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The Northern Camino de Santiago – a 2023 guide

The Northern Way of St.James is a spectacular combination of beautiful coastline passing beaches and fishermen’s villages and green mountains, pasture fields, and lush forest. If you want to see both; the sea and the mountains the Northern Way is a great route to walk. This Camino is also known as one of the toughest routes of the Camino de Santiago due to its mountainous terrain with frequent climbs and drops. If you want to escape the crowds and go more off the beaten track, the Northern Way is a great alternative to the popular French Camino de Santiago.

Beautiful morning scenery of the Asturian coast in Northern Spain
Stunning scenery on the Northern Camino de Santiago in Asturias

The Northern Way route overview

  • The Northern Camino is one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago.
  • Total distance – 835 km.
  • Starting point – Irún, a town in the Basque Country on the border with France.
  • Finishing point – Santiago de Compostela.
  • Accommodation – public & private albergues, hostels, and hotels.
  • Average cost – 30 Euro per person per day.
  • The route is marked with yellow arrows and shells.
  • The Camino can be walked, cycled, or done on a horse.
  • The Northern Way crosses four Spanish regions: the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia.

For a detailed day-by-day itinerary that includes walking stages, distances, places to stay, highlights, and challenges of the Camino check out our Camino del Norte walking stages post.

A recap of one day of a pilgrim on the Northern Camino

The Northern Camino free downloadable PDFs

You can download our free PDF files with walking stages and places to stay on the Northern Way of St.James.

Travel insurance for the Camino

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What is the Northern Camino route?

The Northern Camino or the Camino del Norte is a long-distance pilgrimage route across Northern Spain to the tomb of Apostle St.James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It’s one of the main Camino de Santiago routes.

If you have time I’d suggest resting for a couple of days after completing the Northern Camino there are many great things to do in Santiago de Compostela.

How long does it take to walk the Northern Camino de Santiago?

It takes between 30 and 35 days on average to complete the Northern Camino from Irun to Santiago de Compostela. The time depends on how far you walk every day and how many rest days (if any) you take.

Is the Camio del Norte difficult?

Yes, the Northern Camino is a challenging route. It’s considered one of the most difficult Camino de Santiago routes in Spain. First of all because of the long distance, over 800 km. Second, the route has many ascents and descents and some long walking days. For inexperienced walkers, I would recommend training for the Camino de Santiago beforehand.

The historical center of Castro Urdiales and the harbor
The Cathedral and the harbor of Castro Urdiales from the Camino route

Where does the Northern Camino start?

The Northern Camino de Santiago starts in Irun, a small town in Northern Spain on the border with France. You can start walking from anywhere along the route depending on how far you want to walk and how much time you have.

The most popular starting points of the Northern Camino

Name of the placeDistance to Santiago
Irún835 km
San Sebastian808 km
Bilbao680 km
Santander556 km
Gijón348 km
Avilés324 km
Castromaior114 km
Distances to Santiago de Compostela from different cities along the Northern Camino

If you want to get a Compostela certificate for completing the Camino you have to walk at least the last 100 km to Santiago. Other than that there are no rules or requirements. You can start walking somewhere closer to Santiago or start in Irún and skip some parts by taking a bus.

If you’d like to walk the entire route but don’t have enough time to do it at once you can break it down into several parts and walk it over a couple of years, every time you have a chance. Many Spanish people walk it this way.

How to get to the Camino del Norte?

The Norterhn Camino start in Irun. You can fly there or take a bus or train. If you come from overseas the easiest way is to fly to Madrid first and from there get to Irun.

Flying to Irun

The nearest to Irun airport is San Sebastian airport, just 6 km outside the town. There are direct flights only from Spanish cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, and Malaga. If you come from overseas you can first fly to one of these cities and from there to San Sebastian. The flights are operated by Vueling (Barcelona ad Madrid) and Volotéa (Malaga, Sevilla, and Valencia). You can find out departure times and prices on their websites. There is a shuttle bus that runs between the airport and Irun with one connection in Ondarriba.

Gettig to Irun by bus

The easiest way of getting to Irun by bus is from Madrid. There are several daily direct buses. The journey takes between 6 and 7 hours. You can find out departure times and prices on the ALSA website. There are direct buses to Irun from Bilbao, Pamplona, Oviedo, Burgos, and Santander. To get to Irun from Barcelona first, you get a bus to Pamplona and from there another bus to Irun.

