02 Jun 23

Camino del Norte – the northern route less travelled

Sam McCrow Camino

Among the numerous Camino paths that criss-cross the stunning landscapes of Europe, the 817km Camino del Norte in northern Spain is one of the most beautiful and oldest routes to Santiago de Compostela.

Also known as the Northern Way, Coastal Route and Ruta de la Costa, the starting point for this ancient pilgrim path is the town of Irún near the French border. It runs parallel to the sea along the northern coast of Spain, taking walkers through four autonomous regions on the way to Santiago: Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia.

You’ll often find yourself walking on rugged cliffside paths with azure waters below, as well as sun-drenched coastal stretches with stunning views of the shimmering Cantabrian Sea and sandy beaches. The route takes pilgrims through tranquil woodlands, emerald meadows and rolling hills – terrain that is less strenuous but still dramatic.

Why take the northern route?

Compared to other popular Camino de Santiago routes, such as the Camino Frances, the Camino del Norte provides walkers with a unique and less crowded experience. It is also considered more physically demanding than other Camino routes due to its hilly nature and the variability of the terrain. The coastal terrain is characterised by rocky trails, picturesque beaches, and occasional steep ascents and descents, adding an adventurous element to your journey. 

In notable cities and towns like San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, Gijon and Oviedo, you will encounter warm-hearted locals who embrace the pilgrimage tradition with open arms. There is also the ever-changing regional cuisine to enjoy, from Basque pintxos and Asturian cider to Galician pulpo and empanadas.

Dotted along the route are architectural gems and sites of historical significance, including cathedrals, monasteries and mediaeval bridges, each bearing witness to centuries of pilgrimage tradition. 

With wonderful side trips and detours to take, and the rich tapestry of northern Spanish culture and culinary delights to enjoy, it’s a great alternative to the more popular routes.

Old towns, coastal vistas & culinary delights – what to see along the northern Camino 

There’s so much to see and do along the northern way. Some of Spain’s most iconic villages, attractions and historical wonders are scattered along the route.

San Sebastián

Nestled along the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is one of Spain’s top tourist destinations. The charming resort town is famous for its stunning beaches and culinary scene – it has more Michelin stars per square metre than any other city in the world, and its open-air sculptures make the entire city feel like a work of art.


Located in the Basque Country, Bilbao is renowned for its avant-garde architecture and world-class art. Visit the iconic Guggenheim Museum, stroll through the charming old town and feast on the city’s renowned pintxos (Basque tapas).


The capital city of Cantabria is a vibrant coastal destination with a rich cultural heritage. Explore the charming old town, walk the elegant promenade, visit the exquisite Palacio de la Magdalena and discover the stunning cathedral. Don’t miss the region’s fresh seafood – succulent grilled fish, platters of prawns and crab and the renowned anchovies of Santoña.


Gijón’s historic centre is a tapestry of narrow cobblestone streets and charming squares. This atmospheric neighbourhood is filled with colourful buildings adorned with traditional balconies, creating a postcard-worthy scene at every turn. For history enthusiasts, Gijón boasts fascinating archaeological sites such as the Roman Baths of Campo Valdés and the imposing Cerro de Santa Catalina, crowned by the iconic Elogio del Horizonte sculpture.


The lively port town of Ribadeo is the gateway to Galicia and makes a great rest day. It is famous for As Catedrais beach – rated as one of the most beautiful in the world and renowned for its stunning rock formations and hidden caves. The Old Town between the central Praza de España and the harbour is an attractive mix of handsome old galleried and stone houses, and there are plenty of restaurants and tapas bars to choose from.


Steeped in history and culture, Gernika holds great significance for Basque identity. Visit the Gernika Peace Museum, which commemorates the bombing of the town during the Spanish Civil War, and witness the iconic Gernika Tree, a symbol of Basque freedom and resilience.

