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Unforgettable Towns on the Camino de Santiago – The French Way.

In this post, we discuss some of the most incredible towns and cities on the Camino de Santiago the French Way. These are all great stops for rest days during your Camino Francés pilgrimage through northern Spain. The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes that start in different places across Europe and finish at the tomb of the Apostle St.James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

mountain scenery with a horse between St Jean pied de Port and Roncesvalles
Mountain scenery on the Camino Frances in the Pyrenees between the towns St Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles.

This is not just a long hike, it is a pilgrimage followed by millions since the Middle Ages. The Camino will challenge you on a breathtaking journey, filling your pilgrim passport with stamps while slowly making your way to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Camino de Santiago routes each offer a unique cultural and spiritual experience and you can start walking to Santiago from anywhere in Europe. There are seven main routes of the Camino de Santiago; Camino Frances, Camino Portuguese, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo, Via de la Plata, Camino Ingles, and Camino Finisterre. These Camino routes have great infrastructure for pilgrims and are well-marked, making it easy to follow the Way of St James. 

Also,  see Our Favorite Towns on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.

The Camino Francés

The Camino Francés starts in the small French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near the Spanish border. This is the most popular of all the Camino de Santiago routes. Also referred to as the Original Way of Saint James, this Camino de Santiago route from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela is a walk of 790 km/490 mi.  This wonderful pilgrimage route passes through tiny villages, small towns, and unreal historical cities. Along the way discover museums, cathedrals, important landmarks, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The French Route is walked by thousands of pilgrims every year crossing several regions in Northern Spain; Navarre, La Rioja, Castille and Leon, and Galicia. The most popular of the Camino routes takes around 30 days to walk the almost 800 km distance of the complete route. Most people who walk the Camino Frances do not complete the entire route but only walk the last 100 km from Sarria to Santiago. Here are some of our favorite villages, towns, and cities on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago.

beautiful town St Jean de pied de Port on the Camino Frances.
St Jean de Pied de Port is the first of many beautiful towns on the Camino Frances.

Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP)

St Jean Pied de Port is a small town on the French side of the Pyrenees where many start their pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Thousands of people arrive every year at this small village in the French Basque region to start their journey on the Camino de Santiago. The first day on the Camino for most is known as one of the toughest on the whole Camino. The climb starts right from St.Jean and finishes 21 km/13 mi later, the last 4 km/2,4 mi is a steep descent to Roncesvalles. Although called the French Camino, this pretty southern French town with its narrow whitewashed houses and steep cobbled streets is the only town in France where the majority of pilgrims spend a night, before walking the rest of the way in Spain. This iconic town is nestled at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains along the scenic River Nive. This winding river running through the town is crossed by several footbridges. A beautiful town with medieval charm where everything is about the Camino.

France is noticeably more expensive than Spain don’t worry if everything costs more than you expected, it should get better! Prices in St Jean Pied de Port are mostly higher than prices on the rest of the Camino going through Spain.  SJPDP is a very small town, and there are no direct transportation options from large cities in France or Spain. See our detailed guide on how to get to Saint Jean de Pied de Port.

Things to do in St Jean Pied de Port

See the Gate of St. James (Porte St Jacques) at the top of the hilltop village that welcomes pilgrims who started their pilgrimage before SJPDP

Don’t miss the views of the old houses with balconies overlooking the Nive from rue de la Citadelle crosses the river over a bridge.

Go to pilgrim mass at the beautiful Notre Dame Gothic Church.

Visit the 17th-century citadel overlooking the town.

Visit the the Saint Jean Pied de Port Pilgrim Office. They can answer any questions you have on the Camino, register here, and pick up an updated Albergue list for the complete route.

pilgrims at a public albergue in Saint Jean Pied de Port
Pilgrims outside a public albergue in the town Saint Jean Pied de Port in France at the start of the Camino Frances.

Tours in St Jean Pied de Port

Accommodation in St.Jean Pied de Port

There are many places to stay in St.Jean including one municipal albergue that gets full quickly in the season if you arrive after lunchtime your chances of getting a bed there are quite small.

Pamplona

Pamplona with its Gothic-style churches is one of the most beautiful cities on the Camino Frances. This is the first city along the Camino coming from St Jean Pied de Port and is one of the popular starting points on the Camino de Santiago due to its ease of access. The city is a fantastic place to walk from bar to bar and eat the delicious miniature cuisine, pintxos. Pamplona is the capital of Navarre province in northern Spain and is best known for the Running of the Bulls (Feast of San Fermín). During this festival bulls are led through the city streets by daring runners, this is one crazy party lasting for a week. The running of the bulls is a massive celebration with more than a million people visiting the city from July 6 to 14. Many pilgrims prefer not to visit the city on these dates.

walking streets of Pamplona
Exploring the vibrant Pamplona on foot.

