A Guide to Walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

I’d always enjoyed hiking, but it was only after a wonderful month on the Camino Frances that long-distance walking really became my thing. In idle moments ever since, I’ll find my mind drifting back to those long days on the meseta or among the vineyards, and start itching to lace up my boots and hit the trail again.

Towards the end of my time on the French way, there’d been a lot of chatter from other walkers about continuing on from Santiago. Not just the three extra days to the coast that I did, but turning south and walking across the border and down to Porto. It sounded very tempting, but with a flight booked for a few days later, I just didn’t have enough time to squeeze it in.

Skip forward a year, though, and it was a different story. I was looking for my next lengthy walk, and with about three weeks to devote to it, started narrowing down the options. There are several different Camino routes just in Spain and Portugal alone, and knowing I’d be in Lisbon beforehand, picking somewhere on the Iberian peninsula made sense. I toyed with doing parts of the Camino del Norte, the Via de la Plata, and others, but none of them felt quite right for this hike.

In the end, then, I decided to see what all the fuss had been about the previous year, and walk the Portuguese Camino. The most common routes only take 10-12 days, from Porto to Santiago, so I had a bit of extra time.

I considered starting further south, somewhere like Coimbra or Águeda, but in the end, decided to return to the Galician coast I’d enjoyed so much the first time around. To throw in an extra twist, I turned the last section into a loop, walking from Santiago to Muxia, on to Finisterre, then back ‘against the arrows’ to Santiago.

Here’s how it went. Note, I’m using the Spanish spelling (camino) rather than the Portuguese one (caminho). This isn’t due to any language preference on my part, but just to keep things consistent with other posts on the site.

Getting There and Away

Fatima or SantiagoSince I was in Lisbon anyway, getting to my starting point in Porto couldn’t have been easier. Trains and buses run regularly between Portugal’s two largest cities, and they’re inexpensive to boot. I booked my train between Oriente and São Bento stations a couple of months in advance, for the princely sum of nine euros.

That was a particularly good deal, but tickets booked more than five days in advance will rarely cost more than €20 for the three-hour trip. Buses can be even cheaper, but take a bit longer and aren’t as comfortable.

In Porto, inter-city trains stop at Campanha station, which is a little east of the centre. Assuming you booked a ticket to São Bento (which costs the same amount), you can use any suburban train from that station to go the one extra stop. Hint: this only applies to trains from Campanha rail station, not the metro stop that’s just outside.  Yes, there’s a reason I now know this.

From São Bento, it’s a five-minute stroll to the cathedral. There, you can buy a pilgrim passport if you need one, and get your first stamp in it, before heading to the tourist office directly opposite. The staff were able to give all kinds of useful advice about the different routes, along with a map for getting out of Porto, and a full list of albergues (hostels for walkers) along the way. It’s definitely worth doing before setting off on your walk.

To get back again three weeks later, I booked a seat on the Santiago — Porto — Lisbon bus a few days in advance, at the helpful tourist office opposite the main bus stop in Finisterre. You can do it yourself on the ALSA website, but since you need to print the ticket out somewhere anyway, I was happy to pay the small commission to do it in person. The company puts extra buses on at peak times, but it’s a popular route, and often fills up. If you’ve got a plane to catch, or somewhere else you need to be, don’t wait until the last minute to book.

Speaking of planes, if you’re coming from further afield, Porto’s international airport has direct flights from several European countries, and a few from other destinations as well. Wi-fi is common in albergues, bars, and cafes along the Portuguese Camino, but if you want a Portuguese SIM card to stay connected, there’s a Vodafone store in the arrivals area. From there, the metro runs to São Bento, although you’ll need to change lines (or start walking) at Trindade.

Camino Portuguese arrow on rockOther Logistical Stuff


When it comes to language, English speakers will generally have a pretty easy time on the Portuguese Camino, at least until they cross the border. Any Portuguese person you meet, especially under the age of 40 or so, is far more likely to speak English than their Spanish counterparts. While that doesn’t excuse you from learning at least a few words of the language, you’ll be able to get by with English, at least for basic requirements, most of the time.

