Walking the Camino Norte

The Camino del Norte, one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, is a stunning and less-traveled path that runs along the northern coast of Spain. It’s known for its breathtaking coastal scenery, offering a unique blend of green landscapes, rugged cliffs, and the Bay of Biscay’s azure waters. The route stretches approximately 825 kilometers, starting from the Basque town of Irun on the border with France and ending at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

Key Characteristics of the Camino del Norte:

  1. Scenic Coastal Views: Unlike the more popular Camino Francés, the Camino del Norte offers a journey along the coastline, providing pilgrims with views of beautiful beaches, picturesque fishing villages, and the dramatic coastline.
  2. Cultural Diversity: This route travels through four distinct regions of Spain: the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. Each region has its own unique culture, language, and gastronomy, giving pilgrims a rich cultural experience.
  3. Challenging Terrain: The route is known for its challenging terrain, with frequent ascents and descents, especially in the Basque Country and Asturias. This makes it a bit more demanding physically compared to other Camino routes.
  4. Historical and Religious Sites: The path is dotted with historical towns and religious sites. Pilgrims can explore Gothic churches, ancient monasteries, and historical landmarks.
  5. Less Crowded: Being less popular than the Camino Francés, the Camino del Norte offers a more solitary experience, which can be appealing to those seeking reflection and tranquility.
  6. Climate and Weather: The northern coast of Spain has a milder climate but can be more unpredictable, with chances of rain even during the summer.
  7. Accommodation and Facilities: The route has a good network of pilgrim hostels (albergues) and private accommodations, though they might be less frequent than on the Camino Francés.
  8. Culinary Experience: The Camino del Norte passes through regions famous for their culinary delights, including Basque pintxos, Cantabrian seafood, Asturian cider, and Galician wines and cheeses.

Ideal for those seeking a physically challenging pilgrimage with fewer crowds, rich cultural experiences, and stunning coastal scenery, the Camino del Norte is a remarkable journey that offers a different perspective on the Camino de Santiago experience.

You will travel through many cities such as the beautiful seaside town of San Sebastián/Donostia, Bilbao, Gernika (which is the subject of a famous painting by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso), Castro Urdiales, Santander, Ribadesella, Gijón, Avilés, Ribadeo, Mondoñedo, and Sobrado dos Monxes before joining the Camino Frances at Aruza. You will walk through Basque country, Cantabria, and Asturias until finally reaching the region of Galicia and Santiago de Compostela. The total distance depending on your chosen route is about 825km

This route was one of the first routes to be walked in the 9th century. The Muslims still occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula but due to the high mountains of the Picos de Europa and Cordillera Cantabrica, they were not in this area. While on many days you will be near the sea this route is very hilly and has many steep climbs, especially in the early stages of the Camino.

Be ready for some absolutely beautiful scenery walking along the coast as well as in the mountains. The route is well marked with among other things yellow arrows. There is at least one Albergue or Casa rural in each town or city, however, be prepared to walk further between towns on some stages. This Camino is far less traveled and you will find much fewer pilgrims along the way. However, since there are fewer pilgrims there are fewer albergue’s which tend to fill up fast. Municipal albergues are filled on a first come first served basis so if you are not an early riser you should consider making a reservation in a private albergue or some other type of accomodations.

As far as the time of year to walk this Camino, Spring to Fall would be great. Since you are walking very near the sea the weather can vary, while it is unlikely that you will experience extremely high temperatures during the summer months, you are more likely to see rain and certainly fog in the morning even in the summer months. As always be prepared for all types of weather.

