Costa Verde Express: The Unsung Hero of Northern Spain Train Tours

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A luxury train gliding past lush green landscapes, peppered with charming coastal towns that make up Spain’s Green Coast. The relatively unknown Costa Verde Express offers passengers an unparalleled experience through one of the most enigmatic parts of the country.

When the offer came in to join a trip on the Costa Verde Express, it took me about half a second to respond “When do we leave?”. This six-day slow-train sashays across northern Spain; kicking off in Santiago de Compostella, hugging the rugged coastline of Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria, before gliding into the final stop, Bilbao.

With a strong focus on regional products, local guides visiting off-beat locations in Spain, and, lest we forget, a plush train lined with 23 sleeper carriages, each with its own en-suite bathroom, this is quintessential luxury sustainable travel. Let’s delve into more details!

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Costa Verde Express: Quick Planning Guide


  • Day One: Santiago de Compostela to Viveiro
  • Day Two: Viveiro to Oviedo
  • Day Three: Oviedo to Llanes
  • Day Four: Llanes to Cabezón de Sal
  • Day Five: Cabezón de Sal to Santander
  • Day Six: Santander to Bilbao


  • Best Beach: Cathedral Beach Galicia
  • Prettiest Town: Colorful Ribadeo
  • Nicest Route: Day one/day six
  • Restaurant: Dinners on the train
  • Culture: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

ROUTE: The train travels between Santiago de Compostela and Bilbao, or vice versa. This particular article details the former

BOOKING: Can be done directly online via Costa Verde Express

WHAT TO BRING: Earplugs, sleeping mask, walking shoes, book, both casual and formal wear

Cangas de Onis Asturias Spain

Costa Verde Express Itinerary

With a total distance of a mere 581 km (361 mi), the journey could theoretically be completed in a day’s train ride. The Costa Verde Express however takes six days from start to finish. Our journey on the train is broken up with walking tours followed by languorous gourmet lunches in local Paradores and option afternoon guided excursions.

Below you will find a detailed description of the highlights we visited along the way. More practical information including cost, how to book, etc. can be found further down.

DAY ONE – Santiago de Compostela to Viveiro

Day one on the Costa Verde Express kicks off with a bang, in the emblematic Hotel Parador de los Reyes Católicos in Santiago de Compostela. One warm welcome from the staff, obligatory awkward handshakes between fellow passengers and a bag drop later, we set off the explore the city with a local guide.

We waltz back to the Hotel Parador and sit down for our first gourmet lunch. It turns out to be a sumptuous affair of four courses, plus an endless supply of local wines. As we will soon discover, this will be the pattern for both lunch and dinner over the next 6 days.

After lunch, we head to the Costa Verde bus, whisking us away to the train station of Ferrol where our glamourous ride, and its full complement of staff, eagerly await us. There is a collective sharp intake of breath as we step onto the train. She is one heck of a classy lady.

Our dropped-off bags have safely made it into our cabins, which we have a short window to expect before reaching our first stop: Viveiro. After a short excursion, it’s back on the train for our first meal. We have both our meal and our first night in the station of Viveiro, aboard the train.

TIP | Come a day early and spend a night in the Hotel Parador de los Reyes. This will ensure you have ample time to properly explore the lively city of Santiago de Compostela.

DAY TWO – Viveiro to Oviedo

On day two we hop on the Costa Verde bus which shepherds us to Cathedral Beach. Personally, this was one of my favorite stops along the route. I extricate myself from the group and wander around the white sandy beach strewn with gargantuan pillars of sand. Others opt to go for a swim.

After our beach adventure, we take the bus to colorful Ribadeo. After a brief introduction of the town, we gleefully scatter to explore the tiny hamlet by ourselves. Little groups have started to form amongst travelers, the close proximity of the train turning us from strangers to the best of friends, overnight.

Lunch is a breezy 3-hour affair, after which we drowsily step back on the train which glides to our next stop of the day: Luarca. The briefest of excursions is organized, before our alluring train rolls into our final resting place for the day, Oviedo. Dinner is had on the train.

GOOD TO KNOW | When I did this trip, we spent the night in the station of Oviedo. It was very noisy, so make sure to bring earplugs

DAY THREE – Oviedo to Llanes

Day three starts with a bus ride to the city of Gijon. Stop one is the impressive Universidad Laboral followed by a guided tour of the city. Despite the weather being gray and overcast (not an uncommon affair we are told), locals have still come out in droves to enjoy the beach.

Many hearty courses and, a few too many glasses of wine later, we are back on the bus in the direction of Oviedo. Where both our train and a city tour await. The city tour feels a bit rushed “we have a lot to see, in a very short time” our guide mutters as she ushers us along.

