Bag, check. Hiking stick, check. Passport, check. This is it. Joe’s ready to leave. He has planned this trek for months now. He opens his notebook to remember the last details of his trip. At the top of the first page, he has highlighted “Camino de Santiago: Routes, Map, and Planner”.
Why travel along the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago routes were initially created in the 9th century. Their purpose was to guide the pilgrims from France, Portugal, and Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
Originally, this journey was for people looking for a spiritual quest. The nearer they got to Santiago de Compostela, the closer they felt to God. But then, the Camino de Santiago routes began to attract curious hiking nerds. In 1987, the European Council even classified this road network as “the first cultural itinerary”. The paths became more and more famous. In 2018, 300 000 people had undertaken the hikes.
A place that attracts people every year
But why is the number of participants growing? What’s so special about this place? From a religious procession, this pilgrimage became a synonym for meetings, exchanges, and introspective journeys. It’s an occasion to take time out for ourselves and to reconnect with nature. Moreover, traveling by foot or by bike is, of course, eco-friendly and cheap!
But for Joe, this expedition was mainly an opportunity to challenge himself. He planned to be on the road for one month, to travel from France to Spain, and to enjoy every landscape he gazed upon.
What are the best Camino de Santiago routes?
This journey is ideal for any trek lover. Each expedition along these routes is customizable. Whether you’re going for two days or two weeks, whether you’re a keen hiker or a fresh-faced beginner like Joe, or whether you’ve begun alone or with family, you can plan the perfect journey that will suit your preferences.
1. Camino Francés
It’s the most famous road departing from France. The Camino Francés took this name after hundreds of French pilgrims walked through it. Still, today, over 60% of worshipers willing to reach Santiago de Compostela take this road.
It’s a hike where people can gaze at the most different scenery. You will come across beautiful landscapes which are part of a deep historical patrimony. Mountains and agricultural lands as far as the eye can see will spice up your journey. Moreover, you will pass through charming Spanish cities such as Pamplona, León, and Burgos. But the main feature of the road is its link to several pilgrimage villages, such as Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Logroño, Ponferrada, and Sarria.
It’s the most traveled route of the Camino de Santiago, especially the last 100 kms. It’s the only part that a worshiper needs to walk if he wants to have a pilgrim certificate. Besides, it’s the perfect trek for every new adventurous beginner. Companies have understood this opportunity and put their businesses along this last part of the road. In fact, people can take a break in a lot of hotels, cafes, and restaurants, dotted along the route.
Even directors take the road
Camino Francés even charmed directors of Hollywood like Martin Sheen! He shot his movie “The Way” on the road. His character, Tom, has decided to walk this path with the aim of an introspective journey that will change his life.
Length of Camino Francés: 780km – 485 miles
2. Camino de Santiago route: Camino Portugués
This is the second best choice for pilgrims. In 2019, 20% of them took this road to Santiago de Compostela. This journey is popular because it goes through astonishing cities such as Lisbon, Porto, and Pontevedra. Moreover, Camino Portugués allows you to gaze at the typical scenery of the country, such as endless coastlines and sparkling beaches.
From Lisbon to Santiago
This Camino de Santiago route starts in Lisbon before going inland and passing by the Catholic pilgrimage site of Fatima. After crossing Porto, the Camino Portugués will lead to the Spanish borders. You will enjoy the endless ocean horizon for several kilometers before visiting the small town of Tui and then Santiago de Compostela.
This road is perfect for travelers who aren’t comfortable with crowded roads like Camino Francés. But what the two routes have in common is a large number of hotels and restaurants available along the way.
Length of Camino Portugués: 600km – 370 miles
3. Camino Portugués Coastal
If you’re an ocean lover, you should walk this road. For days, you will saunter along the coastline. It’s also the perfect road for adventurous bikers, who will benefit from the fresh salty air and smell of the ocean. But whether you’re going by foot or by bike, everybody will love the daily sun-kiss that the Camino Portugués Coastal offers.
Moreover, several towns will punctuate your journey. You will come across the old village of Baiona, Vigo, the famous city port, and the outstanding Pontevedra, formerly known as the capital of Galicia. Then the last part will be inland, with isolated groups of hamlets and small villages like Padrón, until the final destination, the reward: Santiago de Compostela.
Length of Camino Portugués Coastal: 178km – 110 miles
4. Camino del Norte
Also named Ruta de la Costa or the Northern Way, this path will take you on an exploration of the Basque region and Asturia. You will be next to the sea, with colder weather and hilly roads.
From Irun to Santiago
The adventure starts in Irún. But the major step will be San Sebastián in the Basque region. Hikers usually take a break over there to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants and enjoy the beaches around natural harbors in the Bay of Biscay. Several miles away is the city of Bilbao, famous for the Guggenheim Museum, created by the architect Frank Gehry. After this, you will venture deeper into the typical landscapes of the region. On your way to Santander, you will walk on forest tracks and go through medieval towns and coastal villages. Passing the famous port city of Santander, the road continues along the rugged coastline. Estuaries, inland meadows, old monasteries, and hidden beaches will frame the pathway. The mountains will surround you as you arrive in Oviedo. This city in Asturia is famous for the San Sebastián Cathedral and its local food. It’s the perfect place to take another break before continuing your adventure.
