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I took the overnight Trenhotel between Barcelona and Granada when I travelled in Spain in 2011. I knew starting the Camino de Santiago in Leon, approximately 300 km from Santiago de Compostela, would require a bus or train from Madrid or Barcelona, so once I booked a flight to Barcelona, taking Trenhotel to Leon became an option.

Map Trenhotel Barcelona to Leon

Cost-benefit Analysis: Barcelona to Leon

I did a cost-benefit analysis for the various options and factors that would influence my decision. I knew from the beginning that taking a bus wasn’t for me, which left combinations of day/night trains with an overnight in Barcelona or on the Trenhotel.

Trenhotel reclining  seat Overnight Barcelona Overnight Barcelona Trenhotel private room
Room cost Trenhotel Butaca G. Confort  € 19.55  € 19.55 Trenhotel Cama G. Clase
Train Travel Overnight (20h20-4h50)  Mid-day (12h10-20h14)  Early day (9h30-17h21) Overnight (20h20-4h50)
Train Cost  €  44.00  € 23.60  €  67.40  € 93.35
Total Cost  €  44.00  € 43.15  €  86.95  € 93.35
Arrival Early, early AM After dark Late afternoon Early, early AM
Time in Barcelona Evening Sept 10 & all of Sept 11 Evening Sept 10 & morning Sept 11 Evening Sept 10 Evening Sept 10 & all of Sept 11
Time in Leon All of Sept 12 None, overnight Sept 12 Evening Sept 12 All of Sept 12
Overall value Least expensive rail & accoms Lowest cost rail & accoms. Good $ value Most expensive rail trip Most expensive overall, but most comfortable & private
Bed situation Recliner, no bed overnight Sept 11 Actual bed for Sept 11 (dorm) Actual bed for Sept 11 (dorm) Actual bed for Sept 11 (at 2x the cost) (plus own shower/washroom)
Sleep? So-so to not good (sleeping bag in recliner) Possibly okay Possibly okay Okay

While it was the most expensive option overall, the overall value of the Trenhotel and the efficiency of combining sleep and transportation couldn’t be beat.

Booking Trenhotel tickets

Much like in 2011, I was daunted by returning to the RENFE website. Luckily, the meticulously detailed TripAdvisor page is still meticulously detailed and is still the best English-language source for getting through a RENFE ticket purchase. [October 2015: The RENFE site has been thoroughly updated and is much, much easier to use.]

Trenhotel options had changed since my 2011 trip. The Cama Preferen single room with shared bath wasn’t available any more, nor was a single bed in a berth of four beds, leaving the Cama Grand Clase the lowest-cost bed option. Like in 2011, I managed to hit the right date for reduced pricing and got the Cama G. Clase for €93.  April 2015: the lowest price I found for the same room was €112, your mileage may vary. 

Departing Barcelona

Barcelona-Sants train station is a major connection point in Europe, but, as a building, is a less-than-enjoyable place to spend any amount of time. With its large crowds and little seating, pre-departure time is best spent picking up last minute snacks. Plan to arrive at least 30-45 minutes before your scheduled departure, and you should be fine.

The Trenhotel departing Barcelona, ultimately destined for Vigo in Galicia, was busy this particular night. I left Barcelona the same day as a Catalan independence celebration, so the trip had a very large contingent of Catalan nationalists, as well as a few Camino pilgrims and students.

Departing Barcelona Sants

Boarding starts about 30 minutes before departure and all bags are scanned. It moves very quickly, so before long, I was on the platform and at my train.

The Cama Gran Clase is almost double the size of the room I had in 2011, largely because of the bathroom with shower. Two things that were different this time: the bed required professional set up by the concierge (which I learned after fighting with it for 15 minutes) and the toiletries pack is insane. Slippers!

At 8:20 pm, the train pulled out of the station and we started crossing Spain in the dark. After getting my bed set up and organizing a wake-up call, I took a shower (in a moving train, always an interesting challenge) and went to bed.

Trenhotel is not a budget option, but if you’re in the same situation, you may find its costs and benefits suit you and your Camino journey.

The downside: arriving in Leon at 5am

The major downside to taking Trenhotel from Barcelona to Leon is that the train arrives in Leon at 4:50am.

Leon Spain train station

This is less than ideal for lots of reasons. Nothing is open – except McDonald’s and student bars – and there’s no one around except bar patrons heading home. Upon arrival, your options are to find the McDonald’s, hang out in the train station, or wander around Leon in the dark.

The upside

At 5 am, it may be hard to find the upside. After all, it’s dark and chilly, and, arriving in a strange city, you don’t immediately know if it’s safe or not (it is). I wandered over to Leon’s old city, where I saw pilgrims shaking the sleep off, merrily chatting while heading out of town for the day’s walk.  In the end, the gift of this ridiculously early morning arrival was that I got to sit by myself in the square in front of Leon’s cathedral and think on the adventure that was about to get underway.

Camino de Santiago Leon

The day I spent in Leon was a very, very long day, but I managed to fit some sightseeing into a day of napping and containing my excitement for the next day. Leon is a small, charming city, many delights, including one of Gaudi’s more subdued buildings. For more pictures of Leon, check out my Flickr album from the day:

Camino start in Leon Gaudi
I wouldn’t have been able to tell this was a Gaudi, but it had a sign on it that seemed pretty legitimate.

Have you taken Trenhotel? Questions about taking Trenhotel? Ask away in the comments or tweet me at @bitesizedtravel!

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