As the tour draws to a close, we have a bit of free time to explore Oviedo by ourselves. Just enough to try the local biscuits and snap a few quick shots of the iconic sights. As dusk starts to settle, we retreat back to the Costa Verde Express. Over dinner, the wine in our glasses gently sways from left to right as the train winds its way to Llanes.

FOODIE TIP | Make sure to head to Confitería Rialto, the birthplace of the region’s most famous biscuits, moscovitas. Thin wafers covered in chocolate.

DAY FOUR – Llanes to Cabezón de Sal

A mountain girl at heart, this is the day I have been most looking forward to. We jump on the bus, which takes us up to the Cavadonga Lakes. As the road coils upwards in a serpant-like motion, the urban sprawl gives way to panoramic views on both sides of the bus.

The Cavadonga Lakes are nestled in the heart of the mountainous Picos de Europa National Park. We head towards the viewpoint over Lake Enol (1,070 m/ 3,510 ft above sea level) and are greeted with gusts of wind. Best bring a windbreaker or jacket for this excursion!

15-minutes of twisty roads bring us down to the Cavadonga Sanctuary, where pilgrims patiently cue outside the confession booths and vending machines choc-a-bloc full of candles line the entrance to the Holy Cave.

Lunch is a sumptuous affair just outside of quaint Cangas de Onís, after which we heave ourselves back into the bus in the direction of the train. A late afternoon excursion to Llanes concludes the adventurous part of the day. We have dinner to the clickety-clackety tune of the train, heading in the direction of Cabezón de Sal.

PRACTICAL TIP | If you tend to suffer motion sickness, you will want to either sit in the front of the bus or take medicine with you. The road is very, very windy to the viewpoint.

DAY FIVE – Cabezón de Sal to Santander

Day five on the Costa Verde Express is bursting with cultural excursions. The penultimate day is spent in Cantabria, starting at the Altamira Caves, where a gregarious local guide takes us through the spectacular caves. He goes on to guide us in the little village of Santillana del Mar.

The former spectacular in its grandeur, the latter in its intimate cobblestoned streets. My free time in Santillana del Mar is spent peeking inside the various Cidrerias (Cider Houses) and artisanal shops. We had one of the best lunches on the entire trip in Santillana del Mar, at least for me, the vegetarian on the trip (more on that later on).

As we collapse into a collective post-lunch slumber in our cabins, the train makes its way to the coastal city of Santander. We have the briefest of bus rides through the city. It is clear the main purpose of this “tour” is to shepherd us to the last group dinner. Oddly, it is not shared on the train.

We do however head back to the train for a final farewell party in the bar cart. A place otherwise decidedly underutilized during the trip.

FOODIE TIP | Head to Casa Quevedo in Santillana del Mar to try their local specialties: Bizocho, Quesada or Sobao. A glass of milk on the side is encouraged, though of course entirely optional.

DAY SIX – Santander to Bilbao

Instead of the usual wake-up call, we are jolted awake by the train revving up its engines and heading towards Bilbao. Despite the uncharacteristically harsh start to the day, this was perhaps my favorite morning of the entire trip.

Watching the urban sprawl of Santander give way to verdant mountainous landscapes, perfectly framed by the windows of my cozy cabin, I cannot help but smile as I jump out of bed. Despite a few technical issues, we made it to Bilbao and had a very brief city tour – by bus.

Our very last excursion is to the famous Guggenheim Museum, which warrants a visit of a few hours. We have exactly one, which is a teensy bit tight if I am being honest. After lunch on the outskirts of Bilbao, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt hugs are shared all around as we are dropped off at the station of Bilbao.

GOOD TO KNOW | Accommodation for day six is not included in the train itinerary. The program ends around 04.00 pm, consider booking a night in Bilbao

Costa Verde Express northern Spain

Onboard Amenities and Services

Sleeping Cabins Aboard Costa Verde Express

The Costa Verde Express is equipped with 23 sleeping cabins, each of which has an en-suite bathroom. Inside the 6 square meter (64 square feet) rooms, there is a surprising amount of storage. A small closet hugs the wall behind the door and various cupboards are mounted atop the bed.

BEDS: The beds are snug, especially for two people measuring 119 cm wide by 185 cm long (4ft wide by 6ft long). The last 4 sleeping cabins have slightly wider beds and are more adapted for a couple.

WAKE-UP CALL: Each morning we are awakened by the sound of a school bell, vigorously being swung by a member of the crew diligently walking by the 23 sleeping cabins of the Costa Verde Express.

TURN-DOWN SERVICE: A nightly turn-down service is provided. The crew will close your curtains, turn on the AC (if needed), and provide you with complimentary chocolates.

ADDITIONAL AMENITIES: Safe, minibar with complimentary water, air conditioning, and a telephone with an outdoor line. Wi-Fi reaches the rooms, although it is spotty when the train is moving.

