Northern Way

Coastal beauty, pleasant climate and the natural magic of northern Spain at every step.

Each step on this route is a living postcard, an encounter with the sea breeze and the majesty of nature. The Camino del Norte invites you to immerse yourself in a journey that delights your senses and feeds your soul.

Popular tours to do the Camino del Norte

Ribadeo
189 Km
Ribadeo
9 Stages
10 Nights
from 850 €
See Tour
Sobrado dos Monxes en el Camino del Norte
117 Km
Vilalba
6 Stages
7 Nights
from 580 €
See Tour
Asturias en el Camino del Norte
826 Km
Irún
36 Stages
37 Nights
from 3520 €
See Tour

Where to start Northern Way ?

The Northern Way is one of the longest Camino de Santiago routes. It starts in Irún (Basque Country, in the border with France) and follows all the Cantabrian coast of Spain. The route will make you discover some of the most popular towns of Northern Spain: San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander, Gijón... Once in Galicia region, the route will cross inland Galicia (the provinces of Lugo and A Coruña) up to Santiago de Compostela. It is quite a demanding route, in terms of ups and downs, challenging terrain… but also one of the most rewarding paths, because of its views.

This is a special scenery for those travelers who are used to a more quiet sea, like the Mediterranean sea, because they will see how strong can be the ocean. Usually those pilgrims who follow this route, fall in love with the landscape. Have you seen the high waves that can be reached in the North of Spain? The spectacle is simply magic!

The coastal routes on the Camino de Santiago

DISTANCIA: ETAPAS: DURACIÓN: DIFICULTAD: INICIO:
820 Km 36 Etapas 37 Noches 5/5 Irún

Irún on the Northern Way
Between cobbled streets and skylines that narrate centuries of history, the city of Irun is an important commercial and logistics centre.

Irún is the second most important city in Gipuzkoa, after San Sebastián. Its location on the border between France and Spain makes it an important commercial, railway and logistics centre

The origins of Irún go back to pre Roman times, as some Roman historians already referred to Oiasso, one of the cities of the Basques. For centuries, the city was the scene of epic battles that destroyed much of its heritage, but its more than 2,000 years of history have left an architectural legacy that is well worth visiting.

DISTANCIA: ETAPAS: DURACIÓN: DIFICULTAD: INICIO:
672 Km 29 Etapas 30 Noches 5/5 Bilbao

Bilbao on the Northern Way
Bilbao estuary, la ribera market and San Antón.

Bilbao is a city located in the province of Vizcaya, in the Basque Country. Bilbao has known how to renew itself, becoming synonymous with art, culture and gastronomy thanks to important monuments such as the Guggenheim Museum, the Arraiga Theatre, the Euskalduna Palace and the Foral Palace.

In the Middle Ages, Bilbao became the main commercial centre of the Cantabrian Sea as it was a busy area for pilgrims and merchants. in the following centuries, Bilbao would live through dark times with the Carlist wars of the 19th century, the bombing of Guernika in the Spanish Civil War of the early 19th century and the emergence of the terrorist group ETA.

DISTANCIA: ETAPAS: DURACIÓN: DIFICULTAD: INICIO:
335 Km 15 Etapas 16 Noches 3/5 Gijón

Gijón on the Northern Way
Gijón seafront promenade.

Gijón, capital of the “Costa Verde”, is located on the coast of the Principality of Asturias. A dynamic city that combines historical heritage, industry, tourism and dynamic cultural life. The Iglesia Mayor de San Pedro, the Cimadevilla neighbourhood, the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Church and the International Centre of Contemporary Art are some of the spots not to be missed if you do the Camino del Norte and pass though Gijón

DISTANCIA: ETAPAS: DURACIÓN: DIFICULTAD: INICIO:
183 Km 9 Etapas 10 Noches 3/5 Ribadeo

Ribadeo on the Northern Way
Between the embrace of the sea and the historical heritage, Ribadeo unfolds in a visual synthesis where ancestral architecture and coastal serenity converge.

