Where do you fly to start the Camino? Best airports and routes 2023




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Many things have changes with the pandemics. Some airlines closed down, some airports were almost shut for a year. But things are getting slowly back to normal, borders are opening again, and Camino is ready for a new wave of pilgrims hungry for spiritual and other experiences. If you have also waited for this opportunity and look forward to cover the famous 800 kilometers long journey from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, you likely wonder how to get there.

Flying from overseas (US, Canada, Australia, Korea, etc), you actually have some options, and I will try to describe them in this post. Basically you can take one of two major routes–either flying to Paris (and from then on) or to Madrid (and from there to one of the Spanish airports close to Saint Jean). Each option has some advantages. There is also an option to fly to London (since it services flights from all over the world) and than taking a low cost flight with Ryanair or Wizzair, that actually operate flights to small airports quite close to Saint Jean. Anyway, let’s have a loot at each option in detail.


Flying to Paris to start your Camino

Camino Frances, or the “French Camino” starts in France, so you may be tempted to think that logically you should head for the country of wine and cheese. And your reasoning isn’t completely wrong, though Saint Jean Pied de Port is really on the border of France and Spain. Anyway, you can fly to Paris (and easy city to get to from anywhere in the world), and from there take one of the following options:

  1. Flying on to Biarritz. Biarritz is a small airport operated by Air France and a few low cost carriers. From Biarritz you typically have to take a few buses or trains, or the combination of both, to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port. By car it is less than an hour to reach Saint Jean from Biarritz airport, but as you know for sure, public transport isn’t the best in Spain, you’ll have to change several connections, and the way can take anything from two to four hours. Not that bad in my views, considering you’re embarking on a journey of lifetime.
  2. Taking a train from Paris to Bayonne (a city close to Biarritz), and from there on taking two more trains (first one to Combo Les Bains) to reach Saint Jean. Such a journey takes about 7 hours, and isn’t necessarily cheaper than taking a flight (sad but true). However, it has some advantages–you do not have to walk from train stations to bus stations etc. You stay with the same means of transport–a train, all the way from Paris to Saint Jean. I took this route once and it isn’t a bad experience to say the least, because you will also enjoy nice views and French countryside (unless you sleep on the train of course).

– One of the many ancient bridges on Camino Frances. Before you can traverse the bridge on feet, however, you’ll often have to cross the continent in a plane…

Flying to Madrid to start your Camino Frances

90% of Camino Frances takes place in Spain, so another logical thought is flying to Madrid, and somehow getting to Saint Jean from there. And while it seems simple, you have to realize that Pyrenees separate Spain and France where French route crosses the border, so actually if you want to start from Saint Jean, it may not be the best option. It is doable though.

From Madrid, you need to fly either to San Sebastian (closer to Saint Jean) or to Bilbao (more and cheaper flights), and from then on take a series of buses and trains (at least 4 from Bilbao and at least 3 from San Sebastian) to get to Saint Jean. Having said that, if you decide to skip the Pyrenees and start your Camino from Pamplona, flying to Madrid and continuing on to Bilbao or San Sebastian is actually a great option, since there is direct connection between the two places, and you can get from San Sebastian to Pamplona in a mere hour, taking a single bus.

* May also interest you: Camino de Santiago ultralight packing list – Can you get under 5 kilos and at the same time have all you need on your long walk across Spain?


Flying to London to start your Camino

London may seem ages away from Saint Jean Pied de Port, both in terms of distance, weather, and culture :). But I know that many Americans and Canadians love to fly to London, simply because of no language barrier, and also because how well the UK airports are organized. What’s more, you can fly to London from everywhere really, and tickets are often cheaper than tickets to Paris or Madrid.

If you find any information on this page incorrect or outdated, or have a suggestion how to improve it for fellow pilgrims, please let us know. Thank you for helping the pilgrim community, and buen Camino 🙂

I have good news for you: Ryanair operates a direct flight from Standsted airport in London to Biarritz. The schedule changes according to the season, and so does the price of tickets. But you can always fly to London (typically to one of the other two airports), take a bus to Standsted, and from there fly to Biarritz, and continue to Saint Jean as I described when explaining the way through Paris. In some cases and for some travelers this may actually be the cheapest option.

– There’s a reason why “Spanish skies” appear in so many songs… You’ll see some wonderful skies on your Camino. Before it can happen though, you have to get there 🙂

Flying directly to Santiago de Compostela (and then going back to Saint Jean or other starting point)

Besides being the ending point of the most famous pilgrimage in Europe, Santiago de Compostela is also a tourist spot. From spring to summer, many airlines (especially low cost) operate flights to Santiago from all corners of Europe and beyond. It may be tempting to fly there (and having a return ticket), so once you actually reach Santiago you have an easy travel back home.

And while this is a valid point, I believe for a couple of reasons it isn’t a great option. Let me explain:

  • Getting from Santiago de Compostela to Saint Jean (or even to Pamplona) is quite tricky. This is a long journey (count with 16 hours at best to Saint Jean), and the trains from Santiago are often sold out in the peak season. In my opinion it is better flying closer to the starting point of your pilgrimage, because the last thing you want to experience is an extremely tiring travel before you even start your walk.
  • As a pilgrim, you should reach Santiago on feet (or bike, or horseback). The city has a special charm, and I believe it is an encounter you should save for the end of your pilgrimage. It isn’t the same arriving by plane, and after 800 kilometers of walking. Sure, maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal for you. But after many pilgrimages I’ve done I can tell you it makes a difference…
  • Return ticket from Santiago can place extra pressure on you. Anything can happen on a 800km long walk. You do not know how your body will react to the miles you cover daily, you do not know what the weather will be like. It may take you four weeks to reach Santiago but also six. Perhaps you meet a love of your live on the way, you share it together, and eventually you won’t even fly home… What I try to say here is that having no return ticket (and arranging things once you reach Santiago–if you do) gives you an extra sense of freedom. Of course I understand this isn’t an option for everyone, but I still wanted to make the point. Having an exact date when you must reach Santiago doesn’t align too well with the purpose of a pilgrimage.


Final thoughts

Saint Jean Pied de Port, starting point of the French Camino, is a small town in French Pyrenees. Just like any other small town in the mountains, it isn’t particularly easy to reach it. Regardless of where you live outside of France, your first step will be taking a plane. And as I described on the lines above, you have several options–flying to Paris, Madrid, London, or even to Santiago de Compostela, and from there on taking another flight/train.

Each of these options has some pluses and some minuses. You can also think about connecting two pleasant activities into one journey. Perhaps you always wanted to experience Paris, so why not stopping there for two nights while traveling to the Camino? Or you live in some nice sunny place like California, and miss some clouds and rain and dull atmosphere. In such a case you can take the London route :). In any case, I hope this article helps you with your planning, and wish you buen Camino!


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