This route is recommended for food lovers. Indeed, they will encounter several Michelin-starred restaurants along the path, mostly in the big cities like San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, and Oviedo. On another note, and good to know, the Camino del Norte is different from the other Camino de Santiago routes: it doesn’t end at the religious city. At its last part, the path joins another one: Camino Primitivo.
Length of Camino del Norte: 466km – 290 miles
5. Camino Primitivo
It’s the oldest Camino de Santiago route and the most challenging one. Renamed the “Original Way,” pilgrims walk this path because it’s rewarding. It starts at the end of the Camino del Norte, at Oviedo in Asturia. From there, travelers sink further into the south, in the direction of Santiago.
Why Joe chose this road
The path is less frequented, which means it’s dotted with fewer commodities. But Joe decided to take this road anyway because he wanted to exceed his physical limits. It’s a mountainous road with a lot of downs and ups. The pathway crosses Asturia and ends in the province of Galicia, near the Navia river.
The Camino Primitivo also charmed Joe for its beautiful scenery. Indeed, the road is scattered with outstanding lookouts to see. However, he will go through woodland, farmland, and small rural villages and will rest a little bit in Lugo. This city is well-known for its remaining Roman walls and for hosting all the pilgrims in need.
The last section of Camino Primitivo is the same as the one of Camino Francés. For the last 50km, the two roads come together to finish at Santiago.
Length of Camino Primitivo: 315km – 195 miles
6. Camino de Santiago route: Via de la Plata
Also named the Silver Way, this spiritual path starts in Sevilla. It then goes to Salamanca, before heading to Santiago. This road also has another name: Camino Mozárabe. It’s a reference to southern Spain’s history, the time when pilgrims left from Moor-controlled Spain to other Mediterranean regions or North Africa.
This road is considered a peaceful alternative for travelers. Due to its length or its location, it’s not a path crowded with people. And this particularity is precious for pilgrims looking for an introspective journey. They won’t be disturbed by other hikers and will feel like the landscapes have been painted for them. But the interested parties have to be aware that the Via de la Plata is flat, can be very hot in the summer, and doesn’t provide a lot of commodities.
A return to the past
From Andalucía, you will go to the Extremadura region. As said earlier, the Via de la Plata offers you an introspective trip. Therefore, you won’t encounter a lot of villages but you will gaze at beautiful forests and lakes, which are characteristic of the region. This Camino is also a journey through time. You will witness a bygone era as you walk through the Romanesque ruins of Mérida, a classified UNESCO world heritage site in Spain. Moreover, after oak woods and farmlands, you will see on the horizon the Renaissance city of Salamanca. It hosts a famous university, built in the 13th century.
After this jump in the past, the road becomes less surprising but still very beautiful. You will reach the plateau of the Castilla y León region and witness endless planted fields. After exploring the northeast of Portugal, you will know you’re still on the right path if you come across the city of Ourense, in Galicia. It’s the last big step before finally reaching your goal, redemption in Santiago.
Length of Via de la Plata: 1,000km – 620 miles
7. Via Podiensis
This is one of the four main Camino de Santiago routes that cross France. It starts in the south of the country at Le Puy, hence its other name: Le Puy Camino. From there, you will explore the Auvergne region, where you can gaze at its graceful monuments and hike through its mountains. Along the road, it would be impossible for you to miss the cathedral at Le Puy-en-Velay and the bridge at Conques, both famous UNESCO world heritage sites. But these aren’t the only particularities that make the charm of Via Podiensis. You will be alone on the road most of the time. And only dairy cattle will disturb your tranquility (don’t worry, they won’t chase you).
Next to charming villages, you will sometimes see mysterious old stone buildings, abandoned in the middle of the forest and overgrown with weeds. The road then passes through Armagnac and Gascogne’s fields of vineyards before heading into the Pyrénées. After Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a unique French medieval town, the pilgrimage will continue on Spanish territory on Camino Francés until Santiago.
Length of Via Podiensis: 752km – 467 miles
8. Camino Finisterre | Fisterra
This is the only spiritual road that starts at Santiago de Compostela. For pilgrims, the holistic journey doesn’t end at the site of the apostle Santiago’s tomb. They usually continue to walk on the Atlantic coast, accompanied by quieter and greener scenery. Medieval towns such as Negreira and Cee, hillsides, and pine groves will draw the landscapes until Fisterra. The Cape Finisterre Lighthouse, located on the edge of the rocky peninsula where the city stands, marks the end of this Camino.
But the road also has another name, “Muxía Way.” For those who are never fed up with walking, they can continue their journey to Muxía, located in the north of Finisterre. This place became famous after the movie “The Way,” which was partially shot over there. It’s a lovely village, paced by the bells of its church, built on the rocky coastline.
