So, you’ve decided you want to Walk the Camino de Santiago? You are excitedly starting to plan, but you have one big decision still to go. Which route should you take? All roads lead to Santiago, but not all routes are the same! Which Camino de Santiago route should you choose?
Is there more than one Camino route?
Let’s start with a basic question, is there more than one Camino de Santiago route?
There are in fact multiple Camino de Santiago routes. Over 200 Camino route have been registered, many of them are minor alterations to the main routes. In terms of established Camino routes, there are seven that are most well known, but three or four that are most trodden.
Which Camino de Santiago route is the most popular?
According to statistics captured by the Pilgrims Office of Santiago, the most popular route in 2021 was the French Route (Camino Frances) with over 98,000 people completing the route (and registering their presence.)
Here are some further statistics about the most popular Camino de Santiago route in 2021:
- French Route 54%
- Portuguese Route (Inland) 19%
- Camino Ingles 6%
- Primitivo 5%
- North Route 5%
- Portuguese Route (Coastal) 4%
- Via de La Plata 2%
- Camino Finisterre 0.5%
Which Camino route is the most beautiful?
Generally, most people believe that the Camino del Norte is the most beautiful in terms of landscape. This is because you walk along Northern Spain and at times have the option to walk on a direct coastal path overlooking the ocean. Not only that, but you will walk through the stunning cities of San Sebastian, Bilbao and Gijon.
However, many people note that the Primitivo from Oviedo, with the incredible mountain views is also stunning. Indeed, it is difficult to argue that any of the Camino routes in Spain and Portugal are not beautiful.
Which is the hardest Camino route?
In general, most people will think of the Camino del Norte as the hardest of the longer (i.e. month long) Caminos walks. This is because there are many undulating hill climbs compared to the Camino Frances. However, many who have walked the Camino Primitivo will confirm that they found that harder than the Norte, often due to challenging weather conditions and extreme climbs.
Which is the easiest Camino route?
Generally, most people will say that the Camino Ingles is the easiest route as it is short (around 70km from Coruna).
Of the longer Caminos, the Portuguese route from Porto to Santiago is considered to be one of the flattest routes. The Camino Frances, the French route, is also flatter than the Camino del Norte, but it would be difficult to describe it as easy!
How much time do you need to walk the Camino de Santiago?
The first key question is how much time you have. Perhaps you’re a teacher with the entire summer holidays stretching out in front of you, or you’ve just got one week of annual leave.
One Week or Less: If you’ve only got one week or less on this occasion, then I’d say you have a few options. Either, walk the last 100km into Santiago along the Camino Frances. This means you get to experience the atmosphere, you get to enter Santiago and you can officially collect a certificate for walking the last 100km! If you’re a fast walker and you have a full week, you may be able to get to Finisterre (the end of the world!) on the West Coast of Spain. If you’re looking for something different, then you could walk a stretch of the Camino del Norte – San Sebastian to Bilbao is popular and would be a great way to see two fab cities!
Two Weeks: With a full two week stint, I’d recommend the Camino Portuguese. You can walk the 250km from Porto to Santiago comfortably within 14 days. If you’re looking for a more challenging terrain, then try the Camino Primitivo – with a bit of speed behind you, then you should cover it in two weeks.
One Month: With one month or more to play with, you can choose any route you like! The Camino del Norte or Camino Frances are most popular with those who have 30 days to cover them. But, completely dependent on how far you want to walk each day (see below!)
How far do you walk each day on the Camino de Santiago route?
10 to 15km: If you want to keep the kms per day down under 15km, then you will need to either i) Pick a shorter route (such as the Portuguese route from Porto) or ii) ensure you have enough time. If you want to take the Camino del Norte for example, you’ll need to allow at least 8 weeks at this pace.
15 to 25km: If you’re aiming to walk between 15 an 25km per day, then you should be able to cover one of the long routes in about 6 weeks. Or, opt for a shorter route if you have less time than that.
25km+ : If you’re willing to walk in excess of 25km per day, then all routes are open to you. On the Camino del Norte, I had some days where I had to walk 40km to find accommodation, but other days where 25km was more the norm!
What kind of ambience are you looking for on the Camino de Santiago route?