Getting to Irun by train

You can get to Irun by train from many Spanish cities with one connection. Find out information on the trains to Irun on the Renfe website.

Backpack delivery service on the Northern Camino

If you don’t want to walk with a heavy backpack you can use a luggage transfer service. In this case, you don’t have to worry about packing your backpack light you can bring pretty much anything you want. The Spanish post office Correos offers luggage transfer service on the Northern Way of St.James.

In the 2023 Camino season, they offer backpack delivery on the Camino del Norte between the 1st of April and the 31st of October. There is no backpack delivery service offseason. The average cost is 8-9 euros per backpack per stage, depending on the distance.

It works very easily, you leave your backpack in the morning at the reception. The company picks it up and delivers it to your next accommodation place. By the time you arrive your backpack will be there. You can arrange the delivery in advance or make up your mind once you start walking.

If you decide to use the service it’s important to remember that it’s usually impossible to deliver backpacks to public albergues. The main reason is that you can’t book a bed in a public albergue it works on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if your backpack is delivered there earlier it won’t guarantee you a spot in the albergue until you arrive there. Delivery is usually arranged between private albergues and hotels, these can be booked in advance.

When is the best time for walking?

In our experience (we’ve walked several Caminos in different seasons) the best time is just before or just after the peak season; May – June, and September – October. First of all, it’s not too hot but still nice and warm but your chances to get rain are higher. Second, it’s not too busy, there are significantly fewer people compared to July and August.

To walk the Northern Way completely off-season (November – February) is quite tricky; it rains a lot, it gets quite cold and windy, plus many albergues are closed for the off-season – finding accommodation might become a problem. As for walking in the peak season we are not big fans of overcrowded Camino, plus heat makes you more tired and exhausted but if it’s the only time you have – it’s absolutely doable.

How much does it cost to walk the Camino del Norte?

Accommodation 

The Basque country is one of the most expensive Spanish provinces, especially the touristy coastal part. Usually being a pilgrim is cheaper than being an ordinary tourist at least accommodation costs you less because you can stay in albergues.

Hotels and pensions can be a good alternative off-season when prices are lower. The price for a double room with a private bathroom is between 50 and 60 Euros. In the summer months, this type of accommodation will be more expensive, between 70 and 80 Euros, and must be booked in advance, especially in places like San Sebastián and other beach towns.

Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia are more or less at the same price level. There are more public albergues there, and some of them are open all year. Public albergues are around 8 Euro, private albergues/hostels cost around 15 Euros, there are some albergues for donations.

For a private double room (with a bathroom) in these three provinces, you’ll pay an average of 50 Euros, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the location and facilities of the place. The cheapest double room we got was in Asturias for 25 Euro with a private bathroom. The most expensive one was in Gijón for 60 Euro but it was a great place. In the high season (July-August) prepare to pay more for hotels. 

The cost of accommodation will be lower if you walk the Northern Camino off-season.

A sunset view of the historical center of Comillas, Northern Way
The charming town of Comillas on the Northern Camino de Santiago

Food

Food on the Camino de Santiago is a part of the experience. Northern Spain in particular the Basque is known for its food; pintxos with seafood, fish, and vegetables. The region is known as one of the world’s best destinations for food lovers. At the beginning of the trip, you don’t feel like spending a lot of money on food but pintxos and seafood dishes in the Basque Country are a must-try. The other three provinces have delicious food as well with a great variety of fish, seafood, meat, and vegetables.

Eating out costs more or less the same everywhere on the Northern Camino. Menu del Día (set lunch) is between 10 and 15 Euros, depending on the restaurant, area, and food quality. A cup of black coffee – 2 Euros, coffee with milk – 2,50 Euros. Breakfast (toast with jam and butter and coffee) – 5 Euros, English breakfast – 10 Euros. Dinner at a restaurant is between 20 and 25 Euro pp.

Shopping

Food prices in different provinces are more or less the same. The main difference is between buying food in a big supermarket or in a small grocery shop, the second one is usually more expensive. Average shopping will cost you between 6 and 9 Euro per person for 2 meals (dinner and breakfast).

