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

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Author:  Caroline

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?”, my brain immediately brimming with pictures of the Grand Tour of bygone eras before I even hit “send” on the email.

This six-day slow-train journey sashays across northern Spain; kicking off in Santiago de Compostella, hugging the rugged coastline of Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria, before lilting its way to 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 sleeper train lined with 23 snug cabins, it does not get more sustainable than this. Add to that the impeccable service and you have a train ride firmly ensconced in a class of its own.

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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

What to Expect on the Costa Verde Express

Covering a total distance of merely 581 km (361 mi), the journey could theoretically be completed in a few hours. The Costa Verde Express however takes six full days from start to finish with the train barreling through an average of 96 km (60 mi) daily. It is clear that this glamorous, old-world mode of exploration is geared towards the journey, not just the destination.

Our sojourn is further enhanced by the strong focus on local gastronomy. Sumptuous breakfast spreads and elegant dinners are enjoyed aboard the train. On the menu are seasonal dishes that spotlight the region through which the train passes, from Galicia to Basque Country. Products are sourced locally, expertly cooked on-board, and elaborately presented on bespoke tableware.

While the train is a sleeper train, it is so in name only, one sleeps on the train but it does not barrel through the night. Oftentimes, the train pulls into the station mid-way through dinner, where it stays put until the next morning. For the curious few, myself included, this offers a welcome opportunity to explore the local nightlife. A nightcap is, after all, part and parcel of getting to know a local culture.

GOOD TO KNOW | The traditional meat- and fish-heavy cuisine of northern Spain is less geared towards vegetarians than other parts of the country. Meals aboard were stellar however the lunch options in the Paradores were a bit of a hit-and-miss.

Costa Verde Express Itinerary

As the Costa Verde Express cuts through stunning valleys, slate-gray bluffs, and sparkling surf on the way to Bilbao, it makes several stops along the way. These are a mixture of the region’s starlets – Santiago de Compostela, Oviedo, Gijon – and well-kept travel secrets: Cangas de Onís and Cavadonga Lakes.

Much akin to a cruise ship, stops mean disembarking and taking an organized tour with your fellow travelers. If the thought of walking behind an overzealous guide waving a brightly colored flag, while wearing matching baseball caps sends shivers down your spine, fret not, neither flag nor matching headdresses made an appearance on my trip (thank goodness!).

Our guides were local and their friendly service combined with animated storytelling helped bring the places we visited to life. Personally, I found there was a good balance between guided tours & free time to amble around, or in my case, manage to get lost in even the tiniest of villages.

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.

GOOD TO KNOW | Tours are entirely optional, as is disembarking for that matter. The onboard staff will provide you with a schedule for the day, the only fixed appointments are lunch and getting yourself back on the train in time for departure.

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.

Or, they did. I was left scrambling to look for clean clothes, sunscreen and a toothbrush as my luggage had decided to take a detour for the first few days of my trip. Mission accomplished, I plonked myself down in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela and took in its splendor, awash with pilgrims celebrating the endpoint of the “Camino”.

A few hours later, I waltz back to the Hotel Parador and sit down for my 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. Good thing I invested in stretchy pants.

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 first lay eyes on our home for the next 6 days.

Stepping inside this storied train, I am immediately catapulted into the turn-of-the-20th-century: Gleaming polished wood, plush velvet chairs, and suffused lighting. Our dropped-off bags have magically reappeared in our cabin, where we have a short window to inspect before reaching our first stop: Viveiro.

The combination of gray skies and gray buildings makes Viveiro rather underwhelming, despite our guides’ best efforts. 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.

MUST SEE IN SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA: Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela & surroundings
MUST SEE IN VIVEIRO: Ruta de los Miradores

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

A hand-rung bell heralds a new day of adventures aboard the Costa Verde Express.

We hop on the Costa Verde bus which shepherds us to Cathedral Beach. Personally, this was one of my favorite stops along the route. Wandering around the white sandy beach strewn with gargantuan pillars of sand I feel infinitely small, a lost traveler in a land of giants.

A courageous few train compatriots embrace the goosebump-raising Cantabrian Sea waters. It is July yet nowhere near warm enough for that shenanigans in my book.

After our beach adventure, the bus takes us to the colorful port town of Ribadeo. We gleefully scatter to explore the tiny hamlet filled with gently crumbling galleried houses. 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.

MUST SEE IN RIBADEAO: Praza de España, Biblioteca Publica Municipal, Igrexa de Santa Maria do Campo
MUST SEE IN LUARCA: Cementerio de Luarca, Casas de indianos

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

We are now halfway through our trip and it’s time to discover Gijon, the capital of Asturias. This little city has a decidedly maritime feel, with vociferous seagulls flying overhead and locals braving the decidedly gray weather (not an uncommon affair we are told) to enjoy the famous San Lorenzo Beach, protected by the watchful eye of Iglesia de San Pedro.

