If you’re trying to choose between the Coastal Portuguese Camino de Santiago and the more widely-known Central Camino Portugues, this article is for you. I’ve walked both of these routes north of Porto, starting with part of the Coastal route.
Both have their plus points and I can’t say that I have a personal favourite so you’ll really have to consider which appeals to you more and what your priorites are.
Or do both!
Read on to find out what’s in store between Porto and Redondela, where the Coastal and Central routes merge, and what to bear in mind before you pick your route. You’ll note that I covered some long daily distances but there are ways of reducing these stages to make the journey more manageable.
Note: I completed this particular journey in a rather disjointed fashion for various reasons. This meant that I got to experience it during different months of the year (February, April and May) as well as do some sections with company and others alone.
This first section deals with practicalities so if you want to skip ahead to the day by day account, click to the Coastal Camino stages section
What is the Coastal Camino?
The Coastal Portuguese Camino de Santiago route was developed by pilgrims who arrived on Portuguese shores by boat from western lands then made their way north on foot. Although the word ‘coastal’ suggests that you’d be spending a lot of time by the ocean, most of this hiking trail is actually inland so you should consider what your primary motives are before you settle on a route.
Not sure what the Camino de Santiago is? Read this first.
This map shows the typical stage breaks on the Coastal Camino Portugues at an average pace of around 20 kms / 12.5 miles per day, although some days are up to 25 kms / 15.5 miles. The section between Caminha and Oia is more coastal than it appears on this map and, in my opinion, is one of the most attractive stages.
Which stages of the Coastal Camino Português are by the ocean?
Not that many is the perhaps surprising answer.
However, if you start your Coastal Camino in Porto and really want to be by the water, you have the option of spending your first day walking the unofficial but easy-to-follow route alongside the beach between Matosinhos and Vila do Conde (approx 22 km / 14 miles).
Between Vila do Conde and Esposende, there is some seaside time between Povoa da Varzim and Aguçadoura then it’s inland all the way to Esposende. From Esposende, unless you take a detour or two, you won’t see much of the sea until you get to Galicia, except for short sections between Vila Praia de Âncora and Caminha.
The first two days in Galicia between A Guarda and Baiona involve some beautiful and exposed coastal stretches. After Baiona, you’ll see the Vigo esturay from a distance but won’t spend any more time by the ocean.
Once you reach the town of Redondela, you will merge with the Central Portuguese Camino and follow this all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
What if you only have a week or so for the Portuguese Camino?
If your main priority is to walk by the ocean and you have a week or less to play with, it would be best to spend that week somewhere between Porto and Baiona. In fact, if what you really want is a leisurely coastal walking holiday in northern Portugal, with no need to follow the Camino, I would suggest this alternative.
However, if it’s important to you to qualify for the compostela pilgrim certificate by walking at least the last 100 kilometres / 62 miles to Santiago de Compostela, and that’s really all you have time for, you might as well walk the Central route between Valença and Santiago because the Baiona-Vigo route starts with a VERY long day and all of it is inland.
How busy is the Coastal Way of St. James?
One of the endearing aspects of walking the Camino, and possibly a reason people become addicted to it, is the joy of meeting fellow walkers, their support and encouragement, and the friendships you make along the Way.
The Coastal Camino Portugues is less well-known and therefore quieter than the Central Route so you may not see many other people while you’re walking. I spent one entire day (in May, one of the most popular months) walking alone without spotting a single fellow pilgrim after leaving the hotel.
That level of solitude may or may not appeal to you but it’s something to bear in mind.
Once the Coastal Portuguese Camino de Santiago merges with the Central Camino in Redondela, you should expect to encounter many more pilgrims each day. They are still easy to avoid if you don’t want company.
As you might expect, in summer months, the coastal towns are buzzing with holidaymakers, which also impacts accommodation availability and prices. In spring and autumn there will be far fewer beachgoers and some of the beach cafés may be closed.
When’s the best time of year to walk the Coastal Camino Portugues?
