An Iryo high speed train at the platform at Malaga's Maria Zambrano station

Traveling on the Iryo High Speed Train from Madrid to Malaga

The most convenient way to travel between Spain’s various large cities is certainly via the country’s excellent high speed train network. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s comfortable, and it’s less expensive than air travel. During our recent stay in Spain, we used the high speed train for traveling between our two hub cities – Madrid and Malaga. Several different rail companies offer high speed travel in Spain. We rode with the newest of these called Iryo. And we enjoyed a fantastic journey in both directions! Let me tell you all about our experience on the Iryo train from Madrid to Malaga.

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Why Did I Choose Iryo?

As I researched our options for riding the high speed train from Madrid to Malaga, Iryo was the clear winner for us. Other choices include the state-owned Renfe which is the country’s largest rail company. Or Avlo which is Renfe’s lower-cost fewer-frills alternative. A fourth company called Ouigo also offers high speed rail service in Spain, but not between Madrid and Malaga as of yet.

An Iryo and a Renfe train lined up at a train platform in Spain

Iryo’s trains are Spain’s newest and known for their comfort. Yet Iryo’s fares are generally lower than Renfe’s. Renfe does offer a more robust schedule between Madrid and Malaga, but Iryo still has decent number of trains each day for adequate scheduling flexibility.

And even though both Avlo and Iryo are considered low-fare carriers, the Iryo experience is definitely not “no-frill” as you’ll see below.

(Trying to decide whether or not to even visit Malaga? Then check out my post Is Malaga Worth Visiting? – All The Reasons The Answer is Yes)

Booking With Iryo

Website and App

I booked my tickets directly via Iryo’s website. I will sometimes use general booking sites like Omio to buy train tickets in Europe, but I found clearer guidance through Iryo’s multiple ticketing tiers on their own site. (Though Omio is the perfect place to compare times and prices between the various carriers.)

On the Iryo site I was also able to choose my seats, pre-order my meals, and avoid ticketing fees by booking directly with them. Then, immediately after purchase, I was emailed a pdf copy of my ticket (which I simply showed the gate agent on my phone at the time of boarding).

Iryo also has a phone App if you prefer, but it appeared to be pretty new (no ratings in my App Store) so I didn’t download it.

Ticket Types

When booking your Iryo train tickets, you can choose between several different types of seats…

The Iryo ticket purchase interface on their website for train travel from Madrid to Malaga

Inicial – this is Iryo’s version of Second Class.

Singular – Inicial + one more piece of luggage + slightly more rescheduling flexibility.

(This ticket type shows up as an alternative option if you click on the Inicial tab when booking)

Singular Only You – a class that falls between First and Second. It features bigger First Class type seats with fewer First Class type frills.

Infinita Bistro – this is Iryo’s version of First Class. You get the bigger seats + a meal, drinks, and attendants + the most rescheduling/refunding flexibility.

Pricing Considerations

As is common with train travel in Europe, Iryo pricing does change over time depending on demand, time of year, proximity of dates, etc. So it’s generally a good idea to book sooner than later. Also the price difference between the lower and upper classes can widen with time too.

Even though I am a frugal traveler, I personally felt that at the time of my booking, the price of the Infinita Bistro tickets was worth it for us. For our dates, the cost difference between Singular and Infinita Bistro was only around $22 per ticket. This was easily worth the cost of the meal and the extra comfort – especially since we were traveling over the lunch hour.

Our Iryo high speed train tickets in the Infinta Bistro coach from Madrid to Malaga were each $60 during the month of March.

Luggage Talk

One of the reasons I chose Iryo for our train trip from Madrid to Malaga was for their luggage allowance. It is the most generous of all the carriers.

For our prolonged trips, like this particular two month trip to Spain, we usually travel with 5 bags (including backpacks). And they are almost always overweight by European airline standards (which tend to be stricter than the US). On all Iryo ticket types, with the exception of the Inicial fare, you are allowed three pieces of luggage (check here for sizes) with no weight restriction.

Also, we each traveled back from Malaga to Madrid with an extra personal item – essentially a fourth smallish piece. And no one at Iryo seemed to notice or care.