Set up your budget

  • Accommodation – 8 Euros pp. for municipal albergues; 15 Euros (sometimes 20 Euro) pp. for private albergues and hostels. Hotels (a double room) from 30 Euro (the cheapest) pp., in some places 40+ Euro.
  • Eating out – average 12 Euros for Menu del Día; 2 Euros for a cup of coffee; 5 Euros breakfast with coffee; 2 Euros for a pintxo; 20-25 Euro for a restaurant dinner, 10 Euro for a dinner at the albergue (many private albergues serve communal dinner).
  • Shopping – between 8 and 10 Euros pp. per day.
  • Laundry – most places charge 3-4 Euros for washing and the same for drying.
  • Luggage transfer – 8-9 Euros per backpack per stage.
The modern center of Santander, Spain
The view of Santander from the bridge at the Centro Botín

Our budget breakdown for the Northern Camino

For 2 people, 30 days

  • Accommodation300 Euro or 10 Euro per person per day. If you walk in the peak season (July, August) when all the public albergues are open you can lower the cost down to 200 Euro pp. (about 7 Euro per night on average).
  • Shopping180 Euro or 6 Euro pp. per day. We tried to cook our own food every time we had a kitchen or bought ready-made salads or microwave meals.
  • Eating out (coffee, pintxos, menus) – 220 Euro or 7,3 Euro pp. per day.
  • Other (mainly laundry, occasional medicine) –  20 Euro per person.
A four color pie-chart showing our spending on the Northern Camino
Our budget breakdown for the Northern Way of St.James

In total, we spent 720 Euro per person in 30 days or 24 Euro per person per day. We didn’t try to budget too much and stayed a couple of times in private hotels, went out for drinks, and sometimes ate Menu del Dia. As I already mentioned we walked during the offseason and some public albergues were closed but hotels and hostels were cheaper.

If you really try to budget, stay only in public or donation albergues, don’t eat out, and buy food in supermarkets – the Camino will work out about 25 Euros pp. per day. For a comfortable walk (still staying in albergues, not hotels), eating Menu del Dia, stopping for coffee, and going out sometimes – set up your budget for 35 Euros per person per day.

More details on the cost of the Camino can be found in our The cost of walking the Camino de Santiago – a detailed breakdown post.

What to pack for the Camino del Norte?

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We’ve walked seven different Camino de Santiago routes in different seasons and in all kinds of weather. Here are some items we always pack on the Camino regardless of what route we walk and what month.

  • Merino Wool Socks – Merino Wool socks are not a gimmick, our days of walking in cheap socks are over. With merino wool socks you have fewer blisters and they don’t “stink”.
  • Headlamp – you’ll need one to use in a dorm if you want to read or need to find something in your backpack when the light is off.
  • Kindle E-book – Carry whatever books you want, very light, built-in light, and the battery lasts a week.
  • Neck Pouch/Passport holder – keep cash and passports together
  • GoPro Hero11 is a great thing to have if you want to make a video about your Camino. It’s very small and light, waterproof, and easy to use, and the quality of the footage is amazing.
  • Remember that choosing the right walking shoes and a comfortable backpack for the Camino is essential.

We have a detailed Camino de Santiago packing post where you can find the complete list of items recommended to take on the Camino for men and women for different seasons.

Colorful houses along the river bank in Bilbao, Spain
The view of the historical center of Bilbao from one of the bridges

Best guidebooks for the Camino del Norte

We usually use Camino guidebooks by John Briely. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have one of the Northern Camino. The options are quite limited.

What is the accommodation like?

The Camino has a wide network of albergues – special hostels for pilgrims. Albergues can be public, run by a local municipality, and private, run by a person or a company. Public (municipal) albergues are exclusively for pilgrims with a Credential walking or cycling the Camino. Public albergues are the cheapest accommodation option on the Northern Way. They cost around 8 Euros per person.

Private albergues usually allow tourists but most of the time people staying there are pilgrims. A bed in a private albergues costs 12-15 Euros. Both public and private albergues have dormitory rooms with several beds and shared facilities. Private albergues usually have better facilities than public ones.

