The Camino del Norte is one of the most well-known hiking trails to Santiago de Compostela along the coast of northern Spain. Here’s everything you need to know.
About the Camino
The Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James) is a holy grail for long-distance hikers. The famous pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela is incredibly popular. There is not one Camino, there are several. In fact, you can get on one of the Caminos from pretty much everywhere in Europe and then walk to Santiago.
Yet some routes are more popular than others. These are the most popular Caminos to Santiago de Compostela:
- Camino Francés – starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, and is about 700 kilometers long.
- Camino Portugues – this route runs mainly through Portugal and you can start in Lisbon (630 kilometers) and Porto (244 kilometers), among other places.
- Camino del Norte – the northernmost route in Spain. According to many, this is the most beautiful Camino.
Athough the routes are different, most Caminos have the same things in common. Check out this Camino de Santiago guide for general tips for hiking the Camino.
Camino del Norte route
In this article, I’ll tell you more about the Camino del Norte, along the northern coast of Spain. The hike has a length of 830 kilometers and is considered one of the tougher routes. Indeed, there are quite a few steep climbs and descents in it.
The route starts on the border of France and Spain, in Irun (or Hendaye). The Camino del Norte route passes through four different Spanish communities: Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. Although you mostly pass through small villages, you also walk through several beautiful cities, such as San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, and Gijón.
The Camino del Norte is quite varied, one day you walk along the coast and you can take a dip in the sea in the afternoon, and the next day you walk through the forest in the mountains. Most pilgrims take about five weeks to walk the Camino del Norte.
Camino del Norte walking stages
The Camino del Norte consists of 29 different stages.
- Stage 1: Irun – San Sebastián | 26 kilometers
- Stage 2: San Sebastián – Zarautz | 21.5 kilometers
- Stage 3: Zarautz – Deba | 23 kilometers
- Stage 4: Deba – Zenarruza | 31.8 kilometers
- Stage 5: Zenarruza – Gernika | 17 kilometers
- Stage 6: Gernika – Bilbao | 32.8 kilometers
- Stage 7: Bilbao – Pobeña | 26.4 kilometers
- Stage 8: Pobeña – Castro-Urdiales | 23.4 kilometers
- Stage 9: Castro-Urdiales – Laredo | 31.1 kilometers
- Stage 10: Laredo – Güemes | 28.9 or 32.5 kilometers (choice of 2 routes)
- Stage 11: Güemers – Santander | 15.5 kilometers
- Stage 12: Santander – Santillana del Mar | 38.5 kilometers
- Stage 13: Santillana del Mar – San Vicente de la Barquera | 34.5 kilometers
- Stage 14: San Vicente de la Barquera – Llanes | 42.2 kilometers
- Stage 15: Llanes – Ribadesella | 33.7 kilometers
- Stage 16: Ribadesella – Sebrayu | 30.2 kilometers
- Stage 17: Sebrayu – Gijón | 33.7 kilometers
- Stage 18: Gijón – Avilés | 25.3 kilometers
- Stage 19: Avilés – Soto de Luiña | 43.1 kilometers
- Stage 20: Soto de Luiña – Almuña | 40.4 kilometers
- Stage 21: Almuña – La Caridad | 31.5 kilometers
- Stage 22: La Caridad – Ribadeo | 28 kilometers
- Stage 23: Ribadeo – Mondoñedo | 35.4 kilometers
- Stage 24: Mondoñedo – Vilalba | 35.8 kilometers
- Stage 25: Vilalba – Baamonde | 22.8 kilometers
- Stage 26: Baamonde – Sobrado dos Monxes | 40.9 kilometers
- Stage 27: Sobrado dos Monxes – Arzúa | 22.2 kilometers
- Stage 28: Arzúa – Pedrouzo | 18.9 kilometers
- Stage 29: Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela | 21 kilometers
The stages are arranged so that the starting and finishing points are always in a village with or near an inn. Of course, you don’t have to stick exactly to those stages, if you want you can shorten or lengthen them. I myself, for example, shortened stage 4 and slept in Markina-Xemein.
Along the way, there are a few splits where you can switch to another Camino. For example, at Villaviciosa, you can switch to the Camino Primitivo. In addition, you can extend your Camino by walking from Santiago to Finisterre.
