Walking the Camino de Santiago: The Routes

Hikers around the world are rediscovering Spain's Camino de Santiago, Medieval Europe's version of the thru-hike. A veteran of the pilgrimage shares his tips for getting your boots on the path.

Aug 12, 2013
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Fresco Tours/Flickr

The network of Caminos crosses Europe, and you can follow a Way from Finland or Turkey. The possibilities are beyond the scope of this article, but these are the main routes.

Camino Francés (the French Way)
The Camino Francés is the most popular option for a reason: The varied scenery and good infrastructure means that it’s an enjoyable walk. Most of the routes from other parts of Europe converge in St Jean Pied-du-Port, which is where the Camino Francés officially starts.

Camino del Norte (the Northern Way)
Hugging the northern coast of Spain, this route starts in Irún on the border with France and travels west through Bilbao, Santander and Oveido. The 510 miles of pathway will take about 35 days to complete, and though the distances between towns are reasonable, the sparse accommodations mean that you have to stick to a fairly rigid itinerary.

Camino Portugués (the Portuguese Way)
In contrast with many of the other routes, the Camino Portugués is relatively flat, without too many hills. It starts in Lisbon and passes through Porto and Pontevedra on its way north through Portugal, and is approximately 380 miles long. The infrastructure is reasonable but much of the route takes you alongside motorways.

Via de la Plata
The "plata" in the Via de la Plata's name comes from a corruption of an Arabic word that means "wide surfaced road." In this sense, it's well named, as most of the route follows an old Roman road north from Seville; if you're interested in Roman history, this is the route for you. At 620 miles, it's the longest route through Spain, and it passes through Merida, Cáceres, Salamanca, and Zamora, as well as other cities.

Camino Inglés (the English Way)
English pilgrims arriving by boat from Britain started their walk at either La Coruña or Ferrol, and the English Way is a Y-shaped route which can be started in either of these cities. The 75km from La Coruña can be walked in three days, though you won't earn a Compostela as it's under 62 miles. From Ferrol, the 70-mile walk will take five days.

Camino Primitivo (the Original Route)
Oveido isn't on the Camino Francés, but many pilgrims detour there to visit the city's cathedral. The Camino Primitivo is the most direct route from Oveido to Santiago (passing through Lugo), and it rejoins the Camino Francés about 40 miles from Santiago. The walk is about 180 miles long and is quite challenging, as it includes a fair amount of hill climbing and the weather can be very erratic.

Camino de Finisterre (the Finisterre Way)

Instead of finishing their walk in Santiago, many pilgrims continue on to one of the westernmost points in Europe: Finisterre, whose name literally translates to "end of the world." The route from Santiago to Finisterre adds on 55 miles and is best walked in five stages, with an optional extra 18-mile walk to Muxia afterwards. Organizations in Finisterre and Muxia both offer Compostelas to those that complete these routes.

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