Pamplona is an expensive city compared to the rest of Spain, particularly accommodation being pricey. During the week of the San Fermín accommodation is very hard to find and prices can be up to five times their normal price.

The Historical center of Pamplona is spectacular. Some highlights not to miss are the Cathedral, the Citadel of Pamplona, the Museum of Navarra, and the Plaza del Castillo. 

Things to Do in Pamplona

The Pamplona Cathedral (Santa María de la Asunción) is a 15th-century Roman Catholic church built in French Gothic architecture style. The cathedral is a wonderful, historic attraction with lots of variation, art, history, and stunning Gothic and Romanesque architecture. The first couple of visitors in the morning can go up to the bell tower for spectacular views of the city. 

The Museum of Navarra is the art museum of the city. The museum is housed in an old pilgrims’ hospital with an impressive collection of Roman and medieval art.

Plaza del Castillo is the main square of the town in typical Spanish Renaissance style, housing outdoor seating of surrounding restaurants and cafes. This is an awesome spot to have a coffee. Ernest Hemingway is said to have spent a lot of time here writing in Café Iruña. 

Tours in Pamplona

Private City Tour Pamplona

Places to stay in Pamplona

El Alto del Perdón – Between Pamplona and Puente de la Reina

12 km from Pamplona on top of a tough 2.5 km climb you will reach one of the most famous landmarks on the Camino El Alto del Perdón.

El Alto del Perdón is the sculpture group representing pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago. It’s probably one of the most popular photo spots on the Camino Frances. 

El Alto del Perdón Statue of  pilgrims walking the Camino-Frances through time
El Alto del Perdón is a statue of a group of pilgrims at various stages on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through time.

The pilgrim sculpture made by Vincent Galbete was erected in 1996 and is one of the great symbols of the Camino de Santiago. There is a Spanish inscription on the statue  “Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” meaning “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”.

The sculpture displays a history of pilgrims and the pilgrimage at various stages in time from the Middle Ages up to the present day. The statue consists of twelve pilgrims, the first pilgrim at the beginning of the Camino appears to be searching for the route, followed by a group of three pilgrims indicating the increase in popularity of the Camino. Next is a group on horseback symbolizing the medieval era of merchants on the Camino. A solitary pilgrim is next, symbolizing a decline in the popularity of the pilgrimage towards the mid-twentieth century. At the end of the procession are two modern-day pilgrims symbolizing the renewed popularity of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in the late twentieth century.

Puente La Reina

Puente La Reina is a small medieval town located between Pamplona and Estella on the Way of St James. The town is best known for its picturesque medieval bridge, atmospherical church, and charming streets. This delightful little town is a great destination for food and wine lovers and a good place to taste popular local dishes such as cod with pil-pil sauce, roast lamb, blood pudding, and Navarra-style piquillo peppers.

Puente La Reina Bridge
The stunning medieval Puente La Reina bridge.

Things to do in Punte La Reina

See the Puente La Reina Bridge – the beautiful six-arched Romanesque bridge sitting over River Arga is a must-see for visitors.

Visit the atmospheric Church of Santa Maria – this beautiful 15th-century is one of our favorite churches on the French Camino and is home to several historical works of art.

Walk on Calle Mayor (Main Street), and look at the wooden gates used to cut off the streets for the bull run during the festival.

Explore the Roman Villa, an interesting ancient ruin located outside of the town.

Enjoy the local cuisine.

Visit the Puente La Reina Museum.

Places to stay in Puente La Reina

Logroño

The charming city, of Logroño, is located in the north of Spain, near the Sierra de Cantabria mountains. With its vibrant pintxo scene, the capital of the world-famous wine region of La Rioja is a fantastic city to visit. Wine prices are good, this is a good spot to buy a nice vintage Rioja wine. The interesting and historic old town is filled with buildings from a wide variety of architectural eras. Visit the beautiful Santiago Cathedral dedicated to Saint James.

wedding at Santiago Cathedral in Logrono
A wedding at the beautiful Santiago Cathedral in Logrono.

Things to do in Logrono

Walk around the Old Town of Logroño, the vibrant atmosphere, beautiful streets, and well-preserved medieval architecture make exploring the historic quarter a great experience.

Go Tapas crawling in Calle Laurel (Laurel Street). For an amazing gastronomic experience walk from bar to bar in the famous Calle Laurel tasting the excellent tapas, and pintxos and tasting some excellent riojas.

Visit one of the many local wineries or wine bars in this famous wine destination.

Attend mass at the iconic Santiago Cathedral dedicated to St. James. 

Go food shopping at the Mercado de San Blas, (the Laurel Market), a vibrant food market with plenty of meats, cheeses, and other gastronomic delights. 

