People often ask me “which Way is prettier?”. It is not surprising, however, that this is not an easy question to answer because both paths have their pros and cons.
Camino Frances vs Camino Portugues
The first question is: are we comparing the Camino Portugues from Lisbon (around 650km) with the Camino Frances (around 800km) or are we talking about the section from Porto onwards, that most people walk?
If you look at the Portugues in general, it does actually lose against the Frances. Not because it is ugly per se, it definitely is not, but because the Frances is more diversified. The Portugues, looking at its length is more uniform.
That does not mean, however, that it is the worse choice.
It depends on many factors to decide which path is better for your own plan and vision for the trip.
How much time do I have?
If you only have 2 weeks, I recommend the Portuguese Way of St. James.
That is because the French Way of St. James does not have its highlights on the last kilometres but rather at the beginning.
You can walk the Camino Portuguese from Porto onwards in two weeks and see many stunning sections of nature – and a lot of the ocean.
If you were to only walk the last 250km of the Camino Frances, you would miss the magnificence of the path.
This is not a criterion to exclude the Frances as an option because you can always do the rest another time and make up for it, but if it’s “only” about trying out to make a pilgrimage without a sabbatical, in just a normal vacation, then I would say the Portugues is probably the better choice.
If you do have 4-6 weeks off you should think about your expectations for the journey, if you want to meet new people and gain new contacts or if you would rather wander nature alone.
What am I looking for on the Way of St. James?
The Camino Frances is busier. Always.
Even more so between June and August but usually all year around.
If you want to start your pilgrimage in July and you are looking to have some peace and quiet, and loneliness, you are in the wrong spot walking the Camino Frances (unless there is a pandemic, but that is a different topic).
Of course, the Portugues is less lonely in the summer months but especially the section between Lisbon and Porto, as well as the costal path from the Spanish border onwards, offers more space for a quiet bit of pilgrimage.
If you want to walk a Way of St. James to find to yourself, you should therefore consider the Portugues for those needs.
If you’d rather meet people from all over the world, gain new contacts, walk with someone else every day, and bump into people you know in the hostels in the evening, the Frances might be the better choice for you.
When do I walk the Camino?
Especially in July and august crowds of people with backpacks are being thrown onto the last 100km of the French Way of St. James by coaches. Those are mostly, but not all of them, young Spanish people.
Once someone Spanish explained to me that it looks good on their CV to attach their proof of the Compostela, which is why a lot of Spanish people use their summer holidays to walk the last 100km. Usually, they do prefer their comfort, luggage transport and hotel transfer.
I don’t want to speak badly about it, I did meet some very nice and open young people which did exactly that, but it’s just the amount of people and being pushed around a crowd does take away from the idyllic experience a bit.
However, this mostly goes for the last 100km. The preceded 700 are not that affected by this phenomenon even if they are much busier in the summer months.
The reason for that is not the summer being much better for it, but that people get days of work and get to go on a holiday in that time frame.
Specifically in those hot months I do recommend the Camino Portugues – the Frances has fewer shady bits and sections, and the 200km long Meseta partly has no shade at all.
On the Portugues, however, you get to decide if you would rather spend the heat in the woods or along the ocean.
How much do I want to spend?
Which path will be cheaper in total, depends on the ways and places in which you will spend your nights.
The density of Hostels between Lisbon and Porto on the Portugues is not very high, but the number of 35€ Hotels is much higher than on the Frances.
The same goes for the Coastal path of the Portugues. There are sensationally cheap Hotels in the low season, but little options for accommodation on donation base.
Both Ways (Portugues and Frances) have places in which you cannot get a private room below 50€ in the summer. All in all, however, I would say that you’d live cheaper choosing the Portugues (foodwise too).
Which path is prettier?
The French Way of St. James is more varied. There are more picturesque mountain villages, fascinating landscapes that remind you of south America, spectacular views, and you change from one world to the next one.
Unfortunately, the Portugues cannot keep up with that.
The Portugues is beautiful (except for the first stage from Lisbon onwards, I have to admit). It has stunning eucalyptus woods, beautiful landscapes, and multiple other amazing things to see. It is just a bit more uniform.
It does, however, have the ocean too. That is an argument the Frances, on the other hand, cannot keep up with. Especially in the summer after a whole intense day of walking, putting your feet into the ocean, and watching the waves, drinking a Vinho Verde is incomparable.
The Portugues does have a fair amount of asphalt between Lisbon and Porto, which does still lead through stunning landscapes. Unfortunately, you can find endless boring kilometres along the national road kilometres on the Frances.
If you were to compare the whole path from Lisbon ahead with the Frances from SJPdP, I have to say: the Frances wins the beauty competition. Especially because the first couple of Stages from Lisbon are not a highlight (but you could skip them and start in Santerem).
If you only compare the last 300km I would say the Portugues wins, especially because of the option for the ocean.