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Camino de Santiago trail

  • Spain

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 04 April, 2024

Every year since 814 AD, millions of pilgrims have tramped the Camino de Santiago or ‘Way of St. James’ to Santiago de Compostela and the tomb of St. James, the Apostle of Spain. According to legend, his relics arrived here in a stone boat covered with scallops – now the symbol of the route.

UNESCO declared the 760km 33-stage Camino Frances, lined with Northern Spain’s most spectacular medieval churches and sites, ‘The Foremost Cultural Route in Europe.’ It’s the most famous and popular of the many possible routes.

The route officially starts in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, crosses the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles into Spain, then passes through the main cities and towns of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, and Sarria, before ending at the magnificent cathedral in Santiago de Compostela (though some go slightly further to finish at Cape Fisterre).

See our ‘Recommendations’ section below for key highlights along the way, and the ‘Where to stay’ section for great hotels along the route.

Other ‘Ways’ or Caminos 

There are, in fact, dozens of Caminos. Promoted by the French monks of Cluny as a morale booster during Spain’s 700-year Reconquista, the classic routes start or pass through France, then converge to become the famous Camino Frances at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port before crossing the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles.

Pilgrims from the British Isles and Scandinavia often landed near Bordeaux or by San Sebastian and took the picturesque Camino del Norte along the coast, but so many disembarked at El Ferrol and took a shorter route that this became known as the Camino Ingles.

Others are the Camino Primitivo (the original route to Compostela from Oviedo blazed in the early days of the Reconquista), the Camino Portugues from Lisbon and the Camino de la Plata – the ‘Silver Way’ – from Seville. There is also one route starting from Santiago, the Camino Finisterra, to the ‘World’s End.’

Who to go with: tour operators

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Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Medieval buildings of the Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas, a historical monastery of Cistercian nuns, Burgos, Castille and Leon, Spain

Experience

Just outside the city, this working monastery of Cistercian nuns has striking Mudejar (Moorish Christian) features, royal tombs, a museum of medieval textiles and a 13th-century tapestry. It’s also been the site of several royal weddings.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

Arch of Santa Maria

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Arch of Santa Maria, Burgos, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Experience

This extraordinarily ornate castle-towered gate was rebuilt in the 16th century by Emperor Charles V to thank the city for its support against a revolt. It houses a museum of antique pharmaceutical equipment and special exhibitions.

Good for age: 18+

Burgos Cathedral

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Burgos Cathedral

Experience

A World Heritage site, the Gothic cathedral of Burgos was first built in 1221, then embellished in the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries. Today, it is one of the great art-filled treasure houses of Spain, preserving many extraordinary works.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 18+

  • Fisterra, Galicia, Spain

Cape Finisterre

Experience

Cape Finisterre

Many pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela continue 90km west of the end of the trail, to the mystical ‘end of the world’ to watch the sun set from the lighthouse over the Costa da Morte (Coast of death).

In pre-Christian Celtic times, rites were performed at the Ara Solis, the sun altar, and it was believed that the living could meet the dead here before they set sail on stone boats to the end of the Milky Way. Christians come to worship the miraculous statue of the Christ of the Golden Beard at the church of Santa Maria das Areas on the road to the headland.

Good for age: 18+

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Cathedral of Santiago

Bucket List Experience

Cathedral of Santiago

A Romanesque and Baroque jewel, Santiago’s mighty cathedral offers a fitting climax to the end of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

The first church, begun after 814 and discovery of the body of St James, was burned by the Moors in 997, although they left the holy relics intact. The current cathedral dates from 1075, and in 1188, sculptor Master Mateo completed its sublime Portico da la Gloria.

One façade wasn’t enough, though; a spectacular encasing Baroque façade was added in the 18th Century. At the head of the 97m nave is the wildly ornate baldachin and altar over the crypt holding the saintly relics. Suspended from the crossing is the 80kg Botafumeiro, the incense ‘smoke-spreader’—the world’s largest censer.

Adult price: £9

Good for age: 18+

Church of San Esteban

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Church of San Esteban

Experience

A striking Gothic church with a magnificent portal, rose window in its massive tower, a flamboyant choir and a 14th-century cloister; it also houses a museum of elaborate retablos (painted wooden altarpieces).

Good for age: 18+

Church of San Martin of Fromista

  • Fromista, Castile and Leon, Spain

View at the Church of San Martin in Fromista, Spain

Experience

Along the Camino west of Burgos, the small village of Fromista – a major stopping over point for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago – is home to the ‘perfect Romanesque church’ – the golden San Martin, founded in 1066.