Tours in Logrono

Places to stay in Logrono

Logroño is a very popular place for Spanish people to enjoy the weekend and gets very busy. It is better to book accommodation here if you do not want to stay in one of the pilgrim hostels.

Places to stay in Logroño

Burgos

The city of Burgos located on the French Way is a fantastic place to take a rest day during your pilgrimage. This is also one of the most popular starting places on the Camino Frances. Burgos, the provincial capital of Castilla y León dates back to the 9th century. A great city to visit and explore on foot, with a a pedestrian-friendly historic center filled with medieval architecture. If you miss some items in your backpack Burgos has a variety of grocery stores, sporting goods stores, pharmacies, and other important services.

The Catedral de Santa María (Burgos Cathedral)
The Catedral de Santa María (Burgos Cathedral) dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is a masterpiece not to miss when exploring this beautiful city.

Things to do in Burgos

The Burgos cathedral is a true masterpiece not to miss when visiting the city. This French Gothic structure is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Catedral de Santa María (Burgos Cathedral) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The breathtakingly beautiful cathedral, with its famous Gothic twin towers, is known as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe. 

Plaza Mayor (Burgos Main Square), the main town square is one of the most bustling parts of town. This is a very popular spot for pilgrims to sit in the sun outside cafés and eateries enjoying a coffee or something to eat. 

Arca de Santa María is one of 12 medieval gates that once ringed the city. This beautiful structure with its ornate sculptures provides a spectacular entrance to this picturesque city.

Castillo de Burgos (Burgos Castle) Looking over the city of Burgos, the ruins of the Burgos Castle is an historical stop, with stunning views of the Burgos Cathedral and the whole city

Tours in Burgos

Places to stay in Burgos

Leon

León is a vibrant university city with a stunning old town. Rich in cultural, historical, and architectural heritage the capital of the Castile and Leon province is a pleasure to visit. Leon is famous for its architectural treasures and excellent tapas. We loved walking around in this amazing city. Leon has been an important stop on the Camino de Santiago for centuries. Casa Botines, one of Gaudí’s only works outside Catalonia is a must-see building and the tradition of free tapas, still alive here, makes a pub crawl on the pedestrian-friendly streets even more fun. Some of the sites not to miss while exploring the city of Leon are the Cathedral, the Basilica of San Isidoro, La Plaza Mayor, and La Plaza San Martín.

pilgrim resting statue Leon
Well-known monument of a Pilgrim resting located in the majestic Plaza de San Marcos, the work of the sculptor Martín Vázquez. This is a popular photo spot.

Things to do in Leon

Leon’s cathedral (Santa María de Regla de León Cathedral), is a masterpiece of the Gothic style of the mid-13th  century and the most important landmark in the city. Most of the building was constructed in the 13th century, but some parts were added later on.  The cathedral is famous for its spectacular stained glass windows decorating the walls. With 130 windows, it is considered by many to be the best stained glass work in the world.

Basilica de San Isidoro is a beautiful Romanesque church with a rich history dating back to the 10th century. In 1603 the church was rebuilt as a basilica and renamed San Isidoro in honor of St. Isidore. The Basilica houses a Royal Pantheon, an Oriental and Biblical Museum, and a collegiate library. A part of the collegiate was converted into a luxury hotel.

La Plaza Mayor is the main square of the city. With a fantastic atmosphere and surrounded by plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants, this is the heart of the city.

Places to stay in León

Astorga

Astorga is a magical town located in the Castile and Leon region. Two pilgrim ways, the Camino Francés, and the Vía de la Plata (the silver way) meet in the picturesque, authentic village. This is the junction of several Roman roads and there are lots of interesting ruins and historical sites in the area. Astorga is known for its medieval, walled Old Town and the Episcopal Palace designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The beautiful Plaza Mayor de Astorga comes alive at night and is the best place to drink cafe con leche (or a beer) and watch fellow pilgrims and locals walk by.

Plaza Mayor de Astorga, the main town square.
Visit some bars and restaurants around the beautiful Plaza Mayor de Astorga, the main town square.

Things to do in Astorga

Visit the impressive Astorga Cathedral (La Catedral de Santa Maria de Astorga)  near the old city center. Inside the cathedral is a gift shop and a museum with numerous religious artifacts on display.

Don’t miss Gaudi´s spectacular Episcopal Palace. This modernist building designed in the neo-Gothic style was built in the late 1800’s is one of only 3 buildings designed by Gaudi outside Catalonia. An Amazing building from all angles it is worth walking around this architectural marvel.

At the Astorga Chocolate Museum (Museo del Chocolate) you can learn about the history of the town´s chocolate industry and how chocolate is made. A small, nice museum. The display is more interesting if you understand Spanish. 

