Camino de Santiago de Compostela: Everything About the Ancient Pilgrim Routes
El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the road of Santiago de Compostela or—as is more well-known in English—Saint James’ way. Did you know that there are more than ten routes to walk el camino de Santiago de Compostela and become a pilgrim?
In this post we are going to learn all about them, learn who St. James was and why he is important, and why he has a path and many more things about el camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Before walking many miles, get ready to scroll down and learn. Get comfortable and join me unraveling El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Who Was El Apóstol Santiago?
El apóstol Santiago el Mayor (St. James the Great, the disciple) was one of Jesus Christ’s 12 disciples who accompanied Him throughout his 3 years of public life.
Afterward, Jesus sent St. James to preach to Hispania (Spain and Portugal) and he disembarked in Gallaecia (Galicia). He sent Saint Peter to preach to Rome and Jesus lived his public life in Jerusalem. That is why Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela are the three Christian pilgrimage cities.
Around 800 years after St. James’ death, Alfonso II of Asturias found a Roman tomb with a beheaded body (which was probably St. James’), because of some lights he saw in a mount, and ordered them to build a Church over the cemetery which they had found.
Why Is St. James Santiago in Spanish?
Saint James and Santiago both come from the Hebrew name, Iaakov, which then in Latin was translated to Jacobus. Thanks to this, the Spanish names Jaime, Diego, Tiago, and Santiago all have the same root.
The word Compostela, in the City, might come from Latin campus stellae, meaning field of stars.
Where Is Santiago de Compostela?
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of La Comunidad Autónoma (the autonomous community) of Galicia, which lies on the NorthWestern tip of Spain, just above Portugal. Santiago de Compostela is 372 mi (600 km) away from Madrid, the capital of Spain.
How To Get to Santiago From Madrid?
There are four ways to get to Santiago de Compostela from Madrid, en avión (by plane), en auto o coche (by car), en bus (by bus) and en tren (by train).
If you take the plane it is a 70-minute flight, if you take the car it can be around 6 hours, if you take a bus it can take up to 8 hours and if you take the train it can vary anywhere between 4 and a half hours and 6 hours.
And of course, the most obvious and important one, caminando (by walking!)
When Is the Best Time to Visit Santiago?
Any time is a good time to visit Santiago de Compostela or try to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
According to Iago Vázquez, a Galician who has spent 14 years living in Galicia, “the summer is the best time to visit Santiago because the weather is amazing and the atmosphere in the city is great overall.” In the summer of 2021 Santiago de Compostela received around 95,000 people.
However, as I write this, there are still pilgrims who visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Iago mentioned that “there are pilgrims in Santiago de Compostela every day in every season.”
The fall and the winter can get a bit tough in Galicia since the average temperature reaches 47°F (8.6°C), but you are going to see much fewer people than in the summer.
PRO TIP: Take into account that Santiago de Compostela is the second Spanish city with the rainiest days in a year, only behind the Basque city of San Sebastián. Santiago de Compostela averages 140 rainy days a year.
The Pilgrim Routes To Make El Camino de Santiago de Compostela
There are ten different routes to make El Camino de Santiago de Compostela
|English way||El camino inglés|
|Fisterra Muxía way||El camino de Fisterra y Muxía|
|French way||El camino francés|
|Northern way||El camino del norte|
|Portuguese way||El camino portugués|
|Portuguese way of the coast||El camino portugués de la costa|
|Primitive way||El camino primitivo|
|Route of the Sea of Arousa and River Ulloa||La ruta del Mar de Arousa y Río Ulloa|
|Southeast way, Mozárabe way, Silver way||El camino del Sudeste, Mozárabe, de Plata|
|Winter way||El camino de invierno|
The English Way
The first Camino de Santiago de Compostela is el camino inglés. This way owes its name to the Northern Europeans who arrived in Ferrol and Coruña and walked to Santiago from either city. The difficulty of this path is classified as medium and you can start off from either Ferrol or Coruña.
If you start from Coruña the way is shorter, it takes 45 mi (73 km). If you start from Ferrol it is 69 mi (112,5 km.) Both ways find each other in the Spanish town called Bruma and make the last 24 mi (40 km) together.