En-suite bathrooms on the train

The private bathroom has a hydromassage shower/steam sauna, hairdryer, a complete toiletry kit, and a bathrobe. Towels are refreshed daily.

GOOD TO KNOW | One carriage has 4 sleeper cabins. I had cabin number 23 at the very end of the train, which in practice meant I had a bit of a walk from the dining cart to the sleeping cabin. The hallways are rather narrow, and can be a bit tricky to navigate when the train is moving.

Costa Verde Express Spain

Onboard Meals and Drinks

Breakfast and dinner are always served on the train (aside from the dinner in Santander). Both meals are sumptuous and are made using the local specialties of the region you have visited. In practice, this means there is always something new to try!

Meals are served in one of the three stately dining cars. No specific dress code is applicable for the meals, aside from the last evening where you are requested to dress up.

BREAKFAST | Breakfast is usually served between 08.00 am and 09.30 am, although this depends on the daily schedule. Aside from a buffet, various dishes are available à la carte (eggs, breadbasket, …).

DINNER | Many of the dinners are served while the train is moving. As the images of Spain’s Green Coast flash by, we are served some simply stunning meals. Always accompanied by a selection of freshly baked bread and various options for wine/digestives.

DRINKS | All drinks served during the meal are complimentary. Drinks served outside of mealtime are not included.

FOOD ALLERGIES | Make sure to mention any dietary restrictions of food allergies prior to booking. I am a vegetarian and was served different dishes throughout the journey.

Practical Information For Travelers

DAILY ITINERARIES: Each evening the crew will provide you with a daily itinerary detailing exactly what activities are planned and what clothes to pack with you for the excursions.

WHERE DO YOU SLEEP AT NIGHT: You sleep on the train, however, the train does not ride through the night. In fact, it usually stops right after dinner is finished and does not leave again until the next morning. It pulls into various train stations along the way, make sure to bring earplugs as some of these stations are in fact pretty noisy.

LANGUAGE SPOKEN ON THE TRAIN: The staff onboard speaks a variety of different languages including French, Spanish, German, Polish and English. Announcements are made in English and Spanish

EXCURSIONS: Excursions are voluntary e.g. there is no obligation to join. The only true obligation is to make sure you meet up at the pre-arranged time & location. At the beginning of the trip you are provided with a headset, through which the local guides provide information during the excursions.

PETS: Pets are not allowed aboard the Costa Verde Express.

Costa Verde Express Price

Price of the Costa Verde Express and Bookings

The Costa Verde Express is a luxury train, which is reflected in the price. There is little point beating about the bush. Prices for a single cabin start at € 8,000 (US$ 8,700) while a double cabin will set you back € 9,000 (US$ 9,800) for two people.

WHAT IS INCLUDED | This price includes full-board (e.g. three meals a day), excursions with a local guide, complimentary toilet kit, and entrance fees to all museums and activities. It also includes free regular Renfe train tickets to the starting point of the trip and back from the end point of the trip.

BOOKING | Tickets can be booked directly on the Costa Verde Express website. Upon booking you will be requested to pay 15% of the full fee, with the remaining 85% to be paid 30 days prior to departure.

Is the Costa Verde Express Worth It?

If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience and have pennies to spare, then definitely. There is very little that can beat a slow journey through northern Spain. Train journeys are definitely a wonderful way to see this part of the country!

That being said, the Costa Verde Express does have a few kinks to work out in order for her to live up to her full, sustainable, potential. The use of plastic bottles versus glass bottles, a more versatile offering for vegetarians at lunchtime, and perhaps a different choice of stations to park the train at night.

Costa Verde Express: The Unsung Hero of Northern Spain Train Tours


SPAIN: 4 days in northern Tenerife
SPAIN: 12 Unmissable things to do in Asturias
PORTUGAL: Roadtrip through unknown Central Portugal
ITALY: Northern Italy one to two-week itinerary

Costa Verde Express Northern Spain – Pin it
Costa Verde Express: The Unsung Hero of Northern Spain Train Tours
Costa Verde Express: The Unsung Hero of Northern Spain Train Tours


  1. Supraja Lakshmi N

    It looks like a perfect way to explore the northern coast of Spain in style and comfort. I’m impressed by the Oviedo and Gijón stops. They seem so charming and historical. I appreciate that you also suggested some places to stay, eat, and do in each stop. Everything I needed to know was expertly covered by you. Thank you for your useful and enlightening article!


      You are so welcome! Hope you get to travel here sometime and explore this beautiful part of Spain.


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Caroline Muller

Thanks for dropping in! With this blog I hope to harness the power of travel to do good in the world. Think connecting with local cultures, sustainable tourism and in-depth guides to known and lesser-known adventures. 

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