Nestled on the northern coast of Spain, Ribadeo emerges as a jewel among the treasures that mark the route of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela. This town, bathed by the waters of the Bay of Biscay, not only enchants with its natural beauty, but also awakens the pilgrim spirit with its historical and cultural connection.

Strategically located in the Principality of Asturias, Ribadeo serves as a getaway to Galicia, a meeting point for walkers venturing along the coastal route of the Northern Way. Its cobbled streets and charming squares tell stories of centuries past, where pilgrims of old found shelter before continuing their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

DISTANCIA: ETAPAS: DURACIÓN: DIFICULTAD: INICIO:
117 Km 6 Etapas 7 Noches 3/5 Vilalba

Vilalba on the Northern Way
Between cobbled alleys and the legacy of centuries, Vilalba reveals the essence of a town that fuses medieval charm with Galician hospitality.

Vilalba, in the province of Lugo, Galicia, stands as a welcoming refuge on the route of the Northern Way. This medieval town, shrouded in an aura of history and tradition, invites pilgrims to immerse themselves in its cobbled streets and discover the secrets that lie within its walls.

Nestled in a picturesque rural setting, Vilalba offers a welcome respite for walkers who have travelled miles in search of a deeper connection. Its impressive castle, silent witness to countless pilgrimages over the centuries, stands as a beacon guiding travellers to the authenticity of this Galician land.

Route map Northern Way

Map of the Northern Way

Stages Northern Way

Stage 1
25 km
3/5
7h15min
Stage 2
22 km
3/5
6h
Stage 3
21 km
3/5
5h45m
Stage 4
24 km
4/5
6h30m
Stage 5
25 km
3/5
6h45m
Stage 6
20 km
3/5
5h30m
Stage 7
11 km
2/5
3h15min
Stage 8
19 km
2/5
4h45m
Stage 9
25 km
3/5
6h30m
Stage 10
26 km
3/5
6h30m
Stage 11
29 km
3/5
7h15m
Stage 12
15 km
1/5
3h45m
Stage 13
16 km
2/5
4h
Stage 14
22 km
2/5
5h20m
Stage 15
22 km
2/5
5h30m
Stage 16
28 km
3/5
7h
Stage 17
23 km
2/5
6h
Stage 18
30 km
3/5
7h45m
Stage 19
20 km
2/5
5h15m
Stage 20
18 km
2/5
4h30m
Stage 21
30 km
4/5
8h
Stage 22
25 km
2/5
6h30m
Stage 23
30 km
3/5
8h
Stage 24
26 km
3/5
7h
Stage 25
23 km
2/5
5h40m
Stage 26
21 km
3/5
6h
Stage 27
31 km
3/5
8h30m
Stage 28
28 km
4/5
6h45m
Stage 29
22 km
3/5
5h30m
Stage 30
21 km
2/5
5h15m
Stage 31
18 km
1/5
4h30m
Stage 32
15 km
1/5
4h50m
Stage 33
25 km
2/5
6h30m
Stage 34
222 km
2/5
5h30m
Stage 35
19 km
2/5
4h30m
Stage 36
19 km
2/5
4h30m

Difficulty level Northern Way

Difficulty profile route The Northern Way

Northern Way is a medium-high difficulty route that is characterised by terrain with varying gradients. Although it can be a little more difficult than other routes, the Northern Way offers spectacular scenery, beaches, picturesque fishing villages and a unique experience that attracts many pilgrims.

Please note that the level of difficulty of this route can vary depending on the starting point, the physical condition of the pilgrim and the weather conditions at the time of the journey.

Distance

The entire Northern Way from Irún has an approximate length of about 820 km. Although less kilometres can also be done if you decide to start at another starting point closer to Santiago de Compostela such as Gijón or Vilalba. The distance covered each day can affect the feeling of difficulty, so it is important to plan stages that are suitable for your level of fitness.

