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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 25 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros

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.’

Recommendations

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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

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

Best for ages 18+

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Arch of Santa Maria

Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

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

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Burgos Cathedral

Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Burgos Cathedral

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

Best for ages 18+

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Cape Finisterre

Fisterra, Galicia, Spain

Cape Finisterre

Pagan and Christian legends, and sunsets at the end of the world, wait at the ‘true’ end of the Camino de Santiago.

Best for ages 18+

Cathedral of Santiago

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

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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.

Adult price: £9

Best for ages 18+

Church of San Esteban

Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Church of San Esteban

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).

Best for ages 18+

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Church of San Martin of Fromista

Fromista, Castile and Leon, Spain

View at the Church of San Martin in Fromista, Spain

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Church of San Miguel

Estella, Navarra, Spain

Church of San Miguel

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Church of San Pedro de la Rua

Estella, Navarra, Spain

Church of San Pedro de la Rua

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Collegiate Church of San Isidoro

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Collegiate Church of San Isidoro

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

Best for ages 18+

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Episcopal Palace

Astorga, Castile and Leon, Spain

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

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

Best for ages 18+

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Gaudi Museum

Leon, Castile and Leon, Spain

Gaudi Museum

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

Best for ages 18+

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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

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

Best for ages 18+

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Miraflores Charterhouse

Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

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

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Monastery of Santa Maria la Real

Najera, La Rioja, Spain

Monastery of Santa Maria la Real

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

Best for ages 18+

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Museum of Human Evolution

Burgos, Castile and Leon, Spain

Museum of Human Evolution

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

Best for ages 5+

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Museum of the Galician People

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

Museum of the Galician People

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

Best for ages 18+

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Navarra Museum

Pamplona, Navarra, Spain

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

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

Best for ages 18+

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O Cebreiro

Galicia, Spain

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

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Pamplona Cathedral

Pamplona, Navarra, Spain

Pamplona Cathedral

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Roncesvalles

Navarra, Spain

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Bucket List Experience
Roncesvalles

The famous pass in the Pyrenees where the Camino enters Spain has a fascinating church and museum of the pilgrimage.

Best for ages 18+

Roman Walls of Lugo

Lugo, Galicia, Spain

Roman Walls of Lugo

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.

Best for ages 18+

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Santo Domingo de la Calzada

La Rioja, Spain

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Bucket List Experience
View of town rooftops from the monastery

A charmingly aristocratic town in La Rioja, chock-full of stunning Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture, and an important stop on the Camino de Santiago.

Best for ages 18+

Logistics

Price from: £50
Minimum age: Any
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

8-Day Camino Frances Pilgrimage Tour from Sarria to Santiago - 2nts Santiago

Sarria

8-Day Camino Frances Pilgrimage Tour from Sarria to Santiago - 2nts Santiago
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: €2,750

Min age: 18

Rating 4.64 / 5 [14 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Bilbao

Basque Country, Spain

Exterior view of the museum

Renowned for its Guggenheim Museum and edgy arts scene, this northern Spanish city has delicious Basque food and nearby golden beaches.

Basque Country

Basque Country, Spain

External view looking to the entrance. The curvy building has mountains behind

Fascinating ancient traditions, world-famous gourmet treats, Spain’s finest wine region and a gorgeous golden coastline.

Burgos

Castile and Leon, Spain

Burgos

The royal capital of Castille and Leon in the Middle Ages, filled with lavish churches, monuments and great restaurants – and a must-stop along the Camino to Compostela.

Leon

Castile and Leon, Spain

Leon

An emblematic stop on the Camino Frances, vibrant little art city with Spain’s most beautiful Gothic cathedral, an eye-catching Gaudi building and some of the best Romanesque paintings, anywhere.

Pamplona

Navarra, Spain

Pamplona

A vibrant Basque city on the Camino de Santiago, home to Spain’s most famous festival (San Fermin), a gorgeous cathedral and a lively bar and tapas scene.

San Sebastian

Basque Country, Spain

Concha beach with beachfront hotels

A grand but charming beach resort in northern Spain famous for its glut of Michelin-recognised restaurants and superb pintxos. Thie foodie destination is also a short hop from the world-class wines of La Rioja.