When most people talk about the Camino de Santiago, they are thinking about the route which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPP), France and makes its way across Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. This is the best known and most traveled route, but it is not the only one which you can walk.
For most of the Camino’s history, the journey began at your front door and made its way to Santiago. This reality means there are multiple routes throughout Europe that lead to Santiago. Each has its own character and provides its own unique experience.
While this website will concentrate on preparing for the Camino Frances, the information you glean from it will ready you to walk any of the routes.
In selecting the route you will walk, you will want to answer several questions. How far do you want to walk? How much time do you have? And how comfortable are you with the infrastructure, or lack there of, on a given route? Of course, local culture may also play a role in your decision. While this list does not cover every way to Santiago, it gives you an idea of how each of the most well known routes compare to one another.
This is the most popular route and has the best infrastructure for pilgrims. If you start in SJPP you will walk nearly 800 kilometers or 500 miles. It will take between 28 and 34 days to walk the entire route, depending on distance traveled each day and whether you build in a rest day or two. Most break it into 31 to 34 stages and give themselves 35 to 40 days to complete it, especially if you add the Camion de Finisterre at the end. It starts out with one of the routes most difficult days, as you cross the Pyrenees from France and into Spain on the Neapolitan Route, but this day can be broken into two stages if you desire with a stay in Orison, France. Given how well it is marked, and the number of fellow pilgrims you will encounter, it is difficult to get lost. It has a great mixture of small villages and large towns, as well a varied landscapes as each region has its own unique flavor.
Camino del Norte
This is also known as the Northern Way. It begins in Irun, France and makes it way along the Northern coast of Spain to Santiago. It is a little longer than the Camion Frances at 825 km, and is often broken into 34 stages. Some stay it is the toughest of the Camino routs, but you are reward with breathtaking beauty. You may want to plan for 35 to 40 days to give yourself plenty of time. The infrastructure for this route is not as developed as the Camion Frances. You will find that accommodations for pilgrims are not as readily available, and are often greater distances apart than on the Frances. On any given day, the number of pilgrims starting out in SJPP can number in the hundreds, the Norte averages around 30. If you are looking for solitude, this route may be the right choice. The waymarking is generally decent, but there are some places where it can be confusing. Pay attention or you may get lost. It is a great route for those who want a little more solitude, and are comfortable with being less dependent on widely available resources for pilgrims.
This route follows the Atlantic cost of Portugal into Spain. If you start in Lisbon you will travel 620 Km to Santiago. The beginning of the route, from Lisbon to Porto, has less infrastructure for pilgrims, but that is changing. From Porto on you will find more options. Many choose to simply start in Porto, 232 km from Santiago. The full route can be broken into 23 to 28 stages; Porto to Santiago can be walked in 10 to 12. For the full route allow 25 to 30 days. Staring in Porto, give yourself two weeks. It is a fairly flat route and well marked. In places, it leads you along coastal areas which can be both quiet beautiful and crowded in the summer months. It might be ideal for those who have less time and enjoy the coast.
Camino de la Plata
It is also known as the Silver Way and is the longest pilgrim route at 1,000 km. It is generally broken into 38 sections. You may want to plan 40 to 45 days to complete the entire route. It starts in Seville and heads north through Western Spain. It joins the Camino Frances in Astorga and follows it to Santiago. With far fewer pilgrims walking this route is can be very solitary. Distances between towns can be very long, and accommodations can be 25 to 30 km apart. There are not as many waymarkers as the Frances, but you can find your way.
This is also known as the Original Way. It travels from Oviedo and joins the Camino Frances at Melide. While only 321 km, it is one of the tougher routes to Santiago, taking you through mountainous climbs and descents. Its beauty and solitude is well worth the effort. It is normally completed in 11 to 14 days. You might want to plan for 16 to 20 days if you want to include continuing on from Santiago to Finisterre. It is well marked, but there is not as much infrastructure as the Frances. You may wish to call ahead to secure accommodations.
Camino de Finisterre
This is the route from Santiago to the end of the world. It is approximately 90 km and most break it into three or four stages, with an extra day to continue on to Muxia. After the business of the last 100 km into Santiago, the journey to Finisterre will seems quite tranquil. The route, which is well marked, undulates through the mountains along grove shaded paths. While only a small number of those who make a pilgrimage to Santiago continue on to Finisterre, the popularity is growing and with it so is the availability of accommodations for pilgrims. There is a bus service which will take you back to Santiago after the completion and a rest day or two at the sea.