Winter weather, i.e. strong winds and periods of heavy rain, make this a less-than-ideal time of year for walking by the Atlantic Ocean. I would wait for warmer weather when there is less chance of rain, i.e. from mid-April to June and September to October.
July and August are peak summer holiday periods, especially on the coast, where sea breezes mean that temperatures are generally more bearable than deeper inland, up to 5ºC less. Days will still be HOT so if this is the only time of year when you can do the Camino, try to get most of the walking under your belt before the worst of the day’s heat, i.e. mid-afternoon, or take a break until it starts to cool down again.
Accommodation will be at a premium in coastal towns in July and August and it’s worth bearing in mind that May and September are the most popular months on the Camino so it’s wise to book ahead.
Get in touch if you want to book your Camino through a trusted specialist local tour operator that will arrange carefully vetted hotels close to the Camino, luggage transfers, detailed route notes and 24-hour emergency support.
Coastal Camino Portuguese Stages
For more details about each of the stages on the Coastal Camino Portugues, read on for a day by day account…
Portuguese Coastal Camino: Porto (Matosinhos) to Vila do Conde (22 km / 14 miles)
Although the Coastal Portuguese Camino ostensibly starts from Porto Cathedral, the official route leads you through an urban jungle so most specialist tour operators advise pilgrims to start walking in Matosinhos and suggest you follow the coastal path/road to Vila do Conde so that you spend the day by the ocean instead of surrounded by concrete. It’s not the official Coastal Camino but it’s a much prettier route.
This has the added bonus of reducing the distance between Porto and Vila do Conde to 22 kilometres instead of 34 km (21 miles), which is way too much ground for most people to cover in one day.
Depending on how you get to Matosinhos (if it’s by metro, you’ll need to cross the bridge then head to the coast but if you have a transfer included in your Camino package, you will probably start at Boa Nova, where there is a chapel on the rocks and a Michelin-starred restaurant designed by one of Portugal’s top architects.
Follow the boardwalks north from here and you’ll pass some attractive sandy beaches, Roman salting tanks, a colourful collection of fishing boats, the attractive rocks near the Chapel of São Paio and a nature reserve just before crossing the River Ave to reach Vila do Conde.
Optional: If you do have an extra day to play with and are not too much of a stickler about following the official Camino, you could walk downhill from Porto Cathedral and turn right at the Ribeira riverfront then follow the road along the river to the mouth of the Douro and continue north along the seafront to Matosinhos (approx 12 kms / 7.5 miles). Spend a night in Matosinhos before continuing your journey.
This bonus walk gives you the chance to see the fishing communities on the outskirts of Porto as well as the gardens, lighthouse, fortress, pergola and beaches at Foz. As you continue north, you’ll pass what’s affectionally called the Castelo do Queijo (a fortress nicknamed for the shape of the rock it’s built on) and the shape-shifting She Changes sculpture as you enter Matosinhos, dubbed World’s Best Fish city.
Overnight at Vila do Conde
This is a pretty town at the mouth of the River Ave, which has a beautiful Manueline (Portuguese Gothic) parish church and a strong maritime and lace-making history. If you have time and energy, take a stroll around the old town and the river front, or perhaps visit the Bobbin Lace Museum or climb aboard the replica 15th century ship in the small marina.
Coastal Camino: Vila do Conde to Esposende (24 km / 15 miles)
When I walked this stage, I was alone and reluctant to leave the charms of Vila do Conde behind but I had a long day ahead of me, covering more kilometres than I would ordinarily choose. (I’m happier if I can keep distances below 20 km and I’ll mention how to do this in a moment.)
At that point in time, I hadn’t fully understood that the Coastal Camino isn’t as coastal as you might think. Consequently, I found the first four kilometres between Vila do Conde and Povoa de Varzim rather frustrating, simply because I was keen to see the sea and felt somewhat trapped between buildings.
Once I reached the beach at Póvoa de Varzim, my mood lifted as I walked past signs of preparation for the summer season in this still sleepy resort town.
