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The French Camino de Santiago – a 2024 guide

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. It is the most popular Camino route. According to the Pilgrims’ Reception Office in 2023 219 792 people walked the French route. Pilgrims start their walk from different towns along the Camino. 60% of all pilgrims on the French Camino walk the last 100 km from Sarria

Alto del Perdon, a metal monument showing pilgrims on the French Camino
Alto del Perdon is the most recognizable landmark on the French Camino de Santiago

You can find more information on walking stages, distances, elevations, stops along the route, and albergues in our post “Camino Frances walking stages“.

The French Camino 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 quiet roads with almost no cars
  • Average cost – 30 Euro per person per day
  • Accommodation – albergues, hotels, guesthouses
  • Route marking – yellow shells and arrows
A video capturing my day on the French Camino de Santiago

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.

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.

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 route?

The 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. There are plenty of beautiful towns on the French Camino if you need to take a rest day.

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 they want to walk.

The beautiful Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela the end of the French route

Where can I start walking the Camino?

Name of the placeDistance to Santiago
Le Puy (France)1490 km
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port770 km
Roncesvalles746 km
Pamplona702 km
Logroño606 km
Burgos483 km
León319 km
Astorga267 km
O Cebreiro162 km
Sarria 116 km
Distances to Santiago from the main cities and towns of the French Camino

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. Public buses don’t go 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.

Route marking on the French Camino de Santiago
Yellow arrows and shells mark the route on the French Way of St.James in Spain

The best guidebook

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 pilgrim who has never done a long-distance walk. So training for the Camino de Santiago is important.

How to get to the starting point?

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.

A simple info graphic with the best way of getting to St.Jean Pied de Port by public transport
Best ways of getting to St.Jean Pied de Port from France and Spain

Either way via France or Spain you’ll have to make at least one switch 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.

Our video on the Meseta part of the French Camino de Santiago

Backpack delivery on the French route

It’s possible to walk the French Way of St.James without a backpack several luggage transfer services can deliver your backpack between accommodations (door-to-door service) daily. 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 7€ per backpack per stage. The backpacks are picked up in the morning at the reception and delivered by lunchtime. Correos, Pilbeo, and Xacotrans (from O Cebreiro to Santiago) are some companies offering luggage transfers.

What is the best section of the route?

The answer to this question depends on your preferences. I 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.

The scenery at the beginning of the French Camino on the way from St.Jean to Roncesvalles

What is the best month to walk?

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 and 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 many 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 is hot and dry, especially in the part of the Meseta, you’ll have to start walking 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. There are not many people walking the Camino in August. Everybody knows it’s hot, and people don’t want to walk in the heat.

Walking 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 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 a solitary walk. 

The Camino in fall vs spring

How much does it cost?

The Camino can be done on a very tight budget spending 25€ daily. If you don’t mind paying more and want more comfort your cost can be between 40 and 50€ per person per day. Here is a detailed breakdown of the Camino cost.

Accommodation

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 13€ and 16€. Prices for private accommodation start from 30€ for a single room and 40€ for a double room.

The accommodation makes a huge difference to your budget. If you stay in municipal albergues your walk will be 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 sometimes. I used to book at least once a week (every fourth or fifth night) a private room where I could rest, take a long shower, and enjoy being alone.

Eating out

Not surprisingly eating out is more expensive than making food but sometimes on the Camino, you’re too tired to cook or want to go out with other pilgrims. Besides trying local food on the Camino is a part of the experience so I’d suggest eating out from time to time to get a taste of Spain.

A standard breakfast (coffee, orange juice, croissant/sandwich/toast) you can find everywhere on the French Way costs 4€. Most of the day I stopped for breakfast because I 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. 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 12€ sometimes it’s good and big, and sometimes it’s not amazing and not that much. 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€.

Grocery shopping

The cheapest option is buying food in supermarkets. Staying in albergues will help with spending less on food because most of the albergues have a kitchen, unlike hotels. Most 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 7€ 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. 

Average cost of accommodation, food and services on the Camino
A table with average prices of accommodation and food on the French Way of St.James

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 municipal albergues, and 16 nights 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 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.

A pie-chart with a breakdown of my expenses on the French Way
A pie chart of all my expenses on the French Way in 32 days, in Euro
The beautiful Gothic cathedral of Burgos, Spain
Stunning Cathedral of Burgos, one of the highlights of the French Way of Santiago

What to pack for the walk?

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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 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 and private. Municipal albergues are cheaper, bigger, and 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. In municipal albergues, you often 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 have people snoring in your dorms.
  • Lining up to use showers, washing machines, cooking utensils, checking in, etc. My advice is after you check-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 towns, it was difficult to find a well priced private room on arrival. You’ll have more comfort if you stay in hotels but just for the experience, I’d suggest spending at least one night in the albergue.

FacilitiesMunicipal alberguesPrivate alberguesHotels
Only for pilgrimsyesnono
Need a Credential to stayyesnono
Hot showeryesyesyes
Kitchenusuallyusuallyno
Wi-fiusuallyyesyes
Blanketssometimesusuallyyes
Washing machineusuallyusuallysometimes
Restaurantnousuallyusually
Advanced bookingrarelyyesyes
Luggage deliverysometimesyesyes
A table comparing facilities and requirements to stay in public or private albergues and hotels on the French Camino

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 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 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 several reasons, some for the breathtaking scenery, some for being off the beaten track, some for offering a great cultural experience, etc. Every Camino has something unique and 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 is an amazing experience. The Camino Primitivo was another route we 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 incredible Spanish cities with great history and architecture like Pamplona, Burgos, León, and Astorga. Their astonishing cathedrals and fortresses blow you away.

As for the scenery on the French route, I enjoyed the beginning of the walk, the mountain part from St.Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona, the part from Astorga to Molinaseca, and the walk to O Cebreiro. I love 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 someone to walk with or to talk to in the evening. I walked the French Way of St.James alone and was never bored or lonely.

French Way FAQ

Will I be lonely if I walk the Camino alone?

The French Way was one of the few Camino routes 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. Many pilgrims walk this route and your chances of walking alone are quite small. By the end of the first week you know quite a lot of people and always can find somebody to walk with or have lunch.

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 780 km 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 you feel intimidated or unsafe you can team up with another pilgrim many people walk 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. Many people I met on the French route could speak pretty good English. In fact, on this route, there were many pilgrims from the US, Canada, and the UK compared to the other Camino routes English here was probably the most spoken language. Many locals don’t speak English but 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 to try the Camino and aren’t ready to walk 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

Planning resources for the French route

Questions or Comments?

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Perry

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

I want to do the French. Camino but not spend 30 days. Is there a way to skip less desirable sections? If so, which sections?

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 13th of July 2023

Hello Perry. You can walk the last 100 km or 200 km to Santiago. You don't have to start the French Camino from St.Jean. If you do want to start there you can take a bus or a train (depending on where you are) and skip parts of the route. Many people do so in the Meseta part (the middle section of the French Camino between Burgos and Leon). If you want to get the Compostela certificate you have to walk at least the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela. Besides that there are no other rules you can skip any stages or walk as far as you want. Buen Camino

jc

Saturday 13th of May 2023

Wanted to know, if we can get by without carrying cash. Is a credit card good enough?

Stingy Nomads

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

Aingie

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?

Stingy Nomads

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

Anthony Dorsey

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.

Shouee

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.

Stingy Nomads

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

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