FeaturesPublic alberguesPrivate albergues
Can be bookednoyes
Only for pilgrims yesno
Need a Credential to stayyesno
Allow luggage deliverynoyes
Price8 Euros12-15 Euros
Facilities
Hot showeryesyes
Kitchenusuallyusually
Wi-fisometimesyes
Restaurantnousually
Washing machineusuallyusually
Comparing public and private albergues
San Sebastian on a beautiful sunny day
San Sebastian is probably the most beautiful city on the Northern Camino de Santiago

Many municipal and private albergues on the Northern Way are closed for the offseason if you walk the route between November and February it’s better to check beforehand if the albergue you’re planning to stay in is open or not. 

Most places along the Camino have hotels or guesthouses. These are more expensive but much more comfortable. If you can afford it I’d recommend from time to time staying in a private room. It’s nice to have some privacy and be able to rest well without being disturbed. We usually stay one or two nights a week in a private room.

We haven’t seen many campsites on the Northern Camino there are some but most of them are off the route. We met a couple of people carrying a tent on the route but they ended up staying in public albergues instead of wild camping.

How busy is the Camino del Norte?

The Camino del Norte is the third most popular Camino de Santiago route.

Best albergues on the Northern Camino

We couldn’t stay in every single albergue on the Northern Camino but we did some research beforehand to make sure we stayed in some of the highly-rated places. The list is based on our personal experience.

Monasterio de Zenarruza, the Basque Country

The location of the monastery is fantastic – at the top of the hill with stunning views over the area. The facilities here are quite basic but to stay in a monastery like old times pilgrims is an invaluable experience. The monks receive you very well, it’s one of the few monasteries or churches on the Camino that actually helps and takes care of pilgrims. Here you get a bed, dinner, and breakfast all for donation.

Albergue La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto (private), Güemes, Cantabria

This albergue is a special experience and a must-stop on the Northern Way. Probably 80% of all pilgrims who walk the Camino stay there. The place is a big house where you feel like a part of a big family. The facilities here are great; dormitories with big bunk beds, hot showers, wi-fi, a big yard, a dining area, washing machines, etc. Everything you can find in a good private albergue.

The owner is Padre Ernesto, a priest that traveled all over the world helping people in need. He’s now in his 80 but still very active, has an incredible memory, and is actively involved in all the projects. This albergue is the place where people (pilgrims) get to know each other, sit at one table for dinner, and make acquaintances.

View of Albergue La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto from the backyard
Albergue La Cabaña del Abuelo Peuto, our favorite albergue on the Northern Way of St.James

Albergue de peregrinos de San Martín de Laspra (private), Asturias

Another home-like albergue where you feel comfortable and very welcome. It’s a big two-story house with a great host, good facilities, and a nice atmosphere. We were there off-season, only four people stayed that night but it must be a great place to stay in season. There is a kitchen with a big table in the middle – a good place to socialize, meet new people, and cook together. The albergue has good facilities; the kitchen with all you need for cooking, wi-fi, hot water, heating, a washing machine, blankets, etc.

Albergue O Xistral (private), Castromaior, Galicia

One of the prettiest albergues on the Camino with great facilities, very cozy and warm – a place you want to stay longer without any reason, just because you feel comfortable. It’s a great place to chill and rest, especially if you, like us, arrive there all wet and cold, it was so nice to sit by the fire and enjoy being warm and dry. The albergue is an old house (16th century) that was upgraded and renovated from the inside though from the outside it still looks like a traditional Galician farmhouse. My favorite part of the albergue was the rain shower with colorful lights, it was definitely the best shower on the Northern Camino.

Albergue de peregrinos de Sobrado dos Monxes, Galicia

Another “must-stay” albergue on the Northern Way. The monastery complex is massive and very impressive, you just can’t stop looking around and discovering new details. In a way I liked this monastery and its cathedral more than the cathedral of Santiago, it has this “noble patina” you can literally see how much time passed and how long it’s been here. Staying inside the monastery in one of the cells with its thick walls and incredible echo is something very special and different.

The best parts of the Camino del Norte

These are in our opinion the most beautiful walking stages of the Northern Camino de Santiago.

Irún to San Sebastián (the Basque Country) – sea scenery, cliffs, forest, beaches. Incredible views from the top before descending to Pasaia and stunning views on the way from Pasaia to San Sebastián.

