Although the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, has traditionally been a religious pilgrimage, many people choose it as a walking holiday for several other reasons. Some walk The Way for fitness and as a personal goal to achieve in their journey to better physical health. Others choose to walk for the mental benefits of unplugging from their daily lives, allowing time simply for peace and self-development. For many, it’s a chance to cleartheir heads or to feel a connection with nature. While those travelling on the Camino for religious reasons are now in the minority, people taking part are still known as pilgrims, or ‘peregrinos’ locally. Many walk in groups, alone, or with a partner. It’s also possible to travel on the Camino by bicycle or by horseback. The Camino is well known for its sense of community and sociable atmosphere. Pilgrims passing by will greet each other with a welcome of ‘Buen Camino!’, loosely translating as ‘Have a great experience on the Camino’ and so, conversations with strangers are easily started.
The Camino de Santiago is not just one route, it’s a network of routes. Throughout the middle ages, thousands of pilgrims walked from their homes to make their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. This paved the way for many disparate routes across Europe, all coming together like branches of a tree to arrive in what is now a developed city around the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. An exception to this is the Finisterre Way which begins in Santiago, walking towards the coast to Cape Finisterre or the ‘End of the World’ as it was known in ancient Roman times.
Which Camino de Santiago Route is Right for Me?
People choose their Camino de Santiago route based on various criteria. The most common being ease of access, weather, landscape and how busy it is. Section 1 of the Camino Frances can be quite mountainous, most of the Portuguese Coastal Way is close to the sea, while the last sections of the Camino Frances and Camino Portugues are well travelled. Some people want to walk the whole route from start to finish and others will do it in sections. As it can be overwhelming to determine which route is the most appropriate based on your personal preferences. Follow the Camino can quickly help you chose the best route for you. Below we have summarised each of the main routes.If you would like to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact us here to discuss your Camino Tour.
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1. Camino Frances
The Camino Frances, or the French Way, is the most popular Camino route. Although, the name can be confusing as the route is mostly walked in Spain! It is called the Camino Frances as it begins in France where many French pilgrims would have traditionally begun their Camino. Starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the French side of the Pyrenees, it’s by far the most travelled with over 60% of pilgrims on the Camino choosing the Camino Frances. The French Way is a remarkable and spectacular route, traversing both mountainous and flat terrain. This Camino tour passes through some of the most beautiful parts of Spain, including great cities like Pamplona, Leon and Burgos. It also goes through many very important pilgrimage towns like Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Logrono, Ponferrada and Sarria. The most travelled of all Camino sections is the Last 100km on the Camino Frances. The reason for this is twofold – the Camino Frances is the most popular route and because travelling the last 100kms of the Camino means that a pilgrim can attain the award of a Pilgrim Certificate. This part of the Camino is well trodden and has many services such as hotels, cafes and restaurants along the way. The Camino Frances is also popular because it is the route which Martin Sheen travels in the popular movie The Way – an inspiring watch in which Martin Sheen’s character Tom, an American doctor, travels along the Camino to honour his son, finding an adventure of his own with a profound impact.
2. Camino Portugues
The Camino Portugues, or the Portuguese Way, has in recent years become the second most popular route leading to Santiago de Compostela. Nearly 20% of pilgrims traveled along this route in 2016. Boasting fantastic cities such as Lisbon, Porto and Pontevedra, it also passes by stunning coastlines with beautiful, sandy beaches. The Portuguese Way begins in Lisbon and journeys inland, to the north, passing close to the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fatima. Reaching Porto, it then travels further north towards the Spanish border, crossing at the beautiful old town of Tui, and onwards for just over 100km into Santiago. If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, but still want lots of amenities during your walking days, then the Camino Portuguese is a great option.
3. Camino Portugues Coastal
The Camino Portugues Coastal Way is a variant of the original Camino Portugues and has become popular in recent years due to its proximity to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. It runs along the shoreline for several days, hugging the coast and allowing pilgrims to amble along boardwalks by the seaside and saunter around the estuaries of this remote coastline. Along the way, pilgrims will visit the beautiful old tourist town of Baiona, the port town of Vigo with its magnificent old quarter, and the spectacular Pontevedra, the ancient capital of Galicia. The last leg then cuts inland through woodlands toward Padron and onwards through small villages and hamlets to Santiago de Compostela. This route is flatter than the original Camino Portugues, so those who prefer sea views or walking through forest will help decide which path to take. Follow the Camino offers four different ways to enjoy the Portuguese Coastal Way by foot or by bike.
4. Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte, or the Northern Way, is also referred to as the Ruta de la Costa. This Camino was used for centuries by pilgrims making their way along the magnificent northern Spanish coasts of the Basque region and Asturias. As it’s by the sea, the weather is typically not as warm as some of the more inland routes, however, it can be quite hilly in parts. Interestingly, the Northern Way does not actually finish in Santiago but instead joins the Camino Primitivo for its last leg. Beginning in Irun, the Camino del Norte crosses dramatic scenery along the northern coast of Spain. The first major stop is the small city of San Sebastian in the Basque region which is famed for its Michelin-starred restaurants, beaches and natural harbour in the Bay of Biscay. The route veers inland through rolling grassy hills and comes back to the sea at Bilbao, famed for its world-renowned Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry. From there, forest tracks, medieval towns and coastal villages feature amongst rugged coastline and beaches on the way to the port city of Santander, capital of the Cantabria region on the northern coast. The route then tracks the coastline, passing through panoramic estuaries, inland meadows and sleepy villages with old monasteries, narrow footpaths and beautiful beaches all framed by magnificent mountain backdrops until the destination of Oviedo is reached with its famous cathedral of San Salvador. With culinary cities like San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo boasting many Michelin stars, this route is definitely one for the foodies!
5. Camino Primitivo
The Camino Primitivo, or Original Way, is a scenically beautiful yet challenging walk and is typically understood to be the first pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. While it’s not the flattest walk, it’s one of the most rewarding. The route starts off in Oviedo and travels in a south-westerly direction towards Santiago for about 328km. As it’s less frequently travelled, it has fewer amenities along the way. The route was originally developed by King Alfonso II in the 9th Century and it was he who confirmed that the remains unearthed in Santiago de Compostela were those of the Apostle Saint James. The route has many steep ascents and is unsurprisingly favoured by those looking for a fitness challenge. The ups and downs also bring with them many beautiful valleys, mountains and scenic viewpoints as the route brings you from the province of Asturias into Galicia near the River Navia. Along this route, the path runs through woodlands, crossing farmlands and small rural villages into the city of Lugo which is still completely surrounded by Roman walls and towers. The last section meets the Camino Frances in Melide and follows the same route for the next 50km to Santiago.
6. Via de la Plata
The Via de la Plata, the Silver Way or Camino Mozárabe, starts in Seville and travels north through Salamanca before veering left and westwards towards Santiago. As this route starts in the south, it was known as the Mozarabic pilgrimage with pilgrims travelling from Moor-controlled Spain during the Middle Ages or by sea from other parts of the Mediterranean and North Africa. It’s the longest of the pilgrim routes at 1,000km and as it’s less crowded than most routes, it’s a more peaceful alternative. This route passes mainly through flat terrain with the temperature getting very hot during summer months. The first part of the Via de la Plata runs from Andalucia through the remote Extremadura region of Spain. While pilgrims do not encounter as many villages as they would on other Camino routes, this path weaves through a beautiful region noted for its forests and lakes with plenty of Roman ruins, especially in Merida, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The route ascends to a high plateau through oak woods and farmland towards the Renaissance city of Salamanca and and its 13th Century university before continuing through the plateau of the Castilla y Leon region with planted fields split by the red earth of the Camino path. Passing close to the north-east corner of Portugal, the route becomes hillier with pine and oak woods as we enter the verdant province of Galicia and on to the picturesque city of Ourense known for its hot springs. The last leg stretches northwards through typical Galician farmland villages and hamlets. Although easier in terms of terrain than the French Way, there are stages of longer walking days on the Via de la Plata with less frequent facilities available.
