Walking the Camino de Santiago across the north of Spain is no easy feat. Walking for hours on end can be tiring among other things (yet so very rewarding, in my opinion). There is much to consider. Everything from time of year to go, how far you will walk, should you do it on your own or with a tour company down to which route you select. Then there is the issue of what to pack and how to get to your starting point. There is so much information out there. I don’t intend to have it all posted here but what I will post is a few of the things I know based on my experiences and how I came to my decisions. In the end the choice is up to you though I hope I can help you a bit on your journey to the journey. Buen Camino!
The modern popularity of Spain’s Camino de Santiago is growing steadily. In 2018 the Pilgrim’s Office reported that 327,378 pilgrims claimed their certificates. That is a significant increase from the mere 179,891 reported in 2004. And with 2021 being considered a Holy Year the numbers are expected to rise even more. These numbers are the sum of all the routes, as there are plenty. Additionally, to receive one’s “compostela” or certificate only the final 100km is all that is required. That means there are several ways for pilgrims to arrive in Santiago de Compostela. So that is where I’ll begin – selecting the route.
There are as many ways to get to Santiago de Compostela on foot as their are pilgrims, it would seem. Paths from all parts of Europe can take you there as that is what pilgrims of centuries past did. However, I will look at some of the more popular routes within France, Portugal, and Spain. They all vary in distance, popularity, terrain, and difficulty yet all lead to the same place.
- THE CAMINO FRANCES (THE FRENCH WAY)
- The most popular of all the routes and is the one I walked in 2019
- Is approx 780 km / 484 mi long when starting from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France
- Passes through the Pyrenees Mountains and through the cities of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, and Leon
- Has accommodation and facilities very close together and passes through many towns and villages
- Can be walked or cycled
- The Camino Frances is what most people mean when they refer to the Camino de Santiago
- THE CAMINO NORTES (THE NORTHERN WAY)
- Is a more challengeing to walk/hike and has several elevations and varied terrain (I know a few people who have done this route)
- Is approx 815 km/ 506 mi long when starting in Irún, Spain and goes along the northern coast of the country
- Joins up with the Camino Frances in Arzúa
- Passes through San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Oviedo
- Often 20 – 35 km / 12 – 21 mi to places of shelter or accommodation and is less populated with pilgrims
- THE CAMINO PORTUGUES (THE PORTUGUESE WAY)
- The second most popular of all the routes and I plan to walk in the future
- Starts in Lisbon or Porto, Portugal though most start in Porto and runs from the south to the north
- Is approx 610 km / 379 mi long when starting from Lisbon and 227 km / 141 mi long when starting in Porto
- From Porto there are 2 routes: the Central Way or the Coastal Way, the latter running along the Portuguese coast and then turning towards Santiago
- Has fewer elevations and slopes than the Camino Nortes and the Camino Frances
- THE CAMINO DE FINISTERRE (THE FINISTERRE WAY)
- Starts in Santiago de Campostela and heads to the Atlantic Ocean to “the end of the world” (Finisterre)
- Can be combined walking to Muxia and then to Finisterre is desired
- Is approx 75 km / 46 mi from Santiago to Muxia; 119 km / 74 mi from Santiago to Finisterre; and 28 km / 17 mi from Muxia to Finisterre
- Is fairly popular with plenty of facilities and pilgrims
- Is usually walked or cycled after completing other routes, but not necessary
- THE CAMINO INGLES (THE ENGLISH WAY)
- Has fewer pilgrims and is a quieter route
- Starts in the north of Spain in either Ferrol or A Coruna
- Is approx 110 km / 68 mi from Ferrol and 96 km / 59 mi from A Coruna
- Starting in Ferrol allows pilgrims to claim their compostela as it is longer than 100 km
- THE CAMINO PRIMITIVO (THE ORIGINAL WAY)
- Has fewer pilgrims though plenty of facilities along the route
- Starts in Oviedo in the north and merges with the Camino Frances in Melide
- Is approx 310 km/ 192 mi when starting from Oviedo with 55 km of it being the Camino Frances (from Melide) as it joins up
- Is one of the more difficult routes yet claims to be quite stunning and beautiful
SOME OTHER ROUTES IN SPAIN:
- Camino Aragones (the Arongese Way)
- Camino de Madrid (the Madrid Way)
- Le Puy Route (begins in Le Puy, France)
- Paris Route (I saw Camino arrow markers when I was in Paris after my Camino)
- Via de la Plata (begins in Seville, Spain)
Note: All information that I have posted is up-to-date as far as I am aware. I apologize for any incorrect information
All photos taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders the World
A good summary. Just to add, you can gain a compostela if you walk from A Coruña by walking at least 25km in your home country. Walking the Camino Ingles is a good alternative from the busy French Way from Sarria. Buen Camino!
Thanks for passing on the info. I did not know that part about A Coruña. Yes I imagine the Ingles is less busy. The feel of the Camino changed (at least for me) after Sarria & it was busier.
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I haven’t walked from Sarria since 2011 and even then it was super busy 🙂 many pilgrims choose other routes now instead.
That will likely continue, I expect.
I stumbled onto a segment of camino through Peso da Regua, Portugal, yet found there was no albergaria or cheap bunkhouse as we would know it despite being on a somewhat major town. I suspect these may be further spread out than the French Way. Also I’ve heard that the Portuguese Way is more road/highway walking than the trails of the French Way.
Thanks for the input. It’s good to hear about things first-hand.