I spent the next couple of hours alternating between wooden boardwalks through flowered sand dunes, pavements and quiet tarmac roads. There are no cafés directly on this stretch of the Camino but I spotted an awning in Barranha and made a slight detour to a much-needed pit stop.
Once the boardwalk ends at Aguçadora football club, the Coastal Camino heads inland along an old cobbled road through several kilometres of market gardens surrounding the village of Apúlia. Several trucks trundle up and down this lane so you need to keep your wits about you.
Tip for reducing the daily distance: If I was doing this again (and the weather was good), I would take a detour to the beach at Apúlia and spend the night there. As it was, I needed to get to Esposende and was already tired so I stayed on the main Coastal Camino route, through the forest to the village of Fão.
After crossing the bridge over the River Cávado and entering the residential outskirts of Esposende, I was slightly irritated to find the Camino signs taking me away from the waterfront once more. Instead of following the river (which you could do, since the Camino emerges on this road later on), it leads you into the small but attractive historical centre of Esposende, which you would miss if you stayed by the water.
Overnight in Esposende
If you only have time to visit one church in Esposende, make it the Igreja da Misericordia for the Lord of the Mariners’ chapel. The city museum, housed in a former theatre, has beautiful Art Nouveau tiles inside and out if you have time and energy to visit.
For more about things to do in Esposende, see this post.
Portuguese Coastal Camino: Esposende to Viana do Castelo (24 km / 15 miles)
This is one of the days when the name ‘coastal’ has no real bearing on the Camino. There are times when the Atlantic Ocean is visible in the distance but most of the time is spent walking through villages and countryside.
Although I liked the craggy mountains that backed the first string of villages after leaving Marinhas, the first highlights of my day came when I entered the forest near Antas. Walking along dirt tracks through trees with glimpses of rocks and river is my kind of happy place.
After crossing the River Neiva on slabs of stone, a steady climb leads up to a church that was dedicated to St. James in 862. You also get a splendid view of the coast and countryside from here.
Another forest section, this time with glittering mud and stones, ended at the rather grand São Romão church and monastery and steps up to a sanctuary. The azulejo panels that line the steps apparently depict the stages of the cross and other biblical scenes but I decided to conserve my energy rather than climb unnecessary steps.
After that comes more country lanes interspersed with villages, an intriguing shrine to a murdered man and a downhill stretch towards the river.
The Eiffel bridge across the River Lima is possibly the longest I’ve ever crossed on foot. Apparently, it’s just under 600 metres but it felt much longer, partly due to the force of the wind coming from the ocean (I wouldn’t fancy it in bad weather!) and partly because of the extremely narrow pavement and constant stream of traffic.
The views downstream, and of Viana do Castelo, are due compensation though.
Overnight in Viana do Castelo
Having visited Viana do Castelo a couple of times, there were still places I was keen to check out so I opted to take a rest day here.
It’s a fascinating old city once you start to scratch the surface and there’s more than enough to fill a day of your time, especially if you go up the hill to see the Santa Luzia Basilica and the Celtic settlement behind it.
Find out what Viana do Castelo has to offer in this post.
Coastal Camino: Viana do Castelo to Vila Praia de Âncora (19 km / 12 miles)
While many people particularly enjoy this stage, I found it challenging.
Perhaps it was the anticipated distance (27 km / almost 17 miles) or because I was walking all the way to Caminha (instead of sleeping in Âncora like a sensible person). But it felt really daunting, despite the day’s rest in Viana.
Or maybe it was the light rain that persisted for most of the day.
Or the fact that I didn’t encounter any other Camino walkers.
Or that I wasn’t by the coast (I was surprised at how much that bothered me, even though I had known by this point that I wouldn’t be) – the next two days are mostly coastal, by the way.
I think the biggest problem, at least during the initial stretch after Viana, was the high walls in all the villages I passed through. I don’t know what’s behind them that warrants such protection but I found them oppressive and depressingly grey.
