The Camino del Norte to Santiago
The Camino del Norte to Santiago is the pilgrim route that borders the coast of Cantabria, from east to west. For this reason, it is also known as Camino de Santiago coastal route.
The Northern itinerary is the second longest route on the Camino de Santiago after the Via de la Plata). It is also considered the second most difficult pilgrimage route (after the Camino Primitivo). Still, of all the itineraries on the Camino de Santiago that run through Spain, it is the second most popular.
It is a demanding tour but offers a natural environment of great beauty, dotted with small fishing villages, full of charm. If you want to find out more details about the wonders of the Camino del Norte you can see our article on the sea, mountains, and gastronomy on the Camino del Norte.
In this article, we will focus on telling you everything you need to know to do the Camino del Norte on foot or by bike. Emphasizing organizational aspects.
Camino del Norte: stages
The route of the Camino del Norte begins in Irún, a town located on the border with France, and runs 833 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela. It is the route of the Camino de Santiago that runs the furthest north in Spain. It crosses the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias, to enter, finally, in Galicia.
This winding itinerary offers pilgrims all the burden of mystery and beauty that the medieval walkers experienced. Beautiful mountains, dense forests, horseshoe roads, blue beaches and small villages are some of the wonders that the Camino del Norte hides. Next, we talk to you about each of the stages of the Camino del Norte to Santiago.
Camino de Santiago from Irún: first stage
Officially, the Camino del Norte starts at the Puente de Santiago, 2 kilometres from the town of Irún. Most pilgrims travel those first two kilometres the afternoon before the beginning of their pilgrimage. That way the next morning, you can leave your accommodation and make their way to Santander directly.
The first stage of the Camino del Norte to Santiago is 26.8 km long. The northern layout is already shown as it is from day one. A tour full of ups and downs in a beautiful landscape. However, given the better connection from the city of San Sebastián than that of Irun, many pilgrims decide to skip this stage and start the adventure of the Camino del Norte from San Sebastián.
Camino de Santiago del Norte: desde San Sebastián a Bilbao
The section of the Camino del Norte that runs between San Sebastián and Bilbao consists of 6 stages, in which 117.8 km are travelled through Basque lands. Next, we leave you with a brief outline of them:
- Stage 2: from San Sebastián to Zarautz (20,3 km.)
- Stage 3: from Zarautz to Deba (22 km.)
- Stage 4: from Deba to Markina (24,3 km.)
- Stage 5: from Markina to Gernika (25 km.)
- Stage 6: from Gernika to Lezama (15 km.)
- Stage 7: from Lezama to Bilbao (11,2 km.)
We recommend that you book a day or two to visit the beautiful city of San Sebastián. You will also have the opportunity to enjoy its cuisine, not in vain is it one of the gastronomic cradles of Europe.
From Bilbao to Santander
The section of the Camino del Norte to Santiago that goes from Bilbao to Santander is made up of five stages. In total, 134.9 km are travelled between one city and the other. Below we provide a summary of the stages of this section of the North route:
- Stage 8: from Bilbao to Portugalete (19,7 km.)
- Stage 9: from Portugalete to Castro Urdiales (34,6 km.)
- Stage 10: from Castro Uridales to Laredo (30,6 km.)
- Stage 11: from Laredo to Guemes (29,5 km.)
- Stage 12: from Guemes to Santander (20,5 km.)
In this section of the Camino, the Basque lands are abandoned to enter Cantabria. On the route you can enjoy picturesque coastal villages, beautiful sandy beaches and rocky coves.
It is a stretch of great natural beauty and contrast between modernity and tradition. Both Bilbao and Santander are two picturesque cities in which, if you have time, it is advisable to make a one-day stop to visit them.
Camino del Norte: from Santander to Ribadesella
From Santander to Ribadesella, following the northern route, there are 142.6 kilometres. The route is divided into 5 stages. In the third of them, we leave Cantabria to tread Asturian lands. The detail of the stages on this section is:
- Stage 13: from Santander to Santillana del Mar (37 km.)
