Camino de Santiago (route descriptions)

The Way of St. James through Europe
The Way in France

The Camino de Santiago (Also known as the Way of St. James) extends from different countries of Europe, and even North Africa, on its way to Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre.

The local authorities try to restore many of the ancient routes, even those used in a limited period, in the interest of tourism.

Here follows an overview of the main routes of the modern-day pilgrimage.

In Spain and Portugal

The following routes to Santiago can be traced on the Iberian peninsula.

The French Way

Main article: French Way

The French Way (Spanish: Camino Francés) is the most popular of the routes. It runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles on the Spanish side before making its way through to Santiago de Compostela through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León.

The Aragonese Way

Main article: Aragonese Way

The Aragonese Way (Spanish: Camino Aragonés) comes down from the Somport pass in the Pyrenees and makes its way down through the old kingdom of Aragon. It follows the River Aragón passing through towns such as Jaca. It then crosses into the province of Navarre to Puente La Reina where it joins the Camino Francés.

The Northern Way

A route marker on the Cantabrian coast.

The Northern Way (Spanish: Camino del Norte) runs from France at Irún and follows the northern coastline of Spain to Galicia where it heads inland towards Santiago joining the Camino Francés at Arzúa. This route follows the old Roman road, the Via Agrippa, for some of its way and is part of the Coastal Route (Spanish: Ruta de la Costa).

The route passes through San Sebastian, Gernika, Bilbao, and Oviedo. It is less populated, lesser known and generally more difficult hiking. Shelters are 20 to 35 kilometers apart, rather than there being hostels (Spanish: albergues) or monasteries every four to ten kilometers as on the Camino Francés.

The Tunnel Way

The Tunnel Way is also known as the Tunnel Route, the Basque Inland Route and the San Adrian Route. In the Early Middle Ages, when the Northern (Coastal) Way was subject to the Vikings' skirmishes and Muslim presence and forays threatened pilgrims and trade routes in the borderlands, the Tunnel Way provided a safe road north of the frontier area, i.e. Gipuzkoa and Alava. This may be the oldest and most important stretch of the Way of St. James up to its heyday in the 13th century. From the starting point in Irún, the road heads south-west up the Oria valley (Villabona, Ordizia, Zegama), reaches its highest point at the San Adrian tunnel and runs through the Alavan plains (Zalduondo, Salvatierra/Agurain, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Miranda de Ebro). Yet previous to the latter, nowadays pilgrims usually take a detour south towards Haro and on to Santo Domingo de la Calzada on account of its better provision.

The English Way

The English Way (Spanish: Camino Inglés) is traditionally for pilgrims who traveled to Spain by sea and disembarked in Ferrol or A Coruña. These pilgrims then made their way to Santiago overland. It is so called because most of these pilgrims were English though some come from all points in northern Europe.

The Portuguese Way

The Portuguese Way (Spanish: Camino Portugués, Portuguese: Caminho Português) begins at Lisbon or Porto in Portugal.[1] From Porto, pilgrims travel north crossing the Lima and Minho rivers before entering Spain and then passing through Padron before arriving at Santiago. It is the second most popular way, after the French one. The route is 610 km long starting in Lisbon or 227 km long starting in Porto. There are two traditional routes from Porto, one inland (the Central Way) and the Coastal Way (Caminho da Costa).

Rates in 1669 by Pier Maria Baldi, drawn during the pilgrimage of future Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici.

Rates is considered a central site of the Portuguese Way on the inland route.[2] The way has been used since the Middle Ages and the ancient monastery of Rates gained importance due to the legend of Saint Peter of Rates. The legend holds that Saint James ordained Peter as the first bishop of Braga in the year AD 44. One of the most tiring parts of the Portuguese Way is in the Labruja hills in Ponte de Lima, which are hard to cross. The Camino winds its way inland until it reaches the Spanish border through Valença, which is also a popular starting point for a 108 km walk to Santiago, passing through Tui.

The Portuguese late Gothic Matriz Church of Vila do Conde built during the pilgrimage of Manuel I of Portugal.

The Coastal Way gained importance since the 15th century due to the growing importance of the coastal towns. The route splits from the central way in the countryside of Vila do Conde and enters the town through the Monastery of Santa Clara and the Matriz Church of Vila do Conde was built by king Manuel I of Portugal while in pilgrimage. The rising importance of Póvoa de Varzim imposed this new direction,[3] In Póvoa de Varzim's coastal way, the small Saint James Chapel in Praça da República is the central site , it hold a 15th century icon of Saint James found at the beach, the way follows west to the beach by Rua da Junqueira, heading to Esposende, Viana do Castelo and Caminha before reaching the Spanish border.

A contemporary version of the Coastal Way, pushed by German pilgrims, goes through Northern Portugal along the sea, using beach walkways. This version of the Coastal Way is gaining importance, as the traditional route is increasingly urbanized and the new version is considered by some pilgrims to be more pleasant. It follows a trend which started with Hape Kerkeling's book I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino De Santiago.[4][5]

The Camino Mozárabe and the Via de La Plata

Sometimes incorrectly known in English as the Silver Route or Way - "Plata" is a corruption of the Arabic word balath, meaning paved road.