Terrain

The route crosses different types of terrain, such as dirt tracks, paved sections or mountainous terrain. Although this may sound challenging, doing the Northern Way is possible for all types of physical conditions if properly planned.

Slope

This route combines sections of low, medium and high difficulty. The stages leading into Galicia are the ones with the greatest gradient. Ascending from 200 to almost 600m altitude in 20km. The section between Baamonde and Sobrado dos Monxes is the hardest.

Pilgrims on the Northern Way
Pilgrims on the Northern Way in Monte do Gozo

What is the best time of year to do this route?

The best time to do the Nothern Way depends on the personal preferences of each pilgrim and their travel conditions. Each season has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Although it is a route not as crowded as the French or Portuguese Way, our recommendation is to do the Northern Way in spring and autumn as they present the most favourable weather conditions for walking. In addition, finding accommodation will not be a problem. Keep in mind that during the summer months many people choose to spend their holidays in the coastal regions, which can lead to a lack of available accommodation.

The regions of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia are influenced by the oceanic climate. Temperatures are mild in the coastal areas and more extreme inland. Both in the summer and winter months. Some days during the months of January and February temperatures can drop to 0ºC . On the other hand, rainfall is light and intermittent in autumn and spring and heavy in winter.

What to see and do in Northern Way?

If you decide to walk the Northern Way you will cross the autonomous communities of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, until you enter Galicia through the beautiful Ría de Ribadeo, to continue walking the 189 km that separate this town from Santiago de Compostela.

One of the attractions of this route is its scenic beauty and its proximity to the spectacular northern coast of Spain. The route alternates sections that follow the Cantabrian coastline with mountain and inland stretches. You can enjoy its imposing cliffs, endless beaches and the blue immensity of the Cantabrian Sea, as well as green forests and rural villages with centuries of history, where you can visit churches, cathedrals, monasteries and other important places that are part of the Jacobean tradition.

This Jacobean route has become one of the alternatives to the French Way, for those pilgrims who want to escape the crowds or who are looking for a quieter and spiritual experience in contact with nature.

Where does the Northern Way pass through?

This route runs through the autonomous regions of the Basque Country, La Rioja, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia until it reaches Santiago de Compostela, in the province of A Coruña. If you follow this route you will be able to see the Cantabrian coast and visit some of the most important towns and cities in Spain, such as Irún, Donosti, Bilbao, Santander, Gijón, Ribadeo and Arzúa.

The Basque Country 

The Basque Country has experienced a cultural and touristic resurgence over the past years. Bilbao, for example, has become a symbol of modern architecture and a pilgrimage point for those who appreciate art and culture. San Sebastian is a very popular tourist destination, really well known because of its gastronomy.

International pilgrims may be surprised to see that all public signs are written both in Spanish and Euskera (or Basque language). This is a unique language, with no connections to any other.

The first stages of the Northern Camino pass through small finishing towns, linked to great seafarers like Juan Sebastián Elcano (he was responsible for the first circumnavigation of the glove).

Even if the Basque Country is very popular as an industrial region of Spain, the countryside is still very traditional. Besides the Ocean views, pilgrims will be able to enjoy a rural landscapes, with extensive farms.

Cantabria

Cantabria is the next autonomous community crossed by the Camino del Norte. This region, like the Basque Country, has also experiences a great growth over

San Vicente de la Barquera Cantabriathe past decades.

There is a strong influence of the “indianos” in the architecture of the region. “Indianos” is the word used to describe those emigrants who came back home in Spain, after making a lot of money in South America.

Some of the most popular towns in Cantabria are Santander (the capital of the region), San Vicente de la Barquera, Laredo and Castro Urdiales.

The region is also very popular as an ecotourism destination: the Picos de Europa (“Peaks of Europe”), is an ecological jewel. Because of its fauna and flora, and its amazing landscapes.

