The Camino de Santiago is not just one path. It comes in all shapes and sizes, some starting in France, others in Spain, Portugal or even Switzerland. Their final destination is the holy city of Santiago de Compostela, in particular the Archcathedral Basilica, which for followers of Christianity, is believed to be the shrine of Saint James, an apostle of Jesus. This is why the Camino de Santiago is also known as the Way of St. James. He died a martyr in AD44, but it wasn’t until the 9th century that pilgrims started putting one foot slowly in front of the other in his honour. So when is the best time to walk the Camino Santiago?
In modern times, hundreds of thousands complete the Camino de Santiago every year, seeking solace, silence or serenity. Few seek the snow, however, which is what you can get in winter months if you want to walk the whole thing. Whether it’s a calling or just about the hiking, here are some of our best tips on when to go camino.
Best time to book the Camino de Santiago
This is sometimes the most important thing to know before you work out which season suits you, or when you can spare the time. You may spend lots of time deciding and then discover it’s too late to book. In short, the best time to book the Camino is as far in advance as possible. Our bookings are open a year in advance, and we recommend booking at least four to six months ahead of your trip. The best booking time is between November to February, although we do get a surge of bookings as New Year resolutions kick in. Booking early also gives you plenty of time to prepare.
Best time to walk the Camino Frances
This is the most popular of the Camino routes and so, although we can delight in the camino’s wild roses of spring, the wild strawberries of summer, or the autumnal vineyards, sometimes the best time to walk the Camino Frances is when you can get a booking. This also depends on the stages you choose to walk.
If you want to walk the complete Camino Frances, or stages one, two, three or four, they’re only bookable for travel between March and November, mainly due to weather conditions and because our partners on the ground, who offer invaluable luggage transfer and support services, also take a well-earned rest. You can, however, cycle the Camino Frances all year round, and it’s easier to book too, as the majority are pilgrims à pied.
The last section between Sarria and Santiago, covering 100km and enough to still get your Compostela certificate, is open for bookings all year round, but this is by far the busiest section. Similarly, our self-guided holiday along stage five, which is slightly longer than the last section but does include it, is open all year around. Our guided holiday along the last section only takes place between April and June or September and October.
We recommend May and September to our customers as the weather is perfect, not too hot, not too wet. In April, the caminos are cooler at night, and there is more risk of rain and, in October, you might walk into various grape harvest festivities along the way. July and August are also the busiest times on the camino for pilgrims generally, so if you want to join the camino camaraderie, great. You’ll always find peaceful places to walk. It’s not a festival, and people do respect your space and your place on the camino.
It’s worth noting that, if you are choosing a section of the Camino Frances that goes through Pamplona, the town’s San Fermin Festival is held annually from between 6-14 July. The festival is known, notoriously for many, for its running of the bulls, or encierro, which takes place each morning of the festival. Not exactly in keeping with our responsible tourism ethos, we suspect that most of our customers would also like to stay clear of this.
Best time to walk the Camino del Norte
The Camino del Norte is the coastal camino, and a Basque beauty too, covering 800km of Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and then Galicia before heading south to Santiago. It’s not quite as busy as the Camino Frances, but the word is being carried on that sea breeze that north is the new south.
All our Camino del Norte walking holidays are bookable for travel between March and November, whether you opt for the complete camino, stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four or stage five. The Camino del Norte also includes the great cities of Bilbao and San Sebastián, and so if you want to mix your camino with culture, you can coincide your trip with specific exhibitions at The Guggenheim, for example, or the San Sebastián International Film Festival and Gastronomika food festival in September and October respectively.
In terms of weather, the best time to walk the Camino del Norte is between May and September, with maximum temperatures of around 24C in July and August, nothing like the searing south of Spain. Swimming is a religious experience for some walkers on the Camino del Norte, and water temperatures go over the 20C mark between July and September. Be prepared for wind and rain on this coastal route, all year round, particularly in spring and autumn.
Best time to walk the Camino Portugues
The Camino Portugues or Portuguese Way’s pilgrims have carved out two separate caminos en route to Santiago over the years, one inland (or Central Way) and the other clinging to the coast, or Coastal Way. The former covers approximately 280km and takes 15 days and the latter covers 230km and takes 14 days to complete.
