Trenhotel: An Overnight Train in Spain

Trenhotel Update 2016

Based on the RENFE site, the overnight Trenhotel between Barcelona and Granada has been discontinued. However, the Trenhotel I took between Barcelona and Leon in September 2014 as part of my Camino de Santiago is still running and you can read all about my second trip in a separate post. The Barcelona-Granada route has been replaced by daytime trains: a mid-range Media Distancia train or MD plus local bus. The overall journey has been reduced to 7-8 hours.


When planning my first trip to Spain, I narrowed down my preferred destinations in Spain to specific areas: Barcelona, Andalucia, and Madrid. Flying in to Barcelona and out of Madrid meant I had some options for getting from A to B. To hit all of places I wanted to go, a long-haul journey between Barcelona and Granada was inevitable. The train seemed the best option to see a lot of the country, enjoy relative comfort, arrive in the centre of town, and move around freely during the journey.

At the time, RENFE, Spain’s national railway, had a couple of options: travel all day or travel all night. It would be pricey, but not a budget-buster. I learned three things through research:

  • A small portion of tickets are nicely discounted if you buy them online in advance.
  • RENFE’s website is painful to use, though much better after updates in 2015.
  • TripAdvisor has a very helpful, thorough guide for buying tickets online through the RENFE site. Following every step to the letter, I bought tickets for each of four trip legs without a single problem, some at 50% off of the regular price.

Having already experienced an 18-hour train journey upright (Montreal to Halifax) and finding one such experience enough for a lifetime, my budget permitted an actual bed on the “Trenhotel,” RENFE’s long-haul night trains. In a berth of either two or four beds (a “Cama Turista”), it was 92€ for a 10-hour journey (2011). Considering the trip was just under 1,000 kilometres, that seemed a fair price.

I didn't see any of this journey, but I'm sure it's delightful.
I’m sure there’s a lot to see between A and J. Next time.

When I went to buy my Trenhotel ticket, there was a discounted online ticket for a private room the next class up, a “Cama Preferen,” for the incrementally higher price of 100,10€ (CAD$140.82 at the time). The regular price was 115€, the difference being the large part of a day’s food budget. Sold!

The departure from Barcelona was not without drama. A couple of days earlier, I noticed signs in Catalan and Spanish vaguely alluding to periods of labour disruption over the next week, including two of my train journeys. Lacking the language capacity to explore the intricacies of Spanish labour relations (hint: they’re like the French, except they only strike for a few hours a day, instead of the whole day), I took my chances and went to the train station.

If there was a strike, no one within the RENFE system was particularly bothered by it. Asking questions only yielded “No problem” answers, so I got in line for security, not entirely sure what was going to happen next. After the 2004 Madrid train bombings, Spain takes train security very seriously. Bags are scanned, people are scanned, but, unlike air travel, you get to keep all of your clothes on and no one shouts at you.

I was directed to the Cama Preferen boarding area, then walked to my little room, provided with a brief overview of the journey, and given a personal wake-up time. The car’s attendant was beyond delightful, listening politely as I mangled a few sentences in Catalan and Spanish, then conveying all of the necessary information in perfect English, while poking fun at my questionable multilingualism. She reiterated the most important rule about the Trenhotel: take the key everywhere because the doors snap closed behind you.

Trenhotel key Barcelona to Granada Spain
No one is going to cut you a second crazy key in the middle of the night.

The train departed at 9:30 pm and everyone around me quickly packed it in. The room was small, but not claustrophobic. Great for the solo traveler!
Interior Panorama Trenhotel Barcelona to Granada Spain

Interior Trenhotel Barcelona to Granada Spain
The room was small, but I’ve had smaller in non-mobile accommodations.

I explored my little area, opened up the amenities package and made the most of the experience by taking a shower on a moving vehicle.

Trenhotel Barcelona to Granada Interior spain

It was already pitch-black, so there wasn’t much to see or do, so I settled in to read, and promptly konked out for nine hours.

Truthfully, I saw very little of the country between Barcelona and Granada. I left in the dark, and the sun rises rather late at that time of year, almost 8:oo am. The only thing I actually witnessed was the sun rising over the Andalusian countryside, which was stunning. My new neighbour friends and I stood in our hallway, sharing the one really clean window while oohing and ahhing over this amazing sunrise.

Trenhotel Barcelona to Granada
Swooooon.

The trains in Spain are really something to behold. Clean, efficient, and timely. None of my four trips were more than a minute or two late, and for something like the Trenhotel, it’s good value for dollar. It was certainly cost- and time-competitive with taking a bus – but far more comfortable – much easier than dealing with a flight, and a rather interesting way to spend an overnight in the Spanish countryside, hurtling through the night at approximately 150 km/h.

I loved the experience, would definitely recommend it for those whose time, budget, and interest permits, and would certainly repeat it the next time I’m in Spain. If you have questions about Trenhotel, please ask in the comments!

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23 comments

  1. Great post! I´m pleased that you also found the Trenhotel a good alternative for travel from Barcelona to Granada. I regularly get this train, preferring it over Air travel. Alot of my friends don´t get it. Why spend all night on a train when you can get an hours flight? I love it. A good nights sleep and I wake up at my destination!

