The French Camino is one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle St.James in Santiago de Compostela. The French Way is the most popular Camino route. According to the Pilgrims’ Attention Office in 2019 more than 180 000 people walked this Camino starting from different places along the route. 50% of pilgrims who completed the French Camino walked the last 100 km from Sarria.
You can find more information on walking stages, distances, elevations, stops along the route, and albergues in our Camino Frances walking stages post.
The French Camino route overview
- Total distance – 770 km/478 mi
- Number of days required – 30-33 days
- Walking on asphalt – 290 km/180 mi
- Walking on the road – 70 km/43,3 mi mostly very quiet roads with almost no cars
- Average cost – 30 Euro per person per day
- Accommodation – albergues, hotels, guesthouses
- Route marking – yellow shells and arrows
Insurance for the Camino
You can read more information on travel insurance for the Camino Frances in our dedicated post on Camino travel insurance or get an instant quote right now.Things can and do go wrong when you travel. World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
The French Camino de Santiago free downloadable PDFs
To make your planning easier we’ve created free downloadable PDF files that contain detailed walking stages and places to stay on the French Way of St.James.
- The French Camino walking stages. Part 1. SJPDP to Leon. PDF
- The French Camino places to stay. Part 1. SJPDP to Leon. PDF
- The French Camino walking stages. Part 2. Leon to Santiago. PDF
- The French Camino places to stay. Part 2. Leon to Santiago. PDF
What is the French Way of the Camino de Santiago?
The French Way of St.James is the most popular Camino de Santiago long-distance pilgrimage route. The history of the Camino dates many centuries back. Since the 12th century, the French Camino has been used by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe as the main route to the tomb of St.James in Santiago de Compostela. Due to its popularity, the French Camino has the best infrastructure and the most albergues compared to the other routes. Many pilgrims choose it as their first Camino walk.
How long is the French Camino de Santiago?
The total distance of the French Way of St.James from St.Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela is 770 km/478 mi. One needs 30-35 days to complete the route.
Where does the French Way start?
The French Camino de Santiago starts in the small town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, near the border with Spain. St.Jean is the official start of the route but you can start walking from anywhere along the Camino route. Many people don’t walk the entire Camino and do only a part of it depending on how much time they have and how far their want to walk.
Where to start walking the French Way of St.James?
|Name of the place||Distance to Santiago|
|Le Puy (France)||1490 km|
|O Cebreiro||162 km|
If you have a lot of time and are keen on walking for a couple of months starting the French Camino in Le Puy (France) is a good option for you. Le Puy is 1500 km from Santiago, and St.Jean Pied de Port is about halfway. I haven’t walked the French part yet but I’ve met some people who have. From what I’ve heard the French part of the Camino is quite different, first of all, because there are very few people which might be great if you’re seeking solitude. Second, there are fewer albergues which means your accommodation expenses will be higher.
Many people start the French Camino from Roncesvalles (746 km from Santiago) skipping the first stage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I guess the main reason is that everybody knows about the tough walk with a very steep ascent and a subsequent descent from St.Jean to Roncesvalles. My advice is if you start in Roncesvalles and get there by bus book your accommodation ahead, there is one huge albergue for 200 people, one or two fancy hotels and nothing else. You can book it online.
Starting in one of the big cities like Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, Leon, or Astorga (check distances from these cities to Santiago in the table above) is quite a popular option. You can choose any of these cities depending on how much time you have and how far you want to walk. It’s quite easy to get to any of the cities from anywhere in Spain or from other European countries.
Another popular point to start the French Way is O Cebreiro though getting to this little village hidden in the mountains might be a bit tricky. There are no public buses going to O Cebreiro the best option is to get first to Lugo, then to take a bus to a small town Pedrafita do Cebreiro which is 4,5km away from O Cebreiro, and from there walk or take a taxi. There are a couple of daily buses from Lugo going that way.
If you want to get the Compostela (the certificate that says that you’ve walked the Camino) the required minimum is to walk at least the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela or to cycle 200 km, not any 100 km on the Camino but the last 100km. For this reason, many people start walking the French Camino in Sarria, a town that is 116 km away from Santiago. It’s an option if you don’t have much time.