Asturias

Asturias is the last region before reaching Galicia, final part of the Northern Way. It is also a distinctive ecological setting, as the region shares the Picos the Europa with Cantabria. In fact the first stage of the Camino walk in Asturias, recall Cantabria: a flat path against the coastline.

Camino del Norte Asturias Galiwonders

This region represents the best example of all the Northern part of Spain, known as “Green Spain”. This is because of the presence of forests, countryside and natural areas.

Once in Villaviciosa, the Camino splits: the Camino Primitive (or Original Way) continues on the left, and the Northern Way, on the right. Two different routes leading to the same destination: Santiago de Compostela.

Galicia

And finally Galicia. All different Caminos end up in this region, since it is where Santiago de Compostela is located.

As in the Basque Country, there is a local language, the Galego (all public signs are displayed in both languages). This region is also part of the area known as “Green Spain”, because of the strong presence of this color on the landscape.

Galicia has Celtic and Roman origins. It was on the 9th century, when the remains of the Apostle where discovered, that the region became very popular in Europe. This discovery transformed Santiago de Compostela into a pilgrimage point.

After a period of decadence, the Camino de Santiago and Galicia itself have also experience a rebirth over the past few decades. The walking conditions for pilgrims in the region, are excellent: all paths are really well marked, there are many facilities along the way, the landscape still preserves the rural atmosphere, etc.

Galicia is a rainy region, which could bother some walkers. But the rain is the origin of its green color, and its unforgettable landscapes.

Villages you will see if you walk The Camino del Norte

San Sebastian

San Sebastián on the Northern Way
San Sebastián, which is dominated by the bay of La Concha, was once one of Spain’s most famous tourists destinations.

San Sebastián, also known as Donostia in Basque, is a coastal city located in the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country, northern Spain. Its tourist attractions include the Contxa beach, the Old Quarter, the Buen Pastor Cathedral and the promenade around the mouth of the Urumea River.

The rise of the Camino de Santiago, its landscape and its modern architectural development, which began in the second half of the 19th century, would shape it as a gentrified French city, stimulating the development of tourist activity on a European scale. This fact led it to be chosen as European Capital of Culture in 2016.

Santander

Santander is the capital of the autonomous community of Cantabria and its origins date back to 26 BC. Today the city is one of the main leisure centres on the Cantabrian coast and is undergoing a period of change and evolution thanks to projects such as the Botín Centre and the Cultural Ring. Some of the monuments you can visit in this city are Santander Cathedral, the Cabo Mayor lighthouse and the Pereda Gardens.

This city has been linked to the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago de Compostela since the Middle Ages. Pilgrims from northern Europe came to the city both by land and by sea to rest and continue their journey to Santiago. A good example of these is the hospital of Sancti Spiritus or the hospital of Santa María de la Calzada.

Arzúa

Arzúa
Arzúa calls itself the “land of cheese” in reference to the cheese made from cow’s milk of the Arzúa-Ulloa designation of origin.

Arzúa is a small rural village located in the province of A Coruña, in Galicia, Spain. With the rise of pilgrimages in the Middle Ages, pilgrim hospitals were built in this village, such as the hospital of Ribadiso da Ponte or the convent of Magdalena, which provided assistance to pilgrims. Since the 20th century, this village owes its economic development to the expansion of the dairy industry and the production of cheese and cheese products. It is also one of the best known points on the Northern Way, due to its proximity to Santiago de Compostela.

Its monuments include the chapel of Magdalena, the church of Santiago de Arzúa and the Centro de Divulgación do Queixo e do Mel (Queixo and Mel Dissemination Centre).

O Pedrouzo

Also known as “A Rúa do Peregrino“, it is a small vilage located in the province of A Coruña. It is located on the last stage of the French Way. Its history is closely related to the path of the Camino de Santiago and the flow of pilgrims over the centuries.

