Nowadays, the start of this route is widely accepted to be the small village of Saint Jean Pied de Port, just across the border into France. It’s from these historic cobblestone streets, ancient houses and stone archways that your journey will begin. Don’t forget to make a stop at the Pilgrim’s Office to get your Camino passport, this is where you’ll mark the pilgrimage with stamps along the way.
You’ve crossed over into Spain and you’ve now reached the capital of the Navarra region – the city of Pamplona. Pamplona is of course well known for its famous San Fermín festival – the Running of the Bulls – each July. However even when the festival is not on, the city is well worth a visit. Some of the top things to see here are the Museo de Navarra, housed in a medieval hospital; the Catedral de Santa María, the Ciudadela fortress and the historic Café Iruña.
As you climb to the top of the Perdón hill, you will witness one of the most spectacular views along the Camino – rolling green mountains and valleys spread before you, and the iconic row of iron pilgrim statues – complete with children, dogs and donkeys – walking along the top.
The Camino de Santiago passes right through the main street of the small village of Puente de la Reina, whose cobbled streets and quaint pavement cafes make for an atmospheric and relaxing break. You’ll also walk over the old medieval bridge to cross the river and continue on your way.
The capital of La Rioja wine region, Logroño, doesn’t initially stand out as a major attraction, visitors usually being more concerned with getting out into the countryside to visit the many bodegas (wineries) there. However, this is a surprisingly vibrant city, with excellent food and lively nightlife. Head out into the historic district to find Calle Laurel, home of the best pintxos bars. Particularly good are the bars specialising in mushrooms, which you eat grilled, dripping with lots of butter and garlic.
The Catedral de Santa María de Burgos is known to be one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the whole of Spain, and it simply cannot be missed. Gothic in style, construction of the building began in 1221 and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
The capital of the region Castilla y León region is the regal city of León with its many grand monuments and elegant cathedral. Among the best sights to see in the city is the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro with its attached museum and Panteón Real, housing royal sarcophagi. Today, it is a national monument and one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the country – as well as being a hotel. One of the city’s other main sights is Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Botines.
Astorga is not as well known as some of the other cities along the Camino, however it is home to two impressive buildings – Astorga Cathedral and the Palacio Episcopal, also designed by the celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudí.
The tiny village of O Cebreiro sits on the border between the regions of Castilla y León and Galicia, and takes you back in history to a time when locals lived in ancient round stone houses with thatched roofs. You’re sure to be hungry after all that walking, so why not stop at the Taberna Moreno restaurant for one of their sumptuous steaks – bigger than your face!
You’ve reached the end of your pilgrimage and the towering spires of the Catedral de Santiago are a welcome sight. Round off your epic journey by attending mass at the cathedral either at 12 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. The priest welcomes all the pilgrims who have arrived that day and a giant botafumeiro (censer) swings from the roof of the cathedral, dispensing incense throughout.
There are a number of different ways to do the Camino – you can walk for the whole 30 days carrying your own luggage and staying in cheap albergues (hostels) along the way, or you can go with a company such as Follow the Camino who will transfer your luggage each day and book your hotels advance. Don’t feel like walking the whole Camino or don’t have 30 days to spare? Don’t worry, many people walk just the last 100km from the town of Sarria to Santiago de Compostela, which should take around four to five days and will earn you a ‘Compostela’ certificate at the end.