7. Via Podiensis
The Le Puy Camino, or Via Podiensis, starts in the south of France and is one of the four main Camino routes that move through France. The route is just over 750km long and travels south west from Le Puy, a town in the Auvergne region of France with spectacular churches and monuments. The route can be hilly and has steep ascents throughout. Oh, and this route also passes through several incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the cathedral at Le Puy-en-Velay and the bridge at Conques, making it one of the most scenic of routes. The Camino Podiensis winds its way through peaceful countryside scenery inhabited mostly by dairy cattle and characterised by charming villages, woodland and old stone buildings. The route passes through the vineyards of Armagnac and into the Gascony region where vineyards make way for pine trees as we approach the Pyrenees mountain range. Walking through the undulating countryside culminates in the beautiful medieval town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where the French Way begins, taking pilgrims over the mountains into Spain and on to Santiago.
8. Camino Finisterre
The Camino Finisterre, or Muxia Way, is the only Camino that begins in Santiago de Compostela, travelling west nearly 100km to the Atlantic coast. Many pilgrims continue their journey onwards after reaching Santiago by way of this route which is much quieter and greener than others. The Camino Finisterre travels through medieval villages, hillsides and pine groves and is punctuated by the Galician towns of Negreira and Cee until pilgrims reach the ‘end of the world’ at Finisterre, one of the most westerly points in Europe. Historically, it was customary for pilgrims to collect a shell here as proof they had reached their destination. As a result of this, the scallop shell is now a common sign along all Camino routes, used on waymarkers and worn by many pilgrims. The town of Fisterra is situated on the rocky peninsula of Cape Fisterra with the Cape Finisterre Lighthouse as a beacon for those on the final coastal walk and about to complete their trip. Follow the Camino can also add an extension to the village of Muxia (north of Finisterre) which is featured in the film The Way and famed for its church built beside the rocky coastline.
9. Camino Ingles
The Camino Ingles, or English Way, is so called as it was one of the main routes for English pilgrims who sailed to the coast of northern Spain and travelled overland by foot to Santiago de Compostela. However, it was not only the English who used this route – pilgrims from Ireland, Scotland and even Scandinavia used this route as well. Nowadays, it typically starts in A Coruna or Ferrol, with the Ferrol route being more popular as the distance is greater than 100km and allows pilgrims to recieve their certificate. This route begins in the sheltered port town of Ferrol on the north-west tip of Spain and tracks the shoreline southwards through Galicia, providing beaches and wonderful sea views for the first couple of days. The Camino Ingles then climbs inland into rolling farmland, past old chapels and churches and lush, tree-lined paths until reaching the city of Santiago. Recent investment in this route have ensured it’s well waymarked and many of the milestones have interactive QR codes offering information on the towns along the way!
What Distance is Each Camino Route?
As all the Camino routes have many variations and detours which continue to evolve over the years, distances vary from guidebook to guidebook. We have indicated below what the typical length of each route is from start to finish
Camino Frances – 780km
Camino Portugues – 600km
Camino Portugues Coastal – 178km
Camino del Norte – 466km
Camino Primitivo – 315km
Via de la Plata – 1,000km
Via Podiensis – 752km
Camino Finisterre – 90-118 km
Camino Ingles – 120km
How Long Does it Take to Walk the Camino de Santiago?
Depending on the fitness of the pilgrim and the choice of route, the Camino can take anywhere between a few days and three months to walk. However, many people choose to segment the route by section, a concept originally created in 2006 by Umberto di Venosa, the founder of Follow the Camino. Distinct sections make the Camino more manageable and accessible to more people than ever. The Last 100km of the Camino Frances and the Camino Ingles take about six days to walk for most people. The whole Camino Frances from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago takes 35 days to walk and the Via de la Plata takes 44 days to walk in its entirety from Seville. Cycling the route is generally two or three times faster than walking, depending on terrain and fitness. At Follow the Camino, we offer manageable weekly route sections on all the Camino routes or will customise a Camino trip to suit your needs.
Weather on the Camino Routes
Check out what the weather is like on the different Camino de Santiago Routes below
How to Choose the Right Camino Route
A lot of first-time pilgrims find it hard to determine how to choose the best Camino de Santiago route for them. As you can probably read from above, there are so many choices to make and options to weigh. We recommend that lots of research is done to make sure you choose the right Camino de Santiago route for you. To find out which route might be best, why not call to one of our Camino de Santiago Route Planners on +353 1 687 2144 or fill out our form on the right-hand side of the page to get a free customised Camino itinerary.