In Spain, you’ll benefit from knowing basic ‘Camino Spanish’, which will help with ordering food, asking directions, and so on. Even there, though, you’ll never not get fed, or struggle to find a bed for the night. Most albergue staff can speak passable English, and the rest of the time, it can’t be that difficult if even my horrific attempts at speaking Spanish are enough to get by!


There are only a few guidebooks to the Portuguese Camino. As with the Camino Frances, John Brierley’s version is the most popular among English speakers — and just as when I walked that route, I wasn’t interested in carrying a physical guide. He doesn’t make it available on Kindle or PDF, so again, I opted for an app.

Since it’s not as popular a route, there aren’t as many app options out there. I loved the Camino de Santiago Guide I used on the Frances, but it doesn’t cover the Portuguese way, so I had to find something else to get me to Santiago. I opted for the Wise Pilgrim app, which was… ok.

I didn’t find it as easy to use or comprehensive as the other one, but it still covered the essentials and had enough information to get me where I was going with a minimum of fuss. At the time, it only covered the inland route (it’s since been updated), so I was on my own for the first couple of days. More on that below.

Just like on the Frances route, Brierley’s book serves an unexpectedly-useful purpose. With many people following his route planner to the letter, knowing where his recommended stopping points are lets you choose to stay elsewhere for the night if you’re worried about getting a bed.

That only works if you know what his suggested route looks like, of course. To that end, I asked to take a photo of that page of a fellow walker’s book, and used it in my planning from that point forward.

Time Zones

It’s a minor thing, but don’t forget there’s a time zone change when you cross between (in my case) Valença, in Portugal, and Tui, in Spain. Going forward an hour doesn’t make much practical difference at the time, other than getting food before the restaurants close in the afternoon, but you’ll notice it more the next morning.

Unless you change your alarm (and less likely, everyone else in the albergue does the same), you’ll have an extra hour of walking in the dark to contend with from that point forward. Other than making it harder to spot the arrows, dawn is my favourite time of day to walk, so this suited me just fine. If you’re not a morning person, you may well have a different opinion.

Backpack outside Porto CathedralPacking List

By and large, I used the same packing list as I did on the Camino Frances a year earlier. Rather than repeat every single item, I’ll just outline the differences.


The 30-litre REI backpack I used the previous year was at the end of its useful life, so I bought a cheap 40-litre hiking pack from Decathlon. The company sells two models in this size, but the more expensive one was out of stock at my local store, leaving just the Forclaz 40 Air.

While it was up to the task, I didn’t love this backpack. The material was very thin, and the frame, while light, wasn’t particularly sturdy. I didn’t find it super-comfortable on longer days, even with under 7kg of gear in it — the weight distribution was all wrong, and it never quite sat in the right place on my back no matter how much I adjusted the straps. There were no obvious signs of damage when I finished, but without any real ventilation, it smelled pretty funky after three weeks of walking in hot temperatures.

Overall it was fine for a few weeks, especially for the price, but I replaced it with the higher-quality Osprey Talon 44 for my next long walk (along Hadrian’s Wall).

Due to the extra room in my pack, there was no need to use a compression/stuff sack this time around.

Shirts and Underwear

I took my own advice from the above post, picking up quick-dry t-shirts from Nike and Salomon on clearance. The ones I found looked more like normal t-shirts than dedicated running gear, which meant I could wear them out at night without feeling completely like I’d just stepped off the trail. This isn’t the exact same shirt, but it’s pretty close.

Likewise, having learned my lesson the year before, I ditched my previous underwear choices, and just went with three pairs of Under Armour boxer briefs with 6″ inseam. They worked perfectly, with zero chafing.


I swapped out a few other miscellaneous bits and pieces as well. Since I lost my Camelbak water bottle on the last Camino, I replaced it with a Chute model, which worked much better anyway.

On the technology side, I took a smaller, yet higher-capacity portable battery, as well as a Kindle for reading in the evenings, and got plenty of use out of both. The fancy sports watch from last time got left behind, replaced with the Fitbit I wear every day anyway. It wasn’t as accurate tracking distances, but was close enough for my needs, and only needed charging once every few days rather than each night.

Due to a minor knee injury beforehand, I decided to take a single hiking pole this time around. Decathlon sells a few different kinds, and I picked up an inexpensive collapsing model, with rubber stoppers for the bottom so as not to annoy myself and everyone else with incessant tapping on paved roads. I didn’t use it often, but found it helpful on the few steep sections.

