Cycling the Camino de Santiago is an iconic adventure that offers physical challenge, a journey through Spain’s wild landscapes, cultural, historic and gastronomic discovery and, for those that want it, a spiritual experience too.

Compared with the number that walk, only a small fraction of people take on the Camino de Santiago by bike, yet there are so many advantages.

In this article, we speak with Camino de Santiago bike tour expert, Dan Hirst from Saddle Skedaddle, about cycling the Camino de Santiago. We ask Dan all the questions we’d want to know the answer to before deciding whether to go on a Camino bike tour, including what’s so special about biking the Camino de Santiago, which Camino de Santiago cycling route is best and what we need to know to plan a trip.

We hope you find the article helpful; if you have any further questions, just drop Dan a line – contact form below!

Please give us an overview of the Camino de Santiago

What is the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage route with a network of routes across Europe that all finish at the shrine of St James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain.

How many different routes are there?

Today there are many recognised, signposted, Camino routes starting in a variety of different places, including Spain, France and Portugal. However any route counts, even if its not an official signposted route, and each trail ultimately leads to Santiago de Compostela.

How many kilometres is the Camino de Santiago?

It depends on which route you take. For example:

  • Camino Primitivo (320km) – Oviedo to Santiago
  • Camino Portugues (610km) – Lisbon (Portugal) to Santiago
  • Camino Francés (800km) – St Jean Pied de de Port (France) to Santiago
  • Camino del Norte (825km) – Irún to Santiago
  • Ruta de la Plata (1,000km) – Seville to Santiago
  • Camino de Levante (1,300km) – Valencia to Santiago

Of course, there’s no need to cycle the full length of each of these and there are reasons to avoid some sections especially when on a bike. We pick the best parts of the best caminos and feel our selection of cycling trips share the highlights in a sensible amount of time off work!

  • Camino Francés (200km) over 7 days – Ponferrada to Santiago (guided and self-guided).
  • Camino Primitivo (307km) over 8 days guided (or 322km for the self-guided version) – Oviedo to Santiago (guided and self-guided).
  • Bilbao to Santiago (794km) over 11 days guided (or 705km over 10 days self-guided version) – this follows much of the Camino Norte and Camino Primitivo (guided and self-guided).
  • Ruta de la Plata (979km) over 16 days – Seville to Santiago (guided).

All metrics in this article are approximate.

What’s the best mode of transport for the Camino de Santiago?

There are many different means of transport for completing the Camino de Santiago; traditionally the Camino was done by people on foot, and the vast majority still view the Camino de Santiago routes as hiking trails, However, cycling has tons of advantages and, in our opinion, is the best way to experience the Camino de Santiago (see below for why!).

What’s the history of the Camino de Santiago?

The Camino de Santiago’s history is a mosaic of faith, legend, and pilgrimage spanning over a millennium. Its roots go back to the 8th century, beginning with the remarkable discovery of what was believed to be the remains of St. James the Apostle in northern Spain. St. James was one of the twelve principal disciples of Jesus Christ and holds the distinction of being the first apostle to be martyred, having met his fate under the orders of King Herod in Jerusalem.

The significance of St. James extends beyond his martyrdom. Venturing through the Iberian Peninsula, he dedicated many years to preaching the Christian doctrine. Following his execution, it is said that St. James’s body was transported back to Spanish shores and entombed under the site where the majestic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela now stands in the region of Galicia. This sacred ground gained prominence as ‘the Way of St. James’— ‘Camino de Santiago’ in Spanish, where ‘Santiago’ is the local translation of the apostle’s name.

The Spanish monarch, Alfonso II the Chaste, was the first pilgrim of the Camino. Embarking from Oviedo in the 9th century, his journey led to Santiago de Compostela on the trail now revered as the Camino Primitivo. In the centuries to follow, the Camino de Santiago beckoned countless devout travellers from across the globe. The traditions continue today with people making the journey to Santiago on many different types of transport; of course, we think the best of these is by bike!

Spectacular gorge with road to left and cyclists

Road cyclists on their way to Santiago (credit: Lighttrapper Photography)

Why is cycling the Camino de Santiago a must-do?

What’s special about it?

Guests tell us that it feels very special to cycle an ancient pilgrim route that is full of history and takes you on paths that people have walked for thousands of years. This history means the routes offer a rich mix of sights, including stunning natural scenery and important spiritual sites. Some stand-out favourites include the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and reaching the highest point of the route at O’cebreiro – more on these below.

The Camino de Santiago appeals to those looking for both a physical and spiritual adventure.

People from all over the world come to Santiago looking for religious enlightenment, personal growth, or simply to enjoy cycling an ancient route through stunning landscapes. On this path, travellers (or “bikegrims” as they are sometimes referred!) often experience incredible kindness and hospitality from strangers, forming a strong sense of community among them. They share their stories, adding to the route’s long history.

