Cathedral Santiago El Camino Routes

Different Routes of “The Way”, El Camino de Santiago

Which Route is Right for You? The 9 Different Routes of “The Way”, El Camino de Santiago

One of the world’s most ancient and celebrated pilgrimages is by far “El Camino de Santiago”, aka The Way of St. James. There are nine + one traditional routes to this world-renowned pilgrimage, nine by land and one by sea.

“El Camino de Santiago” attracts both hikers and bikers of all generations.  The final destination is the Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where all ten routes meet. Each route is unique and has its own history and charm.

1. French Route, El Camino de Santiago

The Camino Francés, or French Way, is the most popular. Historically, because of the Codex Calixtinus, most pilgrims came from France: typically from Arles, Le Puy, Paris, and Vézelay and Saint Gilles. Cluny, the site of the celebrated medieval abbey, was another important rallying point for pilgrims. 

In 2002 it was integrated into the official European pilgrimage route linking Vézelay and Le Puy.

French Route El Camino de Santiago

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2. The Fisterra and Muxía Route, El Camino de Santiago

This route originates in the city of Santiago and its goal is in Cape Fisterra and the Sanctuary of the Virxe da Barca in Muxía. The Fisterra and Muxía Way, is the most faithful realisation of the historical cry of the pilgrim; exclaiming Ultreia! (“Let us go farther beyond!”), while another responds with Et suseia! (“And higher!”). In effect, it is beyond the goal in Compostela and, after prostrating themselves before the remains of the Apostle Santiago, many pilgrims wish to look out over the Atlantic sea at a site that was once considered the “end of the world”, so they continue on, despite having just completed many hard days (sometimes weeks, even months) of walking, going another four or five days. Fisterra is 89 kilometres away and Muxía 87.

For further information of this Way, click here.

3. Silver Route, El Camino de Santiago 

It follows the Roman road named the Vía de la Plata, which joined Emerita Augusta (Mérida) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga). The road was built at the beginning of the Christian era using more ancient roadways. It enters Galicia through A Mezquita and is the sorely Galician St. James Way. The term “Vía de la Plata” (The Silver Way) does not have to do with the silver trade, but comes from the Arabic word Bal’latta, which is the word the Muslims used to designate this wide, paved public highway with its solid layout leading to the Christian north. Coincidentally it was used much later to transport silver from America from the docks at Seville. Almanzor advanced along this route with his infantry in order to attack Santiago in August 997. Supposedly the bells of the Santiago Cathedral, which he had taken on that occasion, were brought back by this route, centuries later after the conquest of Córdoba by the Christians in 1236. 

For further information of this Way,  click here. 

4. The English Route, El Camino de Santiago

Strategically situated, is a short path within Galicia used mainly by Northern Europeans pilgrims who used to arrive by boat. It has two starting points: Ferrol and A Coruña. This route can be traced all the way to the 12th century when it served as the main access route to Santiago for pilgrims coming from England, Scotland, Ireland and other Nordic countries. 

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5. The Primitive Route, El Camino de Santiago 

The Camino Primitivo, or Original Way, is the oldest route to Santiago de Compostela. It owes its origin to the King Alfonso II of Asturias who walked this route to visit the newly discovered tomb of the Apostle Santiago in the 9th century. It begins in Oviedo (Asturias) and while not as famous as other routes, it has been gaining in popularity.

Primitive Routes El Camino de Santiago

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6. The Northern Route, El Camino de Santiago

The Camino del Norte, or the Northern Way, is also less traveled and starts in the Basque city of Irun on the border with France, or sometimes in San Sebastián. It is a less popular route because of its changes in elevation, whereas the Camino Frances is mostly flat. The route follows the coast along the Bay of Biscay until it nears Santiago. Though it does not pass through as many historic points of interest as the Camino Frances, it has cooler summer weather. The route is believed to have been first used by pilgrims to avoid traveling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages.

North Route El Camino de Santiago

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7. The Mar de Arousa and Río Ulla Route, El Camino de Santiago

The harbours of Ribeira and O Grove mark the entrance to the Ría (sea inlet) of Arousa whose waters were navigated by the boat bringing the body of the Apostle the last few miles.The Mar de Arousa and Río Ulla route is a special maritime and river itinerary which commemorates the arrival by sea of the body of the Apostle Santiago in Galicia after his martyrdom in Jerusalem approximately in the year 44.

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8. The Winter Route, El Camino de Santiago

The Winter Way is the natural entrance to Galicia from the central plateau, an access already used by the Romans. This was the Camino route taken by pilgrims in the Winter months to travel from Ponferrada to Santiago, avoiding the winter snow in the mountains of O Cebreiro. Instead, pilgrims would head south from Ponferrada city taking lower tracks along the meandering River Sil into Galicia.

9. The Portuguese Route, El Camino de Santiago 

The Camino Portugués, or the Portuguese Way, starting at the cathedral in Lisbon (about 610 km) or at the cathedral in Porto in northern Portugal (about 227 km), and crossing into Galicia at Valença.

Portugal Routes El Camino de Santiago

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10. The Portuguese Coastal Route, El Camino de Santiago

This route grew in importance beginning in the 12th century, following Portugal’s independence. It runs along ancient roads and paths, including Via XIX, built in the 1st century AD, which links Braga with Astorga via Ponte de Lima, Tui, Pontevedra, Santiago and Lugo.

For further information of this Way, click here.

People choose their Camino route based on several criteria. The most common are ease of access, weather, landscape and popularity. The first part of the French Way (Camino Frances) has a beautiful, grand mountain landscape. 

For travellers who prefer a seascape, most of the Portuguese Way is located along the sea. 

Some people want to walk the whole route from start to finish, and others will do it in sections. Camino Finisterre or Muxia Way, is the only trail that begins in Santiago de Compostela, travelling west to the Atlantic coast. Many pilgrims continue their journey onwards after reaching Santiago by way of this route, as it is much quieter and greener than the others. 

What way suits you the best? Do you like strolls along the sea, hikes through rugged terrain, there is a route for you. Go here for more details and to find your way to Saint James