These are frequently asked questions among walkers. On this blog post, we explain the main similarities and differences between Europe’s most famous heritage trails: the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena.
Are you taking the Camino de Santiago or Camino to Rome?
Both the Camino de Santiago and Via Francigena are long distance walking routes following medieval pilgrimage trails.
Both have been made European Cultural Itineraries by the Council of Europe:
The Camino de Santiago was the first European Cultural Itinerary, and has been listed by UNESCO since 1987.
The Via Francigena is a European Cultural Route since 1994.
The Camino de Santiago has many different routes, the most famous being the Camino Frances (800km), featuring in many books, movies and documentaries. If you are looking for lesser known routes, you can also choose many other alternative ways: the Camino Portugues, Camino del Norte, Finisterre Camino, Camino Primitivo and many other Camino routes in France: Le Puy, Vezelay, Arles Way, etc.
The classic Via Francigena covers 1,900km from Canterbury to Rome and follows the route taken by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, on his pilgrimage to Rome in the 10th century.
It crosses most of Europe: it starts in Canterbury Cathedral, then crosses the English Channel from Dover to Calais, passing the WWI battlefields of Northern France, the Champagne region, Switzerland and the Alps, into Italy and through Aosta, the Apennines, Tuscany and Lazio, before reaching Rome.
You can also follow the Saint Francis Way (Via Francigena di Francesco or Cammino di Francesco from Florence to Rome) or the Via Francigena of the South.
In terms of numbers, the Camino de Santiago, particularly the Camino Frances (which attracts 60% of Camino-goers) gets thousands of pilgrims from all over the globe every year.
The Pilgrims Office in Santiago compiles statistics and keeps records of all the ‘Compostela’ issued (pilgrimage certificate awarded when reaching Santiago) and in 2017 alone over 300,000 people received the ‘Compostela’.
This number won’t even include the number of pilgrims walking the routes in France (unless they walked all the way to Santiago) or the Finisterre Way, a route starting in Santiago. It is estimated another 400,000 walk sections of the various Camino routes not finishing in Santiago.
Numbers for the Via Francigena are difficult to come by and much lower than on the Camino. 2,500 pilgrims walked or cycled the Via Francigena in 2012 (source: Cicerone Guides). Since the Via Francigena is such a long trail, it is also difficult to estimate the total number of pilgrims walking only parts of the trail but not making it all the way to Rome.
Camino de Santiago: the ubiquitous/omnipresent yellow arrow and yellow scallop shell are the most recognisable Camino markings along all routes. In France, you will find them mixed with the red-white stripes long distance trail markings.
Via Francigena: it is reasonably well marked in Italy with the red and white stripes and the Francigena pilgrim. It is more difficult to find in France, Switzerland and the UK (be aware you might find different types of Francigena markings: the pilgrim, the red and white stripes, both combined).
800km (1 month) to walk the full Camino Frances.
1900 (3 months) to walk the full Via Francigena.
Luckily, you can choose to walk any section you like!
THE PILGRIM CERTIFICATE
The Compostela for those on the Camino de Santiago; but there are also other pilgrim certificates such as the Finisterrana (in Finisterre) and the Muxiana (in Muxia).
you can get the Testimonium of pilgrimage to Rome if you are walking from Acquapendente or Viterbo. There are other pilgrim certificates also on the St Francis Way.
If you are looking for the social aspect: go for the Camino Frances or the Camino Portugues.
If you are interested in the landscape, history, walking and overall experience but don’t mind not meeting many other pilgrims, other Camino routes and the Via Francigena will be fantastic.
Check with our travel consultants if you need advice on which particular section you should take.
For more information about the Camino de Santiago, the Via Francigena or to book an unforgettable trip, contact our travel specialists