What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James, is a pilgrimage of Medieval Origin to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the North West of Spain.

Legend has it that the remains of the Apostle Saint James the Great were buried here and discovered by a shepherd in the 9th century (Read more about the history of the Camino). The city is, in fact, named after the apostle: Santiago de Compostela means St James of the Field of Stars.

The Camino de Santiago and its Camino routes has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage. Its important role in has encouraged cultural exchanges between people from all over Europe and the world for many centuries. So, what exactly is the Camino de Santiago then?

Today, more than a pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience and trip of a lifetime, with its routes attracting thousands of people from all over the world.

Camino scallop

Where does the Camino de Santiago start?

There are many starting points for the Camino de Santiago routes and which one you take depends completely on your own preference and what you want to get out of the experience.

The reason there are so many different starting points is that the original pilgrims would have commenced their journeys from their own homes. So that’s why so many different Camino ways have emerged over the centuries.

However, the Camino Frances remains the most famous and popular of the Camino routes with Camino Frances from Sarria, in Galicia, being the top starting point for Camino pilgrims.

One of the most popular Camino walks along the seaside is Camino Portugues from Vigo, otherwise, have a look at our Camino last 100km Collection.

What are the Camino de Santiago routes?

The Camino routes are a network of many different routes, all of them taking pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela and all with their own unique history, heritage, and charm. Choosing the right Camino for you is essential in order to make the most of this special trip.

Camino de Santiago Route Map

Camino de Santiago map

Each year, the Pilgrims Office in Santiago releases Camino statistics that reveal the pilgrims’ favourite routes’ starting points, nationality, etc.

Based on those figures, our travel specialists have selected the Top Camino de Santiago routes and have described what it is that makes them special.

1. Camino Frances

The Camino Frances is the most famous Camino de Santiago trail, featured in movies and books such as The Way with Martin Sheen and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho.

While it’s not the oldest of the routes, it has been the most popular and well-known since the Middle Ages. Today it attracts approximately 55% of all pilgrims.

This route is 800kms long and takes approximately 5 weeks to walk if you choose to start the journey from St Jean Pied de Port, but you also can start at any point along the route.

In fact, many pilgrims begin their Camino in the Galician town of Sarria and walk The last 100 km of the Camino Frances in about a week.

The Camino Frances is known as the most social Camino, so you’ll be sure to meet fellow pilgrims and maybe make some friends for life as you experience the local culture and food along the way.

2. Camino Portugues

This route was the traditional trail to Santiago de Compostela taken by Portuguese pilgrims and today it’s the second most popular trail for pilgrims.

This stunning walk weaves along the coastline north of Porto in Portugal and into Spain, taking in some beautiful fishing towns and scenery. The seafood along the route is gorgeous with fresh produce served in most restaurants.

The Camino Portuguese Coastal starts in the colourful UNESCO city of Porto and follows the Atlantic Ocean before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and the heart of the Rías Baixas wine region. A popular starting point is Vigo, at the of the last 100km of the Camino Portugues to Santiago de Compostela

Spend time on the white sandy beaches of Northern Portugal and Southern Galicia and soak in the laid-back atmosphere of maritime culture on this peaceful Camino way.

the Camino del Norte

3. Camino del Norte 

The Camino del Norte (Northern Way) begins in Spain’s Basque Country, in the stylish city of San Sebastian.

San Sebastian is a seaside city that is world-renowned for its culinary excellence. This paradise for food lovers is one of the top 10 cities in Europe for Michelin star restaurants, the only food problem you’ll encounter here is choosing where to eat!

The 2 most popular sections of this Camino route, are the Camino del Norte from San Sebastian to Bilbao in one week and the slightly easier Northern Camino from Bilbao to Santander.

The Camino del Norte takes pilgrims along the coastal villages and towns of ‘Green Spain’, crossing the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias before heading inland towards Santiago, taking pilgrims on a more off-the-beaten-track trail to Santiago.

You can take a dip in the sea to cool off on one of the multitudes of gorgeous beaches and enjoy the atmosphere of the many great towns along the way.

Camino Primitivo countryside

4. Camino Primitivo

The favourite Camino route of the Spaniards, the Camino Primitivo is the oldest of the Camino routes. Also known as the ‘Original Way’, it is the route that has been in use since at least the 9th Century when much of Spain was under Moorish control.

This challenging route starts in Oviedo in North-Eastern Spain and takes pilgrims on a 311 KM journey to Santiago. There is also the option to do the last 100 KM of the Camino Primitivo into Santiago.

Pilgrims walking the Camino Primitivo will have the chance to experience the UNESCO city of Lugo, which is considered the best place to eat in Galicia.

Camino Ingles

5. Camino Ingles

The Camino Ingles was the preferred route for pilgrims from Britain and Ireland, who used to take the boat to one of these two coastal cities. This Camino route has two starting points: Ferrol and A Coruña and it’s the shortest Camino route.

These are just some of the many Camino de Santiago trails across Europe, to find out more visit our ways page: Camino routes. Interested in choosing a route on the Camino de Santiago that best suits your interests?

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your Perfect Camino for some inspiration, whether you’re a foodie, history buff or serious hiker.

