Camino de Santiago walking routes

Completing the 800km Spanish section of the Camino, all the way from the Pyrenees, means setting aside a good month or two, and walking at a good speed. Fortunately for pilgrims with limited annual leave, or less reliable knees, many tailor made and small group tours start much closer to Santiago and can be completed in one or two weeks, while still making the most of the beautiful landscapes and picturesque towns. Shortening the trip also means your money goes further – so you can stay in hotels rather than dorms, have your luggage transferred for you each day and arrange transfers at the beginning and end of the Camino.

Although there are dozens of different routes – and all walks to Santiago can be counted as a pilgrimage – most walkers follow the popular Camino Francés – the French Way – where lodging, restaurants and facilities are abundant, and you’ll enjoy the camaraderie of other pilgrims from around the world.

1. Astorga

Refuel on free tapas with each drink in the pretty town of Astorga, one of the most important cities in northwestern Spain during the time of the Roman Empire. Roman, French, Jewish and Moorish settlers left their mark on Astorga, as did Antoni Gaudí – whose Episcopal Palace here is one of only three of his buildings found outside of Catalonia.

2. Finisterre

This rocky peninsula was once believed to be the end of the world. Although the Camino ends in Santiago, for many pilgrims there is a great significance in traveling the extra 90km to Finisterre – often by bus – to reach what really does feel like ‘the end’. Some walkers choose to burn their boots here as a symbol of their completed pilgrimage, or you can join a guided tour of this wild outpost.

3. León

A convenient starting point for two-week itineraries, this majestic city is abuzz with students and pilgrims, and its old quarter and Gothic cathedral feel like appropriate introductions for those beginning their pilgrimage. Get your fix of basilicas, crypts, chapel and the impressive Plaza San Marcos before setting off; some tours whisk you through the less inspiring suburbs to begin your walk in a more rural setting.

4. Molinaseca

Molinaseca is accessible via a pretty stone bridge, one of several ancient stone bridges along the Camino Francés, which takes you into an even prettier stone village. As well as having plenty of pilgrim filled eateries, it also has a riverside ‘beach’ area, where you will find many hikers doing some serious foot bathing. Probably because it is at the end of a mountainous section and opens out into flatter terrain from here.
O Cebreiro

5. O Cebreiro

One of the most elevated viewpoints on the Camino Francés, located between O Courel and Os Ancares mountain ranges. This small village is home to several pre-Roman round dwellings with slate walls and thatched roofs, known as ‘pallozas’, which are typically Galician. Some have been protected as a museum and worth a visit. Another must is the O Cebreiro cheese; a festival celebrates it each April.

6. Panes

A gateway village to the Picos de Europa National Park, and charming, rural base for people taking on the Asturian sections of the Camino del Norte, such as between Panes and Mier, passing the famous Pico Peñamellera. Panes is also the hub for our very popular vacation where you learn Spanish in the mornings and go hiking on sections of the Camino in the afternoons.
Picos de Europa

7. Picos de Europa

This formidable mountain range and national park, which stands squarely on the route of the Camino del Norte, soars up to 2,650m at the iconic Torre de Cerredo, yet is just 20km from the sea. The Northern Way is tough and remote, but there is the option to stay in a traditional village and head out each day to walk different parts of the Camino, taking in breathtaking scenery without enduring the whole pilgrimage.
Rabanal del Camino

8. Rabanal del Camino

You know you’ve entered mountainous terrain when you get to this village, with stone buildings, tiny taverns and Camino hostels. You can hear camaraderie echoing around the mountains. It has long been an important stop on the Camino Francés, shown by the number of churches here. There is even a new order of Benedictine monks living in the Monasterio de San Salvador del Monte Irago who cater for pilgrims.

9. Samos

Samos is also known as Ouribio, after the Sierra do Oribio mountains. Although it’s not actually on the Camino, this small town is popular with pilgrims as it’s home to the 12th century San Xian Monastery, tucked among trees on the banks of the River Sarria. It’s a soulful place with cloisters and quiet corners for peaceful contemplation. Don’t miss the Casa Manxarín shop selling Samos cake, based on the monks’ recipe.
Santiago de Compostela

10. Santiago de Compostela

Taking the final few steps into the plaza in from of Santiago’s imposing cathedral is an emotional experience for the pilgrims. This is a fine place to finish your long walk; after visiting Saint James’ shrine and refueling with some tasty tapas, go for a wander through the Old Quarter in its UNESCO-rated center. Don’t forget to pick up your Compostela – the certificate of completion – from the Pilgrim’s Office.

11. Sarria

Galicia’s ancient capital is the starting point for many of the shorter pilgrimages as it allows you to walk 100km, the minimum distance required to be able to say you have completed the Camino. There are plenty of facilities for pilgrims here. It takes around five days to reach Santiago, leaving Sarria over a Roman bridge and walking through tiny hamlets along the southern slopes of the Sierra del Paramo.
The Sea Route

12. The Sea Route

If you are a pilgrim who also worships water, consider kayaking the Sea Route, which is the route that Saint James’ disciples took to transport his remains to Santiago. Starting in San Vicente del Grove, you will cover 77km of paddling and 25km on foot, with both sea kayaking on the Sea of Arousa and river paddling on River Ulla. You even get a special certificate for this water pilgrimage, called the 'translatio'.

Our top Camino de Santiago Vacation

Learn Spanish & hike the Camino de Santiago, Spain

Learn Spanish & hike the Camino de Santiago, Spain

Spanish Course + walking in the Camino del Norte

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Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fresco Tours] [Introduction: Miriam Mezzera] [1 Astorga: Turol Jones] [2 Finisterre: Gregorio Puga Bailón] [3 León: Megginede ] [4 Molinaseca : José Antonio Gil Martínez] [5 O Cebreiro : Bjørn Christian Tørrissen] [6 Panes : PeakMe] [7 Picos de Europa : Rick McCharles] [8 Rabanal del Camino : Anual] [9 Samos : Ann Morrison] [10 Santiago de Compostela: Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias] [11 Sarria: Fresco Tours] [12 The Sea Route: Spain Is More]