The Camino de Santiago cycle routes all pass through parts of rural Spain which are simply stunning. The Camino routes feel like a whole different world compared to the busy beach resorts of Mediterranean Spain, with their high-rise hotels and built up urban areas. On the Camino de Santiago, you’ll find cosy little towns tucked away in pretty valleys. There are lots of old trees, forests that smell like eucalyptus forest, and you can often hear the gentle clinking of cowbells in the breeze.

What makes cycling the Camino de Santiago so great?

Pilgrims might have started out on the Camino on foot, but for those that don’t have weeks of time (or lack the patience for walking!) cycling is the perfect way to experience the Camino de Santiago.

  • It lets you cover more ground more quickly while still enjoying the essence of the Camino.
  • Being able to cover more distance also means you can get into the more remote parts of the countryside that those with the same amount of time but walking never get to.
  • The route is well-suited for cyclists, with many stretches offering traffic-free paths and beautiful scenery, perfect for riding.

How far do you need to ride?

Biking 1,000 kilometres might take more time or fitness than you have.

Fortunately, to claim your “Compostelo” you only need to cycle 200km to Santiago and there are plenty of routes you can ride that start closer to Santiago. These shorter trips can be done in one or two weeks, letting you soak up the gorgeous scenery and quaint towns along the way. Plus, by shortening your trip, your budget lets you enjoy comfier stays in hotels, get help moving your bags every day, perhaps have a guide and arrange rides to and from the start and end of your biking adventure.

How to pick the “best” Camino de Santiago bike route?

There are many different routes to Santiago. Below I compare the four routes Saddle Skedaddle offer and, from these four, pick the “best for” to give you a quick idea of what each is like. There’s then more detail on each route below.

The big differences lie in how much time you have, how much of a challenge you want, your preference for the kind of bike you ride, how many people are on the same trail and the part of Spain you want to ride through.

Whichever route you choose, you’ll find

  • Warm hospitality: the Camino de Santiago routes are known for the warm hospitality of its locals. You’ll find welcoming accommodation and the chance to indulge in diverse regional cuisines.
  • Vibrant pilgrim (and bikegrim) community: on all the routes, but particularly on the most popular Camino Francés, you’ll find a vibrant and diverse community of pilgrims from all over the world. This creates ample opportunity for meaningful interactions; the sense of camaraderie is strong.

Below you can see the four routes we offer on one map (the different colours represent different days of the route):

  • Camino Francés cycle route (Ponferrada to Santiago)
  • Camino Primitivo (Oviedo to Santiago)
  • Road cycle route (Bilbao to Santiago)
  • Ruta de la Plata (Seville to Santiago)

Camino Francés cycle route

Best for: Camino first-timers, families, meeting other people

The full route of the Camino Francés is quite challenging and long. St Jean Pied de Port is a popular starting point in France. On the Spanish side of Pyrenees another popular start point is Roncesvalles.

Our shorter route is around 200 kilometres long and starts in Ponferrada. It is designed to be comfortably ridden in a week. You are still entitled to get your Compostela certificate at the end and there are lots of cafes and bars along the way.

Camino Primitivo cycle route – Oviedo to Santiago cycle route

Best for: mountain bikers, wilderness-lovers, history-lovers

Camino Primitivo is the first route that was walked by the Spanish King Alfonso II. Our route follows the official route. This is a tough, wild off-road route, ideal for mountain biking.

You still pick up the Camino Francés on the last day and enjoy the final leg with all other pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

Camino de Santiago – Bilbao to Santiago cycle route

Best for: road cyclists, beach-lovers, food-lovers

The way-marked Camino de Santiago cycle routes are off-road; this road cycling route is adapted to suit those on road bikes. It closely follows the traditional pilgrim routes and allows you to experience many sights along the way.

Rather than following Camino Francés, we follow Camino Norte along the coast and then Camino Primitivo in the mountains to avoid busy roads and enjoy a less travelled route.

Ruta de la Plata – Seville to Santiago cycle route

Best for: gravel riders, those wanting to ride south to north, food-lovers, history-lovers

The Ruta de la Plata is an ancient Roman trading route that was later adopted by pilgrims travelling north. This is an epic journey that takes a slightly different direction than other traditional Camino routes, travelling from the south to the north of Spain.

You pass through some of the most incredible cities in Spain, such as stunning Seville, Merida with its Roman sites and amphitheatre and Salamanca, home to the oldest university in Spain. This route includes 1,000 kilometres of off-road riding so it’s a real adventure.

 

Tell us more about the Camino Francés cycling route

Where does it start?

The Camino Francés starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France, travelling 800 kilometres to Santiago.

The Saddle Skedaddle route starts in Ponferrada, travelling the last 200 kilometres to Santiago. It follows the original Camino Francés as closely as possible.

Here’s a map of the Camino Francés cycling route (the different colours represent different days):

Why is it special?