Stages

The Camino del Norte, with its varied landscapes and rich cultural experiences, is divided into numerous stages. Each stage varies in distance and offers unique highlights. The following is a general outline of the stages along the Camino del Norte, including the distance of each stage and key highlights:

  1. Irun to San Sebastián (25 km): Starting from the border town of Irun, this stage takes pilgrims to the beautiful city of San Sebastián, known for its stunning beaches and exquisite cuisine, especially pintxos.
  2. San Sebastián to Zarautz (22 km): This stage offers coastal views and the opportunity to explore the beach town of Zarautz.
  3. Zarautz to Deba (21 km): The path leads through hilly terrain and offers spectacular views of the Basque coastline.
  4. Deba to Markina-Xemein (24 km): This stage moves away from the coast, winding through the Basque hills and rural landscapes.
  5. Markina-Xemein to Gernika (25 km): The route passes through historical towns, with Gernika known for its historical significance and the Peace Museum.
  6. Gernika to Lezama (21 km): A less strenuous stage, leading through lush landscapes.
  7. Lezama to Bilbao (15 km): Ending in the cultural city of Bilbao, famous for the Guggenheim Museum.
  8. Bilbao to Portugalete (19.5 km): This stage is urban in the beginning, eventually returning to coastal scenery.
  9. Portugalete to Castro-Urdiales (31.5 km): A long stage with coastal paths leading to the Cantabrian town of Castro-Urdiales.
  10. Castro-Urdiales to Laredo (27.5 km): The route continues along the coast, with Laredo offering a beautiful beach.
  11. Laredo to Güemes (29 km): Includes a ferry crossing to Santoña and passes through rural landscapes.
  12. Güemes to Santander (11 km): A short stage leading to the Cantabrian capital of Santander.
  13. Santander to Santillana del Mar (37 km): A longer stage that brings pilgrims to the historical town of Santillana del Mar, known for its medieval architecture.
  14. Santillana del Mar to Comillas (23 km): Features coastal scenery and the town of Comillas with its architectural gems.
  15. Comillas to Colombres (27 km): Crosses into the Asturias region and offers diverse landscapes.
  16. Colombres to Llanes (23 km): Continues through the Asturian countryside with views of the Picos de Europa mountains.
  17. Llanes to Ribadesella (32 km): A scenic stage along the Asturian coast.
  18. Ribadesella to Sebrayo (31 km): Leads through quaint villages and rural areas.
  19. Sebrayo to Villaviciosa (14 km): A shorter stage, with an optional detour to the Monastery of Valdediós.
  20. Villaviciosa to Gijón (29 km): This stage splits, with one route leading to Gijón on the coast and another inland towards Oviedo to join the Camino Primitivo.
  21. Gijón to Avilés (24 km): Urban and industrial landscapes dominate this stage.
  22. Avilés to Soto de Luiña (39 km): One of the longer stages, it features rural landscapes and the town of Cudillero.
  23. Soto de Luiña to Cadavedo (23 km): Continues through the Asturian countryside.
  24. Cadavedo to Luarca (16 km): This leads to the picturesque fishing village of Luarca.
  25. Luarca to La Caridad (29 km): Passes through rural areas with occasional coastal views.
  26. La Caridad to Ribadeo (22 km): Marks the entry into Galicia, ending in the town of Ribadeo.
  27. Ribadeo to Lourenzá (28.5 km): Begin the journey through Galicia with its distinct landscape and culture.
  28. Lourenzá to Abadín (25.5 km): Features the rural Galician countryside.
  29. Abadín to Vilalba (20.5 km): Passes through more of Galicia’s green landscapes.
  30. Vilalba to Baamonde (18.5 km): Continues through Galician scenery.
  31. Baamonde to Sobrado dos Monxes (40.5 km): One of the longest stages, leading to the impressive Monastery of Sobrado.
  32. Sobrado dos Monxes to Arzúa (22 km): Joins the Camino Francés route at Arzúa.
  33. Arzúa to O Pedrouzo (19 km): Pilgrims will notice an increase in fellow travelers as paths converge.
  34. O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (20 km): The final stage, leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is the end of the journey.

The Camino del Norte’s stages offer a mix of coastal views, historical sites, urban centers, and rural landscapes, making it a unique and diverse experience for pilgrims. The distances mentioned are approximate and can vary slightly depending on the specific path taken and the location of accommodations.