Buying train tickets is remarkably straightforward compared with the British system. A return ticket gets you a 20 per cent reduction over two single fares. Even if you originally only bought a single, and then decide to return by train, just show your outgoing ticket at the desk and you’ll get the discount. Check lines and fares on http://www.renfe.com.
Buses are usually cheaper than trains, and often quicker. There are lots of companies, but the main operator is Alsa (http://www.alsa.es).
Both trains and buses are easy to negotiate for day trips, and much cheaper than organised excursions. Most cities offer tourist cards for public transport, but provided you are staying centrally you aren’t really likely to use one much, even in Madrid and Barcelona. You would be better off just buying a 10-ride ticket that is valid for the bus and metro and can be shared between two or more people. Just remember to put the ticket through the machine for each passenger .
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