The Camino Francés is incredible. It’s the classic route to Santiago and is steeped in history. Other reasons to ride it:

  • Well-developed infrastructure: The popularity of the route means it has excellent infrastructure to support cyclists. There’s a wide range of accommodation, from budget-friendly pilgrim hostels (albergues) to comfortable hotels, many of which offer secure bike storage and other amenities cyclists might need. Services like bike repair shops and rental services are also more readily available along this route.
  • Clear signage and good maintenance: This route is well-marked with the iconic yellow arrows and scallop shell signs, minimising the chances of getting lost. The path is also well-maintained, with local authorities and volunteer organisations ensuring the route is safe and accessible for both walkers and cyclists. This clear guidance can be particularly comforting for first-time pilgrim cyclists.
  • Cultural and historical richness: The Camino Francés passes through some of the most significant historical and cultural sites in Spain, including Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon, with their stunning cathedrals, and the wine region of La Rioja. Small but historically significant villages like Palas de Rei are also important. Cycling this route provides an immersive experience into the heart of Spanish history, art, and architecture.
  • Diverse landscapes: The route offers a variety of breathtaking landscapes, from the Pyrenees’ rugged beauty at the beginning of the journey to the easier riding found in the Meseta, and finally the lush greenery of Galicia. Cycling allows you to appreciate these changing landscapes in a unique way, experiencing the open air and the details of your surroundings more intimately than by any other means of travel.

What are your highlights?

  • Climbing up to O’cebreiro – the highest point on the route. A challenging point of the ride and it is atmospheric at the top with mist rolling in. You might hear Gaita (bagpipes) playing in the distance (as well as echoing in the square in Santiago at the finish).
  • Trying the delicious seafood along the way and a glass of Albariño white wine.
  • Arriving in the square and celebrating the end of your pilgrimage with everyone else.

What kind of cyclist is it best for?

The Camino Francés is good for experienced leisure cyclists riding gravel bikes, hardtail mountain bikes or e-mountain bikes. We suggest the mountain bike options because the terrain is rough.

This is an intricate route via a complex series of valleys and hills. It’s not just one path along the way; the trails are constantly changing between tracks, lanes, back roads and paths. Once in Galicia, you find yourself on a number of ancient paths – corredoiras – made of giant granite stones, with dry stone walls either side. Usually surfaces and terrain are pretty forgiving, but there are sections that are loose and rocky which you can ride or most of the time it’s possible to avoid these by diverting onto the road.

How challenging is it?

Distances are between 48 and 80 kilometres per day. Much of the terrain is leisurely, but rolling, and there are a few big climbs. As a result, this is a reasonably challenging route but yet it is one of the easiest Camino de Santiago routes and it could be ridden with older kids; most will love to be put in charge of finding the route using the signs. There are lots of facilities along the way.

What’s the navigation and signposting like?

We provide GPX files on our tours but you don’t really need them; the route is very well sign posted.

More information?

For more information on Saddle Skedaddle’s tours on the Camino Francés:

Saddle Skedaddle’s Camino Francés 7 day self-guided cycling tour

Saddle Skedaddle’s Camino Francés 7 day guided cycling tour

Tell us more about Camino Primitivo cycling route

Where does it start?

The route starts in Oviedo (capital of Asturias), travelling 320 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela.

Here’s a map of the Camino Primitivo cycling route (the different colours represent different days):

Why it’s so special/famous?

This trail is reputed to be the original pilgrim route through the mountains. It’s a proper wilderness ride over the Cantabrian mountains with changing trails and landscapes. You’ll also experience the incredible culture and cuisine of Asturias and Galicia along the way.

  • Historical significance: The Camino Primitivo is known as the “Original Way” to Santiago de Compostela, being the oldest route taken by pilgrims to the tomb of St. James. This path was traditionally chosen by pilgrims from the Iberian Peninsula as early as the 9th century.
  • Unspoiled beauty: The Camino Primitivo takes you through some of the most breathtaking and unspoiled natural landscapes in northern Spain. The route traverses the rugged terrain of Asturias and Galicia, featuring dense forests, rolling hills, and picturesque villages.
  • Challenge and reward: The Camino Primitivo is considered one of the more challenging routes due to its mountainous terrain and the physical demands of the journey. However, for many cyclists, it is the challenge that makes the journey more rewarding.
  • Cultural richness: Cycling the Camino Primitivo exposes you to the rich culture of the Asturias and Galicia regions. The route passes through areas known for their distinct traditions, languages (including Asturian and Galician), and culinary specialties, such as Asturias cider, fabada bean stew, pulpo feira (Galacian octopus), and of course, Alberino wine.

What are your highlights?

  • Overnight stay in Lugo, a Roman town with great food, culture and history.
  • Ruta de Los Hospitales trails between ancient ruined inns that used to provide shelter in the mountains. It’s a large gully followed by a traverse across the mountains.
  • Descent down to the Grandas reservoir – this 900 metre descent is great fun on forested singletrack with amazing views.
  • Joining the Camino Francés on the last day to join in the celebrations.