The best guidebook for the French route
If you want to buy a guidebook for the French Camino I can recommend A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago; Camino Frances by John Brierley. We used his guides for several Camino routes including this one. They’re easy to use, very detailed, and helpful.
Is the French route hard?
Yes, the French Camino is hard like any one-month walk. It has some challenging parts with steep ascents and descents or long walking distances. It’s especially hard for a first-time unprepared pilgrim so training for the Camino de Santiago is important.
How to get to the French Camino?
St.Jean Pied de Port is the official start of the French Way of St.James. It’s a small town on the border between France and Spain getting there might look a little bit complicated at the beginning I tried to put together the best transportation options from Spain and France.
Either way via France or Spain you’ll have to make at least one switch in order to get to St.Jean there are no direct transport options. Departure times and ticket prices can change at any time, you can confirm the information on the companies’ websites (the links are provided below). We have a detailed post explaining how to get to St.Jean Pied de Port from different cities in France and Spain.
Getting to St.Jean Pied de Port from Madrid or Barcelona
Step 1. Fly to Madrid or Barcelona there are many international flights to these airports from all over the world. We always fly to one of these cities when going on the Camino adventure.
Step 2. From Madrid take a bus/train or catch a flight to Pamplona. Any of these options are fine, the flight is the most expensive but the fastest, and the bus is the cheapest but the slowest. Pamplona’s name in Euskera (the Basque language) is Iruña don’t get confused if you see on your ticket both names.
From Barcelona catching a bus or a train is the best option here. There are no direct flights to Pamplona from Barcelona all flights go first to Madrid which is quite inconvenient.
The advantage of taking a bus from both cities is that you arrive and leave for St.Jean from the same bus station you just switch buses. From the train stations and the airport, you’ll have to get to the bus station first.
If you’re coming from Europe there might be flights to Pamplona from your city maybe not direct but with a stopover.
Step 3 in season (between Easter and 20th October). From Pamplona catch a direct bus to St.Jean Pied de Port. Buses are operated by ALSA.
Step 3 off-season. Off-season there are no direct buses from Pamplona to St.Jean. Step 3. From Pamplona bus station take a bus to Roncesvalles. Step 4. From Roncesvalles take a taxi (can share it with other pilgrims) to St.Jean Pied de Port. Note! Off-season getting to St.Jean through Paris might be a better option.
Getting to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port from Paris
Step 1. Fly to Paris. Like with Madrid and Barcelona, there are hundreds of flights to Paris from all over the world.
Step 2. From Paris take a train/bus or catch a flight to Bayonne.
From Paris, the easiest is to take a train in this case you just change trains in Bayonne. Getting there by bus is a very long journey though it’s the cheapest option. As for the flight, there is no airport in Bayonne you can get a direct flight from Paris (CDG) to Biarritz which is about 4km away, and from the airport take a bus to Bayonne. The bus ride takes about 15min. and costs 1 Euro.
Step 3. From Bayonne train station take a direct train to Saint Jean Pied de Port. There are several daily trains. The journey takes 1h.20min., and the price is 10 Euros. Tickets can be purchased online.
Backpack delivery on the French route
It’s possible to walk the French Way of St.James without a backpack there are several luggage transfer services that can deliver your backpack between accommodations (door-to-door service) every day. You can walk with a small day pack carrying only valuables and water and your luggage will be delivered to your hotel/albergue. The service costs between 5€-6€ per backpack per stage. The backpacks are picked up in the morning at the reception and delivered by lunchtime. Some of the companies that do luggage transfers are Correos, Pilbeo, and Xacotrans (from O Cebreiro to Santiago).
What is the best section of the French Camino?
The answer to this question depends on your preferences. I really enjoy mountainous scenery and don’t mind steep ascents and descents for me the beginning of the French Camino from St.Jean-Pied-de-Port to Pamplona and the middle section to and from O Cebreiro are the best parts of the route.
If you prefer walking on flat ground then the part of the French route between Burgos and Leon, the famous Meseta is the best section for you. It’s probably the most typical scenery of the Camino.