Fisterra Muxía Way
The second Camino de Santiago de Compostela is el camino de Fisterra Muxía. This path is very peculiar, because it takes you from Santiago de Compostela to Fisterra or Muxía, two important Galician towns. This is also a medium difficulty path, and some Galicians say that this is the true Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The reason is that it takes you to La Costa de la Muerte (the coast of Death) in el fin del mundo (the end of the world). If you go to Muxía-Fisterra you’ll have 73,5 mi (118,4 km), if you do Fisterra-Muxía you’ll have 73 mi (117,5 km).
FUN FACT: Fisterra got its name when Roman conquerors found what they believed was the end of the world, since they saw the Atlantic Ocean “swallowing” the Sun, they believed there was no more land further.
The French Way
The third Camino de Santiago de Compostela is el camino francés. This is the most well-known way of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the classic. Aymeric Picaud, a French cleric described this way in 1135, in a book called Codex Calixtinus.
Just like el camino inglés and el camino Fisterra Muxía you have two ways of walking this one. Take the San Xil way and walk 96 mi (154,7 km), or take the Samos way and walk 100 mi (161,7 km.) San Xil and Samos are also two medium-difficulty paths.
The Northern Way
The fourth Camino de Santiago de Compostela is el camino del norte. British, Dutch, German, and Scandinavian people walked this path, especially in the middle ages. Just like all the others mentioned above, there are two ways you can take this one. In Ribadeo you’re walking 118,5 mi (190,7 km) and in Santiago de Abres 114,76 mi (184,7 km.)
Both ways pass through Obiedo, an important Spanish city in the autonomous community of Asturias. They are both medium-difficulty paths.
The Portuguese Way
Our fifth Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the Portuguese way. The Portuguese way became relevant when Portugal became independent from the Kingdom of Galicia, and it takes you through Portuguese lands, starting off in Tui, you’re going to walk 73,7 mi (118,6 km) to Santiago de Compostela passing through the Miño River, Pontevedra, and Padrón—a Spanish city famous for its bell peppers. This path is a medium-low difficulty one.
The Portuguese Way of the Coast
The sixth way to take on El Camino de Santiago is el camino portugués de la costa. You start off in the Portuguese town of A Guarda and see Mt. Santa Trega. From there you walk 101 mi (162,8 km) to Santiago de Compostela, still passing through Pontevedra and Padrón, but adding the Galician city of Vigo into the mix, home to the Spanish soccer team Celta de Vigo. This is also a medium-low difficulty path.
The Primitive Way
The seventh Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a special one, because UNESCO declared it world heritage in 2015. People of Asturias and Galicia took this path in the 9th and 10th centuries to reach Santiago de Compostela.
You can start off in Alto do Acevo and soon you are met with two choices, going through San Xoán de Padrón, which is a route of 98,98 mi (159,3 km) or taking a route through A Proba de Burón, which is slightly longer at 99,66 mi (160,4 km). Both paths have a low difficulty.
Route of the Sea of Arousa and River Ulloa
The eighth Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a low-difficulty one. You start off in the Galician town of Sanxenxo and as always, finish in Santiago de Compostela.
However, this is a special one, because this route is inspired by the route that the body of St. James’ took when someone transported him from Jerusalem to Galicia by sea. On your trip, you are going to see one of the three Rías Baixas (Low Rías), the ría of Arousa.
Southeast Way, Mozárabe Way, Silver Way
The penultimate way of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela has three different ways to take it:
- Through Laza – 138 mi (223,5 km)
- Through Verín – 157 mi (253 km)
- Through Feces – 123 mi (198 km)
They all are a medium-difficulty path. And it is called el camino Mozárabe because in the year 997, Almanzor, an Arabian conqueror, took this route to attack Santiago de Compostela, and centuries later, Spaniards took the bells that he had taken from the Cathedral through this path.
The last way to take El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is el camino de invierno. This is the hardest way to make El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, because it is a medium-high path.
If you want to explore Galicia, this is your path, because it passes through the four Galician provinces—Lugo, Pontevedra, Ourense and Coruña. This path follows 146 mi (235 km) from Las Médulas, in León, just outside of Galicia and from there you follow the Sil River as it takes you all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
The Cathedral at the End of the Way
Regardless of which Camino de Santiago de Compostela you take (except the Fisterra one) every path takes you to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, an astonishing building right in the middle of el casco antiguo de Santiago (the old town in Santiago), with a Roman, Gothic and Baroque style.