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. Oviedo is undeniably beautiful, filled with mementos of Spain’s past, most notably Oviedo Cathedral (wowza!), home to a shroud believed to have been used to wrap Christ’s head after his death (slightly eerie truth be told).

Oviedo warrants at least one day of exploring, we just have two hours. Our whirlwind visit coincides with a traditional festival and the city is alive with costumed dancers, bagpipe players, and women sporting flowy skirts moving to the rhythmic chattering of castanets. One for the books!

As dusk starts to settle, we retreat 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, our final stop of the day.

MUST SEE IN GIJON: Historical Center, Playa de San Lorenzo, Laboral Ciudad de la Cultura, Cimadevilla
MUST SEE IN OVIEDO: Historical Center, Oviedo Cathedral, Museo de Bellas Artes, Iglesia de Santa Maria de Naranco

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 transporting us up to the Cavadonga Lakes. As the road coils upwards in a serpent-like motion, the urban sprawl of Oviedo gives way to panoramic views on both sides of the bus.

The Lakes are nestled in the heart of the mountainous Picos de Europa National Park, home to brown bears, the Iberian wolf, and the region’s highest peaks. We walk up towards the viewpoint over Lake Enol (1,070 m/ 3,510 ft above sea level) where a plaque reading “best viewpoint of Asturias” ironically points to … a thick wall of gray mist. Well, I guess we tried.

Deciding to try and turn our bad luck, we decided to head down to the Cavadonga Sanctuary in search of divine intervention. Seems we are not alone. Flocks of pilgrims patiently cue outside the confession booths, and vending machines choc-a-bloc full of candles lining the entrance to the (once) Holy Cave.

Lunch is a sumptuous affair just outside of quaint Cangas de Onís, a town renowned for its Roman Bridge after which I decided to spend some time getting to know our palace on wheels as my fellow travel mates end their day of adventures with an excursion to the coastal town of Llanes.

MUST SEE IN LLANES: Paseo San Pedro, Gothic Santa María del Conceyu church, Cubos de la Memoria

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. We crossed over to the neighboring region of Cantabria, starting at the Altamira Caves, one of the oldest examples of prehistoric cave art in the world. Boy, those bison were heavyset back in the day.

Nearby Santillana del Mar, a patchwork of intimated cobblestoned streets, is our next stop. My free time there 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. That gazpacho was nothing short of divine.

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 leading us to our last group dinner, ending on a high note in Restaurante Serbal, a one-star Michelin establishment.

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 rickety 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 stick my head out of the window to snap a memento, my camera almost collides with an overzealous tree branch. First coffee, then pictures, point taken.

The last region of the trip is the Basque Country, or Euskadi, as it is locally known. We make a beeline for the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which put the city on the international tourist radar just over 20 years ago, thanks to its modernist architecture and world-class art collections.

After lunch on the outskirts of Bilbao, tearful goodbyes and heartfelt hugs are shared as we are dropped off at the main train station. What feels like a lifetime of adventures, was in fact a mere 6-day trip. Exploring 4 regions, countless cultural sites and copious amounts of silky Spanish wine. What an experience!

MUST SEE IN BILBAO: Guggenheim Museum, Casco Viejo, Mercado de la Ribera, Azkuna Zentroa

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: Although the beds seem to make themselves anytime you step outside of your cabin, it is the nightly turn-down service that really stood out for me. As we have dinner, the crew discretely makes the rounds of the cabins closing curtains, turning on the AC (if needed), and leaving a handful of 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, a 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). The culinary team works with local suppliers and providers to source ingredients from the diverse environments the train travels through. In practice, this means there is always something new to try!

Meals are served in one of the three stately dining cars. Although no specific dress code is applicable, guests tend to adhere to business casual. The last evening guests are requested to don their finest attire for a goodbye party held in the bar car.

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 regional specialties on bespoke tableware. Always accompanied by a selection of freshly baked breads. The attentive waiters clearly accustomed to the natural lilts and tilts of the train.

DRINKS | Dinner is paired with a great selection of local wines and digestifs, ensuring the experience is to be enjoyed leisurely and at length. 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 or food allergies before booking. I am a vegetarian and was served different dishes throughout the journey.

Practical Information For Travelers

DAILY ITINERARIES: After dinner, a member of 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 in your private cabin. As previously stated, the train does not ride through the night. 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 can be 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.

SUSTAINABILITY: The Costa Verde Express does have a few kinks to work out 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 are all great places to start.

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, definitely. There is very little that can beat a slow train journey through northern Spain. After six days exploring this surprisingly unknown part of the country, I can see why people wax lyrical about Galicia, Asturias, and the Basque Country. A beacon of authenticity in the world’s most visited country.

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


SPAIN: 4 days in northern Tenerife
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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! My name is Caroline, and I am a full-time writer & photographer. 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. Adventure awaits!

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