On long walks like this I’m always torn between using solid soap (because it takes up less room and lasts longer), and shower gel (it’s nicer to use, and doubles as shampoo as well). This time around I took some nice-smelling soap from Lush, which I stored in one of the company’s little metal containers that it sells for that purpose. It worked fine, but I still don’t know which option I prefer, and suspect I’ll probably just keep switching between the two on every walk until the end of time.

The Walk

The Portuguese way has a surprising number of route options. Even if you’re only starting from Porto, as I did (there’s also the option of beginning in Lisbon), there are at least three marked paths to get you the roughly 240km to the cathedral.

The most common route runs inland, through Barcelos, Ponte de Lima, Valença and Tui, Pontevedra, and on to Santiago. An increasingly-common alternative runs mostly along the coast to Vigo and beyond, and there’s also an ‘interior’ path that goes via Guimarães and Braga, before rejoining the main route.

None of this even includes minor detours like the ‘spiritual variant’ that branches off for a couple of days after Pontevedra. It’s all a bit complicated, especially because there isn’t much information on anything other than the most common approach, and people use different names to describe the same routes.

In the end, I decided to go for a bit of a mixture. Since the standard route out of Porto is through ugly industrial parks, I chose instead to walk out to the beach suburb of Matasinhos on the afternoon I arrived. The path isn’t marked with arrows, but it’s almost impossible to get lost — you just need to follow the north bank of the river, and then the ocean, for around 10km.

There are more direct routes, but they’re nowhere near as attractive. As there were no albergues nearby, the options of where to stay in Matasinhos were quite limited. In the end I chose Pensao Central, a lovely little walker-friendly hotel that I liked a lot, and would happily stay at again.

Camino Portuguese, day 1

The following morning, I saw my first arrow just after crossing the bridge over the Rio Leça, and they were pretty frequent the rest of the way to Vila do Conde. It was a lovely 24km walk, and once out of Porto, almost entirely on boardwalks through the sand dunes. I felt like I was dawdling, with coffee and photo stops aplenty, but still arrived two hours before the shiny new municipal albergue opened at 3 pm. A great excuse for a lengthy lunch and one too many wines, really.

With a long day ahead, I was walking before sunrise the next morning, heading back inland to rejoin the main Camino route at Rates, then on to Barcelos. There’s apparently a sketch map for this in Brierley’s guidebook, but the albergue had a photocopied map that laid out the basic route. Just as well, really, since I didn’t spot a single arrow between Vila do Conde and the small town of Touguinha.

Camino Portuguese, Vila do Conde, day 2

The 34km to Barcelos passed quicker than expected, helped by a couple of hours on soft dirt trails through the forest. It was nice to not be wearing my feet to stumps on cobblestones and asphalt. If only I could say the same for the rest of this Camino! While the municipal albergue was nothing to get excited about, the BBQ chicken dinner at Furna restaurant certainly was.

Without conscious thought, my time on this Camino was already settling into a routine. Short day, long day, rinse and repeat. With few exceptions, I kept it up the whole way, and it worked well. I felt less rushed than on the Frances route the year before, when I’d planned to meet a friend in Santiago to walk to the coast together, and had a flight booked a few days after that.

This time around, I didn’t particularly care how long it took me, and often stopped for the night just because somewhere seemed appealing, or if I just didn’t feel like slogging through another 30+ kilometre day. Nowhere was that flexibility rewarded more than in Outeiro. This tiny village has no services whatsoever… but it does have Fernanda.

Her house was widely praised in my app and online forums, and although it was apparently usually fully booked, I had to go in and ask when I saw the sign out the front. With barely a dozen beds (yes, real beds, not bunks!), my hopes weren’t high — but luck was in. There was one spot left, so I took it without a second thought.

Camino Portuguese, Casa Fernanda, day 4

Sitting in the backyard later that afternoon, with grass between my toes and a cold beer in hand, remains one of my favourite memories from any long-distance hike I’ve done. Fernanda herself was absolutely lovely, dinner was exceptional — pork, chicken, potatoes, salad, wine, and port all made an appearance — and breakfast the next morning was the perfect start to the day.

