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5 Hard Learned Lessons about Spanish Public Transport

Starting my Pamplona

Starting my Pamplona

Or how my lack of forward planning to get myself to the other side of Spain landed me in a world of hurt.

Alright, not actually into world of hurt, but I could’ve made things a lot easier for myself, had I thought about things a bit before, but then again it is not as if this is the first time this happened.

So, I was in Torrevieja in southern Spain, and where I wanted to be in 48 hours was Pamplona, 750km up north, close to the French border. And two days before I needed to be there I realized that my current plan wasn’t actually going to work.

My plan had been to get a train from Alicante to Pamplona, a simple enough plan which came crashing down when I actually tried booking the ticket 24h hours before traveling. All trains were full.

So it was time for the plan B, except there was none, so I had to figure out one, fast.

So the first lesson:

1. If there is a festival, book early

San Fermin in Pamplona is definitely one of those, if you want a train to Pamplona when the festival starts, book at least a week before, preferably earlier.

So I went thru various different options, from the obvious to the slightly more obscure ones, like taking a flight to Mallorca and then back to main land Europe, which actually was one of the better ones I considered.

Enjoying a fairly empty bus... It didn't stay empty for long

Enjoying a fairly empty bus… It didn’t stay empty for long

But in the end I couldn’t find a solution that didn’t include traveling thru out the night. Well I could, but there was no way I was going to be spending over 500 euros to get to the other side of the country. I can be quite the cheapskate when it comes to traveling.

So the plan I finally settled on was getting a bus from Torrevieja to Alicante, change for a bus to Tarragona and finally another bus from there to Pamplona. All in all it would take me 20hours.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best I could do when looking at my options online, which brings me to our second lesson:

2. Lot of the bus schedules are not available online

As I went to the local bus station to buy myself a bus ticket to Alicante for the evening, I noticed they actually had a bus directly to Pamplona.


A bus from a small town in the south directly to Pamplona?

At this point I was prepared to lose a bit of money and just get on this one as it would get me there considerably faster and simplify my life, but no. It was full. If I had gone to the station a day earlier I would’ve gotten a ticket, but now it was too late.

It was quiet at the platforms

It was quiet at the platforms

I had been happy with my current plan, but now after knowing it could’ve been a lot easier, I was gutted. I had to admit to myself, I was going to have a rough night, and it was all my fault. Don’t you just hate it when you can’t blame anybody else for your problems?

Still, there was no way around it, so at nine in the evening I boarded the bus in Torrevieja, which was half an hour late, which is the next lesson:

3. Buses will be late

None of the buses I took left on time (although they usually arrived more or less on time), so make sure you have a bit of time between connections. And don’t be worried if your bus doesn’t arrive on time to the station, but there hasn’t been any announcement about it. Just wait at the correct platform until it arrives.

The arrivals and departures boards won't show delays

The arrivals and departures boards won’t show delays

As I waited in Alicante for three hours for my bus I realized something:

4. There are no working electric sockets at bus stations

I tried probably a dozen electric sockets at the Alicante station, none of which provided any power to my laptop. Some of which were even in areas I probably wasn’t allowed to.

I mean I had three hours to wait in Alicante, and another three in Tarragona, so I could’ve watched movies, or edited photos, but for that you need electricity.

It was finally at Tarragona I managed to find an electric socket that actually worked, basically it was an extension cord that was providing power for the Coca-Cola machine, so that’s where I set up camp, in front of a Coca-Cola vending machine.

Setting up camp in front of the Coca-Cola vending machine

Setting up camp in front of the Coca-Cola vending machine

But after it all I did however arrive to Pamplona in time albeit a little tired, which brings us to our final lesson:

5. Public transport in Spain is actually pretty good, especially if you book in time

So in order to be better prepared, I did buy my train ticket from Pamplona to Barcelona (where my flight was leaving from) few days early, and had no problems with it. So to summarize:

– Trains in Spain are pretty good, but you might want to book early

– Lot of the busses can’t be booked online so go to the station to find all the connections

– Relax, it’ll be fine

So there you have it; another story how my lack of planning gave me another rough night.

Breakfast in Tarragona

Breakfast in Tarragona


Have you had problems with public transport because you haven’t planned things properly?


  1. Sounds like Murphy’s Law! Sometimes it’s tough planning ahead when you really want to travel with the flow. I had a similar train mixup in Zurich, leaving me just a handful of hours in the city instead of a full day. Lesson learned!
    maq203 recently posted..Amsterdam: Staying at the Best PlacesMy Profile

    • Yeah, I still try to avoid planning too much ahead, but sometimes it does make things a little easier.

  2. Seems to happen all the time for us. In Italy we would often find what was meant to be an to date timetable and sort out our schedule around that. But then once you get to the bus stop and the bus doesn’t arrive you begin to panic. Especially when the locals then say oh that bus, doesn’t run for another 2 days.

    Always works out in the end though if you stay calm(ish).
    Cole @ recently posted..Gözleme – Eating traditional Turkish foodMy Profile

    • Ah, the wonders of timetables that don’t seem to have anything to do with actual timetables. Yeah, tends to be that it’s often best to ask a local also to get an idea if a timetable is accurate or not. But yes, it’s amazing how it all works out eventually.

  3. ‘Relax, it’ll be fine’: So true in nearly all situations :)
    Sophie recently posted..Torre Argentina: Cats among Roman ruinsMy Profile

    • Yep, when it comes to traveling, that usually works, things will sort themselves out more or less.

  4. Good advice! Sometimes I’m guilty of assuming public transport in a different country will be straight-forward as it is in others. I’m glad you arrived in time after all that!
    Simon recently posted..The 30 nicest travellers to follow on TwitterMy Profile

    • Yep, public transport can vary surprisingly much between even neighboring countries.

  5. When things go wrong, they all go wrong at once, huh? 😛 I find these lessons apply to public transport in many countries… it’s definitely a matter of learning how to let things go and accept that some things in life are just out of your control!
    Reena @ Wanderplex recently posted..The foldable toothbrushMy Profile

    • Yeah, that often seems to be the case, when things go wrong, they will properly go wrong! And yes you can’t stress too much about things that are out of your control…. Now I could’ve of course done my bookings in advance, but that’s a whole other issue 😉

  6. The only time I’ve visited Spain we had a hired car so I didn’t have to deal with this. I guess it makes sense that transport would be a bit relaxed in the land of siestas but I never thought about it – good to know!
    Andrea recently posted..A Weekend In Turku: SaturdayMy Profile

    • Hiring car is often a good idea, makes getting around a bit easier.


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