The Via de La Plata (once a Roman causeway joining Italica and Asturica Augusta) starts in Seville from where it goes north to Zamora via Zafra, Cáceres and Salamanca. It is much less frequented than the French Way or even the Northern Way - in 2013, of the 215,000 pilgrims being granted the compostela in Santiago, 4.2% traveled on the Via de la Plata, compared to 70.3% on the Camino Francés.[6] After Zamora there are three options. The first route, or Camino Sanabrés heads west and reaches Santiago via Ourense. Another route continues north to Astorga, from where pilgrims can continue west along the Camino Francés to Santiago. A third, seldom traveled route, crosses into Portugal and passes through Bragança, rejoining the Camino Sanabrés near Ourense.

The Camino Mozárabe route, from Almeria, Granada or Málaga, passes through Córdoba and later joins up with the Via de La Plata at Mérida.

The Camino de Madrid

The Camino de Madrid goes northwards from Madrid, through Segovia and near Valladoid, joining the Camino Francés at Sahagún.

The Camino del Ebro

The Camino del Ebro starts in Catalonia at Sant Jaume d'Enveja near Deltebre, where Saint James is traditionally supposed to have left Spain on his way home to martyrdom in Palestine, and follows the River Ebro past Tortosa and Zaragoza, joining the Camino Francés at Logroño.

The Camino de Santiago de Soria

Sometimes known as the Camino Castellano-Aragonés, this camino leaves the Camino del Ebro at Gallur and goes past Soria to Santo Domingo de Silos, where it joins the Camino de la Lana.

The Camino de la Lana

The Camino de la Lana (sometimes Ruta de la Lana), or wool road, leaves Alicante and heads mainly northwards for 670 km, joining the Camino Francés at Burgos.

The Camino de Levante

The Camino de Levante starts at Valencia and crosses Castille-La Mancha, passing through towns and cities including Toledo, El Toboso, Ávila and Medina del Campo, joining the Via de la Plata at Zamora.

The Camino del Sureste

The Camino del Sureste starts at Alicante and follows a broadly similar route as the Camino del Levante from Albacete until Medina del Campo, where the routes bifurcate, with the Sureste heading northwards to Tordesillas, joining the Via de la Plata at Benavente, while the Levante goes westwards to Toro and Zamora.

The Camino de Torres

The Camino de Torres starts in Salamanca, goes past Ciudad Rodrigo, crosses the Potuguese border near Almeida, continues past Braga and joins the Camino Portugués at Ponte de Lima.

In France

The Way of St. James is said to have originated in France, where it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle. This is the reason that the Spanish themselves refer to the Way of St. James as "the French road", since most of the pilgrims they saw were French. The origin of the pilgrimage is most often cited as the Codex Calixtinus, which is decidedly a French document. Though in the Codex everyone was called upon to join the pilgrimage, there were four main starting points in the Cathedral cities of Tours, Vézelay, Le Puy-en-Velay and Arles. They are today all routes of the Grande Randonnée network.

The Paris and Tours route

The Paris and Tours route (Latin: Via Turonensis) used to be the pilgrimage of choice for inhabitants of the Low Countries and those of northern and western France. As other routes are becoming overcrowded, that route is gaining favor, owing to the religious and touristic aspects of the monuments on the way.

One starting point is at the Tour St Jacques in Paris and then on to Orléans-Tours or Chartres-Tours. From Tours, the route passes through Poitiers and Bordeaux, the forest at Les Landes before connecting to the Camino Francés, the national trail GR 65, near Ostabat,[7] shortly before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or to the Camino de la Costa in Irún.

The Vézelay route

The Vézelay route passes through Limoges and joins the GR 65 near Ostabat.[7]

The Le Puy route

Main article: Via Podiensis
Signs marking the start of the Via Podiensis

The Le Puy route (Latin: Via Podiensis, French: route du Puy) is traveled by pilgrims starting in or passing through Le Puy-en-Velay. It passes through Conques, Cahors and Moissac before coming to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It is part of GR 65.

The Arles Way

The Arles Way (French: La voie d'Arles or Chemin d'Arles) in southern France, named after that principal cathedral city goes through Montpellier, Toulouse and Oloron-Sainte-Marie before reaching the Spanish border at Col de Somport in the high Pyrenees. It is also called the Via Tolosana, a name that follows the Latin convention of the other French routes, because it passes through Toulouse, a notable pilgrimage destination in its own right. After passing the Pyrenees it is referred to as the Aragonese Way. It is the only French route not to connect to the Camino Francés at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. After taking its Aragonese name, it joins the Camino Francés at Puente la Reina.

In Belgium and the Netherlands

The Way of St. James in the Netherlands is said to have started after St. Boniface brought Christendom to Friesland and the worship of his reliquaries near Dokkum gained popularity from 800 onwards. The route did not become popular however until the 15th century, well after the Santiago Matamoros legend. There are several Cathedral towns considered official starting routes by the Dutch confraternity of St. James. Haarlem, a centuries-old starting point, has been the starting point of a modern cycling route to Santiago de Compostela since 1983, when an international workgroup of scholars researched the old route and one of them developed a set of maps. Since that time there have been other cycling routes to Santiago de Compostela published from other Dutch cities, most notably Maastricht. The Dutch and northern (Flemish) Belgians call the route the Jacobsroute. In Wallonia (southern Belgium) it is called Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle.