It was the warmth and friendliness that stood out the most, though. People talk of ‘Camino angels’, and with nothing ever seeming too much trouble, Fernanda and her husband Jacinto are definitely that. I’ve never stayed anywhere like Casa Fernanda. If you get the opportunity yourself, take it.

I’d planned to stop in Ponte de Lima the next day, but arrived there before lunchtime, so just had a quick look around the town and its famous bridge before continuing on. The first real climb of this Camino came not long afterward, up a steep hill just outside Arco, and I was pretty tired by the time I limped down into São Roque that afternoon.

Camino Portuguese, Ponte de Lima, day 5

On the upside, what I had assumed was an overpriced albergue (Repouso do Peregrino) turned out to be an inexpensive pensione instead! A clean private room, with my own bathroom, breakfast and laundry included, for 15 euros? It was a no-brainer.

A vague plan to stay in Valença on the Portuguese side of the border the next night became a firm plan to stay in Tui on the Spanish side, when I walked past a sign in the former town saying the large municipal albergue was closed. I later heard from another walker that it had been shut due to a bedbug outbreak, so was pretty glad I’d dodged that particular bullet.

Switching over in my mind from bad Portuguese to bad Spanish took several hours, about as long as it took me to buy a Spanish SIM card, and remember to change the time zone on my phone. Oops.

The next day dawned hot, sunny, and full of paved roads, although a couple of alternative routes avoided the worst of it (including following a lovely riverside path in O Porriño, where the arrows had been blacked out by dodgy shop owners who wanted you to slog along the main road past their cafes and bars instead. No thanks.)

Stone bridge, Camino Portuguese

Still, by the time I got to the tiny village of Mos an hour and a half later, I was seriously considering stopping there for the night. When the cafe owner offered me calamari for lunch and pulled a frosted glass out of the freezer for my clara, the decision was made. It was a great decision, in the end — the albergue was simple but spick and span, the food was good, and everyone I met there seemed particularly relaxed, even by Spanish standards. Happy days.

The trek to the good-sized town of Pontevedra the next day also had too much road walking (sensing a theme yet?), although there were again some lovely stretches, usually on alternative routes. Pontevedra itself was beautiful, the kind of place that I’d happily return to for a couple of nights. If you’re thinking about taking a rest day somewhere along this part of the route, that’d be the place to do it.

Pontevedra bridge, Camino Portuguese

After taking a month to get to Santiago on the Frances route the year before, it seemed strange to be almost within sight of the cathedral after less than a week and a half, but indeed I was. With no real idea how best to break things up, I opted to stop after barely 20km the following day, in the tiny hamlet of Tivo.

Highlight? Being pointed to the village fountain when asking where to wash my clothes. Trust me, I got some great looks from other walkers.

A thick, cold fog descended overnight, and I could barely see where I was going as I crept out of town before dawn the next morning. It didn’t lift until mid-morning, and I didn’t feel warm again until I stopped for lunch.

Foggy arrow, Camino PortugueseMeeting a couple of friends on the way into Padron, we ended up eating and drinking too much at a bar beside the river, before I abandoned my plans to stay there in favour of continuing on to Faramello with them.

The walk was a bit of a slog along minor roads, and the staff at the very-full albergue were easily the grumpiest I’d encountered so far, but hey, there was a bed, food, and wine. By that stage, it’s all I really needed.

The stroll into Santiago the next morning was exactly that, a stroll. Coming in from the south rather the east the year before was about a million times prettier, all wooded trails and sweeping views rather than slogging past the airport and through the suburbs.

After saying a quick hi and bye to the scaffolding-covered cathedral, our attention was drawn to more pressing matters: the supposedly-cheapest beer in central Santiago. At €1.50 for a large glass, I wasn’t inclined to test the accuracy of that claim elsewhere. I was, however, inclined to have a second.

Santiago pulpo

Even better than the beer was the pulpo at Bodegón Os Concheiros, a restaurant specialising in the Galician-style octopus I’d loved so much the year before. Washed down with hearty pours of local wine, it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of this section of my Camino.

Staying at Hostel La Salle has become part of my Santiago routine, and again it didn’t disappoint — it’s one of the cheaper places to get a private room in the city, and it’s in a good location, clean, and quiet. There’s a reason I keep going back!