If you want to do a shorter walk and get your Compostela certificate for completing the Camino then the French Camino from Sarria is the best section for you to walk.
What is the best month to walk the French Camino de Santiago?
If you want to have the best weather not too rainy and cold and not too hot May, June, and September are the best months for walking this route. Temperatures are comfortable around 25°C, there are not many rainfalls. Spring in general and May, in particular, is, in my opinion, the best time for walking the Camino. In addition to the good weather and long days, you get to see fields covered in flowers. September is a good month too but the day is getting shorter and if you like to start walking early in the morning you’ll have to walk in the dark for an hour or so.
Of course, the good weather attracts a lot of people, May, June, and September are the busiest months for the French Camino. You might have to book accommodation in some places in advance and deal with many people on the route but on the bright side, it’s a very social good for those who walk alone.
In August and July, it can get very hot and dry, especially in the part of the Meseta, you’ll have to start walking really early to be finished before midday. I used to think that August was the peak season for this route (maybe because August is the peak tourist season for Europe in general) but it’s not. In fact, there are not many people walking the route in August everybody knows that it’s very hot, and not many people, especially foreigners, want to walk in the heat.
Walking the French Way in October, March, or April you can be lucky and get nice weather though it’ll be pretty chilly and dark, or very unlucky and get a lot of rain. There will be still some pilgrims but significantly fewer than in the summer months.
As for walking completely off-season from November to February, it’ll be cold and wet, some albergues might be closed as well as some parts of the Camino, two in particular where you have to go over the passes; from St.Jean to Roncesvalles and through O Cebreiro. You’ll have to take an alternative winter route or skip the stage. The only advantage of walking the French Way in winter is that there will be no people in case you want to have a solitary walk.
The French route fall vs spring
How much does the French Camino de Santiago cost?
The Camino can be done on a very tight budget spending 20€ per day. If you don’t mind paying more to have more comfort your cost can be between 40 and 50€ per person per day. Here is a detailed breakdown of the Camino cost.
The cheapest accommodation option on the French Camino is municipal albergues (a dormitory with bunk beds) which cost around 8€, private albergues (a dormitory with bunk beds or normal beds) are between 12€ and 14€. Prices for private accommodation start from 25-30€ for a single room and 35-40€ for a double room.
The accommodation makes a huge difference to your budget. If you stay in municipal albergues your walk will be really cheap and on the contrary, if you choose to stay in private rooms your budget will be comparable to a normal holiday budget.
Sleeping every night in a dormitory with many other people and using shared facilities is quite tiring, everybody needs some privacy from time to time. I used to book at least once a week (every fourth or fifth night) a private room where I could have a nice sleep, take a long shower, and just enjoy being alone.
Not surprisingly that it works out more expensive if you eat out compared to making your own food but sometimes on the Camino you’re too lazy or tired to make food or just want to go out with other pilgrims. A standard breakfast (coffee, orange juice, croissant/sandwich/toast) that you find pretty much everywhere on the French Way costs 4€. Most of the day I stopped for breakfast because I just didn’t feel like making food at 6 am.
Menú del Día or Menú del Peregrino is the most popular lunch option on the French Camino, you get it everywhere in the afternoon, and some places serve it for dinner as well. It’s a set lunch with the first (soup, salad, or pasta), the main (meat, chicken, fish, vegetarian with garnish), wine/beer/water/cool drink, dessert, or coffee, and bread. Menú del Día usually costs 10-12€ sometimes it’s really good and big, sometimes not amazing and not that much. My advice, ask your albergue/hotel about a good place to eat they usually know.
Coffee, beer, and wine are quite cheap in Spain even if you’re on a tight budget you definitely will be able to afford a daily cup of coffee or two and a glass of wine or beer. A cup of coffee is 1,5€, and a glass of wine/beer – 2€.
The cheapest food option is to buy stuff in a supermarket and make your own food. Staying in albergues will help with spending less on food because most of the albergues have a kitchen, unlike hotels. Most of the places you stop on the French route have supermarkets, shops, or at least small grocery stores. Depending on what you buy prepare to spend between 8€ and 10€ per person per day on groceries.