Another Dutch long distance path, the Pelgrimspad (Pilgrims' Path), leads from Amsterdam to Visé in Belgium (about 100 km from Namur), and may have been a route for St. James pilgrims departing from Amsterdam connecting to one of the main routes at Vézelay. Another ancient route can be traced through Ghent (note the scallop on the Pilgrims hat in bottom right panel of the Ghent Altarpiece) and Amiens to connect to Paris and the Via Turonensis, one of the four main French routes.

It is a mistake to assume that medieval pilgrims were only focussed on one goal. Most St. James pilgrims through the centuries stopped to visit other famous reliquaries, and many of the most popular ones in France and northern Spain are listed in the Codex. Many had both a scallop shell and a palm frond in their possession, indicating that they had been or were on their way to both Rome and Santiago de Compostela.

In Germany

The paths in Germany are collectively named "Wege der Jakobspilger". Other names that can be seen on trail markings are "Jakobsweg" and "Jakobspilgerweg."

One section of the Way of St. James runs through the German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Hesse following the course of the historic trade route, the Via Regia from Görlitz via Bautzen, Kamenz, Großenhain, Wurzen, Leipzig, Merseburg, Naumburg (Saale), Erfurt, Gotha, Eisenach and Vacha to Fulda. It has a length of 500 km. On 6 July 2003 the first section to Erfurt was opened in Königsbrück. The opening of the second section followed on 11 October 2003 in Vacha. The section along the historic "Via Regia" is also called the Ecumenical Pilgrims' Way (Ökumenischer Pilgerweg).

Providing the link to Franconia, the Saxon Way of St. James on the Franconian Road (Sächsische Jakobsweg an der Frankenstraße) runs from Königsbrück via Wilsdruff to Grumbach (old roadbed until the 15th century) and from Bautzen via Bischofswerda, Dresden, Kesselsdorf, Grumbach, through the Tharandt Forest to Freiberg and on to Chemnitz and Zwickau, in order to join the Via Imperii coming from Leipzig, before continuing via Plauen, Hof and Bayreuth to Nuremberg. The signage was carried out in 2009-13. Between Wilsdruff and Grillenburg in the Tharandt Forest it runs in the same ancient route corridor as the Holy Way from Bohemia to Meißen, which is also being revived.

See also: Palatine Ways of St. James.

In Switzerland

Pilgrim's bridge to Einsiedeln Abbey between Rapperswil (SG) and Hurden (SZ), Heilig Hüsli and Seedamm to the right (December 2009)

The Way of St. James is also known as Jakobsweg in Switzerland and the route in Switzerland is the Via Jacobi. Many routes originating in Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe and even Italy/South Tyrol led to Switzerland and from there to France. Beginning in the early Middle Ages (9-10th century), pilgrims coming from northern and eastern Europe crossed into Switzerland at the Lake of Constance and journeyed across the country to Geneva at the French border. As they wandered through the countryside, the pilgrims passed by three traditional pilgrimage places, Einsiedeln Abbey, Flüeli Ranft and the Caves of Saint Beatus. They also traveled through historic cities and villages, including St. Gall, Lucerne, Schwyz, Interlaken, Thun, Fribourg, and Lausanne. Today the original paths have been restored and the Via Jacobi is an integral part of the European Way of St. James.

In Ireland

St. James's Gate in Dublin was traditionally a principal starting point for Irish pilgrims to begin their journey on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James). The pilgrims' passports were stamped here before setting sail, usually for A Coruña, north of Santiago. It is still possible for Irish pilgrims to get these traditional documents stamped at St James' Church, and many do, while on their way to Santiago de Compostella.[8]

In Poland

Symbol of a route from Lublin to Kraków


  1. The Confraternity of Saint James. "The Camino Portugués".
  2. Costa, António Carvalho da (1706). "Da Villa de Rates". Corografia portugueza e descripçam topografica do famoso reyno de Portugal (in Portuguese). Volume I. Lisbon: Valentim da Costa Deslandes. pp. 336–337.
  3. "Caminho de Santiago - Caminho Português da Costa". Câmara Municipal de Vila do Conde. Retrieved June 4, 2012.
  4. Pinto, Luísa. "Alemães empurram Caminho de Santiago para junto do mar" (in Portuguese). Público. Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  5. Ich bin dann mal weg: meine Reise auf dem Jakobsweg (in German). München: Malik. ISBN 978-3-89029-312-7. In English, I'm off then: My journey along the Camino de Santiago. New York: Free Press. 2009. ISBN 978-1-4165-5387-8.
  6. 2013 Pilgrim statistics from Santiago Cathedral
  7. 1 2 The Confraternity of Saint James. "Overview: The Vézelay Route".
  8. Irish Society of the Friends of St.James. "Practical Information".
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