Written by John Noble

Which Camino de Santiago route is right for you?

Over 300,000 people a year follow the yellow arrows along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Many walkers today are seeking out quieter alternatives to the classic Camino Francés. There are options long and short, hard and easy, to suit every pair of feet!

The classic: Camino Francés

More popular than all other caminos combined: the Camino Francés starts at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and crosses about 770km (around five weeks on foot).

You traverse isolated stone-built villages and sizeable cities like Pamplona, Burgos and León. The way can be blisteringly hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.

To many people this is the Camino de Santiago; a demanding challenge requiring both mental and physical stamina. But only one person in five does the full distance.

Nearly half of travellers begin at Sarria, the last starting point that meets the minimum 100km requirement for obtaining the official Camino de Santiago certificate, the ‘Compostela’.

A route for everyone: Camino Portugués

The second busiest camino runs more than 600km from Lisbon to Santiago (about 3½ weeks), but the most popular starting points are Porto and Tui.

It’s within the capacity of any reasonably fit person, with few hills, though a lot of the walking is on hard surfaces which can be tough on the feet.

The camino is practicable year-round but avoid the heat of July and August. A popular variant is the Camino Portugués de la Costa running from Porto along the Atlantic coast.

Five weeks on Spain’s surprising north coast: Camino del Norte

The Northern Way parallels Spain’s north coast for over 600km from Irún to Ribadeo, then heads inland across Galicia to Santiago de Compostela.

While some sections run alongside beautiful beaches and plunging cliffs, the majority of the route travels inland.

You pass through large cities – San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, Gijón – as well as pretty coastal towns like Comillas, Ribadesella and Luarca.

Two weeks of green countryside: Camino Primitivo

Some 320km long, this follows the footsteps of the first recorded pilgrimage to St James’ tomb – made by King Alfonso II of Asturias from Oviedo in the 820s.

One of the tougher caminos because of the hilly terrain of its first few days (which can make it impracticable in the winter). But the route is manageable for any fit walker.

Once out of the hills, you reach the city of Lugo, encircled by wonderfully preserved Roman walls, and later join the Camino Francés for the final 55km to Santiago.

From Santiago to the ‘end of the earth’: Camino de Muxía-Finisterre

This route runs from Santiago to the small fishing ports of Fisterra and Muxía on Galicia’s dramatic coast. A few additional days can be the perfect coda to your odyssey.

It’s about 86km from Santiago de Compostela to either Fisterra or Muxía across mostly gentle countryside, and a 28km stretch links the two places.

Short, relatively easy route within Galicia: Camino Inglés

The ‘English Way’ runs 115km (five days) to Santiago from Ferrol. Practicable year-round, this is an obvious choice if you have limited time.

It combines picturesque coastal inlets, green countryside and the medieval towns Pontedeume and Betanzos. An alternative starting point is A Coruña, just 2-3 days’ walk from Santiago.

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