Extra services on the Camino
The backpack delivery service that many people use on the French Camino, costs between 5€ and 6€ per backpack per stage. You don’t have to use it every day I know some pilgrims use it when it’s a long walking day or a difficult one with many hills or a steep climb.
Many pilgrims wash their clothes every day by hand many albergues have washing machines as well as driers that work with coins. One load of washing is usually 3€, drying – 3-4€. These machines are usually big you can share one load between two or three people.
My budget breakdown for the French Camino
In 32 days on the French route I spent;
- Accommodation – 494€, 8 nights in private rooms (including 1 night in a spa hotel), 8 nights in dorms in municipal albergues, and 16 nights in dorms in private albergues. If you stay in albergues only you can do it for under 350€ per person for 32 days.
- Grocery shopping – 178€
- Eating out – 298€, if you make your own food and eat only breakfast or a sandwich you can save about 100€.
- Coffee, wine, beer – 49€
- Transport – 84€, bus Barcelona – Pamplona – 28€, bus Pamplona – St.Jean Pied de Port – 22€, train Santiago – Madrid – 34€.
- Laundry – 23€
- Other (SIM card, entrance fees, toiletries, etc.) – 50€
Total: 1152€ or 36€ per person per day.
What to pack for the Camino
My main tip here is not to pack too much unless you’re planning to use a backpack delivery service then it doesn’t matter and you can take the entire closet with you. Two essential things that you want to be good and comfortable are shoes and a backpack. Make sure you wear your shoes before and your feet are used to them if you buy a new pair of shoes your chances of getting bad blisters are pretty high. Find out more details on the best shoes for the Camino de Santiago.
We have a detailed Camino packing post where you can find what to pack for the Camino for different seasons for men and women.
What is the accommodation like on the French Camino?
Finding accommodation on the French Camino is very easy, there are many albergues, hotels, and pensions along the route. As I already mentioned albergues are the cheapest accommodation on the Camino. Albergues can be municipal which means they’re run by local municipalities and private. Municipal albergues are usually cheaper, bigger, and a bit less comfortable compared to private ones.
Most albergues have a couple of dormitories with bunk beds (sometimes one huge room with many beds) and shared facilities like a kitchen, toilets, and showers. Often in municipal albergues, you get disposable bedding (a bed sheet and a pillow casing).
Challenges you may encounter in albergues, especially in municipal as they’re usually bigger and accommodate more people;
- Snorers, make sure to pack earplugs you’ll definitely have people snoring in your dorms.
- Lining up to use showers, washing machines, cooking utensils, checking in, etc. My advice is after you checked in don’t make your bed or unpack your backpack, grab your stuff, and go to the shower sometimes there are only two or three of them for 30 or 40 people.
- Being woken up at 4.30am because some people start walking at 5am and even if they try to be quiet they still wake you up.
If staying in dormitories doesn’t sound very appealing and you rather pay extra money to have more comfort and privacy you can stay in hotels and pensions. If you’re planning to walk the French route in high season (May to September) I’d recommend booking hotels in advance from my experience (I walked the French Way in September) private rooms were usually fully booked and in many places it was very difficult to find a well priced private room on arrival. You’ll definitely have more comfort if you stay in hotels but just for the experience, I’d suggest spending at least one night in the albergue.
|Facilities||Municipal albergues||Private albergues||Hotels|
|Only for pilgrims||yes||no||no|
|Need a Credential to stay||yes||no||no|
As for booking in advance, I’d recommend doing it in the peak season, particularly in some places. First of all in Roncesvalles (there is only one albergue for 200 people and two expensive hotels) especially if you’re starting from there and arriving late by bus. Zubiri is a small town and a very popular stop on the second day. O Cebreiro is another small town with one municipal albergue and a couple of pensions.
The French Camino vs other Camino routes
Our readers often ask us “What is your favorite Camino?”. These kinds of questions are always difficult to answer but after walking seven different Camino routes over the last two years we have got our favorites. We liked different Camino routes for different reasons, some for the breathtaking scenery, some for being off the beaten track, some for offering a great cultural experience and so on every Camino has something special.