Over time, the arrival of pilgrims in larga numbers algo contributed to the development of the area. Hotels, hostels, restaurants and other services for pilgrims were established to meet the growing demand.

Today the municipality remains a vital point in the Camino de Santiago experience, where pilgrims can rest and connect with other travellers on the imminent arrival in Santiago de Compostela.

Other important towns through which the Northern Way passes are: Zarautz, Gernika, Lezama, Portugalete, Castro Urdiales, Gueme, Santillana del Mar, Ribadesella, Villaviciosa, Avilés, Navia, Vilalba, Baamonde and Sobrado dos Monxes.

Places and Monuments not to be missed on the Northern Way

Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is an architectural and cultural landmark. Since its inauguration it has become a symbol of Bilbao’s urban and cultural transformation. In the 1990s Frank Gehry, a Canadian architect, was selected to design the museum and in 1997 the building opened its doors to the public. Its bold, avant-garde design, characterised by curvilinear forms and titanium cladding, made it a global architectural icon.

Castro Urdiales historical complex

The history of Castro Urdiales dates back to Roman times, when it was known as Flaviobriga, an important settlement and trading port. During the Middle Ages, the town developed around the castle, built in the 13th century to defend the coast from attacks by pirates and enemies. Today this small village is a popular tourist destination both for those seeking to immerse themselves in history and for those wishing to enjoy the beauty of the Cantabrian coast.

Lighthouse-Castle and Medieval Bridge of Castro Urdiales
Lighthouse-Castle and Medieval Bridge of Castro Urdiales

Magdalena Palace in Santander

The Palacio de la Magdalena was built in 1912 as the royal summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family. It was also used as a hospital during the Spanish Civil War and as a summer residence for the dictator Francisco Franco. Its design is eclectic in style, combining English and French architectural elements. Located in the city of Santander, it is currently used for official events, exhibitions and cultural activities.

Mondoñedo Cathedral

Mondoñedo Cathedral is located in the municipality of Mondoñedo, in the province of Lugo. Its construction dates back to between the 13th and 14th centuries in several phases, hence its mixture of architectural styles, including Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque elements. As early as the 19th century, the cathedral suffered a fire that seriously affected its structure, but it was restored to its original Gothic style in the decades that followed.

Monastery of Santa María in Sobrado dos Monxes

Monastery of Santa María in Sobrado dos Monxes
Monastery of Santa María de Sobrado dos Monxes located in Sobrado (La Coruña)

This monastery located in the province of A Coruña currently functions as a hostel for pilgrims and is an important stop for those pilgrims who walk the Camino del Norte. It was founded in 952 as a Benedictine monastery, becoming an important religious and cultural centre in the region during the Middle Ages for its library and artistic heritage.

At the end of the 19th century the monastery was acquired by the Cistercian Order, who restored it and resumed monastic life.

Other monuments you can visit along the way are: the hermitage of Guadalupe, the Portico of San Nicolás de Bari, the carving of the Sanctuary of Itziar, the tree of Gernika, the Hanging Bridge of Portugalete and the Selgás de Pito Palace.

Alternative places to discover on the Northern Way

If you are one of those people who like to discover charming places and you have time to do so while you are walking the Northern Way, here are some interesting places you could visit on the Northern Way.

Cabárceno Nature Park

The Cabárceno Nature Park is a zoological park with animals in semi-freedom located in the region of Cantabria. Its most outstanding activities include environmental education and research into the conservation of endangered species. We recommend you visit it on your way through Arce, as this park is just 16 minutes by car from this municipality.

The Cave of Altamira

The cave of Altamira, also known as the Sistine Chapel of prehistory, is also in Cantabria. It is a natural cavity in the rock where one of the most important pictorial and artistic cycles of prehistory is preserved. It forms part of the Altamira cave complex, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

To get to this cave from Santillana del Mar on foot takes 30 minutes or 7 minutes by car. If you are interested in visiting it, bear in mind that it has a controlled visiting regime that uses a system of access by appointment through a waiting list.