What kind of cyclist is it best for?

Best for mountain bikers with reasonable fitness looking for a challenging journey. There are some technical sections of riding. Be aware that there will be a mix of surfaces – rocky trails, earth, sand, gravel, paths, tracks and some tarmac.

How challenging is it?

This is a challenging off-road route.

What’s the navigation and signposting like?

GPX or guide. The route is also sign-posted.

More information:

Saddle Skedaddle’s Camino Primitivo 8 day guided cycling tour

Saddle Skedaddle’s Camino Primitivo 8 day self-guided cycling tour

Tell us more about Bilbao to Santiago cycling route

Where does it start?

Bilbao to Santiago isn’t an “official” Camino de Santiago cycling route. We’ve developed it based on two other routes, the Camino Norte which starts in San Sebastian and Camino Primitivo which starts in Oviedo.

Our road cycling route to Santiago, starts in Bilbao. The self-guided version finishes in Santiago (705km over 10 days); our guided version continues to Finisterre (794km over 11 days).

Here’s a map of the Bilbao to Santiago cycling route (the different colours represent different days):

Why is it special?

Bilbao to Santiago is our guides’ favourite road trip in Spain! It provides road cycling versions of two Camino routes which it loosely follows in part – Camino Norte (second most travelled route after Camino Francés) and Camino Primitivo. The route offers a unique set of experiences and challenges distinct from other Camino routes, drawing cyclists who seek adventure along Spain’s northern coast.

  • Coastal splendour: The route provides unparalleled views of Spain’s dramatic Atlantic coastline. The path takes cyclists through picturesque beaches, rugged cliffs, and charming coastal towns, offering breathtaking vistas that aren’t found on more inland routes like the Camino Francés.
  • Less people: Other than when you’re riding in and out of the cities, this route tends to be quiet, offering a more solitary and contemplative experience.
  • Cultural richness: The route passes through the unique cultures of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia. Each region boasts its own distinct traditions, languages, and culinary specialties. Cyclists have the opportunity to experience this diversity first-hand, from sampling Basque pintxos to enjoying the bagpipes and cider of Asturias.
  • Challenging terrain: The route’s terrain offers a good challenge for those looking for a workout, including the foothills of the Picos de Europa National Park.
  • Rich historical sites: Along the route, travellers encounter historical and architectural wonders, from pre-Romanesque churches in Oviedo to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It also includes visits to the impressive cities of Oviedo and Lugo. The blend of ancient and contemporary, rural and urban, enriches the experience.
  • A different endeavour: This alternative route often appeals to those looking to venture off the beaten path—literally and figuratively. It’s a route that promises a distinct experience from the more popular Camino Francés.

What are your highlights?

  • Cycle along the beautiful Cantabrian coastline.
  • Go for dinner in a sideria (cider house) with their unique cuisine in Asturias.
  • Climb and descend over the Puerto de Palo (roof of the Camino Primitivo).
  • The final stretch after Santiago to Finisterre on our guided holiday; to be a true pilgrim means you go to the end of the medieval world and that was Finisterre which translates as “the end of the earth”.

What kind of cyclist is it best for?

The Route del Norte and Primitivo can be ridden on mountain-bikes. Our version, the Bilbao to Santiago, is best for road cyclists as it is all on tarmac.

How challenging is it?

Whether you follow the mountain bike route or our road route, either way, this is reasonably challenging ride so not suitable for families. Our Bilbao-Santiago trip is a mid-grade road cycling holiday – our route takes in 70-95 kilometres per day.

What’s the navigation and signposting like?

The Camino del Norte is signposted, but our Bilbao to Santiago route is not.

More information

Saddle Skedaddle’s Bilbao to Santiago 10 day self-guided cycling tour

Saddle Skedaddle’s Bilbao to Santiago 11 day guided cycling tour

Tell us more about Ruta de la Plata cycling route

Where does it start?

This route starts in Seville, travelling 1,000 kilometres to Santiago.

Here’s a map of the Ruta de la Plata cycling route (the different colours represent different days):

Why is it special?

This route appeals those wanting to discover western Spain, especially those that love gravel riding.

  • Rich historical tapestry: The Ruta de la Plata is one of the oldest routes in Spain, originally used by Romans as a commercial and military road linking the north and south of the peninsula. Cycling this route immerses you in a deep historical journey, tracing the steps of ancient Romans, medieval pilgrims, and countless others who have traversed this path through the centuries.
  • Diverse scenery: From the rolling plains of Extremadura to the rugged mountains of Castilla y León, cyclists can experience the beauty of Spain away from the crowded coastal regions. The route also passes through the stunning landscapes of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla and the Sierra de Gata.
  • Cultural immersion: The Ruta de la Plata passes through less-touristed areas of Spain, providing a more authentic cultural experience. You’ll cycle through small villages and historic cities like Mérida, Cáceres, Salamanca, and Zamora, where you can explore Roman ruins, Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and local customs and traditions that have been preserved over centuries.
  • Challenge: due to its length and varied terrain, the Ruta de la Plata is not an easy option, making it perfect for those looking for a challenging adventure.

