers include Iberia and Air Europa, while budget airlines like Vueling have an increasing market share.
Other ways to get around
With its extensive coastline and strategic location, Spain is an important maritime power with sea links around the around the Mediterranean and North Africa as well as across the Atlantic. Ports and harbours play a significant part in Spanish cargo transportation and there are many passenger ferry routes, including to the Balearic Islands. Cycling is a very popular sport in Spain but is not generally acknowledged as a viable means of transport, so don’t expect to see extensive cycle routes.