I started to cheer up when the path opened up at Quinta Boa Viagem. A low bridge crosses a boulder-filled river and, although it was misty, there were views of nearby hills and countryside.
Although there were a few more high walls after this point, they were interspersed with views and attractive spots like the Fonte da Preza and River Cabanas with its succession of mini waterfalls.
From there, it was a steady climb up through a eucalyptus forest and out again into a village with an ancient stone water tank. I should have stopped at O Forno café for a rest and a bite to eat but instead I went off on a fruitless detour in search of a cooked lunch.
Tired and still hungry, I rejoined the Camino to head for Âncora. Unfortunately, I missed a poorly marked turning to cross a field (it’s since been improved!) and ended up going at least a kilometre in the wrong direction before I realised what had happened.
Tip: Plan ahead and bring a substantial packed lunch with you (or stop for snacks in Carreço and O Forno and have something more substantial in Vila Praia de Âncora).
Note: If you’d rather take your time and follow a self-guided walking holiday that hugs the coast, take a look at my experience of walking the Costa Verde. You could spend one week doing this then another week or two following the Coastal Camino through Galicia to Santiago de Compostela.
Overnight in Vila Praia de Âncora
Rested and fed, I continued through Vila Praia de Âncora to finally rejoin the ocean by the fortress and fishing harbour. There is a wide sandy beach here with dunes and a river running through it and mountains behind, which are the reasons why I included it in my list of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal.
If you plan your Camino accordingly, it’s a good place to simply relax for a few hours.
Portuguese Coastal Camino: Vila Praia de Âncora to Caminha (10 km / 6 miles)
The Coastal Camino follows the yellow ecovia (cycle and pedestrian path) out of Vila Praia de Âncora and along the coast for a short while then steers you away from the water to follow the train tracks almost all the way to the pretty town of Caminha.
If I hadn’t been so tired and desperate to get to the hotel, I would have taken the detour from Moledo beach to walk through the pine forest and along the riverside boardwalk to reach Caminha. I’ve done this on a subsequent visit and it’s beautiful.
If you are more sensible than me and spend the night in Vila Praia de Âncora, you’ll have plenty of time for this and will even be able to spend some time on a beach if the weather is good.
You’ll also be able to follow the boardwalk and then coast road along the river to reach the historical centre of Caminha.
Overnight in Caminha
Caminha is a delightful little town with a compact medieval centre and a gorgeously carved Gothic parish church plus a very pretty central square and lots of cafés and restuarants to choose from.
Alternatively, you could cross the river into Spain and spend the night in A Guarda.
Camino da Costa: Caminha / A Guarda to Oia (16.5 km / 10 miles)
These next four days were my very first experiences of the Portuguese Camino and the first time I would be walking for four days straight so it was quite a challenge for me. An exciting one, I’ll add. I had company for part of this in the form of my friend and business partner, Paulo Lopes.
Ferry across the Minho
The first thing you’ll need to do is get across the river into Galicia. Portugal is 1 hour behind Spain so factor this into your departure time if you do the crossing in the morning, especially if you want to have time for a detour to visit Santa Tegra.
If the normal ferry service is running, the journey from Portugal to Spain takes about 15 minutes. Timetables change throughout the year so the best thing to do is consult this website (in Portuguese so use Google Translate) to find current information. It doesn’t run on Mondays or at low tide.
If the main ferry is not operational, you can usually (depending on weather and season) find a small local boat to take you across – ask at the bar next to the ferry terminal for TaxiMar.
If the weather is really bad, boats won’t be running so you’ll need to take a taxi across the nearest road bridge.
Once you’re at the ferry terminal on the other side, follow the Camino uphill through the woods and into the historical town of A Guarda.
Note: If you have time and inclination, you could make a detour to visit the Celtic settlement of Santa Tegra. The cluster of circular structures offers magnificent views across to the Portuguese town of Caminha and the River Minho, as well as Galicia’s coastline. I’d take a taxi up the hill unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
A Guarda itself has some interesting old churches and buildings, although I didn’t have much time to linger. Paulo and I needed to get to Oia before dark and it was already mid-afternoon by the time we set off.
