Camino Frances vs Camino del Norte

Comparison between the main features of the pilgrimage routes Camino Frances (French Way) and Camino del Norte (Northern Way) to Santiago de Compostela. Like everything in life, this is subject to personal taste and opinion but here you could find some of my reasoning to help you decide which way to take:

  • Trail markings:
    • Camino del Norte: Enough in overall although sometimes there may be a lack of markings for a while which makes it easy to get lost if you don’t pay attention. In the region of Galicia (last 200 km) the signalling is excellent.
    • Camino Frances: Excellent signalling all the way.
  • Path:
    • Camino del Norte: Sometimes you are walking on paved roads which may be useful to avoid the mud but it harms and burn the feet and joints much more than the natural paths. No paved roads in Galicia.
    • Camino Frances: Most of the times you are walking on non-paved roads and natural paths.
  • Pilgrims’ hostels:
    • Camino del Norte: Most of them are very basic and small (around 20 beds) and sometimes they are very distant between each other (sometimes more than 30 km). Good quality in Galicia.
    • Camino Frances: In general, they have better quality although you may find some too big (i.e. 150 – 200 beds). Normally, there is an albergue or more in every village  (every 10 km approx.).
  • Number of pilgrims:
    • Camino del Norte: Rarely more than 30 starting a day during summer which is the busiest period. Although lately, it is becoming more and more popular very quickly. This is a good choice if you want to walk alone.
    • Camino Frances: In the summertime, there may be far more than 200 pilgrims starting everyday which makes it very busy but also you get to know many interesting people.
  • Weather:
    • Camino del Norte: Very changeable and wet (Atlantic weather) In summer, warm but not hot in the days and cool in the nights. You may get some clouds and rain but overall, the temperature is perfect for walking and the weather is lovely. The rest of the year, very rainy and cool. If you don’t like to walk under a burning sun in summer, this may be your best choice. Best time of the year: July and August.
    • Camino Frances: From May to October, very dry and hot during daytime (it often reaches more than 40 degrees celsius at noon in July and August) although it may be chilly during the nights. In wintertime, very cold (bellow 0 Celsius is very common). With the exception of Galicia (last 150km) which has Atlantic weather similar to El Camino del Norte. If you don’t like a cloudy sky but prefer a bright blue one with a big sun above you, this may be your best choice. Best time of the year: From May to October, especially May, June and September.
  • Nature and landscape:
    • Camino del Norte: High snowed mountains on one side and the sea on the other side. Very green and full of forests. Many nice beaches that have escaped civilization and tourism where you can have a pleasant bath. It is really a natural paradise.
    • Camino Frances: Very varied. Firstly, you have to cross the high mountains range – the Pyrenees – which is full of forests and green prairies. Then, in Navara and Rioja regions, the landscape is hilly and full of vineyards (people usually says it is very similar to Tuscany landscape). Afterwards, in the region of Castilla, the landscape becomes completely flat (it is a high plateau around 900 metres above sea level). It is full of cereal and sunflower fields. It is very desertic and isolated but very charming. Then, in Leon province, it becomes hilly and green again with more vineyards and forests. And finally, in Galicia, it is full of forests and green prairies again.
  • Art:
    • Camino del Norte: Many interesting beautiful cities and towns very rich in art. San Sebastian, Bilbao, Castrourdiales, Santander, Santillana del Mar, Comillas, San Vicente de la Barquera, Llanes, Rivadesella, Villaviciosa, Gijon, Luarca, Mondonedo.
    • Camino Frances: Unique cities, cathedrals and castles all along the way. Just to mention some of them: Pamplona, Estella, Logrono, Najera, Sto. Domingo de la Calzada, Burgos, Fromista, Carrion de los Condes, Leon, Astorga, Ponferrada. It is a museum as a whole with the best Romanesque art in Europe. You can find unbelievable pieces of art in every little village.
  • Food and Gastronomy: Very varied and excellent and excellent in both Caminos.
  • Wines:
    • Camino del Norte: Not so rich in wines as El Camino Frances but cyder in Asturias is nearly a religion and there I have drunk the best natural cyder ever.
    • Camino Frances: Excellent wines all along the way. La Rioja, Navarra, Bierzo, Ribeiro and Albarino are the most famous. You can find unbelievable cheap wines of the best quality.