While the Camino de Santiago is indelibly linked with Spain, there are an increasing number of camino routes in Portugal in addition to the country’s other long-distance trails including the Rota Vicentina and pilgrimage routes to Fátima.
Here is an overview of the 10 main routes that form the Camino de Santiago in Portugal, where it is known as the Caminho de Santiago.
The routes included in this summary are the Caminho Português Central, Caminho Português Coastal, Caminho Português (from Lisbon), Caminho Português Interior, Caminho de Torres, Caminho da Geira e dos Arrieros, Caminho Nascente, Caminho Central, Caminho da Raia and Camino Zamorano Portugués (Vía de la Plata Portugués).
Note: in the map above, the Caminho Nascente (in light green) and the Caminho Central (in dark blue) have only their stages in the Alentejo and Ribatejo regions visible, while the Caminho da Raia (in lighter blue, with letters) is an approximate representation of the trail.
Caminho Português Central
Pros: Porto, good pilgrim infrastructure, historic towns, Variante Espiritual
Cons: Walking on cobblestones, possibly too much pilgrim traffic
The Caminho Português Central is the second most popular of all Camino de Santiago routes after the Camino Francés, with over 20 per cent of pilgrims who received a compostela in the last pre-pandemic year of 2019 choosing this route.
It’s easy to see why: this is a short camino with plenty of albergues and other pilgrim infrastructure that takes pilgrims through two countries and past historic towns including Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, Pontevedra and Padrón.
The Portugal-Spain border crossing over the Minho River between Valença and Tui is another highlight. Valença is a fortress town on the Portuguese side whose ramparts date from as far back as the 13th century, while the Galician town of Tui is dominated by its imposing Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.
In recent years, the Variante Espiritual option after Pontevedra has become an increasingly popular part of this camino. It includes stunning scenery on the Stone and Water Route, monasteries at Poio and Armenteira, seaside hórreos in Combarro and the translatio boat trip in the wake of Santiago’s posthumous journey.
Pilgrims choosing this route should be aware that there is a fair amount of cobblestone walking which can be tough on feet and knees, and there’s road walking on the first day out of Porto. Many pilgrims start walking the coastal route from Porto along the Douro River and switch back to the central after a day or two.
Caminho Português Coastal
Pros: Porto, coastal views and boardwalks, sea breezes that make it cooler in summer, several options for rejoining the central route, Variante Espiritual
Cons: Less historic route than the central, some coastal towns are touristy
The coastal route was the third most popular camino behind the Camino Francés and the Caminho Português Central in 2019 with over 22,000 pilgrims treading the boardwalks of this path.
Like the central, the coastal route begins in the fabulous city of Porto. The colourful houses, azulejos (Portuguese tiles), port wine and river life are all highlights of Portugal’s second largest city, and it’s well worth spending a day or two exploring Porto before beginning the camino.
From Porto, there are several options for beginning the coastal route; a recommended choice is to follow the alternative Senda Litoral path along the Douro River west to the ocean, turning north at Foz de Douro.
Once on the coast, the camino continues north to the town of Caminha, where boats transport pilgrims across the Minho River into Spain.
Beyond the scenery, the coastal route also passes some historical towns including Viana do Castelo on the Portuguese side and Baiona on the Spanish side, while the Oia monastery is another highlight.
On several occasions, the official coastal route turns inland, but the series of trails that make up the Senda Litoral provide an alternative for those who don’t wish to stray from the ocean.
There are several possibilities for returning to the central route, but the one that stays on the coast the longest involves walking to the Galician city of Vigo and rejoining the central at Redondela. Another option is to turn inland on the Portuguese side of the Minho to join the central at Valença and walk across the bridge to Tui.
Caminho Português (from Lisbon)
Pros: Lisbon, more immersion in Portugal, historic towns of Santarém, Tomar and Coimbra, choice of central or coastal routes at Porto
Cons: Some road walking, fewer pilgrims and less pilgrim infrastructure before Porto
One of the great camino debates is whether to start the Caminho Português in Lisbon or Porto. The latter is far more popular; in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, statistics from the pilgrim office in Santiago show that for every pilgrim who started in Lisbon, nearly 15 started in Porto.
If time allows, the main advantage of starting in Lisbon is that it’s a much longer camino, which allows for greater immersion into Portuguese life in regions where the culture is more distinct than north of Porto (where there are many similarities with Galicia).