Good for age: 18+

Church of San Miguel

  • Estella, Navarra, Spain

Church of San Miguel

Experience

This 12th-century church is famed for a superb Romanesque portal (doorway surround), with Christ in Majesty with heavenly hosts and Elders of the Apocalypse.

Good for age: 18+

Church of San Pedro de la Rua

  • Estella, Navarra, Spain

Church of San Pedro de la Rua

Experience

Built in the 12th century, this is the oldest church in Estella, ‘the town of the Star’ on the Camino. It is believed to house the shoulder blade of Saint Andrew.

Good for age: 18+

Collegiate Church of San Isidoro

  • Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Collegiate Church of San Isidoro

Experience

A 10th-century church famed for both its tomb of Saint Isidoro, and the extraordinary 11th-century, mural-covered Royal Pantheon. This funeral chapel of the kings of Leon is nothing less than the ‘Sistine Chapel of Romanesque Art’.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 18+

Episcopal Palace

  • Astorga, Castile and Leon, Spain

Episcopal Palace of Astorga, is a building by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, built between 1889 and 1913.

Experience

Towering next to Astorga Cathedral is Gaudi’s typically-visually-fascinating castle-like Episcopal Palace (1889–93), originally built for the town’s wealthy bishop. Today, it houses a Museum of Religious Art, dedicated to the Camino de Santiago.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

Gaudi Museum

  • Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Gaudi Museum

Experience

One of Gaudi’s earliest buildings, the stone-built, turreted Casa Botines (1893) is now a museum dedicated to the architect himself.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 18+

Leon Cathedral

  • Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

view on the cathedral, also called The House of Light or the Pulchra Leonina, on a sunny day in spring, with people in the foreground

Experience

Nicknamed ‘The House of Light’, Leon’s soaring Gothic cathedral dating back to the 18th century, has walls made of some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval stained glass.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 18+

Miraflores Charterhouse

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Interior of Gothic monastery Cartuja de Miraflores in Burgos, Castilla y Leon, Spain.

Experience

This former Carthusian monastery, dating back to 1442, was built on a hill just outside the city of Burgos. The structure was completed by Queen Isabella in 1484, and now contains the extraordinary intricate tombs of her parents sculpted by Gil de Siloe.

Good for age: 18+

Monastery of Santa Maria la Real

  • Najera, La Rioja, Spain

Monastery of Santa Maria la Real

Experience

The fortress-like 15th-century Monastery of Santa Maria la Real was founded on the site of a miracle. It houses a lace-like Plateresque Cloister of the Knights, rare medieval royal tombs, and an exquisite Isabelline Gothic choir in the holy cave.

Adult price: £4

Good for age: 18+

Museum of Human Evolution

  • Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Museum of Human Evolution

Experience

Dedicated to human origins and the latest theories on evolution, this contemporary museum displays many original fossils – including the oldest humanoid bones discovered in Europe discovered in the nearby Atapuerca mountains.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 8+

Museum of the Galician People

  • Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Museum of the Galician People

Experience

Housed in a former convent, this ethnographic museum is dedicated to the cultural heritage of Galicia. Learn about the local culture through their exhibits of traditional costumes, archaeological finds, music, crafts and artworks. Don’t miss the famous triple spiral staircase, beautiful garden and sculpture by Chillida.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 18+

Navarra Museum

  • Pamplona, Navarra, Spain

Museo de Navarra in Pamplona, Navarre. The facade has been preserved from the 16th century

Experience

The four-storey museum, housed in an old, 16th-century hospital, is home to regional artworks from prehistoric times to the 20th century. It’s packed with gems, including Roman mosaics, Romanesque sculpture, Gothic murals, and a portrait by Goya.

Adult price: £2

Good for age: 18+

O Cebreiro

  • Galicia, Spain

View of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria a real, O Cebreiro. Spain, The Way of Saint James

Experience

This famous Camino stop at 1300m attracts pilgrims for its 9th-century pre-Romanesque church housing the ‘Holy Grail’ – a 9th-century chalice used in the ‘Miracle of the Eucharist’. Also look out for the unusual oval pre-Roman houses called pallozas, dating back 1,500 years to Celtic times.

