One of the first questions we asked ourselves when we chose to walk the Camino de Santiago was: what route should we choose? For a long time, one itinerary had attracted us more than the others: the Camino del Norte (also called the Northern Way or Coastal Route).
To walk along the Atlantic coast of Spain and discover its exceptional landscapes… to walk on a way of Saint James less frequented by pilgrims than the Camino Francés… these were the main reasons that motivated us. But what do we really know about this itinerary? Not that much…
Here we share the fruit of our research with you. If you have already done the Northern Way, do not hesitate to comment this article at the bottom of the page and to share your experiences as experienced pilgrims on this very special road.
If you haven’t already done so, you might want to download our checklist to easily prepare your backpack and not forget anything while having a reasonable weight to carry: click here to download the checklist for free !
The Camino del Norte photo slideshow to make you dream a bit
Before getting to the heart of the matter, we offer you some breathtaking snapshots as appetizers. A nice way to dream a little!
The map of the route with its variants like the one via Oviedo and the Camino Primitivo
Let’s start by visualizing what this coastal route is. Leaving from the Spanish basque country, the itinerary passes through three other provinces: Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, to finally reach the Holy City : Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino de Norte is the longest route of all the Spanish roads. You will note that several variations are possible, especially to reach the Camino Francés. Nevertheless, the majority of the pilgrims who take this route take the Primitive Way in Oviedo.
The Camino del Norte narrated as if you were there 😉
Several possible starting points to start your hike
A lesser known route of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino de Norte starts historically in Spain in Irun.
On this route to Santiago, you can also choose to start your walk at the Basque port of San Sebastian, famous for its beautiful white beaches and beautiful ancient buildings. San Sebastian is also famous for its incredible good food experience, one of the most amazing places for Basque gastronomy.
You can also start from a city in France, very close to the Spanish border: Bayonne or Hendaye for example.
From the Basque Country to Guernika
The route thus takes the direction of the west and follows the coast through the hills of the Spanish Basque Country, offering a breathtaking view of the ocean and crossing magnificent dense forests and green fields.
After passing through several small fishing villages, the Camino del Norte turns abruptly inland and heads towards the mountains until it reaches the famous Guernika.
Heading to Bilbao
The route then descends along forest roads to the coast and a must-see stopover town: Bilbao. This modern and trendy city of more than a million inhabitants is a symbol of the progress of the Basque Country today; the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum is the best example of this.
The trail heads back towards the coast along the Cadagua River. El Camino del Norte then passes alternately over cliffs with a breathtaking view of the ocean and down to red sand beaches.
The wetland of Santorio and the arrival in Santander
The pilgrims then cross the wetland of Santorio, one of the most important breeding areas for waterfowl in Europe.
They arrive in Santander, the capital of Cantabria. It became a popular tourist destination at the beginning of the 20th century. The fashionable neighborhood of El Sardinero, with its beautiful beach and numerous buildings from the belle époque, still bears witness to this.
They continue their pilgrimage along Cantabria’s coastline and its rugged topography. The high cliffs and the deep blue sea contrast sharply with the snowy peaks of the Picos de Europa National Park to the south.
Beaches, romanesque architecture and cliffs of Cantabria
The coastal route runs along deserted beaches and medieval coastal towns with rich romanesque architecture. From time to time, el Camino del Norte winds its way inland through wooded hills, but it is only a short distance from the ocean.
After passing Ribadasella with its fishing port and beautiful beach, the route continues a little further along the coast. On the right, the Atlantic Ocean offers a magnificent view, while on the left, the high peaks of Asturias can be seen.
Arrival in Oviedo, meeting point of the Camino del Norte and the Primitive Way
In the small village of La Casquita, the route finally turns south towards the rugged hills of Asturias. Through small roads and shady forest paths, the Way of Saint James climbs up to the medieval town of Oviedo. Oviedo is the capital of the region of Asturias and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, the Camino del Norte joins the Camino Primitivo which, through the Cantabrian Mountains, leads pilgrims straight to Santiago de Compostela. This is the choice of many pilgrims, but you can also continue your walk along the coast and join the Camino Francés in Arzúa.
The distance table of the 39 stages between Bayonne and Santiago de Compostela
How many kilometers in total for this route?
With more than 800 km (500 miles) to walk, that is to say between 37 and 40 days of walking, this Way of St. James is a unique experience. It is a quieter alternative for pilgrims who wish to walk in Spain and make a different kind of pilgrimage.
The detailed kilometer table day by day
The first thing to do is to plan your steps. Indeed, who says less frequentation… also says less accommodation (eg. hotels, albergue or other) offer for more isolated areas, but also an overpopulation of tourists in the seaside resorts. Several sites dedicated to Compostela offer “ready-made” stages. We based ourselves on those proposed by the hiking guide of Editions F.Lepère.