The historic towns of Santarém, Tomar and Coimbra are also well worth exploring, and the latter two are perfect places for a rest day. Among the many attractions in these towns, Tomar’s Convento do Cristo is arguably the most impressive historic site on the entire Caminho Português between Lisbon and Santiago.
As for the trail itself, the first several stages out of Lisbon and the stages between Coimbra and Porto contain a fair amount of road walking. Between Tomar and Coimbra, the path is largely rural among vineyards and olive trees and these stages are the most picturesque.
Finally, there is also the possibility of starting in Lisbon and following coastal trails for part of the way, although these are less developed than the standard route.
Caminho Português Interior
Distance: 208km to Verín; 387km to Santiago (including the Sanabrés from Verín)
Stages: ~10 to Verín; ~18 to Santiago
Pros: Beautiful scenery, Douro Valley, historical route, vast albergue network for a route with few pilgrims
Cons: Lots of ups and downs (especially first four days), solitary route
Sometimes confused with the Central route from Porto, the Portuguese Interior trail is further east and traverses a more mountainous and less populated part of the country.
As with the Caminho de Torres, a great highlight of the CPI is the Douro Valley stage from Lamego, which passes through the famous terraced vineyards of the region. The two caminos share part of this stage before going their separate ways.
After crossing the Douro River, the camino enters the rural region of Tras-os-Montes, described in one rather fanciful account as resembling Machu Picchu.
Typically, the final overnight stop in Portugal is the charming town of Chaves, which contains a medieval tower and impressive Roman remains including a bridge with stone markers and a bath complex. From there, the camino crosses the Spanish border to Verín, where it joins a variant of the Camino Sanabrés.
The recent extension of the CPI means it’s possible to start in Coimbra and combine it with part of the Caminho Português to create an alternative route, albeit a less direct one, from Lisbon to Santiago.
Caminho de Torres
Pros: Salamanca, the countryside in Spain, the Douro Valley, the historic cities of Guimarães and Braga, several options for continuing to Santiago
Cons: A lot of road walking in Portugal, lack of pilgrim infrastructure
The Caminho de Torres (Camino Torres in Spanish) approximates the route taken to Santiago in the 18th century by Salamanca university professor Don Diego de Torres Villarroel. It heads southwest from Salamanca towards the Portuguese border and then northwest to Ponte de Lima, where it joins the Caminho Português Central and continues north to Santiago.
The Spanish section of the route is very rural and mostly passes through idyllic countryside, occasionally interrupted by towns including the cathedral city of Ciudad Rodrigo. This scenery continues for the first few stages on the other side of the border before the route becomes more urban.
In Portugal, highlights include the walled city of Trancoso, the spectacular terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley and the historic cities of Guimarães (the birthplace of Portugal) and Braga, although there is a lot of road walking during these stages, particularly after Amarante.
Alternative options for continuing to Santiago include switching to the Caminho Português Interior in Lamego or to the Caminho da Geira e dos Arrieros in Braga.
Caminho da Geira e dos Arrieros
Pros: Roman road and milestones, Peneda-Gerês National Park, friendly and welcoming locals
Cons: Inconsistent way-marking, lack of pilgrim infrastructure
The Caminho da Geira e dos Arrieros is an up-and-coming route that is an excellent alternative to the coastal or central routes from Porto as a short, off-the-beaten path camino that gives pilgrims a taste of both Portugal and Spain.
The two parts of the camino’s name refer to the ancient Roman road – the Geira – and the merchant road that arrieros (wine carriers) traversed from the wine-growing region of the Ribeiro to Santiago during the Middle Ages.
Although the Roman road and accompanying milestones, the historic sites of Ribadavia and the seventh-century São Frutuoso chapel outside Braga are features of the route, the scenery is the real highlight of this camino.
Near the Portuguese-Spanish border, the Peneda-Gerês National Park, with its crystal-clear rivers, forests and mountains, is the most beautiful part of the trail, but the nature focus of the camino continues into Galicia.
While the Geira e dos Arrieros doesn’t see many pilgrims and there’s only one albergue on the route, the hospitality pilgrims receive from locals is among the most welcoming on any camino.
Pros: Mostly countryside walking, many historic towns and castles, good way-marking despite having so few pilgrims, feels like an adventure
Cons: Lack of pilgrim infrastructure, heat in summer, possible language barrier
The Caminho Nascente, also known as the Via Portugal Nascente, was launched in 2018 and is one of the two major Camino de Santiago routes, along with the Caminho Central, that link the southern Portuguese coast with the tomb of the apostle.