San Sebastián to Getaria (the Basque Country) – beaches, green hills, the sea. Great views from the lookout before Zarautz and beautiful Paseo Maritimo (promenade) from Zarautz to Getaria.

Laredo to Noja (Cantabria) –  a nice beach walk in Laredo to the ferry, beautiful sea scenery on the way from Santoña to Noja.

emes to Santander (Cantabria) – if you’re lucky with the weather it might be one of the most beautiful walking days on the Northern Way. Most of the time you walk on the edge of the cliffs, by the sea, past some beautiful hidden beaches. Walking barefoot on the sand of Playa Somo for a couple of kilometers is incredible.

Santillana del Mar to Comillas (Cantabria) – a nice forest walk with a couple of small towns on the way, a beautiful view of Comillas and the coast on the last 2km.

Comillas to San Vicente de la Barquera (Cantabria)  – breathtaking scenery with cliffs, ocean, beaches, and green hills, I just wanted to live in one of the houses on the top of those green hills overlooking the sea.

A spectacular scenery of the sunrise in the Northern coast of Spain
The spectacular scenery on the way from Comillas to San Vicente de la Barquera, one of our favorite walking days on the Northern Way

Colombres to Llanes (Asturias)  – if you take the coastal route Sendero de la Costa you’ll get some incredible views, plus you’ll walk past Bufones de Arenillas (seawater geysers).

Soto de Luiña to Cadavedo (Asturias) – if you walk along the coast you’ll get some spectacular views. 2km before Cadavedo do a detour and go to the beach first from there go up to Ermita de la Regalina (small chapel), you’ll get some stunning views from there. 

Tapia de Casariego to Ribadeo (Asturias-Galicia) – the last bit of walking by the sea, after Ribadeo the route turns inland. The last 5km to Ribadeo was the most picturesque with great viewpoints. The bridge Puente dos Santos looks quite impressive from Figueras’s side as well.

Mondoñedo to Gontán (Galicia) – unlike most of the previous walking stages on the Norther Way this one has nothing to do with the sea, only mountains, and forest. It is beautiful and remote, there is quite an uphill walk on the route try still to enjoy the scenery.

The worst walking day on the Northern Way

The walk from Gijón to Avilés – basically 25km (except 3km somewhere in the middle) is along the busy roads or through industrial areas, if you’re thinking of skipping a stage it’s one to skip. I hate walking next to the highways all the noise gets on my nerves if you add to these dull industrial areas with grey fences and chimneys – it’s the worst combination.  

Northern Camino FAQs

Is there a lot of road walking on the Northern Camino?

There were some roads and sidewalks on the route like on any other Camino. If I must compare the Northern Way with other Caminos we’ve done – there was less walking on asphalt or cobblestones than on the Portuguese Way but more than on the Primitivo. For the first couple of days, the route goes most of the time on the path or beach, with not many roads.

Most of the time you get asphalt or roads when you walk in or out of the big cities – usually the least pleasant part of the Camino e.g. walking out of Bilbao, walking from Gijón to Avilés, walking out of Santander.

Is the Northern Way a good route to walk as the first Camino?

Yes. For many people, we met walking the Northern Camino was their first Camino ever, they all were fine and finished it at the same time as us. I don’t think you need any special Camino experience or you have to walk the French Way first – just follow the tips that experienced pilgrims give and take good care of your feet – you’ll be fine. I wouldn’t recommend walking the Via de la Plata as the first Camino because it’s longer, over 1000 km, with less infrastructure and longer stages but del Norte is absolutely fine.

Is the Northern Camino the most beautiful route?

It’s always difficult to compare and to choose the best or the favorite one. We did enjoy this Camino a lot, it’s a great combination of beautiful nature; the sea and mountain scenery, and cultural experience. Another thing we liked about this Camino is that you walk through four different regions which gives you a great opportunity to compare them, see the differences between the regions, and admire how the scenery, food, and even languages change as you go.

Which route to choose the French or the Northern Camino?

It depends on what you want to see and experience. On the French Camino, you don’t see the sea the route goes inland all the way from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela. The Northern Way follows the coast, it doesn’t mean you see the sea every day for weeks but you do walk quite a lot next to the ocean, past unspoiled beaches, and breathtaking look-outs.

