The Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of Saint James) is the most popular and developed Christian pilgrimage route in Europe. When I walked it first in 2013, I was surprised how well the infrastructure of hotels, public transport, taxis, and mobile apps worked! The main routes are in Spain, yet some of them start in France or Portugal. Besides the most common starting points, more distant locations are also less frequently chosen. But first things first, let’s explore what walking routes are offered by the main Camino country – Spain.
There are several routes in Spain that lead pilgrims to their goal – the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. It is believed that in this cathedral there are the remains of Saint James – one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. The remains of St. James were discovered in the 9th century and since then pilgrims have been continuously walking to this sacred place. Here is the list of the most walked routes these days.
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El Camino Frances or the French Way is currently the most popular pilgrimage route. Its length is around 780 km and it starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. It follows through northern inland Spain and passes through Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, Leon, and Portomarin among others. It is usually recommended for first timers due to its popularity, which means it is very well marked. However, if you plan to walk this route you should be ready to walk on overly busy paths and race for a place to sleep at the next stopping point. Albergues: every 4 to 10 km.
El Camino Aragonés or the Aragonese Way is an alternative start for the Camino Frances from French – Spanish border. It starts in Somport and after ~170 km flows into Camino Frances at Puente la Reina. This route is a less popular choice, therefore, there are fewer albergues. Not recommended to walk during the winter season and early spring due to snow in the mountains, unless well prepared for such conditions.
El Camino del Norte or the Northern Way starts in Irún, Spain (Basque region). It is around ~830 km length and follows the coastline of northern Spain passing Bilbao, Santander, Gijón, Oviedo, etc. The main advantage of this route are the beaches, which give you an opportunity to have a relaxing swim after a day of walking, especially in the summer heats. Albergues: every 20 to 35 km.
El Camino Portugues or the Portuguese Way starts in Lisbon, Portugal. It goes ~600 km through Portugal and Spain crossing Coimbra, Porto, Pontevedra, Caldas de Reis, Padrón, etc. Alternatively, it is popular to start the Camino Portugues for its last ~120 km in Tui – a small town on Spanish – Portuguese border. Albergues: in Portugal, they are called A.H.B.V. or Bombeiros Voluntários and are spread uneven, while in Spain albergues are every 15 – 25 km.
El Camino de Madrid or Ruta Jacobea de Madrid starts in Madrid, Spain, and goes northwest throughout Manzanares de Real, Segovia, Coca, Valladolid, and then joins the Camino Frances in Sahagún. The total length of this route is ~700 km. It is not recommended to walk it during the months of July and August due to the heat. Albergues: every ~15 km.
EL Camino Mozárabe or Vía de la Plata is one of the most challenging routes due to its length – ~1000 km and its remoteness – in some stretches there are no stores and it is hard to find water. Therefore, planning ahead well is necessary. It starts in Seville and goes North crossing Extremadura, Castilla y Leon, Salamanca, and Zamora among others. Like the Ruta Jacobea, it is not recommended to walk in July and August due to the heat. Albergues: every ~25 km.
El Camino Inglés or the English Way starts in Ferrol. On the way to Santiago, it passes Neda, Cabanas, Miño, Betanzos, Mesía, etc. It is ~120 km length and is accessible during the whole year due to the mild marine climate. Albergues: unevenly distributed.
Good to know
- Kilometer measurements are approximate as they vary within the different available sources, often due to the presence of various possibilities for each route;
- Albergue is the word used in Spanish for a pilgrim hostel. There are public and private albergues in Spain. Public ones are almost always cheaper but usually less comfortable than private ones. You also have to come to public ones as early as possible as they work on a first come first serve basis and do not offer the option of reservation. If you decide to plan and reserve your accommodation in advance or even the same day, I suggest using Booking.com website or app. I used it on my second pilgrimage and it worked just fine.
- “Buen Camino” is the most heard phrase along the Camino de Santiago. It is usually said to fellow pilgrims along the way to wish a “good way” and helps to maintain a supportive feel;
- “Un cafe con leche” or “one coffee with milk” is another useful phrase for your afternoons in the local cafes (pilgrims go there to rest after a days walk and sometimes to use Wi-fi – yes, that’s a pilgrim’s reality haha);
- all Caminos in Spain are marked with yellow arrows or yellow shells, which is also symbolic of pilgrimage;
- there are many different stories about what to take, how to pack, which shoes are the best, how to train before going, and so on. It might be overwhelming and sound like too much trouble, however, as in all spheres of life, the most important thing is to take that first step and the rest will sort itself out on the way!
https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/pilgrims-reception-office/ (Official information about the Pilgrimage: credentials, mass, certificate, statistics)
http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/ (In Spanish: provides a convenient list of stages of most popular routes)
https://caminoways.com/ways (In English: has informative descriptions on most of the ways, also you can plan your route and book accommodation with them)
https://www.caminoadventures.com/camino-routes/ (In English: plenty of information on the routes, great collection of useful links, forum, tips on walking the Camino, etc.)
…follow the yellow arrow and it will lead you to Santiago de Compostela. After hundreds of kilometers you’ll enter the ancient city and at that moment music will play just for you, because you reached it; starting with the first steps and craziness of knowing that you have hundreds of kilometers to walk on your own feet and ending with the proudness that you did it with your own two feet. So, when you enter the city gates, it will all be for you; all the street music sounds, all the Cathedral bells, all the prayers, all the lights… ¡Que tengas un muy buen camino!