The Nascente traverses three distinct regions – the Algarve, the Alentejo and the Beiras – and pilgrims who chose this route will immerse themselves in Portuguese village life as well as visiting historic towns and more than a dozen castles.
Despite passing through such towns as Mértola, Beja, Évora and others, this is a largely rural camino whose natural highlights include the Alentejo countryside, the dramatic crossing of the Tejo river and the mountainous stages of the Beiras.
Although the camino is still developing and does not see many pilgrims, the route is well signposted, and local parish councils can arrange lodging in places where there are no albergues or other traditional forms of accommodation.
From the end point of the Caminho Nascente in Trancoso, pilgrims can continue walking on the Caminho de Torres and eventually join any one of the Português Interior, the Geira e dos Arrieros or the Português Central routes to reach Santiago.
Pros: Easy-to-reach starting point, joins standard CP in Santarém, Order of Santiago connections, longer walking season than northern caminos
Cons: Lack of pilgrim infrastructure, heat in summer
More Information: Official Site
The Caminho Central is the logical extension of the Caminho Português all the way to the south coast of Portugal, allowing pilgrims to begin in the capital of the Algarve, Faro, and walk all the way to Santiago, traversing the entire length of Portugal in the process.
Leaving the coast, the camino spends the first part of its trajectory in the rural interior of the Algarve and the Alentejo, regions that have lovely weather for early or late season walking but that are very hot in summer.
Moving closer to the coast, the towns of Alcácer do Sal and Santiago do Cacém have important connections to the Order of Santiago, while Grândola is famous in Portugal for the song Grândola Vila Morena, the playing of which on the radio was the trigger for the 1974 Carnation Revolution.
There is also an Atlantic variant which links the Caminho Central to the Rota Vicentina, allowing walkers to begin at Saint Vincent’s Cape near Sagres at the southwestern most point of Portugal.
Caminho da Raia
Pros: Several historic towns, road less travelled, immersion in the Alentejo
Cons: Lack of pilgrim infrastructure, won’t be officially launched until 2022
More Information: Official Site
The Caminho da Raia is one of three recently developed caminos being promoted by the Caminhos de Santiago Alentejo e Ribatejo in the south of Portugal (along with the Nascente and Central described above). This camino is entirely within the Alentejo region and follows part of the older Caminho do Este, which is no longer being maintained.
The Alentejo is the largest and most depopulated region of Portugal, and once the final Raia route is determined, pilgrims can expect to walk in picturesque countryside featuring cork and olive trees.
The historic highlights of the Raia include Elvas with its World Heritage listed fortifications, the charming whitewashed village of Marvão and the low-key city of Portalegre, containing a castle and a cathedral.
The Caminho da Raia can be walked as a stand-alone camino or as a variant of the Caminho Nascente, given that its start and end points are both shared with the Nascente.
Camino Zamorano Portugués (Vía de la Plata Portugués)
Pros: Historic town of Bragança, mountain scenery, San Pedro de la Nave church, adventurous alternative to the standard Vía de la Plata
Cons: Strenuous ups and downs during the Portuguese stages, possible language barrier in rural Portuguese sections, solitary route
More Information: Confraternity of St. James
The Zamorano Português is an alternative route for completing the Vía de la Plata that starts in Seville. While the most common option is to turn northwest two stages after Zamora onto the Camino Sanabrés, remaining in Spain all the way to Santiago, the Zamorana Portugués veers off at Zamora itself and follows a parallel path south of the Sanabrés that heads into Portugal.
On the Spanish section of the route, a highlight is the seventh-century Visigothic church San Pedro de la Nave, just past Almendra, which is 23km from Zamora and typically the end of the first stage.
Although there are only a handful of stages in Portugal, these are noteworthy for the beautiful scenery and strenuous walking of the Montesinho Natural Park in a region of Portugal known as Trás-os-Montes (‘Behind the Mountains’).
Another highlight of the Portuguese section of this camino is the underrated city of Bragança, known for its 12th-century citadel that contains a beautifully preserved old town inside its complete set of medieval walls.
From Bragança, the camino eventually heads back into Spain at Verín, where it joins the Caminho Português Interior and a variant of the Sanabrés before rejoining the main route at Ourense, just over 100km from Santiago.
Which of these routes of the Camino de Santiago in Portugal have you done or would like to do? Leave your comments below!