If you’re looking for a big hiking adventure, you might be considering whether you should walk the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago. Both are fantastic long-distance hikes in Europe and potentially life-changing experiences. We’ve compared the two walks, examining the biggest differences between to help you make a decision!
Find out here why we think long-distance hiking is the ultimate in transformation travel.
What are the key differences between the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago?
The concept of the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago is similar. Both walks are pilgrimages with religious roots, one to Rome in Italy and one to Santiago in Spain. The two walks take in some fabulous scenery, towns and stunning cities such as San Sebastian on the Camino North, Porto on the Portuguese route of the Camino and Siena on the Via Francigena. Both are fabulous, life changing and epic fun too. But,they are very different beasts!
The key differences are set out below – the cost, the duration, the difficulty, the people you’ll meet and the languages spoken.
Is the Via Francigena an alternative to the Camino de Santiago?
The answer to this question is both yes and no! The Via Francigena in it’s entirety is not really a direct alternative to the Camino de Santiago. The Via Francigena is a series of paths that lead across four different countries. Whereas the Camino de Santiago crosses only one country (Spain) and the popular routes are far shorter than the 2000km Via Francigena. However, the Via Francigena can be walked in sections, which are comparable to the popular Camino de Santiago routes.
Having walked a number of Camino de Santiago routes, we decided this year to walk a section of the Via Francigena. We walked the 419km from Lucca to Rome. Although this felt different to walking the Camino de Santiago, in our view it provided a decent alternative and a new experience. We would recommend the Via Francigena to anyone who has previously walked the Camino de Santiago and is looking for a new challenge. But, the Via Francigena can also be a very good alternative to the Camino de Santiago for anyone looking for a quieter walking option.
Overall, we loved the Via Francigena. But, it is very difficult to beat the camaraderie and spirit of the Camino. We would recommend the Camino to anyone doing something like this for the first time. The Camino would also suit you better if you’re looking to socialise and meet lots of people!
If you’re interested in Italian culture and a unique adventure, then the Via Francigena is the one to go for!
Which is longer, the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago?
The Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome is over 2,000km. There is also a Via Francigena path that continues past Rome into Puglia, in the South of Italy to Santa Maria di Leuca. This is an additional 870km. However, the Via Francigena can be walked in sections. For example, the Lucca to Rome section is 419km and is the most popular stretch of the route.
The Camino de Santiago has a number of different routes. The three most popular are the French route, the North route and the Portuguese route from Porto to Santiago. The length of these routes are 770km, 830km, 260-280km respectively.
Is the Camino de Santiago or the Via Francigena more difficult to walk?
Based on the length of the entire walk, the Via Francigena is harder in terms of distance than the Camino de Santiago. The Via Francigena is over 2,000km and would take between three and four months to complete. Whereas, the most popular Camino de Santiago routes are around 800km and would take one month to complete. Although the Portuguese route can be completed in less time.
Terrain and Incline
However, the difficulty of each route is probably determined by the terrain and incline rather than the distance alone. The terrain on the Via Francigena and the numerous Camino routes is quite similar. Both pilgrimages have a combination of road and trail walking. In general, the terrain on both walks is not often uneven under foot.
In terms of incline, different stretches of the Via Francigena and different Camino routes have some incline and some flatter sections. The Via Francigena section that we walked from Lucca to Rome had a number of hill climbs, some as steep as 800m. Most days finished with short climbs into the hillside Italian towns in Tuscany. The hardest part of the Via Francigena is thought to be in Switzerland when crossing the Alps before the Saint Bernard’s pass.
We found the Camino Portuguese route to be fairly flat for most of the route from Porto to Santiago. Subsequently, we think this is the easiest of the popular Camino routes. Whereas, the Camino del Norte (the North route) has a number of steep hills and is harder. The Camino Primitivo is the most challenging of the Camino routes, when it comes to hill climbs.
In our experience, the distances you will be required to walk on the Via Francigena versus the Camino de Santiago are roughly the same. However, as the infrastructure on the Camino de Santiago is more established than the Via Francigena, the daily stages are more flexible. On the Camino de Santiago, it is relatively easy to walk 15km approximately each day and still stay in hostels along the route. However, if you wanted to walk less than the average daily stage (20-30km) on the Via Francigena, then you would need to find private accommodation or camp.
Training to walk the Via Francigena or Camino de Santiago
If you want to read more about training for the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena, we’ve written a guide here.
Is the food better on the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago?
We have only walked the Via Francigena in Italy, so will withhold comment on French and Swiss food. But, in our experience the food in Italy on the Via Francigena and the food on the Camino de Santiago are quite different!
The key differences between the food on the Via Francigena in Italy and the Camino are:
- The food on the Camino can be quite restrictive for anyone with a gluten free diet or vegetarians. Whereas, the food in Italy is generally more adaptable to both diets.
- The food in Italy on the Via Francigena is far more expensive than the food found on the Camino de Santiago
- Both the Via Francigena in Italy and the Camino de Santiago provide opportunities to try amazing wine and fine dining, should you wish to
- In general, the food on the Camino de Santiago is more hearty than the food on the Via Francigena in Italy, but we also found the Spanish food to be more varied
- However, Italian food is always amazing! It’s difficult to beat a Cacio e Pepe after a hard day on the trails!
Which is more expensive, the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago?
An average daily budget for the Camino de Santiago is between 20 and 40 Euros per person, depending on how often you eat out and the type of accommodation booked. It can be possible to stick to the lower end of this for budget travellers. However, the Via Francigena tends to be a little more expensive. An average daily budget in Italy on the Via Francigena is 40 to 45 Euros. It would be easy to spend more than this, but may be difficult to spend less.