Name of the stage
1. Bayonne ➽ Saint-Jean-de-Luz
2. Saint-Jean-de-Luz ➽ Irún
3. Irún ➽ San Sebastián
4. San Sebastián ➽ Zarautz
5. Zarautz ➽ Deba
6. Deba ➽ Markina
7. Markina ➽ Gernika
8. Gernika ➽ Lezama
9. Lezama ➽ Bilbao
10. Bilbao ➽ Portugalete
11. Portugalete ➽ Castro Urdiales
12. Castro Urdiales ➽ Liendo-Hazas
13. Liendo-Hazas ➽ Santoña
14. Santoña ➽ Güemes
15. Güemes ➽ Santander
16. Santander ➽ Mogro
17. Mogro ➽ Santillana del Mar
18. Santillana del Mar ➽ Comillas
19. Comillas ➽ Serdio
20. Serdio ➽ Llanes
21. Llanes ➽ Nueva
22. Nueva ➽ Ribadesella
23. Ribadesella ➽ La Isla
24. La Isla ➽ Villaviciosa
25. Villaviciosa ➽ Gijón
26. Gijón ➽ Avilés
27. Avilés ➽ Muros de Nalon
28. Muros de Nalon ➽ Soto de Luina
29. Soto de Luina ➽ Cadavedo
30. Cadavedo ➽ Almuna (Luarca)
31. Almuna (Luarca) ➽ La Caridad
32. La Caridad ➽ Ribadeo
33. Ribadeo ➽ Lourenza
34. Lourenza ➽ Abadín
35. Abadín ➽ Vilalba
36. Vilalba ➽ Baamonde
37. Baamonde ➽ Sobrado
38. Sobrado ➽ Arca o Pino
39. Arca o Pino ➽ Santiago de Compostela
Are you made to walk on these types of routes?
Yes, if you are a regular hiker or if you want to do something a little more physical.
The Camino del Norte is a trail with slightly different characteristics. The itinerary begins with a series of ascents and descents. The first part of the route, as far as Bilbao, is therefore more “sporty” than the main Camino de Santiago can be.
Nevertheless, this route is still quite accessible to most of us, especially if you are hiking the rest of the year.
How can you do it? Don’t hesitate to adapt your trip by favoring small stages especially at the beginning of the route and by taking care of the weight of your backpack.
The second part of the path, up to Conlunga, is much less hilly.
Then you will attack the Cantabrian Mountain Range and Galicia. The highest altitude is 1150 m (Puerto de Pan). You will find below the altimetric profile of the route (source : Acir Compostelle)
Yes, if you want to hike on a Camino de Santiago less frequented
The attendance of the Camino Francés is often pointed out (so much so that it is called “the highway of pilgrims“). Every year, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world embark on this mythical journey, the main route in Europe.
The Camino del Norte, on the other hand, is quieter. Pilgrims in search of tranquility, introspection and solitude will be delighted to set off on this itinerary, which is still somewhat neglected by most walkers.
Yes, if you are a fan of coastline, beaches, ocean, seagulls 😉 but not that …
The coastal path is clearly the ideal for anyone who loves the ocean, the coastline and the unique and incredible landscapes that the Spanish coastline has to offer. You will alternate between cliffs, beaches, coves… and small villages and rural ports.
A little tip: for those who are addicted to sea water, you can start your walk at the beginning of the route by walking along the cliffs and take a different path: the GR 121. You will reach breathtaking landscapes, but you will lose for a few kilometers the pilgrim spirit so much sought after.
The green and varied mountains are also very present on this trail and sometimes remind you of the landscapes of Switzerland or the Jura.
Be careful however, you will also cross large seaside towns with all the inconveniences that this implies. Remember to book your accommodation well in advance for these cities where mass tourists occupy (almost) all the space.
Yes, if you have already made the Camino Francés and are looking to make a second pilgrimage to Spain
Most of the pilgrims who walk the Northern Way have already done the main Camino de Santiago.
Among all the different possible itineraries, and despite its more commercial side and its higher frequency, the Camino Francés remains the most emblematic route trodden by thousands of walkers every year. It has a unique energy and historical and cultural heritage. It is littered with incredible architectural remains (abbey, basilica, collegiate church, cathedral, hermitage, convent, etc.). And above all… it simply attracts us no matter what we say ;-).
And as for some tattooed people who can no longer stop after their first tattoo, making the pilgrimage once will probably make you want to go back a second time, if not more. The Camino del Norte will then be one of the most incredible trails you will make to Compostela.
The essential information you need to know to prepare your hike
- Don’t forget to book your overnight stay or to call in advance the accommodation where you wish to stay for the large seaside towns that are taken over by tourists, especially in the summer.
- If you arrive on foot from France via Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, you will have to reach Irun. You can take the GR10. You can also follow the recommendation of the site Camino Europe which proposes to take a 3 days walk along the Spanish border (GPX trace available here). You can also choose to take public transportation to get to the starting point of the trail.
- Although a little more physical with the mountain part which can seem impressive, this trail remains accessible to all. One should not be afraid of the difficulty. You just have to respect your walking rhythm, adapt the number of kilometers especially at the beginning of the route and listen to your body – chi va piano, va sano e va lontano
- Pay attention to the markings and take a hiking bookguide with you. The crossing of the big cities in particular is very little, if not at all marked out.
Bibliography of the Camino del Norte Hiking Guides
Who says less crowded… says less guides available to prepare his pilgrimage. And yet, the offer of accommodation (eg. hotel, albergue or other) is also less developed than for other jacquarian itineraries. It therefore seems indispensable for the future pilgrim that you are to plan your trip before the great departure, unless you are an adventurer who is a 100% free walker.
Guides available in French
Our 3 favorite YouTube videos on the Camino del Norte
Discover the Camino on video, this is what these pilgrims offer you. 3 videos that have particularly marked us and immersed us in the heart of their pilgrimages.
The comments area to exchange on this very special road
Just like on the roads, this blog is primarily intended to exchange and share our experiences. Do not hesitate to leave your comment below.
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