If we have to choose we’d say for the scenery the Camino del Norte is probably our favorite. Walking next to the ocean for at least half of the way is an amazing experience. The Camino Primitivo was another route that we really enjoyed despite the rainy weather and the muddy path. It’s possible to combine the French Way with the Camino Primitivo. From Leon, you can walk to Oviedo following the Camino de San Salvador, one of the lesser-known Camino routes, and from there continue to Santiago on the Camino Primitivo.
We do a lot of hiking in the mountains and the Primitivo was the closest you can get on the Camino to real hiking. The Portuguese Camino was a great experience because you get to walk through two countries; Portugal and Spain and if you choose the Coastal Route you walk next to the ocean.
The French Camino offers an amazing cultural experience. You walk through some incredible Spanish cities with great history and architecture like Pamplona, Burgos, León, and Astorga. Their astonishing cathedrals and fortresses just blow you away.
As for the scenery on the French route, I really enjoyed the very beginning of the walk, the mountain part from St.Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona as well as the part from Astorga to Molinaseca and the walk to O Cebreiro. I really enjoy walking in the mountains. As for the famous Meseta a long stretch between Burgos and Astorga through plains and fields I’m not a big fan of this kind of scenery. This part reminded me of some stages of the Portuguese Camino from Lisbon and the Via de la Plata. I know many pilgrims enjoy this particular part but for me, it got quite monotonous after a couple of days.
Another reason in favor of choosing the French Camino is the social life you are never alone, it’s easy to find company or a friend to walk with or just to talk to in the evening. I walked the French Way of St.James alone and was never bored or lonely.
French Camino FAQ
Will I be lonely if I walk the Camino alone?
The French Way was one of the few Camino routes that I walked alone without my husband. In the beginning, I had to adjust to it but I definitely can say I didn’t feel lonely. There are many pilgrims walking this route and your chances of not seeing a person for a couple of hours are pretty small. By the end of the first week you know quite a lot of people and always can find somebody to walk with, to talk to, to eat lunch or to drink a glass of wine. I sometimes felt overwhelmed by all the people and talking.
Is it safe to walk the French Way of St.James alone as a woman?
Safety for female pilgrims is one of the most frequently asked Camino questions we get. I walked alone for 780km and never felt unsafe on the French Camino. As I said you hardly ever walk alone there are usually other pilgrims on the route but even when I had an hour or so walking on my own I never felt any danger. If for whatever reason you feel intimidated or unsafe you always can team up with another pilgrim there are many people walking the Camino solo.
Will it be difficult to communicate on the French Camino if I don’t speak Spanish?
If you don’t speak any Spanish don’t worry about it most pilgrims are not Spanish. The majority of people I met on the French route could speak pretty good English. In fact, on this route, there were really many pilgrims from the US, Canada, and the UK compared to the other Camino routes English here was probably the most spoken language. As for local people, many of them don’t speak English though those who work in albergues or hotels do there is always someone around who can help and translate for you.
Which Camino route is the best to walk for a first-timer?
Out of the long-distance routes, I’d say the French Way is probably the best because it has the most infrastructure for pilgrims, distances between albergues are not that long you can easily walk 20km a day and find a place to sleep. If you want just to try the Camino and aren’t ready to commit to walking for one month you can choose a shorter route like the Camino Inglés or the Camino Finisterre or walk the last 100km on the Camino Francés from Sarria.
Recommended books and guidebooks for the French Way of St.James
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago; Camino Frances by John Brierley. Paperback, 2021
- Camino de Santiago Maps (Camino Francés): St. Jean Pied de Port – Santiago de Compostela by John Brierley. Paperback, 2022
- Ordinary Magic Promises I Kept to My Mother Through Life, Illness, and a Very Long Walk on the Camino de Santiago by Cameron Powell. Paperback.
