What is the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain?
The Camino de Santiago or 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 Camino history). The city is, in fact, named after the apostle: Santiago de Compostela means St James of the Field of Stars.
The Camino de Santiago has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage for its important role encouraging cultural exchanges between people from all over Europe and the world for many centuries. Today, more than a pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, is a unique experience and trip of a lifetime and the routes attract thousands of people from all over the world.
Where does the Camino start?
There are many starting points for the Camino de Santiago routes. Since pilgrims used to commence their journey from their own homes different Camino ways have emerged over the centuries, however the Camino Francés remains the most famous and popular Camino route with Sarria, in Galicia, being the top starting point for Camino pilgrims.
What are the most popular Camino de Santiago routes?
The Camino de Santiago is 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 for you to make the most of this special trip.
Each year, the Pilgrims Office in Santiago releases statistics which reveal the pilgrims’ favourite routes, their starting point, nationality, etc… Based on those figures, our travel specialists have selected the Top Camino de Santiago routes and what makes them special:
The Camino Francés is the most famous Camino de Santiago trail, featuring in movies and books such as The Way with Martin Sheen and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. While it is not the oldest route, it has been the most popular and well known since the Middle Ages, attracting today 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 start their Camino in the Galician town of Sarria and walk The last 100 km of the Camino Frances in about a week. offers a truly authentic Camino experience. The Camino Francés is known as the most social Camino, and you are sure to meet fellow pilgrims while experiencing local culture along the way.
This route was the traditional trail to Santiago de Compostela taken by Portuguese pilgrims and today it’s the second most popular for pilgrims. It takes approximately a month to complete the Camino Portugués walking the full lenght from from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon; but Porto is also a very popular place to start.
Portuguese Coastal Camino
The Portuguese Coastal Camino is another extremely popular Camino route and is an excellent alternative to the Camino Francés or the classic Camino Portugués. This stunning walk weaves along the coastline North of Porto in Portugal 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 Portuguese Coastal Camino starts in the colourful UNESCO-listed city Porto and follows the Atlantic Ocean before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and the heart of the Rías Baixas. 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.
Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte (Northern Way) begins in the Basque Country, in the stylish city of San Sebastián. San Sebastián 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 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.
This Camino route has two starting points: Ferrol and A Coruña and it’s the shortest Camino route. The Camino Inglés was the preferred route for pilgrims from Britain and Ireland, who used to take the boat to one of these two coastal cities.
These are just some of the many Camino de Santiago trails across Europe, to find out more visit our ways page: Camino de Santiago routes.
Cycling the Camino de Santiago trail
While 94% of pilgrims choose to walk to Santiago de Compostela, approximately 5% of pilgrims prefer to do the Camino de Santiago by bike (they are known as ‘bicigrinos’ or ‘bicigrinas’, bike pilgrims).
Cycling the Camino gives you an opportunity to experience the trail on two wheels, covering more ground each day. You’ll need to cycle 200km in order to receive your Compostela in Santiago, and our Camino Frances Last 200km is the perfect way to do it. Hitting the trail on a mountain bike is a thrilling experience but we only recommended to those familiar with bike maintenance and used to cycling.
Who walks the Camino?
People of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds walk and cycle the Camino de Santiago 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 challenge.
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 that modern pilgrims walk the ancient trail has evolved over time, 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 take in the beautiful Spanish sites. Here are just a few things to enjoy along the way:
- Admire historic sites and monuments. With every route being different you can sample a vast array of cultures.
- Enjoy the variety of 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 the 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!
We have many 5 star reviews from clients around the world and we would love to share their experiences with you. See all of our Camino reviews here.
We recently surveyed our enthusiastic Camino community to discover what inspired them to take on the journey. Check out this handy info-graphic based on the results of our research.
How far do I need to walk?
The beauty of the Camino de Santiago routes is that you can walk as much or a little as you want, you could spend weeks walking all the way from Le Puy to Santiago, one month walking from St Jean Pied de Port, a week or just a few days. The one thing to keep in mind is that in order 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 ‘credencial’, along the way to proof that you have indeed, walked the distance.
How do I follow the Camino trail?
The Camino de Santiago trails are very well marked with scallop shells and yellow arrows painted everywhere (trees, roads, walls…), just follow the yellow arrows and they’ll guide you all the way to Santiago de Compostela!
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