On the other hand, the French Way has more infrastructure and many more public albergues than the Northern Way which makes the walk cheaper. In general, the Northern coast of Spain is more touristy and as a result more expensive than the inland regions. After walking both routes I can say that the Northern Way definitely is more expensive than the Camino Frances but the scenery is more impressive on this route.

You can find more answers to your questions in our Camino de Santiago FAQ post.

The Northern Way of St.James planning resources

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Susie

Monday 25th of September 2023

Hi there,

We only want to walk about 7 days and about 10 miles per day and really wanted to find out about transportation in some of the smaller towns. Any suggestions. Great information.

Stingy Nomads

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

Hello Susie. Thank you for the comment. Since you have one week and want to walk 10 miles a day maybe it's better to look at shorter Camino routes e.g. Portuguese Camino from Porto, Camino Ingles, or Finisterre? These routes are shorter and have more accommodation options compared to the Northern route sometimes you might not find a place to stay in 10 miles and will have to walk on. It's difficult to say about transportation without knowing what towns are you referring to. There are buses and trains between cities and towns on the Northern Camino in the worst case you can always take a taxi to get you to the bus or train station. Buen Camino

john

Wednesday 6th of September 2023

Hey im currently hiking the camino and have done the Norte. Im coming up to Gijon. I was contemplating veering off and doing the camino primitivo from Gijon. Which would you say is better the Camino Primitivo or the Avilas to Santiago?

Stingy Nomads

Friday 8th of September 2023

Hello John. It's difficult to say which route is better. If you want to continue walking along the coast then stay on del Norte. If you want a change of scenery and enjoy hiking in the mountains then switch to the Camino Primitivo. I didn't like the Gijon to Aviles stage at all it's probably the worst stay on the Northern route. Other then that it was all fine. Consider the weather conditions as well. If it rain walking on the footpath in the mountains is not very nice. Buen Camino

Isolde Andrä

Friday 4th of August 2023

Great Information, thank you

Maddie

Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Thank you so much for all these resources! My partner and I are planning to hike the Camino del Norte starting September 19. We’re on a tight budget and upon looking into booking some accommodation ahead on booking.com we are concerned that in many places we don’t see any accommodations for under $75-100 usd and we can’t spent more than around $50. Are there other ways to book ahead or will this route cost that much? We saw as well that you advise that the Camino del Norte has fewer public albergues and they will likely be closed in October. Thank you!

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 2nd of August 2023

Hello Maddie. Thank you for the comment. The Northern Camino does work out more expensive than other Camino routes. That part of Spain is quite pricy and touristy especially in the summer. Once you're out of the Basque Country and Cantabria it gets cheaper. In October accommodation is cheaper as well compared to September. Keep in mind that there is an annual movie festival in San Sebastian between 22nd and 30th September. It's a big event that can influence prices and availability of places to stay in the area. You can try to plan your walk the way you stay as much as possible in public albergues and hostels. I don't remember us paying 100$ per night on the Northern Camino but we managed to stay almost every night in dormitories. Buen Camino

Anna

Thursday 27th of July 2023

This is an incredibly helpful compilation of information! I am heavily debating doing the Camino del norte or the Camino Portuguese, this would be end of September into October. My preference would be to mainly do public alburgues or private alburgues, would you say I’d be okay to not book in advance for this timeframe and just pivot to a price of the public is full at the time of arrival? Are there enough of these on one route vs the other? I’m feeling very drawn to the del norte. Thank you!!

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 27th of July 2023

Hello Anna. Thank you for the comment. From our experience the Camino del Norte has fewer public and private albergues compared to the Portuguese Camino from Porto. For this reason del Norte works out more expensive than the Portuguese route. If you're on a budget I would suggest the Portuguese Camino. If you would like to walk along the coast you can do the Coastal Route of the Portuguese Camino from Porto and incorporate the Spiritual Variant to it that way you walk almost all the way from Porto to Santiago. End of September - beginning of October you should be fine without booking accommodation in advance. There are enough public albergues on the route so you can plan your walk the way you stay in public albergues almost every night. Buen Camino

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