Accommodation on the Camino can cost as little as 10 Euros, whereas the cheapest possible on the Via Francigena is closer to 20 Euros per person (with a few exceptions.) The average price of a hostel on the Camino is between 15 and 20, whereas the average cost of a hostel on of the Via Francigena is higher than 20 Euros. In England and Switzerland on the Via Francigena, prices may be even higher than this.
Food and drink tends to be pricier on the Via Francigena than the Camino de Santiago. On the Camino de Santiago, you can find three course menus for around 15 Euros, but this is not really possible on the Via Francigena. The biggest difference we noted was the cost of a glass of wine – 2 Euros approx on the Camino versus 5 Euros on the Via Francigena in Italy!
Which is most popular, the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago?
Based on the number of walkers and cyclists, the Camino de Santiago is by far the most popular of the two pilgrimages.
In 2022 17,500 people walked or cycled part of the Via Francigena. During the same year, the pilgrims office of Santiago registered 438,683 people completing one of the Camino de Santiago routes. Of course, not all of them walked the same route. The most popular route, the French way, saw 438,683 people in 2022. But, the less travelled routes of the Camino de Santiago, such as the Primitivo and the Ingles had at least 21,000 people registered as walking or cycling them. However, it’s woth noting that approximately 45% of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago completed only the last 100km from Sarria or Tui.
The busiest months on the Camino and the Via Francigena are similar, May, June, July and August. Although September and October are also very popular on the Camino de Santiago, with more people walking in September 2022 on the Camino than on the Via Francigena in the entire year.
If you’re looking for a busy walk, where you meet lots of people the Camino de Santiago is a better choice. The atmosphere is difficult to compare to anything else. But, the Via Francigena offers a chance for solitude, a bit of peace and quiet and a unique experience, which can be hard to find on the popular Camino de Santiago routes.
When we walked from Lucca to Rome on the Via Francigena in March, we were the only pilgrims to arrive in Rome that day. On the Camino, you’re more likely to be one of thousands to arrive in Santiago. This creates a very different experience!
Who walks the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago?
Firstly, let’s look at nationality. The Camino de Santiago is very popular with Spanish people, for obvious reason. 55% of those travelling the Camino de Santiago in 2022 were from Spain. This was followed by 6% from Italy, 6% from the USA and 5% from Germany. The Via Francigena does not produce exact stats but it is estimated that Italians counted for 70% of walkers in 2022, followed by Spanish, French, British and Americans walkers.
In terms of gender, the Via Francigena stats show that 46% of walkers/ cyclists in 2022 were female, compared to 54% male. The Camino de Santiago no longer publishes stats on gender, but we are aware that stats from 2021 demonstrated a similar gender breakdown to the Via Francigena.
Age of pilgrims
On the Via Francigena, the highest numbers of pilgrims were aged between 25-34 and 55-64, making up for 22% and 21% of the total. The Camino de Santiago no longer publishes stats on age, but in 2021 the statistics show that, 26% of those on the Camino were under 30, with 16% over 60 and the remainder between 30 and 60. Which shows a similar age profile between the two walks.
In terms of cycling, 13% of those on the Via Francigena were on bike in 2022. This compares to 5% on bike on the Camino de Santiago in the same year.
Solo, couples and groups
Finally, 15% of pilgrims on the Via Francigena were solo in 2022. 30% travelled as a couple. The remaining majority were in groups of three or more. There are no statistics on this for the Camino, but anecdotally, we think there are far less couples to be found on the Camino and many more solo walkers!
If you want to read more about people you’ll meet on the Camino, check out our satirical article here.
Are the languages different on the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago is in Spain, therefore locals will speak Spanish. The highest number of pilgrims walking the Camino also come from Spain. However, most people walking speak some English. You can find out more here about whether you need to speak Spanish to walk the Camino.
The Via Francigena runs from England, through France, into Switzerland and through Italy. Therefore, there will be a number of different languages spoken along the route.
Based on our recent walk on the Via Francigena in Italy, we’ve written about whether you need to speak Italian on the route.
Is accommodation better on the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago?
Accommodation on the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago has some quite significant differences. The Camino de Santiago has really good infrastructure, particularly when it comes to accommodation. There are albergues (pilgrim only hostels) to be found along the route. As there are so many, it’s rare that there are issues finding a bed for the night on the Camino. Pilgrim accommodation on the Via Francigena, at least in Italy, is a little harder to come by. Although it does exist, it is not guaranteed in every town.
We found that the albergues on the Camino were incredibly welcoming and friendly. Italian hosts were welcoming of course, but were perhaps not as as flexible to accommodate walkers. Specifically, you would often be required to call ahead to confirm your arrival time, which can be tricky when walking.
If you’re looking for private accommodation, then the accommodation it Italy is (in our view) better. Private accommodation on the Camino can be good, but in some areas is expensive and tricky to secure in the summer. Italy has so much tourist accommodation that it would be difficult to imagine not being able to find somewhere for the night!
The main difference we have found, is that accommodation on the Via Francigena really needs to be booked in advance of arrival. Whereas, it is more typical on the Camino to find that albergues take pilgrims on a first come first served basis.
John and Emma’s hiking gear. These are items we love to use when we go hiking, find them here on Amazon.
Osprey 40L, Multi, O/S
HOKA ONE ONE Mens Speedgoat 4 Textile Synthetic Trainers
HOKA ONE ONE Women’s Clifton 8
CWVLC Unisex Cushioned Compression Athletic Ankle Socks Multipack
Dr. Scholl’s Blister Cushions, Seal & Heal Bandage, 8 Cushions
Montem Ultra Strong Trekking, Walking, and Hiking Poles – One Pair (2 Poles)
Would you like to read more about the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago?
Most of our planning is done using other blogs, but you can’t beat a guide book at the bottom of your case.
Find them here on Amazon.
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