The next morning, I felt like my life was on repeat. Out the door, past the darkened cathedral, following the arrows out of town. Through the woods, looking back towards the sparkling city in the first rays of morning light, then turning away and heading for the ocean. I’d long said the final march from Santiago to the coast was my favourite part of my previous Camino, and again, it didn’t disappoint.

Sunrise arrow, Camino Portuguese

I followed my tracks almost exactly for the first two days, going so far as to stay in the same towns, even the same albergues, as the year before. Not much had changed, just different faces, different backpacks, different dirty boots lined up beside the door. There aren’t that many options if you want to get to the coast in three days, so again I slogged through the heat to Vilaserio the first day, then dodged rain showers all the way to O Logoso on the second.

Another thing that hadn’t changed? The views, and for that I was very grateful.

Rainbow, Camino Portuguese

On the third day, after the worst night’s sleep of any Camino due to a snoring Korean dude in the bunk above me, I broke right instead of left at the junction, and tiredly grumbled my way towards Muxia. I couldn’t grumble for long, though, thanks to the soft trails, lovely views, new friends, and finally the lighthouse and pounding surf at the end of it all.

With nothing beyond but endless ocean, my spot on the rocks alongside the crashing waves felt like the end of the world. The group of us got a private room at the brand-new (and really rather wonderful) Bela Muxia hostel, I slept the sleep of the dead, and all was right with the world once more.

Muxia rocks

If I thought the previous day was glorious, it wasn’t a patch on the trail between Muxia and Finisterre. With virtually no roads at all, spectacular views, sunny weather, and the world’s largest bocadillo (baguette) at the lone bar around the halfway mark, it was one of those few days where 30km on my feet didn’t feel anywhere near long enough!

It didn’t hurt to end up on the beach in Finisterre, of course — it’s where I ended my Camino the year before, and held plenty of memories as a result. Plus, y’know, it’s really pretty. Deciding to spend the following night there as well took, oh, about three and a half seconds.

Finisterre, Camino Portuguese

Once I finally dragged myself out of Finisterre, I discovered something interesting: despite having walked literally every step of that path back to Santiago before, it was much easier to get lost going the opposite way. The track is only marked in one direction, which meant keeping a close eye out for arrows pointing west, then trying to work out where people would need to be coming from when they saw them.

Most of the time, I got it right. The rest of the time, I definitely didn’t. Thankfully Spanish farmers and grandmothers are a helpful bunch, gently steering me back on track when I started wandering down yet another random wrong laneway, or through a field I shouldn’t have.

Trail and river, Camino Portuguese

To keep things interesting, I chose to stay in two new villages on the way back. First up, Olveiroa, and the world’s dreariest municipal albergue. Hint: stay in the other albergue in town, which is apparently nicer, and also has an attached bar and restaurant that I may have spent quite some time in.

I spent my second-to-last night in Negreira, a decent-sized town with several bars and albergues. I opted for Albergue Lua — a good choice, since there were maybe half a dozen people in a 40 person dorm. I could barely see the others, never mind hear them! Perfect.

Just to prove I still didn’t know where I was going, I managed to take a brief wrong turn getting out of town the next morning, and a much-longer one after lunch, and didn’t get into Santiago until mid-afternoon as a result. Still, with glorious weather, another new friend, and the knowledge that the only walking I’d be doing the following day was to the bus station, it really didn’t matter how long it took.

Cathedral and backpack, Camino Portuguese

And that was just about the end of that. Just one more plate of pulpo at Bodegón Os Concheiros, one more night at Hostel La Salle, and my Camino was done for another year!

Route Summary

Day 1: Porto to Matisinhos, 10km

Day 2: Matisinhos to Vila do Conde, 24km

Day 3: Vila do Conde to Barcelos, 34km

Day 4: Barcelos to Outeiro, 20km

Day 5: Outeiro to São Roque, 31km

Day 6: Sao Roque to Tui, 22km

Day 7: Tui to Mos, 24km

Day 8: Mos to Pontevedra, 30km

Day 9: Pontevedra to Tivo, 20km

Day 10: Tivo to Faramello, 31km

Day 11: Faramello to Santiago, 15km

Day 12: Santiago to Vilaserio, 33km

Day 13: Vilacerio to O Logoso, 24km

Day 14: O Logoso to Muxia, 30km

Day 15: Muxia to Finisterre, 29km

Day 16: Rest day in Finisterre

Day 17: Finisterre to Olveiroa, 32km

Day 18: Olveiroa to Negreira, 32km

Day 19: Negreira to Santiago, 25km

Total distance: 466km

Final Thoughts

Overall, there was plenty to like about walking the Camino Portuguese. Despite apparently being the second-most-popular route after the Frances, it felt dramatically less busy, at least starting in mid-September as I did. Accommodation was easy to come by, with several beds available in almost every albergue I walked into.