Santa María del Naranco

Santa María del Naranco is an ancient leisure palace located in the region of Asturias, specifically in the city of Oviedo. This architectural jewel dates from the year 842 and has a pre-Romanesque style, specifically known as Asturian or “Ramirense” art. It was declared a National Monument in 1885 and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. The nearest city to this church is Gijón, which is a 30-minute drive away.

Mondoñedo’s waterfall recreation area

This area is located in the village of Mondoñedo, in the province of Lugo. It is located on the banks of the river Tronceda and has two natural pools formed by the course of a river channel. Also of note in this area are the series of waterfalls next to the pools and the hiking route that surrounds them. You can visit it on your way through Mondoñedo, as it is less than 10 minutes by car from the centre of the municipality.

The History of Northern Way

The Northern Way is one of the oldest and most historic jacobean routes of the Way of Saint James, along with the French Way and the Primitive Way. Its origin dates back to the discovery of the remains of the Apostle St. James in the 9th century, as is the case with the other routes of the Way. When King Alfonso II of Asturias travelled the 320 km that separated his Court from Santiago de Compostela to verify for himself the discovery of the remains of the Apostle. This route is what we know today as the Primitive Way and was the first known route of the Way of St. James. Subjects from all over Europe began to imitate the monarch, thus giving rise to the appearance of all the routes of the Way of St. James that we know today.

The rise of this route took place during the Middle Ages. Faced with the advance of the Moorish armies towards the north, the Northern Way emerged as a safer route than the French Way and more passable than the Primitive Way. Moreover, the pilgrim community recognised that following the coast to Oviedo was easier than crossing the Cantabrian Mountains – hence this route is also known as the “Coastal Route”. It was so popular at the time that this route was used by pilgrims and a large part of the nobility and royalty of Europe to reach Santiago. Either from Irún or from one of the Cantabrian seaports.

One of the outstanding figures who travelled this route in the 13th century was Saint Francis of Assisi, who set out for San Salvador de Oviedo and Compostela, leaving his legacy in his wake with the construction of several Franciscan temples.

With the advance of the Reconquest and the return of the peninsula to Christian hands, the traditional routes became less hostile and the jacobean route from the north gradually lost all its prominence. Moreover, its decline was compounded by the monarchy’s definitive commitment to the French route in the 12th century.

From the 17th century onwards, the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago in general went into decline with the arrival of events such as Luther’s Protestant Reformation, which caused a crisis of faith in Europe, or the liberal confiscations of the 19th century, which brought famine, plagues and political unrest, the pilgrimage and the resources allocated to it became secondary.

The last decades of the 20th century have been fundamental for the revival and strengthening of the Northern Way. This route has recovered all its vitality – thanks in part to the work of public entities – positioning itself as one of the preferred alternatives for pilgrims due to its beauty and location between the sea and the mountains.

Tips if you are going to do Northern Way

The Northern Way is one of the best routes for discovering the cultural, scenic and gastronomic wealth of northern Spain. Although this route is a manageable experience for everyone if it is properly planned, there are several things you should bear in mind before embarking on this adventure:

  • Train physically if you are not used to walking long distances, as the stages of the Camino del Norte are usually long. Walk daily 2 or 3 months before starting your pilgrimage.
  • Do not load your backpack with unnecessary things, carry only the essentials. This will help you avoid fatigue and stress.
  • Choose footwear that you have used before. The best option is a pair of light, comfortable, low or mid-calf hiking boots.
  • Drink 250-500 ml of water half an hour before you start walking. Also, try to eat foods rich in carbohydrates and minerals that will help you recover your energy after a long day of physical exercise.

If you need more detailed information, you can access it here. Remember that each pilgrimage is unique and personal, take your time to enjoy this experience.

Buen Camino!

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