What are your highlights?

  • Fabulous cities that you pass through along the way. Standouts include Seville for its Andalucian culture, Merida with its Roman sites and amphitheatre, the impressive medieval city of Caceres with its amazing square, Salamanca with the oldest university in Spain and impressive monuments, the River Duero in Zamora and finally Ourense, a Roman city with thermal baths.
  • Experience the vast wilderness of the dehesas, forested land comprising oak, olives and cork oak trees – one of wildest and least inhabited areas of Spain.
  • This is a real off-road journey and you’ll notice the change in climate, culture and landscapes as you ride 1,000 kilometres through Spain.

What kind of cyclist is it best for?

Best for reasonably fit cyclists whether they’re mountain bike, road or gravel enthusiasts. The route is perfect for gravel bikes and includes endless gravel tracks and dirt trails, some paths and a few technical sections of riding (option to ride some of these on tarmac). It’s a real mix and forever changing.

How challenging is it?

This is a challenging ride, with roughly 65-120 kilometres per day and significant climbs most days.

What’s the navigation and signposting like?

This route is signposted.

More information:

Saddle Skedaddle’s Ruta de la Plata 16 day guided cycling tour

 

When to cycle the Camino de Santiago?

The first thing to note is that northern Spain’s climate is not the same as the climate in southern Spain; northern Spain is a lot more “British” in its weather.

When can you cycle the Camino de Santiago?

You can ride the Camino de Santiago all year around, though note you’re likely to encounter wind and rain in winter and if you choose one of the mountainous routes, you’ll also likely encounter snow and ice which can make things trail conditions hazardous. Many hotels and places to stay also close during the middle of winter. Organised trips usually run between April to October.

What’s the best time to ride the Camino de Santiago?

We think the best times to go are late spring (late April – early June) and early autumn (September) because the weather is nice, it doesn’t rain much, and there are enough people around for company without it being too crowded. Grape harvests also happen in late September into October and it can be fun to encounter local festivities along the way.

What’s the most popular time of year to ride the Camino de Santiago?

July and August are when most people ride the Camino de Santiago; and do note that the Camino Francés, which is the most popular route, can get very busy then. It can also be really hot in northern Spain at this time.

Lots of people also ride the Camino during Easter; the wildflowers can be wonderful at this time of year, but March/April has a higher chance of rain.

Numbers peak during ‘Holy Years’, when St James’ Day, on 25th July each year, falls on a Sunday. The next Holy Years are 2027 and 2032.

Where to stay when biking the Camino de Santiago?

On the more popular routes, like the Camino Francés and Camino del Norte, there are lots of accommodation options and varying places to stay, which makes it easier to find a bed and a meal than some of the lesser-used paths.

Hotels and hostels

There are bunkhouses and low cost hostels (albergues) that are popular; but be aware that many require a reservation and some turn away cyclists in preference to walkers, if they are getting full. Bear this in mind, particularly when you’re in the last 100km before Santiago or in the remote areas where there are fewer choices available.

If you go for the accommodation option, booking ahead in peak season is advisable. If you want to give yourself some flexibility and are willing to take a little risk, you could opt for booking just a day or two ahead of yourself rather than having everything booked months in advance.

Camping

Some cyclists also choose to camp – you can find some unusual places to camp including churches, but always ask first and be aware that if you’re camping on the route, it can be quite noisy with people starting early and finish late.

Other notes

One good thing about cycling over walking is that with a bike you have a little more flexibility to move on to the next town if the first one you arrive at is full.

Camino de Santiago accommodation costs vary depending on the time of year and the kind of accommodation you go for; needless to say, a public hostel will be significantly cheaper than a private hotel or parador like the magnificent Parador in Santo Domingo de al Calzada.

On our trips, we try to pick lovely small hotels with character, although we do stay in some larger hotels in the cities.

What’s the best bike for the Camino de Santiago?

There is no such thing as one best Camino bike; the best type of bike to ride depends on which of the Camino routes you’re riding. For example:

  • Camino Francés is best ridden on hard tail mountain bikes rather than leisure bikes.
  • Camino Primitivo is best ridden on a full suspension mountain bikes.
  • Bilbao to Santiago is best on a road bike.
  • Ruta de la Plata is great for gravel bike but if your personal preferences tend more towards mountain bikes, it can also be ridden on hard tail mountain bikes.

Can you e-bike the Camino de Santiago?

There’s no reason why you can’t do the Camino de Santiago by e-bike – and for our tours, we offer e-bike hire for Camino Francés and Camino Primitivo. There are also e-bike only departures for these two tours.

Bear in mind that you still need to have good bike handling skills on an e-bike; they just give you an energy boost.