This is where Joe will finish his trip. After one month on the road, he will finally arrive at his final destination, his last step: “the end of the world”.
The “End of the World” Point
Considered the most westerly point in Europe, Fisterra is also called “the end of the world”. This is where pilgrims were used to collecting a shell, which was proof that they had truly arrived at the extremity of the world. From this custom, scallop shells became the symbol of the Camino de Santiago routes. They are used as waymarkers along all the paths, and it’s still common for pilgrims to wear them.
Length of Camino Finisterre: 90-118 km – 56-73 miles
9. Camino Inglés
This is where English pilgrims used to start their spiritual journeys, and not only English people. Travelers from Scotland, Ireland, and even sometimes Scandinavians used to cross the Camino Inglés. They sailed to Ferrol, a town on the coast of northern Spain, before heading to Santiago. This particular route is greater than 100km, which allows worshipers to obtain a pilgrimage certificate at the end of the journey. But even with this short distance, people are generally eager to start the adventure on this path.
Everything starts at Ferrol…
This sheltered port town is located in the northwest corner of Spain. From there, people will follow the shoreline and come across Galicia. First, the road will reveal underrated beaches that offer wonderful sea views. But after a few days, it will be time to enter Spanish territory. The road will become hilly, passing through farmlands. You will pass churches that are older than you think, before taking shelter in shady forests. After this, you’ll know you’re on the right track when you see the city of Santiago light up in all its splendor.
Joking aside, this route is very well marked, so you have very little chance of getting lost! Moreover, QR codes mark out the way. Once scanned, you will have access to a lot of information about the cities that dot the Camino Inglés!
Length of Camino Inglès: 120km – 75 miles
Good to know though: Camino de Santiago Planner
Paths may vary
On top of all this knowledge, we would like you to be aware that all the path lengths, times, and levels given in this article are from basic data. If you wish to stay on the beaten track, this information is correct and relevant for you. But many variations and detours exist for each route. And due to their number, each tourist agency will give you different ones.
You don’t have to walk the whole route
Besides, unlike Joe, many pilgrims choose to walk only part of the Camino de Santiago routes. This option has allowed more people to join the hikes, as they can now organize and manage their time as they wish. For example, many travelers choose to walk only the last 100 kilometers of the Camino Francés. From this part, arriving in Santiago takes a total of 6 days of walking, with spectacular scenery to gaze at along both routes.
Walking on the Camino de Santiago routes isn’t the only option
For adventurous travelers, cycling these routes can be a wise choice. You can cover more distance in the same amount of time. This would allow you to see more of the landscape than you could by walking. However, not all Caminos are suitable for this way of life. Some paths are narrow, others go up and down the mountains. So you need to be even more organized than if you wanted to walk the route.
How to be prepared before heading to Camino de Santiago routes? Unique advice from Joe
It’s been one month since Joe returned from the Camino de Santiago. He still remembers the emotions that ran through him when he reached “the end of the world”. Today, Dimitra just told him that she was inspired by his story. Therefore, she would like to start a few days’ walks to Santiago. But she doesn’t know how to be prepared and needs advice… Joe hands her his notebook and opens the page: “Camino de Santiago planner.”
What is the best time to go on the Camino de Santiago routes?
The answer depends on the path chosen (no, it’s not a proverb from an old man, but something practical to remember). The southwest of France and Spain can be difficult to cross in summer because of high temperatures. But summer isn’t the only season that makes hiking more difficult. In winter, mountains crossed by the Camino de Santiago routes can be snowy, especially in the Pyrénées.
That’s why you will see people on the roads in spring, at the end of summer, or at the beginning of autumn.
What accessories are essential for a good crossing?
Because one pair of socks isn’t sufficient for a whole trip, here are the essentials you need to have. First, a good pair of walking shoes. You will walk for days, you can’t be greedy on this. So having shoes with a hole next to each big toe isn’t an option. Then warm clothes. Don’t be surprised by the refreshing Spanish nights. After that, you will have to look for a water bottle and a hat. No need to explain why you’ll need these. Finally, the first-aid kit. Better to have it just in case.
However, bear in mind that your back will support all the equipment stored in your bag. So take only indispensable things with you.
Where can we sleep on the Camino de Santiago routes?
A unique document exists for pilgrims, opening the door to a lot of accommodations. Delivered by pilgrimage associations, it’s available for all the Camino de Santiago routes, in France, Portugal, and Spain. La Credancial is “the passport of pilgrims”, still widely used today by all travelers on the Camino de Santiago.
This alternative is appreciated for providing cheap accommodation. But if, after a long day of walking, you need more comfort, you can still sleep in hostels or lodges dotted along the routes.
La Credancial is mandatory to sleep in any accommodation open to pilgrims. Each place will put its own stamp on the passport, which will be a chronological mark of your adventure and a good memory to take back home.
After reading all of the advice from Joe’s Camino de Santiago planner, Dimitra feels ready to leave. She will walk through the last 100km of the Camino Francés in September. After this expedition, she set herself the objective of hiking the Sierra Nevada in Spain.