Our Camino Portugues tours start in the historic city of Porto and head to the coastal resort of Vila Praia de Âncora, with options to dip in and out of river valleys, hilltop villages and eucalyptus glades, before hitting Spain’s Galician coast. Porto is a fun city with a propensity to party, so you may want to join or avoid the likes of the São João Festival on 23 June every year, which celebrates the city’s patron saint. More hullabaloo than holy this is a time to eat, drink and be merry. The Burning of the Ribbons (Queima das Fitas do Porto) takes place during the first week of May, a decades-old tradition where students celebrate the end of the academic year with parades and parties.
It’s worth considering doing the Camino Portugues as early as March, as it will be much quieter and, as there are fewer elevations to contend with compared with the Camino Frances, for example, you have less extreme conditions. You still have 12 hours of daylight and, on average, six hours of sunshine, with temperatures as high as 15C in March, going up to 17C in April. Remember to check Easter dates for the year you want to travel, depending on whether you want to embrace it or escape it.
Best time to walk the Camino Primitivo
Although the Camino Primitivo is considered and also called the Original Way, it is actually one of the quietest of the caminos, perhaps because it is also more demanding in parts. It takes you between Oviedo, the capital of Asturias and Santiago, and you can walk the complete route or stage 2 between Lugo and Santiago between March and November, over 16 and seven days, respectively.
We also have upgraded versions of the Camino Primitivo, on Stage 1 between Ovideo and Lugo and along the complete route, with a higher grade of accommodation, some with swimming pools. However, these are only available between April and October due to the opening dates of accommodation. These same dates of April to October apply if you choose to cycle the complete Camino Primitivo, which you can do over eight days or 11 days. As with the other caminos, July and August are still the busiest periods, especially when you join up with the much busier Camino Frances in Melide. Also the first half as far as Lugo is very hilly, so you are better to avoid the hottest months for this, even if it is a quieter route.
Religious festivals in Spain and the Camino
Spain has a lot of religious festivals, and so it’s worth taking these into consideration before booking your Camino. A really big one of the Camino de Santiago is the Feast of Saint James who is not only the Camino icon but also the patron of Spain, and his feast day is celebrated on 25 July. It’s a public holiday in the Basque country, Cantabria and Galicia.
A lot of pilgrims aim to end their journey in the holy city on 25 July, and so it gets very busy during this time. This is also one of the special days when the Cathedral’s iconic Botafumeiro, a giant thurible or censer swung by a system of pulleys from the main dome of the Cathedral with the help of a team of eight men, is set into motion.
Semana Grande is the most spectacular festival in northern Spain and, in particular, in the Basque country, celebrated over nine days in mid-August. Although based on a dedication to Our Lady of Begoña (Amatxu, meaning mother in Basque), it’s the mother of all parties, particularly in Bilbao and San Sebastián. So this may be the best time to walk the Camino de Santiago for some, but one to avoid for others.
The Camino de Santiago at Easter
To complete your Camino de Santiago at Easter, or Semana Santa, is the ultimate camino experience for many pilgrims. Surprisingly, it’s not the busiest time of year as most pilgrims opt for the summer months. All of the sacred sites with active worship have events throughout Semana Santa as well as processions in places such as Sarria, Melide or Arzúa and of course in Santiago itself. Similar to 25 July, Easter Day is also one of the few times in the year when the Botafumeiro is set into motion.
Walking the Camino de Santiago in Holy Years
There are special years in the Camino de Santiago calendar, and again, this relates to St. James. When the Feast of St. James (25 July) falls on a Sunday, this is deemed a Holy Year, a decision made by the Pope in the 12th century. Devout pilgrims often plan their camino for one of these years, as it’s a period when they can gain the absolution of all their sins. They do so by entering the cathedral’s Holy Door and then going through a religious ritual of prayers and confession. The Holy Door, accessible via Plaza de la Quintana, is only open during Holy Years, which next fall in 2027, 2032, 2038, and 2049.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any more camino queries. We are here to support you along your way, not only to transport your bags and make sure you have a comfy bed for the night, but also to help make it as meaningful and mindful as possible. You may also enjoy our blog Camino de Santiago packing list and How to prepare for a hiking trip.