Camino de Santiago Routes
There are 9 main routes on the Camino de Santiago and The French Way is the most popular Camino with over 60% travelling on this route. The most commonly travelled routes are:
- • Camino Frances
- • Camino Portugues
- • Camino Portugues Coastal
- • Camino del Norte
- • Camino Primitivo
- • Via de la Plata
- • Via Podiensis
- • Camino Finisterre
- • Camino Ingles
While there are more routes than this, most travel on one of these nine routes in order to reach their destination, Saint James’s Cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
Introduction to the Camino de Santiago
Although the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, has traditionally been a religious pilgrimage, there are many people who choose it as a walking holiday or for many other reasons. Some walk The Way for fitness or as a personal goal to achieve along their journey to better physical health. Others walk not only for the physical benefits but for the mental benefits of unplugging from their daily lives, allowing time simply for peace or self-development. For some, it is a chance to clear their head or to feel a connection with nature.
While those travelling on the Camino for religious reasons are now a minority, people taking part are still known as pilgrims, or ‘peregrinos’ locally. Many walk in groups and some walk alone or with a partner. It’s also possible to travel on the Camino by bicycle and also by horseback. The Camino is well known for its sense of community and sociable atmosphere where pilgrims passing by will greet each other with the welcome of ‘Buen Camino!’, loosely translating as ‘Have a great experience on the Camino’ and so, conversations with strangers can easily be started.
The Camino de Santiago is not just one route, it is a network of routes. The reason for this is that thousands of pilgrims used to walk from their homes throughout the middle ages 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 and all arriving in what has now developed as a city around the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. An exception to this is the Finisterre Way which starts in Santiago, leading toward the coast and heading to Cape Finisterre or the ‘End of the World’ as it was known in medieval times.
Which Camino de Santiago Route is Right for Me?
People choose their Camino de Santiago route based on various criteria with 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 so very scenic while the last sections of the Camino Frances and Camino Portugues are well travelled. Some people want to travel along the whole route from start to finish but others will do it in sections. As it can be somewhat overwhelming to determine which is the most appropriate route 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 and if you would like to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact us here to discuss your Camino Tour.
1. Camino Francés
The Camino Frances or French Way is the most popular Camino route and the name can be confusing to some as the route is mostly based in Spain! It is called the Camino Frances as it starts in France and traditionally is where a lot of French pilgrims would have travelled along. Starting in Saint Jean Pied de Porton the French side of the Pyrenees, it is the most travelled by far with over 60% of pilgrims on the Camino using it.
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 - it is the most popular route and also because travelling 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 like hotels, cafes and restaurants along the way.
The Camino Frances is also popular because it is the route which Martin Sheen travels in The Way movie – an inspiring and popular hit in which Martin Sheen’s character Tom, an American doctor, travels along the Camino to honour his son, finding an adventure which has a profound impact.
2. Camino Portugues
The Camino Portugues, or Portuguese Way, has in recent years become the second most popular Way leading to Santiago de Compostela with nearly 20% of pilgrims travelling along this route in 2016. Boasting stunning coastlines and fantastic cities like Lisbon, Porto and Pontevedra, beautiful, sandy beaches can also be found while walking the Camino Portuguese and the route. The Portuguese Way begins in Lisbon and journeys North inland 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 100kms more to reach Santiago. If you are looking to get away from the crowds but still want lots of amenities throughout your walking day then the Camino Portuguese is a great option.
3. Camino Portugues Coastal
The Camino Portugues Coastal Way is a variant of the original Portuguese route and has become more popular in recent years because of its proximity to the beautiful Atlantic coast. It runs along the shoreline for days hugging the coast where pilgrims can 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 cuts inland through woodlands toward Padron and onwards through small villages and hamlets to Santiago de Compostela. This route is flatter than the original Portuguese Way so those who prefer sea views or walking through forest will help you 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 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 some really 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 set in the Bay of Biscay. The route veers inland through rolling grassy hills and comes back to the sea at Bilbao, famed for its magnificent 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 up there with one of the most rewarding. The route starts off in Oviedo and travels in a south-westerly direction towards Santiago for about 328km. It is less populated than some of the other Camino routes with fewer amenities along the way as it is less frequently travelled.
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 not surprisingly favoured by those looking for a fitness challenge. The ups and downs also bring with it many beautiful valleys, mountains and scenic viewpoints as the route brings you from the province of Asturias into Galicia near the River Navia. Along the way, the path runs through woodlands, crossing farmland and small rural villages and into the City of Lugo which is still completely surrounded by Roman walls and towers. The last section meets up with the Camino Frances at Melide and follows the same route for the next 50k to Santiago.
6. Via de la Plata
The Via de la Plata, Silver Way or Camino Mozárabe starts in Seville and travels North through Salamanca 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 with some also travelling by sea from other parts of the Mediterranean and North Africa. It is the longest of the pilgrim routes at around 1,000kms long and is less crowded than most so it’s a more peaceful alternative and 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 so pilgrims do not encounter as many villages as they would on other Camino routes but it is 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 the high plateau through oak woods and farmland towards the Renaissance city of Salamanca and its 13th Century University and continues through the plateau of the Castilla y Leon region through fields planted with crops split by the red earth Camino track. Passing close to the north-east corner of Portugal, the route turns more hilly with pine and oak woods as we enter the verdant province of Galicia and on through 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 Via Podiensis or Le Puy Route starts in South Central France and is one of four main Camino routes that travel through France. The route is just over 750kms long and travels South West starting in Le Puy in the Auvergne region of France, a town with some unforgettably spectacular churches and monuments. The route can be hilly and has some steep ascents throughout and 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 all the 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 reaching 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 starts in Santiago de Compostela, travelling west nearly 100km to the Atlantic Coast. Many pilgrims continue their journey onwards after reaching Santiago through 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 which is one of the most westerly points of Galicia.
Historically, it was customary for pilgrims to collect a shell here as proof that they had reached their destination. As a result of this today, the scallop shell is now a common sign along all Camino routes, used on way markers and worn by many pilgrims. The town of Fisterra is situated on the rocky peninsula of Cape Fisterra with the Cape Finisterre Lighthouse a beacon on the final coastal walk to those 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 Way movie 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 then 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 too. Nowadays, it typically starts in A Coruna or Ferrol with the Ferrol route being more popular as the distance is greater than 100km long so pilgrims will get their certificate if starting there.
This route starts in the sheltered port town of Ferrol on the north-west tip of Spain and tracks the shoreline southwards through Galicia with beaches and wonderful sea views for the first couple of days. The Camino Ingles then climbs as it heads inland characterised by rolling farmland, old chapels and churches and lush, tree-lined paths until the city of Santiago is reached. Recent investment in this route means it’s really well waymarked with many of the milestones having interactive QR codes offering information on the towns along the way!
How Long is the Camino de Santiago Route?
While all the Camino routes have many variations, detours and evolve over the years so 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' which was originally created in 2006 by Umberto di Venosa, the Founder of Follow the Camino, making the Camino more manageable if time-constrained. The Last 100km of the Camino Frances and the Camino Ingles take about 6 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 2-3 times as fast as walking it, depending on terrain and fitness. At Follow the Camino, we offer manageable weekly route sections on all the Camino routes or can 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 up, we recommend that lots of research is done to make sure you choose the right Camino de Santiago Route. To find out which route might be best for you, why not talk to one of our Camino de Santiago Route Planners or fill out our form on the right-hand side of the page to get a free customised Camino itinerary.