- Stage 14: from Santillana del Mar to Comillas (22 km.)
- Stage 15: from Comillas to Colombres (29 km.)
- Stage 16: from Colombres to Llanes (23,2 km.)
- Stage 17: from Llanes to Ribadesella (31,4 km.)
It is, perhaps, one of the hardest stretches of the Camino del Norte. However, it is also one of the prettiest and has the most natural riches.
From Ribadesella to Vilalba
This section of the Camino de Norte which runs between Ribadesella and Vilalba is made up of 12 stages. In total, 293.1 kilometres separate the beautiful seaside town of Ribadesella from Vilalba. The stages of the Camino del Norte in this section are:
- Stage 18: from Ribadesella to Sebrayo (31,3 km.)
- Stage 19: from Sebrayo to Gijón (35,8 km.)
- Stage 20: from Gijón to Avilés (25,4 km.)
- Stage 21: from Avilés to Muros de Nalón (23,2 km.)
- Stage 22: from Muros de Nalón to Soto de Luiña (15,3 km.)
- Stage 23: from Soto de Luiña to Cadavedo (18,5 km.)
- Stage 24: from Cadavedo to Luarca (15,3 km.)
- Stage 25: from Luarca to La Caridad (30,5 km.)
- Stage 26: from La Caridad to Ribadeo (21,3 km.)
- Stage 27: from Ribadeo to Lourenzá (28,4 km.)
- Stage 28: from Lourenzá to Abadín (25,7 km.)
- Stage 29: from Abadín to Vilalba (22,4 km.)
The tour takes place at the foot of the Picos de Europa, with the Cantabrian Sea in the background. This part of the Northern Pilgrim path crosses the quiet villages of the rural area of Asturias, where you can taste delicious local food. In Ribadeo, we finally enter in the lands of the Apostle, Galicia.
Camino del Norte to Santiago: from Vilalba to Santiago
The last section of the Camino del Norte to Santiago runs entirely on Galician soil. From Vilalba to Santiago there are 5 stages and a total of 117.9 kilometres to travel. This section of the North route is the one made by the pilgrims who have a few days but want to make the last 100 kilometres to obtain the Compostela.
Of the 5 stages, the first three are carried out following the northern route, until Arzúa. There the North road converges with the Camino Frances and together they run to the Cathedral of Santiago. So the last two stages are much more crowded. Here, we leave the detail of the stages on the last stretch of Camino del Norte to Santiago:
- Stage 30: from Vilalba to Baamonde (16,6 km.)
- Stage 31: from Baamonde to Sobrado (41,2 km.)
- Stage 32: from Sobrado to Arzúa (21,4 km.)
- Stage 33 (Camino Frances): from Arzúa to Pedrouzo (19,3 km.)
- Stage 34 (Camino Frances): from Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (19,4 km.)
What to see and do on the Camino del Norte
On the Camino del Norte to Santiago, you will enjoy all kinds of wonders. Some of the great attractions of the Northern route are:
- Cities of interest: San Sebastián (stage 2), Bilbao (stage 7), Santander (stage 12), Gijón (stage 19), Avilés (stage 20) y Santiago de Compostela (stage 34). You could also visit Oviedo, if you take the diversion that you will find on stage 19 to the Camino Primitivo.
- Incredible panoramic views, such as those obtained from the Santander estuary (Stage 2), or Bilbao (stage 7), among others.
- Fairytale green landscapes. You must not forget that this route crosses so-called Green Spain.
- Spectacular beaches and cliffs on view. Check out the link to discover all the beaches you will be able to visit on the Camino del Norte to Santiago.
- Temples of great historic interest.