Ruta de los Flysch

For nature enthusiasts, the Ruta de los Flysch offers a remarkable geological excursion along the coastline between Zumaia and Deba. Witness the breathtaking cliffs, rock formations, and fossil-rich layers that tell the story of millions of years of earth’s history.


Just a short distance from Bilbao, lies a destination that is sure to captivate fans of the Game of Thrones. Gaztelugatxe, a magnificent islet and its iconic stone bridge, served as the backdrop for Dragonstone in the show. Gaztelugatxe is steeped in ancient Basque mythology and folklore. Translated as ‘castle rock’, the islet is home to a hermitage dedicated to St John the Baptist, perched atop a rugged cliff. The tale of Gaztelugatxe tells of a knight who defeated a fearsome dragon and built a castle on the islet. Many pilgrims choose to pay their respects at the hermitage, climbing the 241 steps that lead to its doors. The ascent is seen as a symbolic journey, representing a personal quest for inner strength and spiritual growth.

The following highlights are not on the actual Camino del Norte route but are nearby and can be reached via taxi.


Located in Asturias and about 30km from Gijón, Oviedo is a charming medieval city with a wealth of architectural treasures. It’s famous for having an immense collection of public art scattered through its streets. It’s also famous for its cider. What sets Asturian cider apart is not only its taste but also the way it is poured – the technique (escanciar) is considered an art form in itself. In addition to its cider culture, Oviedo boasts beautiful architecture, including the Gothic-style Oviedo Cathedral, charming old town streets, and numerous parks and green spaces.

Picos de Europa National Park

While the Camino del Norte itself is a pilgrimage of remarkable beauty, it also provides an ideal opportunity for a side trip to the nearby Picos de Europa in the Cantabrian Mountains. Situated just a short detour from the pilgrimage route, the park encompasses a long chain of dramatic 2000m peaks and deep ravines, wild rivers and canyons.  The hiking trails are surrounded by towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls and meandering rivers. The ethereal charm of the Picos de Europa promises a serene retreat that harmonises perfectly with the spiritual journey of the Camino del Norte.

Cave of Altamira

Altamira (Spanish for ‘high views’) is a renowned archaeological site near the town of Santillana del Mar, 30 km west of Santander. The cave, which is 300m long and consists of a series of twisting passages and chambers, is famous for its remarkable prehistoric rock art, particularly its vivid paintings of animals and handprints. Due to its cultural and historical significance, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. In order to preserve the fragile paintings, access to the original cave is now restricted to only a small number of researchers and specialists. To allow public access and preserve the cave simultaneously, an exact replica called the Altamira Museum was constructed nearby. This museum faithfully reproduces the cave’s interior, allowing visitors to experience the incredible artwork in a controlled environment while safeguarding the original site.

Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana

If you’re travelling in Northern Spain, the monastery of Saint Toribio De Liébana is definitely well worth a visit. It provides the opportunity to see the single biggest chunk of Christ’s cross, which features the hole made by the nail that passed through Christ’s left hand. For non-believers and believers alike, being in the presence of Christianity’s most revered possession is a deeply moving and once in a lifetime experience.

How to walk Camino del Norte

The way-marking along the Camino del Norte is generally good. In parts where the signage is confusing or unclear, you can navigate safely using our exclusive walking app. The route passes through more than 130 villages and towns, so access to food and water is good. June to September are great times to walk. May or October are also good options. The weather can be humid on the coast. You can also split off from the Camino del Norte at the midway point near Villaviciosa and join the Camino Primitivo in Oviedo to walk to Santiago de Compostela via Lugo. 

Book your next walking holiday now

Interested in walking the Camino de Santiago routes? RAW Travel experts have years of experience in planning routes in this iconic region, and we have many self-guided or tailored options to choose from. 

Relax and enjoy the spirit of the Camino less travelled. We’ll take care of all the details and tailor your trip to your walking ability and timeframes, giving you the experience you want.


Finding Our Way: 41 Days on the Camino

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