Look at the impressive city walls while taking a walk in Parque del Melgar

Staying at a spa hotel in Astorga, was so worth the money when walking the Camino and was fantastic after walking a long 31 km day. Sometimes a break from snoring in albergues while staying in private rooms is a good idea.

Visit some nice bars and restaurants relaxing at the beautiful Plaza Mayor de Astorga, the main town square.

Places to stay in Astorga

O Cebreiro

O Cebreiro is a tiny mountain village located at an altitude of 1,300 meters, between the mountain ranges of O Courel and Os Ancares. The village is well known for round stone houses with thatch roofs from the pre-Roman origin, called ‘pallozas’. These were still inhabited recently and they are only found in Galicia. Walking to O Cobreiro there are many nice, small villages on the way. The summer months are the best time to walk the Camino, but if you find you are here in winter, it snows in O Cereiro and the snow-covered roofs of the pallozas are something to see. With its cobbled streets, traditional buildings,  the Celtic atmosphere, and spectacular mountain views it is one of the most beautiful villages in Galicia.

A palloza in O Cebreiro is a stone house with thatch roofs
A palloza in the small town O Cebreiro, these round stone houses with thatch roofs are from pre-Roman times.

Things to do in O Cebreiro

Visit the Ethnographic Museum of O Cebreiro – Palloza de Xan López was converted into an ethnographic museum (culture museum). This is a good opportunity to see a real palloza inside.

Church of Santa María la Real

The church built in the 9th century is the main historical monument in O Cebreiro.  This is the oldest church that is fully preserved on the French Camino. Inside there is an image of Santa María la Real and a baptismal font from the 12th century. The church houses the tomb of the parish priest Elías Valiña, a famous promoter of the French Way.

Taste the famous Designation of Origin cheese of O Cebreiro.  This fatty, soft paste cheese with a moldy rind and grainy appearance, is made from natural, whole cow’s milk has a slightly sour taste, and is in the shape of a mushroom or chef’s hat.

See the Monument to the Pilgrim. This iconic statue was created by José María Acuña, and represents a pilgrim from the Middle Ages fighting against the inclemency of the weather.

 Go to the Viewpoint of O Cebreiro. The picturesque village has a stunning viewpoint with great views at sunset. 

Places to stay in O Cebreiro

Santiago de Compostela

All the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes lead to Santiago de Compostela the capital of the Galicia region in the northwest of Spain. The Biblical apostle St. James is thought to be buried within the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe walk to the cathedral in Santiago Camino de Santiago. Plaza Obradoiro in front of the cathedral is where the Camino pilgimage ends and this is a very emotional experience for many. Seeing the joy when pilgrims arrive is an experience in itself. The city with many beautiful old buildings, churches, squares, fountains, and parks is great to explore on foot.  See our detailed guide to the Best Things To Do in Santiago de Compostela

Campbell and Alya at the Stingy Nomads, Campbell and Alya, at the the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.
Stingy Nomads, Campbell and Alya, at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela.

Things to do in Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral is the main attraction of Santiago de Compostela it’s something not to miss. You can do a guided Cathedral and Museum tour to learn more about its history.

Attend Pilgrims Mass –  this is a great way to end the incredible journey. Pilgrims Mass takes place four times every day. Maybe you are very lucky and see the Botafumeiro Ceremony, during this ceremony, a massive silver incense burner attached to the ceiling is swung by 6 specially trained monks.

Continue to Muxia and Finisterre, many pilgrims do this beautiful walk to “the end of the world” after finishing their Camino in Santiago de Compostela. – Fisterra, Muxía, Ezaro, Ría de Muros, Pontemaceira & Costa da Morte: full-day tour

Explore this fascinating city on foot is fantastic in the summer months, the tourist office is very helpful and can give you a map, with a guided tour you won´t miss the highlights of the city – Historical Center Guided Tour with Official Guide

The food in Santiago is fantastic. Go on a gastronomic tour with a local guide to taste the traditional dishes Galicia has to offer. 

Places to stay in Santiago de Compostela

Whether you want to sleep on bunk beds or stay in a luxury hotel, we have some good tips after walking 9 different routes to Santiago de Compostela. 

See our article for Best Places to Stay in Santiago de Compostela for Pilgrims 

Budget | Santiago KM-0 |

Middle price | Hospedería San Martín Pinario | This place is located right next to the Cathedral. There are special rooms for pilgrims at Hospedaría, these rooms are much more basic compared to the standard room and cost less. 

High-end | Parador de Santiago – Hostal Reis Catolicos | You can’t find a place to stay closer to the Cathedral and the historical center than this hotel. It’s been an important part of the Camino de Santiago for centuries.

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