Good for age: 18+

Pamplona Cathedral

  • Pamplona, Navarra, Spain

Pamplona Cathedral

Experience

A soaring Gothic cathedral famed for its elegant cloister and 15th-century alabaster tomb of Carlos III of Navarra, a former king of Navarra. Climb the bell tower and stop by the small museum housing religious treasures.

Good for age: 18+

  • Navarra, Spain

Roncesvalles

Bucket List Experience

Roncesvalles

The famously 1,450m pass over the Pyrenees in Navarra has seen more than its share of history. It’s where Charlemagne’s nephew Roland was famously ambushed by the Basques in the 778 Battle of Roncevaux (see the Chanson de Roland); Napoleon invaded this way, too, hence the name Route Napoleon.

Ascending from St-Jean-Pied-de Port, it also marks the first stage of the Camino Frances in Spain. It’s the hardest but one of most spectacular stages of the pilgrimage – an essential stop imbued with memories of the millions of pilgrims who passed through over the millennia.

The landmark 13th-century Gothic church, the Royal Colegiata was inspired by Notre Dame in Paris; along with its Treasures Museum, it offers a fascinating hodgepodge of legendary relics, paintings, manuscripts and goldwork associated with the Camino. One of the most astonishing sights is the effigy on the tomb of King Sancho the Strong, who really stood 7ft 4 and won a famous Reconquista battle in 1212.

Good for age: 18+

Roman Walls of Lugo

  • Lugo, Galicia, Spain

Roman Walls of Lugo

Experience

Lugo is home to the only complete and intact Roman city defensive walls anywhere in the Roman Empire. Built circa 276 AD to defend the town against local tribesmen and Germanic invaders, they encircle the inner city. 2kms long, with 10 doors and 85 towers.

Good for age: 18+

  • La Rioja, Spain

View of town rooftops from the monastery

Bucket List Experience

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

An important stop along the pilgrim’s route through Spain, the Camino de Santiago, La Calzada grew up as an aristocratic little town around its elegant 12th-century cathedral.

The town is a treasure trove of Spanish art and architecture, with monasteries (one is now a parador or luxury hotel), Medieval and Renaissance churches and palaces, and – just outside town – the Rioja Botanical Gardens.

Good for age: 18+

Logistics

Price from: £50
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 30 days

Getting there & doing it

Before you go, the pilgrim website offers a stage-by-stage account of all the various Caminos; the Camino Guide has detailed maps and information on places to stay and eat along the Camino Frances.

At a church at the start of your chosen route, pick up a credencial (passport) or download the new digital version. There is one for spiritual pilgrims, another for cultural pilgrims. The credencial is stamped along the way, and allows you to sleep in the hostels (albergues) and get a certificate in Santiago.

To earn either one you must have walked at least 100km (which is why Sarria, 111km from Santiago, is a popular starting point); or have ridden on horseback 150km, or cycled 200km. Many people do sections over the years, using the same credencial.

On the Camino Frances, the hardest stretch, but scenically the most beautiful, is the walk up from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncevalles, followed by the ascent into Galicia from Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro. Much of the rest is fairly flat; the stages through the plains of Castile between Leon and Burgos have little shade.

If you don’t fancy walking some or all of it, or don’t have time, there are buses and often trains to take you between towns. For an indulgent splurge, go by Spain’s first luxury train – El Transcantabrico Clasico – which starts in San Sebastian and takes eight days, seven nights, calling at all the most beautiful towns of Northern Spain (including Santander, Bilbao and Santillana del Mar) before arriving in Santiago de Compostela.

Whatever route you take, it gets crowded in July and August and finding accommodation can be hard – a good reason to book a tour with a guaranteed bed at the end of each day (plus the added bonus of luggage transfers and support along the way).

When to do it

You can do it anytime, but April through October is the main period. The Camino Frances gets busy (and hot) by mid-summer, so go in spring and autumn if possible.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Sarria

This is the most popular section of the Camino de Santiago. On this self-guided tour, start your journey in Sarria and walk the last 70 miles (114 km) of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. You will meet pilgrims, taste local cuisine and experience the unique Camino culture along the way. Your time on the famous walking route will take you across the beautiful landscape of Northern Spain. Rustic hamlets, quaint villages and the rolling hills of Galicia are part of your walk each day. You will get your pilgrims passport stamped each day. On this tour you have two nights at the end to explore the historic city of Santiago on your last day

Price €2,754

Min age 18

Rating 4.64 / 5 [14 ratings]

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