This astonishing building has a lot of history, and it took Galizians from 1075 to 1211 to build this imposing Cathedral with all of its façades. The Cathedral in Santiago has four façades:
|Way the façade is facing||Name of the façade|
|East||Fachada de la Quintana|
|North||Fachada de Azabachería|
|South||Fachada de las Platerías|
|West||Fachada del Obradoiro|
The most famous facade is la fachada del Obradoiro, the one in the picture below. The Cathedral has 86,111 sq ft (8,000 sq ft) and two towers with the names of:
- La Berenguela Tower – La torre de la Berenguela
- The bells and the rattle Tower – La torre de las campanas y la carraca
Both of them make the tallest structures in Santiago de Compostela, with 246 ft (75 m.)
Besides St. James’ tomb, inside La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela you can find O botafumeiro—the world’s biggest incense burner, which needs 8 men to move, weights 116 lb (53 kg), is 4,9 ft (1,5 m), they suspend it at 65 ft (20 m) and it can reach up to 42 mph (68 kph.)
While, thanks to the Spanish law, accessing the Cathedral and seeing everything inside, attending mass and confessing is completely free, and you can access it every day (except special dates) from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The Cathedral offers an entrance to access the Cathedral’s museums for 13,61 USD (12€.)
The Cathedral hosts four museums: El museo catedral Pórtico de la Gloria (The Cathedral Museum Glory’s Porch), El museo catedral cubiertas y torre de la carraca (Cathedral museum, covers and Rattle tower), El museo colección permanente (The permanent collection museum), Santa María Real de La Sar (Santa María Real de La Sar).
FUN FACT: La Catedral de Santiago de Compostela has 16 chapels.
What (Else) To Visit in Santiago de Compostela
Praza do Obradoiro
When you visit the Cathedral you are going to be in Praza do Obradoiro (Workshop Square). you are going to find the cathedral and three other amazing buildings:
- Rajoy Palace – El Palacio de Rajoy
- Hostal of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – El hostal de los Reyes Católicos
- St. Jerome School – Colegio de San Xerome.
Campus de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
La Universidade de Santiago de Compostela is one of the oldest universities in Europe, because it started on September 4th, 1495! The University has two campuses in Santiago:
- El Campus Norte – Northern Campus
- El Campus Sur o Campus Vida – The Southern Campus or Campus Vida
Walking through the University Campus can offer a relaxing experience and you can see the university’s life and more than 30,000 students that study there yearly.
El Centro Histórico de Santiago de Compostela is a breathtaking little place. Strolling through its medieval streets can teleport you in time, and make you feel like you are in the early days of the city.
It is a charming place full of different scents of bakeries, pubs, bars, cafeterias, clothes shops, night clubs and apartments on top of all of this. Walking from end to end takes around 15 minutes and you can find thousands of different things, drown in the smell of local bakeries and cafés and visit the famous Mercado de Abastos de Santiago, the old local market.
The Pilgrimage Museum
El museo de las peregrinaciones (The pilgrimage museum) is one of the thousands of little buildings you can find in the historical centers of Santiago.
It has five floors with different things about pilgrims, photographic expositions, and the Cathedral’s models. Visiting it can take more than two hours if you take your time. Officially, the general entrance fee is 2,72 USD (2,40€), thanks to COVID, the entrance has been free.
This last place is not as cultural as the ones I mentioned above, but it is worth visiting! Kampus is a cafeteria made for students close to the Southern Campus.
The amazing thing about the place is that it is not expensive, and they offer you a lot of good quality tapas with every beverage you order! They play hits from the 00s and you can be there as long as you want! If you want to taste a little bit of Galician tapas you can visit Kampus!
FUN FACT: A great option to taste some other great tapas is Cafe Bar el 13. This is closer to the Northern Campus.
Learn Spanish Before Becoming a Pilgrim
Arriving at Santiago de Compostela by walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is an enlightening adventure that will live inside you for the rest of your life. But before taking this awesome trip, sign up for a free Spanish class today, and prepare yourself by learning Spanish!
While people in Santiago like to speak Galician, all of them do speak Spanish (and they are highly similar.) Learning Spanish will open the doors to more than 22 countries that speak Spanish officially, and it will also improve your cognition and decision-making abilities! If that alone does not seem enough to start learning Spanish, speaking to more than 53,000,000 people in the U.S. might do the trick. The best part is, that Spanish can also land you a better paycheck at the end of each month!
To put a cherry on top of everything, people decide to learn Spanish with Homeschool Spanish Academy because we have been teaching for over 10 years to more than 24,000 active students monthly, still offering one-on-one lessons, earned high school credit, flexible schedules, and different payment options! Don’t just sit there, learn Spanish today!
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