- Numerous charming towns. Some of them are: Orio, declared as a cultural interest town (stage 2). Gernika, the famous town that Pablo Picasso recorded in his works (stage 5). The beautiful Santillana del Mar (stage 13) or Comillas, with the famous Capricho by Antonio Gaudí (stage 14). Llanes, an interesting monumental village (stage 16) or the streets of Cudeiro, with its peculiar ampitheatres (stage 22).
- Rich natural surroundings such as the Biosphere Reserve in Urdaibai (stage 6) or the Natural park in Oyambre (stage 14).
- Archaeological sites and mines (stage 9).
- Interesting geological formations (stage 15).
- The crossing by boat to Santoña, as the pilgrims did in the Middle Ages (stage 11).
What time of year is best to do the Camino del Norte
If you can choose the time to do it, the months of April, May, June, September and October are the most advisable, as the weather tends to be more favourable. In the winter months, the cold and the rain can make the route much more difficult and you will also find fewer services open.
In the months of July and August, considered high season, you will find a wide range of services. Also many more pilgrims on the route.
In these two months of the year, the temperatures are much higher, so you have to withstand burning heat. However, considering that much of the North route runs by the sea, July and August are not a bad option, if you are not looking for calm and tranquillity.
Signalling on the northern route
The North Road is completely signposted with yellow arrows, wooden poles and stone markers. This pilgrim itinerary is not as popular as the Camino Frances, but the associations of friends of the Camino de Santiago of the communities that cross the route have made a great effort to improve and intensify the signposting in each one of the sections.
Where to sleep
Since it is not the most popular of pilgrim routes, the network of hostels of the Camino del Norte is not as wide as that which one can find in other itineraries of the Camino de Santiago. However, you will have no difficulty finding places to sleep during your pilgrimage. In the cities you will find a wide range of accommodation and in the seafaring villages, charming seaside accommodation.
How to prepare yourself for the Camino del Norte
Like all the routes on the Camino de Santiago, the Camino del Norte also requires some previous preparation. Given its difficulty, it is recommended to be in good physical shape to cope with the route. In this article we explain how to train to be ready for the Camino de Santiago.
Preparing luggage to do the Camino del Norte is another issue that you will have to take care of in advance. If you plan to carry your backpack on the route, you should pay special attention to this point. In this article, we give you some recommendations on the backpack that you should take.
If you decide to hire a backpack transport service between stages, preparing the luggage will be much easier, as you will not have to worry so much about the weight. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about transporting the backpack on the Camino del Norte to Santiago.
Finally, you will also have to take care of getting the Pilgrim’s credential. Most people get it in the town from which they begin the pilgrimage. If you want to know more about this document, consult our post about the credential for the Camino de Santiago.
The three previous aspects are the most important when it comes to preparing for the northern route. However, there are some other details you should consider to enjoy your pilgrimage to the fullest. Check our guide on preparing for the Camino de Santiago to find out more.
Why choose the Camino del Norte to Santiago
All the itineraries on the Camino de Santiago have their charm. Depending on what you are looking for, it is better to choose one route or another. In this article on the routes on the Camino de Santiago we will tell you about the characteristics of each one. However, today we want to share with you some of the reasons that make the northern route a good choice:
- Much of the tour is done by the sea and you can enjoy dreamy beaches.
- It is a good alternative to the popular Camino Frances. On the northern route, you will enjoy much quieter days.
- It allows you to enjoy three Caminos de Santiago. You can start by doing the Camino del Norte, deviate to the Camino Primitivo and finish the route on the Camino Frances. So, you enjoy the wonders of each one of them.
- It is a route that will test your physical resistance.
- The places of interest that you pass through.
The above are just a few specific reasons for choosing the Camino del Norte. However, there are many reasons to do the Camino de Santiago. If you are still not convinced to embark on the adventure, we recommend that you consult our publication on why you should do the Camino de Santiago.
Finally, we want to remind you that if you decide to do the Camino del Norte to Santiago with an agency, do not hesitate to contact us to Call us or leave us a comment. Our team will be happy to advise you.