Quiet Isolation: If you want total peace and isolation, then you have a couple of choices. Either, pick one of the main routes but walk them during the off season or later season. For example, the Camino Portuguese is quieter in October. Or, take one of the lesser travelled routes such as the Camino de Levante or the Via De La Plata.
Some socialising/ some chill: For a more balanced Camino, I’d recommend the Camino del Norte. Especially if you’re doing this in the Summer, you can expect a laid back atmosphere, but with enough Pilgrims to get in some socialising.
Party Party Party: If you’re looking to socialise and find like-minded travellers who are willing to burn the candle at both ends, then I’d recommend the Camino Frances. The French route has the highest number of Pilgrims, the most Albergues and more bars and restaurants than the others. Party On!
Are you craving a unique experience?
The path unknown: Perhaps you’re looking for something totally unique? A road less travelled? The Camino de Levante stretches for over 1000km from the East of Spain (Valencia) all the way to Santiago. I’m yet to meet anyone who has taken this route! Another option is to take the Camino Invierno (The Winter Route!) Less than 1000 pilgrims use this route every year. It follows the Camino Frances, but cutting off particular areas that would be too difficult to cross in the Winter.
A bit unique: If you want something a bit different, but still easy to navigate, then I’d suggest either the Camino Portuguese or the Camino Del Norte. Both are popular and established routes, but not completely crowded (yet!)
Well trodden path: The Camino Frances might be the one of you if you want something established and easy to travel. Each year, this is the most popular route and it’s very much set up for the numbers of travellers taking this way.
What scenery would you like on the Camino de Santiago route?
Coastal: If windswept beaches, ocean views and cliff top walks are your thing, then the Camino Del Norte or the Camino Portuguese Coastal Route are the best ones for you! Both routes offer fantastic coastal scenery and the chance to enjoy an afternoon dip in the sea at the end of a hard days walking.
Mountain: The Camino Primitivo is one of the toughest camino routes owing to the undulating terrain. But this means you get incredible mountain scenery in return.
Countryside: If you don’t crave the ocean and you’re looking for more consistent terrain, then the Camino Frances may be the one for you. This route winds inland across Spanish countryside, taking in wine regions and small towns and villages.
What do you like to eat and drink?
White wine and seafood: The Camino del Norte journeys through Galicia, famed for both white wine and seafood!
Port and custard tarts: Say no more, if you’re after a Pastel de Nata and a big glass of Port, then you should try the Camino Portuguese which kicks off in Porto.
Red wine and hearty fare: If this is you thing, then definitely try the Camino Frances, which travels through the Rioja wine region!
Which cities would you like to visit?
Bilbao: Want to visit the culinary capital of the Basque region? Try the Camino del Norte which takes in Bilbao and San Sebastian.
Oviedo: If you’re looking to visit the capital of Asturias, then take the Camino Primitivo which winds through this great city.
Pamplona: Always wanted to visit the home of the famous Bull Run? Then take the Camino Frances which counts Pamplona as part of the route.
Madrid: There’s even a Camino route running through the Spanish capital city. Give the Camino de Madrid a go – this route joins the Frances route just short of Leon.
Alternatives to the Camino de Santiago
If you’ve walked all the Caminos and been to Santiago a thousand times, or just fancy something different, then why not try an alternative to the Spanish Camino.
Via Francigene, UK to Italy
This is a route taking you all the way from Kent in the UK to Puglia in Southern Italy. A bit like the Camino de Santiago, you could also opt to walk stretches of it, rather than the entire 3000km. It’s on my list for Summer 2023 and I can’t wait! You can find more information on the Via Franciegene here.
The E4 Path in Cyprus
Beyond the traditional Caminos, Europe has a series of long distance walking paths. These are called the “E” series, as they all start with an E and a number. The E4 technically runs from Southern Spain (Tarifa) all the way to Cyprus. It’s over 10,000 km long and of course you can’t walk across water! But, you could choose a stretch of it. For example, the E4 runs round the Island of Cyprus along the West Coast, which would make an excellent path to explore.
Great Glenn Way, Scotland
If you’re looking for something a little less hot than the Camino de Santiago, why not try the Great Glenn way in Scotland. It’s 79km long and takes between 5 and 7 days. You can wild camp along the way!