    • Thanks! I find air travel so miserable now, with security and cutbacks, that I spend as little time in an airplane as possible. I *loved* my Trenhotel experience and would do it again, no question. The trains in Spain are marvelous, you have a great, great system there!

    • Great information on Trenhotel. Thank you. I am seriously considering to take this overnight train from Granada to Barcelona. When I try to book the train at RailDude, this is the only option I have. :
      Class of service: Tourist Slp 4B

      I don’t mind paying a bit extra for the comfort, but it seems to me that there is no other option. Any help is very much appreciated.

      ps: I will be traveling with my wife and 2 children 3yo and 7yo.

    • Knowing how difficult the RENFE site can be, I wouldn’t attempt to book tickets through a third-party site. Follow the instructions I’ve linked to above and you should be able to find something suitable.

  2. I am traveling from Granada to Barcelona on the Tranhotel. The only options I am looking is Tourista and Cama Tourista. Two of us are traveling on a tight budget. I wonder if the Tourista is comfortable enough to sleep at night. The difference is not that great – turista is about 65 euros and Cama Tourista – 93, however if its reasonably comfortable in the tourista, i would choose that. Any views?

    • The overall value really depends on your ability to sleep anywhere. The trip is a little more than 10 hours overnight, the turista seat is basically a chair that leans back slightly, the cama turista is a bunk in a room that could have up to 3 other people in it. I booked far enough in advance that I could get a cama preferente (individual room) for about 10 euros more than a cama turista.

      I found the turista seats fine for my shorter trips (2-3 hours), but I was very happy I had the bed for the overnight journey. Thanks for the question!

  3. I know this post was last year, but hoping you will still see rep moment and respond. My husband and I (70 & 65) are taking the exact itinerary you did in Spain. We have traveled trains in France and Italy, but never Spain and never overnight. We are leaning to the Cama Preferen also. A couple of questions: Where is the toilet for these types of rooms? Is it safe to get to in the middle of the night? Is breakfast included?

    also, some other concerns : how safe is the Barcelona train station at that time of evening to board? How far in advance do you get to train station? How long do you have to board?

    How far in advance can you book on Renfes website for trenhotel and other day trips

    Do you recommend first class on other city connections? It looks like first is not available Granada to Spain!? any and all recommendations on all trips, rail stations, booking, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hello!
      I too would love those answers if you still have them, but I mainly would like to know how early you can get on the train (it leaves at 10pm so that’s a lotif time to kill!) also wondered if you tried out the restaurant on board
      Many thanks!
      Kirsty

    • If I recall correctly, I could only board 15-20 minutes before departure, so I ended up waiting around the station for about 90 minutes. I left on a Sunday evening during La Mercé, so I took in as many of the festivities as I could, then left for the station.

      I didn’t use the restaurant on board. I was focused on getting settled and trying to get as much sleep as possible. If La Boqueria is open the day you leave (it’s closed Sundays), I’d pick up some snacks for breakfast and save your euros. Happy travels!

  4. hi, can you please email me the answers too? also, how noisy and bumpy was the train ride? i was thinking of taking the spain to paris route using trenhotel.

  5. I heard that if you are buying Cama Turista ticket on a Trenhotel, the men and women have to sleep in different rooms. Is that true?

    • Check with RENFE to be sure, but my understanding is the bunks/berths are separated by gender. If you’re a couple traveling together, you may find a room more comfortable, and it will be about the same price if you buy early enough in advance.

  6. Can you offer suggestions on taking the Tren hotel from Santiago to Madrid and how do you book a 4 couchette on the RENFE site?

    • For step-by-step booking instructions, go to the Tripadvisor link I included in the post, they’re the best instructions. The Trenhotel between SdeC and Madrid looks like a good option for a 12-hour journey, but I didn’t see any 4 couchette options. You may need to book two Camas Turista. I hope you enjoy your trip!

  7. Taking the trenhotel train from barcelona to granada next week. Husband and I have the 2 person berth. Concerned about restroom facilities on board. Only have sink in our berth and my first overnight train.

    • If it’s the same train I took, there are shared toilets and shower facilities in each car. I see on the RENFE site the Trenhotel on other routes has been updated since my trip, and that may be the case with this as well. The train is very clean and well-maintained, just be sure to take you key with you when you leave your room. Every time! Trenhotel is a lovely way to travel across Spain, I hope you enjoy your journey.

  8. Great advice, thanks! Did you have power sockets available in your room? And, if I decide not to do the cama preferen and do a 4 person berth instead, are there common areas where you can leave your room and sit?

    • Hi Andrew, yes I did have power sockets in my room, Westen Europe plugs of course. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the berths, nor can I recall whether there are other common areas. I looked on the RENFE site, and the newer Trenhotel configurations have a “saloon coach dedicated to entertainment” along with cafeteria and dining coaches, which would provide alternative seating. I would recommend contacting RENFE for the most up-to-date information about the route you’re taking.

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