Although the name is not plural, the Way of St. James does not refer to a single way, but to the many routes traveled by pilgrims who go to Santiago de Compostela. Given that each pilgrimage begins at every pilgrim’s front door, it could be said that there are as many Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago as there are pilgrims. However, in order for pilgrims to have access to accommodation and signposting, there are several official routes -more than fifty in Spain, and hundreds throughout Europe- to make the way easier
But what makes a route an official Way of St. James route? The main requirements are a documented history of pilgrims’ passing through that particular way, and the presence of hospitals or shelters along the way. The main route is the “French Way“, followed by two out of every three pilgrims. The Northern Ways are a set of routes that were declared a World Heritage Site in 2015. They are the Coastal Way, which goes from Irún to Santiago; the Primitive Way -from Oviedo to Santiago; the Lebaniego Way -to Santo Toribio de Liébana; and the Basque Inland Way -which links the Coastal Way and the French Way at the height of the Basque Country and La Rioja.
The Portuguese Way has also very variants and it is crossed by many pilgrims. There are also the Silver Route, the English Way, the Madrid Way, the Jacobean Way of the Ebro, the Salvador Way or the Baztán Way which do not reach Santiago but end in other bigger routes.
Which Way of Saint James route should I choose?
Most pilgrims choose the French Way to Santiago, but there are more options. Each itinerary is different: the number of days, the people you can meet, the landscapes and the climate… But they all have their charm. To choose your route, study and compare the different options, take your time and then decide which one to follow and from which starting point. You will choose the right one and make a great memory.
If you need help preparing your route, you can use an online agency like Santiago Ways to make the process easier. Santiago Ways is the leading agency on the Camino de Santiago, with a score of 4.9 according to Google Reviews and 5.0 according to Tripadvisor. Each year thousands of pilgrims rely on Santiago Ways to organize their trips to the Camino de Santiago due to the availability of skilled labor with a high level of languages since they offer their services to more than 50 countries around the world.
The “Camino Francés” (French Way)
The French Way is the most used route and it has the greatest load of history and art along the way. It enters Spain from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, in Navarre, and through Somport in Aragon. The two roads become one in Puente la Reina and continue the journey to Compostela. At the end of the 20th century, it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and a European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe.
The Northern – Coastal Way
The Northern Way or Camino del Norte usually refers to the Camino de la Costa. It starts at the French-Spanish border and runs along the entire coast of northern Spain. When it reaches Galicia, in Ribadeo, it descends southwest towards Santiago de Compostela. It is a very pleasant route even in the cold months.
The Camino Primitivo
This is the other great route of the Caminos del Norte. It starts in Oviedo, the ancient capital of the Asturian kingdom, and continues west towards Santiago de Compostela. The current name is due to the fact that it is the oldest route according to documentation, It was used by the Asturian king Alfonso II the Chaste.
The Camino Portugués
The Portuguese Way is a set of routes that pick up pilgrims who start anywhere in Portugal to enter Spain through Tui, heading to Santiago de Compostela. It is the second most used route -and the one that is growing at the highest rate.
The English Way
It is the small route of barely one hundred kilometers that the pilgrims who arrived by boat to the coast of A Coruña used to travel.
The Vía de la Plata (Silver Route)
As Via de la Plata is known historically to the Roman road that linked Merida and Astorga. However, today the “Ruta de la Plata” extends from south to Seville and north is divided into several branches to enter Galicia or join the French Way in Leon. It is a very little-traveled route, mainly due to the summer heat and the great distance between the towns, with barely intermediate services.