There are no charging stations but, assuming your battery is removable, you can charge your bike at places along the way in hostels, bars, and restaurants.

Is there Camino bike rental?

There are Camino de Santiago bike rental shops, but logistics can be tricky if you’re organising a trip yourself as it is a place to place journey.

This is one of the major advantages of going on a supported trip; Skedaddle provides quality hire bikes for all our Camino holidays.

Tips for getting the most from cycling the Caminos

Food to try

Pimientos de Padró  (padrón peppers)

If you’re a veggie-lover, get ready for an awesome snack from Galicia! Padrón peppers are tiny, green peppers from the area that are usually not too hot. But watch out, sometimes you might get a spicy one, and that’s part of the surprise and fun when eating them.

Caldo Gallego (Galician broth)

Imagine a warm, comforting soup with potatoes, beans, and green veggies. That’s what this is, and pilgrims heading to Santiago love it. It’s perfect for filling you up and keeping you cosy, especially on a chilly or rainy day.

Pulpo a la Feira (octopus ‘à Feira’ style)

Seafood fans, take note! In northwest Spain, they serve up amazing prawns and scallops, but you’ve got to try the octopus. They sprinkle it with some spicy paprika and serve it on a wooden plate. It’s delicious.

Tarta de Santiago (almond cake of St. James)

This isn’t just any cake; it’s a sweet treat named after St. James himself. Back in the day, pilgrims got this almond pie as a reward for finishing their trek, but now it’s just a yummy local dessert everyone can enjoy.

Drinks to try

Cider

Asturias is home to a special kind of cider; from pressing to bottling takes around five months, and it’s all done naturally, without any added fizz. One of the iconic things about this drink is how its served. In special cider bars called “Chigres,” the servers, known as Escanciadors, pour the cider from way up high – the bottle’s above their head, and the glass is all the way down by their waist. This fancy pouring isn’t just for show; it makes the cider splash into the glass, mixes in some air, and makes a few bubbles.

Wine

More into wine? Galicia’s got your back with two tasty white wines: Godello (say it like “Go-dey-yo”) and Albariño. They’re fruity and go really well with a dish of fresh seafood.

Bike etiquette

As cyclists and walkers share the same off-road route, it’s really important to be responsible cyclists and be courteous towards walkers. Remember that the path was initially just for walkers; courtesy and respect is needed towards pedestrians. Slow down when you see hikers, say hello or ‘Buen camino!’ and pass carefully.

On the road trip, drivers are generally patient and courteous towards people on bikes. It’s common for drivers to use their horn to let you know they are passing.

Research the Camino traditions and follow some of them

Even if you’re not doing the Camino for religious reasons, it’s good to be aware that there are thousands of years of traditions associated with a pilgrimage. It can be nice to know about some of these.

Navigating the Camino de Santiago by bike

On all of the official Camino cycle routes, you’ll find the reliable presence of scallop shell signs, an emblematic beacon guiding pilgrims to Santiago. The scallop shell is often found on the Galician coast and has risen to prominence as the definitive symbol of the Camino. Some pilgrims wear these shells, a testament to their personal pilgrimage.

It’s worth knowing in advance that the last 100 kilometres of the Camino trails tend to get quite crowded, especially at peak times of year, because that’s the minimum distance you need to walk to get your special Camino certificate. Other than get up at the crack of dawn and skip breakfast, there aren’t too many ways to avoid this. Rather than get frustrated, its best to accept you might have to ride slowly and single file and view the people on the route as part of the experience; we think all the excitement and happy vibes just make the Camino experience even more special. It can often feel a little like a festival and at the end, at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, it’s really lively, full of people with stories celebrating.

Santiago de Compostelo cathedral

Don’t forget to look inside the cathedral itself – those riding the Camino for religious reasons might want to take part in a mass – but in fact even if you aren’t there for religious reasons, the daily ceremony for pilgrims is something special. It takes place at midday and 7:30pm and many guests say that attending this ceremony is a wonderful way to feel connected to something truly special.

If you plan to attend the ceremony, it’s best to arrive early to secure a seat. Getting there at least an hour before the scheduled time is advisable.

It’s also worth a walk up on the roof for an extra special view. I also love the Casa das Crechas bar next to the cathedral. It is a hub of live Celtic/Galician music plus other genres and has a grand people-watching terrace if you’re there during the day!

How to get your Compostela Certificate

To qualify for a Compostela Certificate, you need to gather a series of stamps in their special camino passport. This passport can be stamped at various locations, including places of lodging, cafés, churches, and bars, serving as a record of your journey. The Latin certificate historically guaranteed believers a pardon for their sins.

As mentioned above, cyclists also have to ride at least 200 continuous kilometres in order to quality for the Certificate. It doesn’t matter how long it takes and you can still collect stamps on the Bilbao to Santiago route, even though its not an official, waymarked route.