Food — the biggest complaint of many walkers on the Camino Frances — was generally good, especially anywhere near the ocean. Wine, as it so often does in southern Europe, flowed freely.

The geography was relatively flat, and although there wasn’t quite the same range and frequency of accommodation as on the Frances, it was still easy to break things up according to how far I felt like walking. I averaged about 25km per day, but that could easily have been 20km or less had I wanted to.

While the loop from Santiago to the coast and back isn’t technically part of the Camino Portuguese, I loved it, and it turned an 11-day walk that would have felt a little too easy into a decent, nearly three-week challenge.

As good as this Camino was, however, it wasn’t perfect. There was simply too much time spent walking on roads and cobblestones, and even with worn-in boots and two pairs of socks, my feet — and those of everyone I met — took a battering from hours spent on hard, uneven surfaces.

Excessive road walking is a common complaint from many pilgrims. This was the third Camino route I’d walked part or all of, and while there’s been too much time on concrete and cobbles on all of them, this was probably the worst of the bunch.

Maybe it was due to the time of year, maybe it was the shorter and easier nature of the walking, but the demographics of the Camino Portuguese definitely skewed older as well — while there were still many people in their twenties and thirties, the majority were 50+.

I’ve got no problem with that — hell, it won’t be all that long before I’m in that age group myself — but for whatever reason, I didn’t make the same strong connections or form the same “Camino families” as on the Frances. I met a few interesting people along the way, but those friendships only lasted two or three days, not two or three weeks.

That’s the way it goes, I guess, and of course things could have been totally different if I’d started walking a day earlier or later, or happened to pick different albergues, or any one of a dozen other variables.

Finally, other than that first day along the Portuguese coast, and the loop out to Finisterre and Muxia that I already knew was stunning, the scenery and views were a bit hit and miss. There were some gorgeous spots, lovely old villages, and wonderful hours spent hiking on dirt trails and shaded paths… but there were also plenty of dry fields, barren plains, and sprawling factories. As with most Camino routes, unspoiled wilderness this was not.

With those things in mind, how would I rate the Camino Portuguese? The Porto to Santiago route was straightforward, relatively easy, with good food and accommodation options. Fitting easily into a two-week vacation, it’d be the perfect introduction to long-distance walking. It wasn’t my favourite Camino (that’d still be the Frances), but I’m still very happy to have walked it.

If you’re considering doing it yourself, I’d highly recommend adding at least the four days from Santiago, through Muxia, to Finisterre. It’s just such an enjoyable section, and finishing your Camino on the beach, having run out of land to put your feet on, gives a greater sense of completion than even the cathedral itself.

Bom Caminho!


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Guide to Walking the Portuguese Camino

5 Responses to “A Guide to Walking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago

  • Really enjoyed your article thank you

  • Timothy
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks again for the great Camino info! I will bookmark this article for later this year. What do you think about starting in Porto, going to Santiago, looping around Muxia and Finisterra, then walking the French way in reverse? Any problems (not social, so not very worried about missing the friendship opportunities by going the opposite way)?

    • If you’re not worried about the social side of things, probably the only real concern is the route markings heading back the other way along the Frances. It won’t be too bad, since there’ll always be a steady stream of people coming towards you, but expect to take a few wrong turns along the way! 😀

  • Gorgeous pics – especially the one with the rainbow!

    I didn’t realise the Camino was also in Portugal – good to know. I’d love to do this one day 🙂

  • I’ve had the Camino de Santiago on my bucket-list for quite a few years now, but I had no idea that it continued into Portugal too. I was only aware of the Spanish Camino. Thanks for the tips and great photos, Dave. Very useful 🙂

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