Having navigated the various junctions and come out the other side of the old town, I got my first real taste of the gorgeous Galician coastline. Aside from a couple of small sandy beaches, it’s mostly wonderfully worn, rugged rocks with waves smashing into them.
Once we got off tarmac and onto the grass and stone path, both Paulo and I were in scenic heaven with the scent of the ocean in our nostrils and, fortunately, no bitter sea breezes to spoil things.
At one point, we came across what I thought must be a seawater swimming pool but is actually a shellfish hatchery that was used to rear enormous lobsters.
There are some parts of this stage that involve walking along the main tarmac road but there was so little traffic it wasn’t an issue. I imagine it’s busier in summer but apart from a few patches of woodland, there’s precious little shade so you wouldn’t want to be doing this in peak holiday season anyway.
The final leg took us past outlying houses and fields with Oia’s monastery looming large in the distance.
When we got there, the village seemed quite busy for such a small, relatively isolated place. It turns out that they were filming a documentary about troubled times when the village was evacuated, which explained the ragged costumes and grimy cheeks of some of the kids we passed.
Possibly because of the filming, or maybe we just caught the end of a regular mass, the monastery doors were open so we popped in, just in time to snap a couple of photos of the golden altar and the Romanesque interior before being thrown out.
We later discovered that it’s privately owned and not open to the public – no wonder the congregation gave us some nasty glares. Sorry!
Overnight in Oia
There are several restuarants in this small village so it’s a handy, as well as pretty, place to rest for the night. There’s also a very small sandy beach in front of the monastery but I’m not sure about swimming or sunbathing – as you can see from the photos, it was hardly the weather for that sort of thing!
Or carry on for another 3.5 km to the cluster of hotels in Viladesouo.
Coastal Camino Portugues: Oia to Baiona (17.8 km)
During the first half of the second day’s walk, when we were walking close to the sea, we came across a small group of men resting alongside a pick-up truck with sacks full of something.
They explained that they’d been picking baby mussels from the beach which were destined for the mussel farms in the Ria de Vigo. It takes a year for them to grow from this tiny size into the fat juicy ones you get in restaurants.
I’m not sure if you need a permit for this but the police were out in force, too, keeping tabs on various groups of mussel pickers along the coast.
Although the day had begun on a dirt track alongside the rocky beach, we then spent much of the time on tarmac so I was especially glad when the Camino veered right to go across the mountains and cut out the top corner of this part of Spain.
We had to climb uphill for a while but although my legs were tired, it was a relief to be using slightly different muscles and the views are fabulous.
This new terrain also came with the challenge of dodging massive puddles in the old stone road but it was one I relished.
Once over the hill, we spent the remaining few kilometres walking through countryside and villages along tarmac lanes and a short patch of main road before reaching the outskirts of Baiona.
As you might expect from a pilgrim route, the Coastal Camino Português passes two of Baiona’s most emblematic churches before hitting the medieval street that runs parallel to the marina.
Overnight in Baiona
Whether you visit Baiona as part of the Portuguese Way of Saint James or just for fun, do allow yourself time to explore a little. It’s a really pretty town with a few sandy beaches at either end of the bay. If you can spare an extra day, it’s a great place to take a rest day on the Camino.
The old fortress walls on the promontory contain several surprises, including a Parador luxury hotel. You can also go aboard the replica 15th century La Pinta caravel, the original being one of Christopher Columbus’ ships.
Note: As this was February, we found that many of the hotels and restaurants were closed – Baiona really is a seasonal town. After considerable wandering around, we struck lucky with a delicious meal at Freiduria Jaqueyvi.
Camino da Costa: Baiona to Vigo (24.9 km, in theory!)
I knew this was going to be a challenging day before we even set off.
My feet were still tingling and swollen from the previous two days of punishment and I had never walked 25 km in a day before, or at least not for as long as I can remember.