(If you will be riding with Renfe instead, note that the company is not known for enforcing its luggage weight limits. And I didn’t see any luggage weighed, or any sort of luggage scale, at either Madrid or Malaga’s check-in gates.)

At Madrid’s Atocha Train Station – Important Advice

I’ve traveled by train a number of times in quite a few countries. And so I am pretty comfortable figuring out my way around a train station. However I was caught a bit off guard at Madrid’s huge Atocha station when we arrived to board our train from Madrid to Malaga. So you might want to pay close attention to this part.

Planta Confusion

A Departures board at Madrid's Atocha train station

When you arrive at the station, you will see monitors all around listing the upcoming departures. On the Iryo website, it recommends that you arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before departure. And we did. Even earlier in fact. (I’d hoped to be among the first on the train, since one of our bags is big and heavy, and I wanted a space in one of the train’s luggage racks. I’d read that they fill fast.)

But upon arrival, our exact platform had yet to be listed. I ultimately discovered that the platforms are typically announced 20-25 minutes prior to departure. However, you’ll notice that on the edge of the announcement board is a section called Observaciones.

A close up look at a Departure board at Madrid's Atocha train station

This section tells you where you can find the check-in area for your train. This area is called a Planta. Atocha has two Plantas – one called Baja on the ground floor and another called Primera on the upper floor. Your train’s Planta is listed on the departure board long before the platform listing.

These two Plantas consist of a series of boarding gates. And in Spain, your luggage is scanned before you board a train. This happens as you enter your assigned Planta.

The Planta Baja entrance and luggage control at Madrid's Atocha train station

When we arrived at Atocha for our train from Madrid to Malaga, I didn’t understand this. And so we stood around waiting for our platform announcement outside the Baja luggage control, near where we entered the station. Once our gate was announced and I finally figured out that we needed to find Planta Primera instead, this is what we found….


Lines at luggage control at Madrid's Atocha train station

As we ascended the escalators to Atocha’s top floor, we were immediately confronted with long lines of travelers with luggage needing to be scanned.

So much for getting on the train first. In fact, I immediately started to worry that we might miss our train.

Fortunately, the line went quickly – there is no security check other than luggage passing through the scanner.

You’ll notice in my Planta photos that Planta Primera is much much busier than Baja. And you can’t enter Planta Baja if you have a Planta Primera departure (an attendant confirms your ticket).

But…you can enter your assigned Planta and have your luggage scanned prior to your platform announcement. So I would definitely recommend doing this as soon as you arrive at the station.

Because on the other side of luggage control…. there were even longer lines. Lines of people who knew to be inside the Planta when the departure platform was ultimately announced.

Lines of passengers checking in for a high speed train from Madrid to Malaga

In the photo above, you can see the two lines of people preparing to board our train through its assigned platform gate. This is where your ticket is officially scanned and you are granted entry onto the platform.

At this point I knew we wouldn’t miss our train, but I also knew that I had no hope of finding a good place for our big bag.

(Overall Spanish train boarding is much more complicated than our experience in Central Europe. In fact you can read my post on Traveling by Railjet Train between Vienna and Budapest to see how much easier it was on that trip.)

Boarding & Luggage

Once our tickets had been scanned by an Iryo attendant, an escalator took us down to the actual platform where our Iryo train awaited us.

On the platform next to an Iryo high speed train departing from Madrid to Malaga at Madrid's Atocha station

Each coach is very obviously marked, and so it was very easy to find our assigned coach’s number. As I mentioned earlier, our individual seats were also assigned (I’d chosen them when booking online).

Door to one of Iryo's high speed train coaches in Spain

And as I feared, once I entered our coach, I found the racks for larger luggage already completely filled.

Luggage rack on the  Iryo high speed train from Madrid to Malaga

Depending on your coach, there is only 1 or 2 of these racks. And they obviously don’t fit many bags. On our way back from Malaga to Madrid, we were near the front of the check-in line and still struggled to find room on the rack. The good news though is that the overhead racks are very spacious, and easily accommodated our larger piece, though it did require a 50 lb overhead lift.