How do you navigate the Camino de Santiago? The route is very well marked with bright yellow arrows and signs with the scallop. Do you still get lost? It’s always handy to bring the Hiking Guide to the Camino del Norte with you. The guide contains many tips, a detailed description of the route, and handy maps.
With the hiking guide, you get free GPS files of the route. You can put these in your favorite navigation app (I myself use GPX Viewer Pro) and also this way you can easily find your way.
A must for every pilgrim: the pilgrim’s passport (or credencial). In this paper passport, you collect stamps along the way. You can get them at various places, including pilgrim inns (albergues). With your pilgrim’s passport, you prove that you are walking the Camino to Santiago and with it, you can stay overnight in hostels that are only for pilgrims. These are often much cheaper than private hostels and you meet many like-minded people.
You can buy a pilgrim’s passport at various places along the Camino, for example in special stores for pilgrims, but also in the inns. Especially at the starting point, they are frequently available, after that it is a little harder to find one.
Where to stay on the Camino del Norte
Staying overnight on the Camino del Norte can be done in pilgrim hostels, also known as albergues. These are described in the travel guide, but on the website Gronze you have a good overview of all overnight addresses. This website is in Spanish only but translates well with Google Translate. You can also read reviews from other pilgrims. An overnight stay usually costs between €5 and €15. Most of the time, you can also do your laundry and they cook a meal (for a fee).
At many pilgrim hostels, you cannot make reservations, then it is a matter of arriving as early as possible. Usually, it is not a problem to get a bed, but especially in the high season (July/August), the hostels may be full.
Transportation to and from the Camino del Norte
How do you get to Irun, the starting point of the Camino del Norte? If you’re traveling from Western Europe it is easy to do by train. Make your way to Paris, and from there you can get on a TGV to Hendaye. The Camino passes the TGV station in Hendaye and you walk across the bridge to Irun in Spain in five minutes. Train tickets can be booked via Rail Europe.
If you prefer to travel to Spain by plane, you can fly to Bilbao which has an international airport. Check out Skyscanner for tickets and prices. From Bilbao, a bus goes to Irun several times a day. Look at Busbud for bus tickets.
Along the way, you’ll pass train stations and bus stops frequently, so it’s easy to shorten your walk on the Camino and continue at a later time. If you want to get in or out halfway through, it’s handy to check Omio. On this website, you get an overview of all the possibilities in terms of transportation.
Camino del Norte packing list
What do you take with you on your walk on the Camino del Norte?
- Pilgrim’s Passport
- A lightweight rain jacket (it can rain a lot in northern Spain, it’s so green for a reason)
- A sleeping bag liner or a light sleeping bag/quilt and a pillowcase (in many pilgrim hostels you don’t have sheets)
- Trekking poles (some sections of the trail are very slippery and steep)
- Small first aid kit (including band-aids, aspirin, nail clipper, and tweezers)
- Earplugs (some of your fellow pilgrims can be quite loud)
- A quick-drying towel
- A refillable water bottle (there are many water taps along the way, one or two 1-liter bottles will do)
Soon I will write another comprehensive blog on all the items you need to bring on the Camino del Norte.
Cycle the Camino del Norte
Did you know that you can also cycle the Camino del Norte? For the most part, you follow the same route as the hikers, but there is an occasional fork for cyclists and hikers. If this is the case, it is clearly indicated on the signs. There is also a special guide for cyclists, however, it is only in Spanish: El Camino del Norte: El Camino de Santiago de la Costa and bicicleta.
These were all my tips for the Camino del Norte. Do you have any further questions? Leave a comment in the comment section below.
What is it like to hike the Camino?
Would you like to know what to expect when you hike the Camino?
- Read my Camino trail journal. In the summer of 2022, I hiked for a week on the Camino del Norte.
- Lots of people have written a book about their hike on the Camino. Check this post for the best books on Camino de Santiago.
Discover more beautiful long-distance trails
Would you like to hike the Camino or another beautiful long-distance hike? These are some great books full of hiking stories and inspiration.
In addition, you can also find many great hiking trails on this website. You might like to check out these articles:
- Fishermen’s Trail: the best coastal trail in Europe
- Hiking the Arizona Trail | The Ultimate Guide
- Pieterpad: the most famous long-distance trail in The Netherlands
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