Before you start your journey, make sure you get your pilgrim passport. If you’re a guest of Skedaddle, we will do this for you. Otherwise, to obtain your pilgrim passport, also known as a credencial, find the pilgrim’s office at the beginning of your route. Alternatively, the passport can be obtained via the different Asociaciones de Amigos del Camino de Santiago de España (in Spanish), via associations abroad, in hostels and parish churches, and in the Brotherhoods of the Santiago Apostle.  You can view the list here.

The passport is a long card, cleverly folded into a booklet. Make sure to get your first stamp at the office or, if there isn’t one, ask at the local church in the starting town. As you progress on your journey, collect stamps or “sellos” from various places such as albergues, bars, tourist offices, and churches. During the earlier stages, aim for at least one stamp per day. However, in the last 200 kilometres, it’s a good idea to collect multiple stamps per day to ensure compliance with the rules. This particular stretch is where some people tend to cheat, and the regulations are stricter.

When you get to Santiago, you present your stamped passport at the Pilgrim’s Office near the city’s grand cathedral. The staff there will handle the necessary formalities to issue your Compostela, an official certificate attesting to your completion of the Camino pilgrimage.

If you’re planning to get your Compostela (the certificate of completion) on the same day, it’s crucial to know that the pilgrim’s office only issues a limited number of daily tickets, especially during peak season. To ensure you have a chance at obtaining your Compostela, it’s best to go early.

When you visit the pilgrim’s office, make sure to bring your “credencial” paperwork, which is essentially your pilgrim passport. Be prepared to answer a few questions about the spiritual reasons behind your journey. These questions help the office assign you the appropriate certification. If your journey is not driven by religious or spiritual intentions, don’t worry! You can still receive an alternative certificate called a “certificado”.

There’s something truly special about taking home a Compostela—a memento of achievement that stands out from ordinary keepsakes. Another reason you should make sure you have the passport from the start is that it comes in handy for perks along the way. For example, you can use it to get discounted rates at albergues (pilgrim hostels) and enjoy affordable meals through the pilgrims’ menu at bars.

Are there any places you’d suggest spending time at the towns at start/end of the Camino?

  • Camino Francés – the start town of Ponferrada has a nice castle.
  • The Camino Primitivo cycling tour starts in Oviedo, which is also brilliant.
  • On our road cycling Camino route, Bilbao is a great city with art and cuisine.
  • For the Ruta de la Plata Camino route, it’s difficult not to love Seville, so it’s definitely worth exploring at the start.

For any camino trip, it’s good to have time at the end to explore Santiago – tag a day on.

Do you need a Camino de Santiago bike tour?

It’s not essential to go on an organised Camino de Santiago bike tour, especially for the most famous routes like the Camino Francés where there are lots of people doing it and the route is very clear.

That said, there are lots of advantages as it saves you a lot of time and effort working out logistics like luggage transfer, bike rental, mechanical support and finding accommodation.

In particular, having your operators provide bike rental can really take the stress out of the “getting there and away” plus booking all that accommodation can be pretty laborious or potentially stressful if you’re planning to wing it and hope there’s a spot for you on arrival!

 

Practicalities

How fit do you have to be to ride the Camino de Santiago?

You need to have a pretty good level of fitness to bike the Camino de Santiago, but remember, this is a holiday! The routes are all moderately challenging – of the four routes discussed in this article, you have the Camino Francés at one end of the spectrum and the Ruta de la Plata at the other.

Get into some regular cycling before embarking on a Camino cycling route. Check that you are comfortable riding the daily distances of the route you’ve chosen.

If you’re riding one of the long routes, you’ll want to boost your stamina before starting and make sure you’ve sorted out any “niggles” with your knee/back etc! Given you’re riding place to place and, more likely than not, your luggage will be sent on, you do need to get to the next stop that night, so make sure you are comfortable with the distances before signing up to the trip.

Kit considerations for cycling the Camino de Santiago

What you bring will vary depending on whether you’re riding the Caminos DIY, self-guided or guided. Obviously a guided trip means you don’t need to think so much as you’ll get luggage transfer and mechanical assistance.

On most of the camino routes, there are plenty of places to eat along the way. However, if you want snacks for between meals or if you have specific requirements, it’s a good idea to bring any special snacks from home. Note also the comments on opening times, below.

There are numerous springs to fill your water.  Many town and village centres also have a free water fountain or a tap you can use.

Some other useful things to think about before embarking on your Camino cycling adventure:

  • For the Camino Primitivo make sure you have a good rucksack for carrying snacks (as you’re off road so will come across less villages on this route) and waterproof and suncream. Galician weather can be damp but also very hot!
  • Water bottle even if you have a water bladder – a bottle lets you take a drink from the abundance of water fountains on all the routes.
  • Bike lock – you’ll want to leave your bike from time to time and it’s a great idea to have a way of leaving it securely.
  • Bring high factor suncream as well as winter-weight waterproofs for a range of weather conditions.
  • We have a number of kit guides for our holidays.

