The Way of St. James has about a dozen or so routes stemming from different parts of Europe. With more than one route to choose from, first-time pilgrims often ask themselves which way they should go and if it would really matter that they went the French Way instead of the Portuguese Way. After all, don’t all Caminos lead to Santiago? On the contrary, it actually does matter which route you will take because each one provides a different experience than the other. To help you get started, we’ve rounded up the top five Camino de Santiago routes.
Camino Primitivo (The Original Way)
Hardcore pilgrims wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to walk Camino Primitivo. It was the very first route taken by pilgrims as they traveled to Santiago de Compostela in the 9th century. The route begins at Oviedo and passes the Cantabrian Mountains to provide stunning views of Picos de Europa (The Peaks of Europe). On the way, you will come across old-fashioned mountain villages where you could stop by and have some rest.
This first half of the walk is admittedly more challenging than most Caminos, so it’s really not for everyone. The path gets easier once you reach Lugo, however. Before you leave this city, the Old District is worth a stopover. There you’ll find the most well-preserved ancient Roman wall in Spain, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After Lugo, you will be passing calm forests and a farmland. The final stretch of Camino Primitivo joins with that of Camino Francés (The French Way) at Melide. The town is renowned for its traditional Galician cuisine and their delicacy – octopus dishes.
Best route for: Mountain sceneries, hiking, traditional Galician cuisine
Via de la Plata
Also known as Silver Route, Via de la Plata is the longest route you can take to Santiago. Walking this Camino feels more like a trip than a pilgrimage, as it gives you plenty of opportunities to explore attractions and experience the Spanish culture.
The 1,000-kilometer journey starts in southern Spain at Seville, Andalusia – a city best known for its varied architecture. Among its most noteworthy landmarks are Alcázar, Torre del Oro, the City Hall, the Palace of San Telmo, the Royal Tobacco Factory, Seville Cathedral, and its adjoining tower, La Giralda. As you push forward, you will come across cities like Merída and Caparra where some of the best-preserved ancient Roman sites in Europe are located.
The city of Extremadura is a spectacular place for bird watching as well as savoring the Pata Negra ham. You will also come across UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the cities of Salamanca and Zamora before entering Galicia. When you reach Ourense, spend some time there and relax in the thermal springs because there will be another 100 km of forests, quaint villages, and rolling hills until you get to Santiago de Compostela.
Best route for: Sightseeing in Spain, historical architecture, experiencing Spanish culture
Camino del Norte (The Northern Way)
The third most popular Camino follows the Northern coast of Spain and takes about 5 weeks to complete. From San Sebastián, the route passes through Gijón and Ribadeo and pushes on to Santiago de Compostela. However, you can choose to join pilgrims at Oviedo and complete your walk on the final stretch of Camino Primitivo. Pilgrims who prefer cycling to Santiago should stick with this route, especially during the warmer months before summer officially starts in July.
If there is one thing you shouldn’t do at the Northern Way, it’s to go on pilgrimage with an empty stomach. The Camino begins at San Sebastían, a beautiful seaside town with one of the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants in Europe. So if you’re on Camino del Norte, there is absolutely no reason for you to miss out on great tasting food.
Walking along this route will take you across stunning sandy beaches, some fishing villages, and dozens of seafood restaurants. You will also see a couple of local attractions as you move forward, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Royal Palace in Santander.
Best route for: Coastal views, swimming, cycling, seafood
Camino Portugués (The Portuguese Way)
This charming Camino sets off from Lisbon, the bustling capital of Portugal and home to a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites. After Lisbon, the route changes dramatically as it heads for the countryside through sleepy towns and villages, across forests, fields, and vineyards. Needless to say, Camino Portugués offers the most rural experience.
When taking the Portuguese Way, make sure to visit Santarém and its Moorish Bastions, as well as the 13th-century university in Coimbra. Don’t forget to have your share of Port wine in Porto. When you reach Tuí in Galicia, don’t head straight for Santiago just yet. Take the time to explore its Old Town and the cathedral by the hilltop before finishing the last 100 kilometers.
Best route for: Sightseeing in Portugal, countryside views
Camino Francés (The French Way)
It remains to be the most popular Camino de Santiago route among pilgrims, mainly because it is well-marked and there are plenty of restaurants and hotels along its path. You will always have the company of fellow peregrinos or pilgrims on Camino Francés. Public transportation and information are also available for those who need them.
The French Way has the most to offer, giving pilgrims the chance to see and experience different facets of France and Spain. On the French side, it passes through gorgeous cities, old medieval towns, the Pyrenees mountains, La Rioja’s vineyards, Meseta, and the mountainous regions of Léon and O Cebreiro. The Spanish side of the route is met with the relaxing, forested atmosphere of Galicia.
Best route for: Sightseeing in France, meeting pilgrims
When choosing from the top five Camino de Santiago routes, there are only two things you need to remember – the things you would like to see, and the kind of experience you’re after – but remember this is not a family holiday type of vacation. Keeping these in mind should help you easily decide which Camino is best for you.
Image credit: https://www.followthecamino.com/