Seats & Comfort

Here is what our Iryo First Class (Inifinta Bistro) coach looked like on the inside. You can see that the seats are arranged in a 2+1 pattern, and in the center of the car, two rows face each other with a table in between. Also, notice the spacious overhead luggage racks. And, the monitors which keep you abreast of your exact location, upcoming stops, and train speed.

A First Class coach on an Iryo high speed train from Madrid and Malaga

The seats really are quite comfortable. They are large, covered in leather, and fairly cushy. And as a tall person, I was especially impressed with all the leg room. On the Iryo website, it states that they have “the most space between the seats on the market”. And I would agree that they are the best train seats I’ve ever sat in.

First Class Infinita Bistro seats on an Iryo high speed train in Spain

Here’s a look inside one of the Second Class coaches. These coaches feature a 2+2 seating pattern, but overall the seats still looked pretty nice to me too.

Economy class Inicial coach on an Iryo high speed train in Spain

Economy class Inicial and Singular seats in an Iryo high speed train in Spain

Onboard Amenities

In our Infinita Bistro coach, we had attendants who brought us a welcome hot towel, drinks, and a snack shortly after leaving.

Train attendants on an Iryo high speed train in Spain

We were then served our meal. At the time of booking, we were able to pre-order this from a menu of 3 or 4 different meal choices. We both chose the Pork Cheeks – a very traditional Spanish dish. And it was decent. I would say on par with airline business class food. The service included a linen tray cloth, ceramic dishes, and silverware which all was nice too.

A meal of pork cheeks in the Inifita Bistro coach on an Iryo high speed train in Spain

Passengers in other classes do have the option of ordering off the train’s menu at an added cost, and having an attendant bring the food to their seat. You can also bring your own food on board.

Or the train does have a food car with a wide selection of items including some traditional Spanish tapas.

The food car on an Iryo high speed train from Madrid to Malaga

In fact, during our train journey from Madrid to Malaga, I found the food car as packed as any typical tapas bar in Madrid or Malaga.

Passengers eating in the food car on an Iryo train while traveling from Madrid to Malaga

Our train seemed to have an ample number of bathrooms and they were reasonably clean every time I used one.

A bathroom on an Iryo high speed train

And there is Wifi onboard the Iryo trains. But I forgot to try it on the train from Madrid to Malaga, and it wasn’t working on our way back when I did remember. So I can’t say if it was any good or not. But, I had a good cellphone network connection throughout the route – which is probably why I forgot to check the Wifi. (T-Mobile is my cell carrier and I’ve been very happy with their generous international roaming allowances on my regular plan.)

The Journey

The distance between Madrid’s Atocha Station and Malaga’s Maria Zambrano Station is 519 km (322 miles). According to Google Maps, it would take 5.5 hours to make the drive by car. Iryo got us there in half that time – 2 hours and 45 minutes.

We left at exactly our scheduled time and arrived exactly when we were supposed to. (On the way back we arrived 15 minutes early.) We did make a handful of stops along the way including one in Cordoba (where we’d visited its amazing Mesquita during a previous trip to Spain).

While our average cruising speed on this high speed train from Madrid to Malaga typically ranged between 220-280 km/h (137-174 mph), we would at times reach 305 km/h (190 mph) when the terrain allowed. And despite the speeds, the ride itself was very smooth and comfortable.

An Iryo high speed train at the platform at Malaga's Maria Zambrano station

Final Thoughts

So if you are trying to decide on the best way to travel between Madrid and Malaga, I definitely think high speed train is the way to go.

And clearly, we were very happy with our choice to travel with Iryo.

We were impressed with the seats, the service, and our overall on board experience.

We will not hesitate to ride with Iryo again when future Spain travel gives us another opportunity. Especially since Iryo also offers high speed train service from Madrid to other popular destinations in Spain including Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, and Seville.

Hopefully we get the chance soon!

If you would like to read more about our travels in Spain, then check out these posts:

A Quest to Find the Best Churros in Madrid

Searching for the Best Alhambra Viewpoints

If you would like read more about public transportation (who doesn’t!), then check out these posts:

Riding the Blue Star Ferry to a Greek Island

Tips for Using Public Transportation in Kyoto Japan

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