Mechanical support

If you’re bringing your own bike rather than hiring one, make sure you have it serviced before you arrive; you don’t want to spend your trip worrying about essential bike maintenance you should have done before you left home! Also make sure you know how to change a puncture and bring spares of items that are particular to your bike and not easily found in a bike shop in rural Spain. This packing list might be useful.

Getting to the start of the Camino

How you get to the start will depend which route you’re riding and where you plan to start from. For our guests, we usually suggest:

  • Camino Francés – Leon has a domestic airport or for international airports its Bilbao, Santiago, Madrid or perhaps Biarritz international airports from where you can get a train to the start. Most of our guests fly into Santiago and we transfer them to the start.
  • Camino Primitivo – our guests fly into Oviedo and out of Santiago.
  • Bilbao to Santiago – fly into Bilbao or you could get the ferry there with your bike from the UK and other destinations.
  • Ruta de la Plata – fly into Seville.

If you’re bringing your own bike with you, there is an extra layer of admin to think about. You can take bikes on trains and buses as long as they are wrapped. There are also luggage transfer services that will post your bike to your starting destination. This article might be useful on the topic of shipping options for your bike.

Opening hours in Spain

Remember that most restaurants and supermarkets are usually closed for a few hours in the middle of the day, often even up to 1pm to 5pm, for siesta, and all day Sundays and Mondays. This is especially true in the smaller towns. Bear this in mind if you’re on a self-guided trip!

Do you need cash when cycling the Camino de Santiago?

Most of the time you’ll be fine using a bank card; but it’s always useful to carry some cash for little shops, cafes and bars as there are still a few places that won’t take a card.

Do you need to be able to speak Spanish?

No, but it’s useful to have a few key phrases.

Highway code and travel information

As ever, it’s a good idea to check current travel information before you book and travel. For UK visitors, the UK government travel information pages for Spain are here.

You should also read and follow Spain’s highway code.

Toilets on the Caminos

An important consideration and, generally, the answer is that there are lots on the way, though there may be fewer facilities in the wilder sections of Camino Primitivo and Ruta de la Plata.

Other transport along the Camino de Santiago cycling routes

There is some public transport along most of the routes and taxi services can often be arranged for shuttling people or possessions. There’s also a good train service in general, though unfortunately not a line that follows the routes.

There are ferries along the north coast – across the bay of Santander and across the Santoña bay for part of the journey on Bilbao to Santiago Camino cycle route.

Do you have to be religious to cycle the Camino de Santigo?

No, you don’t need to have religious beliefs to cycle the Camino. Some individuals choose to embark on the Camino for religious or spiritual purposes. However, many others don’t.

According to statistics from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago, only 27% of pilgrims walked the Camino for religious motivations in 2020. It’s also interesting to note that people from more than 150 different nationalities undertake the journey every year.

What does Saddle Skedaddle offer?

At Saddle Skedaddle, we have been offering Camino de Santiago bike tours since 2003. We operate all the tours ourselves, with guides and crew that know the routes like the back of their hand. There are self-guided options too where we just provide information, hotel bookings and luggage transfers.

We offer guided Camino de Santiago small group guided tours or self-guided tours. On all our tours:

  • We take care of all accommodation
  • We organise all luggage transfers
  • We provide GPX navigation and back up support.

On guided holidays, we provide a picnic lunch and have someone on hand at all times with vehicle support. On guided trips you can also leave a bag in the van.

Self-guided holidays provide basic tools and include an emergency number for mechanical assistance.

There’s the option to join e-bike tours for Camino Primitivo and Camino de Santiago.

Finally, we also offer bespoke trips, so just get in touch and let us know how we can help.

We’d love to share our years of expertise of Camino cycling with you!

Where can cyclists find out more about your Camino de Santiago cycling tours?

To find out more and get in touch with the team for assistance, check out our website at www.skedaddle.com.

Links to each of our four tours can also be found below:

Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances): Guided and Self-Guided

Camino Primitivo: Guided and Self-Guided

Bilbao to Santiago: Guided and Self-Guided

Ruta de la Plata: Guided.

A big thanks to Dan for these incredible insights. If you’ve done the Camino, how did you find it? Do share your comments below!

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Dan Hirst

Dan Hirst has been seeking out the best experiences on two wheels for Skedaddle Espana for more than 20 years. When not planning and coordinating your next cycling adventure, Dan can be found guiding road cycling and mountain biking tours across the country. Dan says “The sheer variety of terrain and landscapes means there’s always something new to discover. Mountain biking is my first love, so for me the remote beauty of the Picos de Europa and Camino Primitivo are hard to beat. Further south, the beaches and vistas which surround our Spanish base in Tarifa are well worth venturing down for. Come see for yourself – you’ll not regret it!” 

(Photo credit: Lighttrapper Photography)

Last Reviewed: 03 April 2024

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