As Sod’s Law would have it, our longest stage also happened to coincide with the one day it rained heavily.
Not only that, someone’s malicious tampering with the painted arrows added a wasted hour and around 5 kilometres onto our journey.
This is the day I learned how important it is to:
a) have a positive mindset,
b) train properly beforehand and
c) have waterproof shoes and trousers (thank you Dori for lending me the trousers!).
Because I knew it was going to be wet I somehow convinced myself to not focus on the hardships or even how much further we had to go. I needed to get to Vigo and that was that. I’ll admit I was annoyed when we were sent vastly off course, but there was no point wasting any more energy on it.
Unfortunately for Paulo, his knee, which had been hurting since the first day, couldn’t take any more and he had to take a taxi to Vigo, leaving me to walk the last 8 km alone. Even that didn’t faze me and I consider that day quite a personal achievement.
In terms of scenery and the Camino da Costa, we traversed the outskirts of Baiona, walked across an ancient pointed bridge and through various villages until we hit quite a long stretch of forest.
At this point, it was chucking it down again so the glimpses of the Cíes islands in the Ria de Vigo were gloomy and hazy and I have no decent photos.
My least favourite parts of the route between Baiona and Vigo, aside from the unnecessary detour (you DO need to go over the blue bridge and NOT along the stream that the arrows direct you towards), were walking along the busy main road in Coruxo after the forest and the few hundred metres of dodgy area near the power plant on the way into Vigo.
Warning: Get an early start, especailly when the days are short. Despite setting off at 9 am, the various delays and added complications of putting on and taking off rain gear meant that I only just made it to Vigo by dark (7.30 pm).
I hadn’t thought this would be an issue, assuming there’d be street lights, but the Camino doesn’t really go into Vigo itself – it takes you through a park and along a stream which has no lighting (that I could see).
By the time I finally made it to my 4-star hotel, I can honestly say that have never been so happy to see a bath before.
Overnight in Vigo
I was so tired that all I did was eat and sleep after my bath. I doubt you’ll have energy for much else unless you stay an extra night. If you want to venture off the Camino and take a look around the small historical centre, my advice would be to do this in the morning.
Vigo to Redondela (15.75 km)
Although shorter, and considerably drier, than the previous stage, in some ways I found this day more difficult.
I don’t know if it’s because I was doing it alone, which had always been the plan, or because it was the last stage for this particular trip and I had yet to catch a train and drive home, or possibly because my body was crying out for a rest – this was my first foray into multi-day walking and I was not properly equipped, either physically or with the right gear.
The weather was good, especially compared to the day before, with only a couple of brief showers. The Camino was relatively straightforward to follow and most of it was through a string of hillside villages with great views of the Ria de Vigo and then a long patch of forest .
Birds were singing, the sun shone and I was quite happy but unlike the day before, where I’d been energised throughout and was still buzzing when I finally reached my hotel, this day felt like more of a slog.
I had imagined that I would try to see some of Vigo’s sights before leaving but to be honest, I was so tired that I decided not to bother.
The Camino passes through the main shopping street, Rua Urzaiz, before leaving the city. It took me about 4 1/2 hours to walk to Redondela, although I didn’t take any long breaks, so if you have the energy, daylight and inclination, you could spend the morning having a look around Vigo.
Overnight in Redondela
This is where the Coastal Portuguese Camino merges with the Central Route. The two routes enter the small town from slightly differnet points but converge on the way into the centre. There are tons of restaurants here and plenty of shops should you need to stock up on anything. I missed (twice!) the Church of St. James but it is supposed to be impressive inside so don’t make my mistake.
From here, follow the Central Portuguese Camino de Santiago – see my stage notes and tips from Redondela north:
Get in touch if you want to book your Camino through a trusted specialist local tour operator that will arrange carefully vetted hotels close to the Camino, luggage transfers, detailed route notes and 24-hour emergency support.
For more information about the Portuguese Camino, including preparation and packing tips, see this article.
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