Slow Train Travel in Northern Spain: Narrow-Gauge Railways
Enjoy a slow-paced journey through the North of Spain with the Feve
trains. Often hidden from railway maps, these trains run through
narrow-gauge lines that measure only 1000mm. Established in 1965, they
extend from Bilbao, in the Basque country, to Ferrol, in Galicia. Along
the way, there are more than 100 stops where passengers can jump on and
Many of the stations feature stunning stained-glass windows such as
the one in Bilbao and Santander.
With highways and flights
connecting most cities these days, it may seem a little crazy to go on
this lengthy railway journey, but the landscape views in between the
Picos de Europa mountains and the sea, plus the affordable tickets, are
worth every second.
Narrow-Gauge Railways Itinerary
Our journey begins at the Bilbao-Concordia station. If you’re planning
to explore the city for a couple of days, check out our Bilbao
Itinerary, which includes tips on what to see during your visit.
also prolong your trip by getting the inter-city rail from the
Amara-Donostia station in San Sebastián, which travels along the coast
and passes through the small fishing village of Zumaia, before going
inland towards Bilbao.
From the Bilbao-Concordia station, hop on the Feve train to Santander.
You can spend some time here enjoying the city’s pristine beaches and
lively tapas bars. One dish worth trying is the chorizo a la sidra,
Spanish chorizo cooked in cider. Make sure to dip the bread in that
delicious leftover sauce. You can also order a plate of jamón ibérico,
followed by some pintxos (tiny tapas held together with skewers) all
paired with a glass of white wine.
If you want to spend a day or
two exploring the city, read our Santander itinerary for tips on where
to eat and where to stay. Then it’s time to catch the train to Cabezón
de la Sal. Enjoy the ride on the tiny train coaches as you pass through
pasture land, grazing animals, white stone churches and a knee-deep
river. The carriages slowly empty and the stations start to get smaller
as you approach Cabezón de la Sal.
You can book a night at the Jardín de
Carrejo, a rustic three-star hotel featuring lush gardens and an
Before leaving the Cantabria region, you should stop by
San Vicente de la Barquera. With the Picos de Europa mountains in the
background and the Cantabrian sea ahead, this fishing town is well worth
the visit. It’s home to beaches and a charming old town featuring
Renaissance palaces and a medieval castle. For lunch or dinner, head to
Boga Boga, a local seafood restaurant famous for its lobster and
Vicente, hop back on the train towards the Asturias region. The first
stop on this route is Ribadesella, a lovely seaside town and the ideal
place to sample some ciders. While you’re here, make sure to visit a
sidrería (cider house) and watch the experienced escanciador (cider
pourer) fill your glass from high above. This introduces oxygen into the
drink and helps give its staple crispness. After your welcome drink,
stop by Casa Basilio for lunch. Then, take a walk along the River Sella,
a sweeping “S'' watercourse that flows into the sea. From here, you can
spot the Picos de Europa mountains rising in the distance. As the sun
sets, make your way to the rocky formations of Acantilados de Castro
You can spend the night at Bajo los Tilos, a charming bed and
breakfast located amid the mountains.
Wake up early and return to
the Feve train. This is where the journey gets wilder, as you’ll pass
through rough tunnels and green fields scattered with orchards and
hórreos (granaries resting on stone pillars). Along the way,
you’ll often spot people canoeing in the river or enjoying a glass of
cider on the train’s platforms.
Jump off at the small town of
Infiesto and order a homemade meal at Pliego Meson El Horru, before
ending the night at La Posada de Barro or further on at El Gran Sueño, a
small guesthouse overlooking the Picos de Europa.
Next stop is
Oviedo, Asturias’ capital. There’s a lot to see in this medieval city,
including a cathedral and a lively food market. Order another cider and
don’t miss the regional delicacies, such as the Fabada, a bean stew
served with spicy Asturian sausage. You can follow our Oviedo Itinerary
to discover the best things to do in the city, including restaurants and
hotel recommendations. Pack some cheese for the journey as the train
continues under tiny bridges and enters deep green valleys.
must-stops in Asturias are Cudillero, a picturesque fishing village
facing the ocean, Cadavedo with its scenic beaches, and Navia, famous
for its coastal paths.
Spend the night in Navia at the Hacienda Llamabúa
and then continue along to Ribadeo, a harbour town that stands in
between Asturias and Galicia. It’s famous for its delicious seafood, so
make sure to try some while you’re here. You can spend the night at the
four-star hotel Parador or a country-style guesthouse like A Cortiña.
Don’t leave without a visit to the Praia As Catedrais, a beach with
stunning rock formations.
This slow, peaceful adventure comes to an end as you approach the region
of Galicia. You can stop at the charming seaside village of Viveiro and
then head to Loiba. Here a scenic 2 km walk awaits, crossing eucalyptus
woods until it reaches Praia do Picón. At this dramatic beach, you’ll
find “the most beautiful bench in the world”, where you can rest for as
long as you want. Enjoy the breathtaking views over the ocean as the sun
sets and then get a ride to the Semáforo de Bares hotel where you can
spend the night. From here you can hike to Punta de Estaca de Bares—one
of Spain’s most spectacular viewpoints.
Back on the train, hop off at
Ortigueira and spend the night at the nearby El Castaño Dormilón. The
journey ends in Ferrol, where you can visit several museums and a
Neoclassical church or get a ride to Mirador Cabo Prior for incredible
views over the sea.
This train journey takes about 19 hours at its fastest, from beginning
to end. Of course, you don’t have to do it all in one go, and it would
be hard to do so with the schedule restrictions and train changes. There
are more than 100 stops along the way, including tiny villages with
rural guesthouses where you can spend the night. The duration will
depend on how many stops you make, but on average it can take you about a
week to complete the journey from Bilbao to Ferrol. You can choose to
start your journey in any of the stops we’ve mentioned above or follow
the route in reverse from Ferrol to Bilbao.
Schedules and Tickets
The narrow-gauge railways go across Spain’s Green Coast connecting Bilbao (Basque country) to Ferrol (Galicia). It’s best to book your train tickets as you go, carefully checking routes and timetables online or directly at the stations. Some destinations are often in the middle of nowhere, so there are few services available. Before leaving, make sure to check if you have to change trains.
If departing from Bilbao, you’ll spend around €50 on trains. Most of the tracks you’ll travel are also used by the luxurious El Transcantábrico train, but the journey is much more affordable. You can buy individual tickets for a specific destination every morning. For more information about schedules and tickets see the Renfe website.