Cyclists on the Camino

6. Other Camino Routes

The Camino is not limited to the routes above. Pilgrims from all over Europe were walking to Santiago de Compostela to experience the unique blessings of the Camino Ways. Other Camino Routes include:

  • The Camino Finisterre. A spectacular Camino walk to the end of the world, with cliffs, lighthouses and old monasteries. This Camino has been highlighted in many Camino movies and books over the years
  • The Portugues Camino Espiritual Coastal is a variant of the Portugues way, through the inlet of the “Sea of Arousa”. A stunning Camino for lovers of Coastal walks.
  • Le Chemin du Puy is a wonderful hike in rural France, taking pilgrims through some of the nicest villages and national parks on any of the Camino routes. The ‘FFRP has over the years actively managed the Camino GR65 for the best off-road hikes.
  • On the Via de la Plata, you will experience the beauty of Galicia. The Countryside from Ourense to Santiago has been mostly untouched. It is the quiet Camino full of charms and beauty.
  • The Camino de Invierno is the secret of the Camino de Santiago, although a variant of the Via de la Plata, it starts in medieval Monforte and crosses the much praised Ribeira Sacra wine region
  • The Via Francigena is a Camino to Rome. We include it on Camino Ways because it is equally, stunning, spiritual, and scenic…. and the food is just second to none. Over the year, it has become a best seller.

Cycling the Camino de Santiago

While 92% of pilgrims choose to walk to Santiago de Compostela, approximately 5-8% of pilgrims prefer to do the Camino by bike (they are known as ‘Bicigrinos’ or ‘Bicigrinas’, bike pilgrims).

Cycling the Camino allows you to experience the trail on two wheels, covering more ground each day. However, you’ll need to cycle at least 200km to receive your Compostela certificate in Santiago (as opposed to 100km walking).

Hitting the trail on a mountain bike is a thrilling experience, but we only recommend it to those familiar with bike maintenance and experience with cycling.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Who walks the Camino de Santiago?

People of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds walk and cycle the Camino Routes each year. In 2019, people from 190 different countries arrived in Santiago de Compostela.

Many pilgrims do the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, but many others experience it for its culture, heritage, or as a fitness challenge.

Camino Statistics released from the pilgrim’s office for 2020 showed that almost 54,000 pilgrims received their Compostela, with the majority of pilgrims coming from European countries and 76% doing it for spiritual reasons.

In 2019, we surveyed our enthusiastic Camino community to discover what inspired them to take on the journey. Check out this handy infographic based on the results of our research:

santiago's road, pilgrims, santiago

Why should I walk the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago attracts pilgrims from all over the world; nearly 350,000 Compostela pilgrim certificates were issued in 2019 alone (compared to just over 1200 in 1985), which will give you some idea of how popular it’s become in recent years.

The reason modern pilgrims walk the Camino ancient trail has evolved, and it’s now a rewarding experience for anyone who enjoys walking or cycling.

There are many ways to embark on this unique challenge. You will meet some wonderful people along the route and visit the beautiful Spanish sites. Here are just a few things to enjoy along the way:

  • Admire historic sites and monuments.
  • With every route different, you can sample a vast array of cultures.
  • Enjoy the various landscapes as you travel across the country, from coastal Camino routes to vineyards, mountains, or tiny hamlets.
  • Taste delicious tapas at every stopping point. In Galicia, they also have wonderful pintxos that accompany your favourite evening drink.
  • Meet and converse with other walkers from around the world. Learn about their reasons for taking on this long-loved adventure.
  • Discover yourself!

El Camino Espiritual

How far do I need to walk?

The beauty of the Camino routes is that you can walk as much or as little as you want; you could spend weeks walking from Le Puy to Santiago, one month walking from St Jean Pied de Port, a week or just a few days.

There is a Camino route for everyone. The one thing to keep in mind is that to receive your Compostela pilgrim certificate; you will need to walk at least the last 100kms into Santiago de Compostela or cycle the last 200kms.

In addition, you should stamp your ‘Pilgrim Passport’, also known as ‘credential’, along the way to prove that you have indeed walked the distance.

How do I follow the Camino de Santiago trail?

The Camino de Santiago trails are very well marked with scallop shells and Camino markings painted everywhere (trees, roads, walls…), just follow the yellow arrows, and they’ll guide you to Santiago de Compostela!

For more information on the Camino de Santiago walking and cycling, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can also plan your trip using our unique Camino route planner.

Comments

  1. By Sarah

    Hi Dan, yes you can walk the Camino de Santiago year round. However, some routes close a lot of their services during winter and the weather in summer can be unpleasant if you aren’t used to the heat. The best times to walk the Camino are in late spring and autumn, from May and until the end of October. You can plan your own route on our planner https://caminoways.com/camino-ways-route-planner/ or you can also contact us and we can help plan out and create the best trip for you – https://caminoways.com/contact-us/

  2. By Eithne Leavy

    Thank you your page has been very helpful. This has been an intrest for me for a few years now after watching ..the way starring Martin sheen. Cliche I know but for some reason I feel it would be something beneficial to me, both mentally and physically. I may watch the film again and research more to see what my starting point would be based on my home life and being able to escape for a certain time frame etc. Children, work and money etc.

  3. By Sarah

    Hi Eithne, thanks for taking the time to write a comment. We’re delighted you’ve found our website useful! And don’t worry about cliches, they are cliches for a reason! Take your time thinking about doing the Camino and if you need any advice, tips or help, our blog is full of articles. We also run monthly webinars on our Facebook page for more information. You can also contact us by email as well. Happy researching 🙂

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