The French Camino de Santiago planning resources
- Plan your walk on the French Camino with our itinerary | The Camino Francés walking stages – detailed guide |
- Find out more about alternative Camino routes | Different routes of the Camino de Santiago |
- Get useful tips for planning the pilgrimage | Tips for planning & walking the Camino de Santiago |
- Learn how to get the Compostela after finishing the Camino | Getting the Compostela in Santiago |
- Explore the Cathedral of Santiago with a knowledgeable guide | Cathedral & Museum Guided tour |
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The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.
Saturday 13th of May 2023
Wanted to know, if we can get by without carrying cash. Is a credit card good enough?
Sunday 14th of May 2023
Hello. I would recommend having some cash, 50 euros or so. Not all places especially in smaller towns accept cards. Most public albergues don't if you want to stay there you'll need cash. Buen Camino
Thursday 26th of January 2023
Thank you for all of this wonderful information. You mentioned roughly 20 km in between towns (I appreciate that this will vary). Is there a town route/ accommodation guide available in anywhere or in any of the books you recommend?
Friday 27th of January 2023
Hello Aingie. Thank you for the comment. In the third paragraph of this post you can find downloadable PDFs one contains walking stages for the French Way with distances and all towns along the route and the second one contains a list of places to stay on the French Camino. Using these 2 files you can f=plan your walk and book accommodation if you wish so. Buen Camino
Monday 3rd of October 2022
Would like to walk the Camino, French Way, sometime during the Spring of 2023. Would like to acquire a walking partner for the journey. I am an American male and enjoy good health and vigor. I would like to do it mainly as a Spiritual pilgrimage, but would also like to gain all the cultural benefits that are offered along the way. I only speak English and a few words in Spanish. Please e-mail me if you or others might be interested in talking about this. I did live in Europe for 18 months during 1984-86.
Tuesday 20th of September 2022
Very insightful info. You mentioned about the asphalt road, etc. I prefer nature trails, do you have a list where those roads are so I can avoid them? I understand there are buses and trains along or near the French way, but I can’t find any info if someone has used them here and there. I’d like to know the availability of various transportation as a backup plan, do you have any info to share? Thanks.
Tuesday 20th of September 2022
Hello Shouee. Thank you for the comment. I don't have a list of roads on the French Camino it's pretty impossible to compile a list like that. Every day you walk, say 3 km on asphalt then 2 km on a footpath, 1 km on the road, then back on asphalt etc. Different surfaces alter all the time. We have a detailed post on the stages of the French Way where you can find information on how much asphalt and road you get every day https://stingynomads.com/camino-frances-walking-itinerary/. You can eliminate days with the most asphalt and road and walk. There are buses and trains between different towns and cities on the Camino. Before finding information on transportation it's better to decide which stages you want to skip. The Fench Way is not a hike most of the time the route goes through towns, cities, and populated areas. I'm not sure if it's the right route for you if you enjoy nature trails. It's not a hike in nature. As an alternative, there is the Camino Primitivo https://stingynomads.com/camino-primitivo-stages/. It's a different Camino de Santiago route that starts in Oviedo and finishes in Santiago de Compostela. Out of all Camino routes that one is the closest to a hike in nature. There you walk through the forest and over the mountains mainly on a footpath with little asphalt and road. I hope it helps. Buen Camino
Thursday 11th of August 2022
Hi Alya, thanks for all your great articles. I am currently thinking about walking one of the caminos starting at the beginning of October. I would like to walk one that is not too busy, have enough accommodation options still open in October and not too quiet for a single female hiker. It sounds to me based on your blog that you really enjoyed the Primitivo, I am just wondering if there will be enough albergue still open at that time? Appreciate your feedback!
Friday 12th of August 2022
Hello Susan. Thank you very much for the comment. Based on your description I would suggest walking the Portuguese Camino from Porto. In October none of the Camino routes even the French Way won't be very busy it's outside of the season. I'm sure there will still be pilgrims on the Portuguese Route. It has plenty of accommodation options most albergues will still be open in October. As for Primitivo October is a bit late in the season for that route. It's very likely you'll get a lot of rain the route goes over the mountains and the climate there is very unpredictable. Plus, there will be fewer pilgrims in October walking that Camino. Buen Camino