10 Best Pilgrimage Routes

By AlexToddDestinations

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Undertaking a religious pilgrimage is an age-old practice that can be found in numerous regions, cultures, and religions across the globe. In historic times, dedicated followers would often set out on a lengthy journey through the countryside, sometimes travelling hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in order to reach centers of religious importance. Other pilgrimages had taken the form of shorter journeys to sites of spiritual importance, such as mountain tops or other geographic features, as a means of celebration or annual tradition. Whatever the origins of each individual pilgrimage might have been, the common denominator across all of them was to form a stronger spiritual connection with some higher power.

But in today’s modern world where religion holds less importance amongst the general population, what roles do these historic pilgrimages play, and why do people still undertake them? 

Some people certainly set out on pilgrimages to form stronger ties to their faith, while others tend to focus inward and reflect on themselves in a more personal manner. On a less deep level, some pilgrims might hit the trail simply for the sense of accomplishment that it brings, or to enjoy a cultural experience different from what they might experience at home. While there may be more variety in the reasons why people are choosing to undertake a pilgrimage, one thing is for certain: there are more people choosing to experience a pilgrimage now than at any other point in history.

Whether you are looking to discover religion, culture, or yourself, here is a list of the 10 best pilgrimage routes in the world:

1. Via Francigena

Stretching from Canterbury in the southeast of the United Kingdom all the way to the eternal city of Rome, the Via Francigena is an incredible long distance walking route that should be on any traveller’s bucket list. This amazing 2000km+ journey will take you across 4 countries (England, France, Switzerland, and Italy) and passes through some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes, providing plenty of scenery to gawk at while you ponder every moment of your life – which you will have plenty of time to do on the minimum 90 days that it takes to complete the walk! 90 days of walking with no breaks is fairly demanding, so many travellers will choose to complete smaller sections of the Via Francigena to make it more manageable, such as this 10-Day Via Francigena Tour from Orvieto to Rome.

Location: England, France, Switzerland, Italy
Distance: Over 2,000.0 km
Days Recommended: 90 days minimum
When to do: April-May/September-October

2. Adam's Peak

For those who are after a spiritual experience, but don’t have the time to complete a lengthy multi-day trek, the climb to the summit of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka is an incredible pilgrimage to undertake. Situated in the central highlands, this amazing journey will see pilgrims climb a series of 5,200 steps to the top of Sri Lanka’s holiest mountain.

The interesting thing about Adam’s Peak, also known as Śrī Pāda, is that it is considered a spiritual destination for many different religions. For Buddhists it is the place where Buddha last stepped on earth, for Hindus it is considered the footstep of Shiva, for Christians it is the original Garden of Eden, and for Muslims it is the footprint of Adam; this means that regardless of your religion (and even if you aren’t religious!), you will certainly feel a connection to the spiritual and natural beauty of the mountain.

If you are looking to make the pilgrimage up Adam’s peak and also want to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka, be sure to check out the 13 Day Sri Lanka Adventure Tour.

Location: Sri Lanka
Distance: Vary depending on the route chosen
Days Recommended: 0.5 days
When to do: December-April

3. Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago is the penultimate pilgrimage route that most travellers will be familiar with, taking pilgrims through the Spanish countryside to the resting place of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostela. But while it is often referred to simply as ‘the Camino’, in reality the Camino de Santiago is a vast network of walking routes with different starting points across Europe.

Having been walked by dedicated pilgrims for hundreds of years, the Camino de Santiago has only increased in popularity in recent times, and now includes thousands of people who choose to journey along its routes for personal reasons, rather than religious ones. Regardless of how you choose to explore the Camino de Santiago, it is guaranteed to be a life changing experience where you will discover more than just yourself.

Location: Spain
Distance: Vary depending on the route chosen
Days Recommended: 7-40 days (depending on the route chosen)
When to do: April-June/October-November

4. Mount Kailash

Not only is the Mount Kailash pilgrimage a sacred adventure for people of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain faiths, but it is also a fairly accessible route that is well known as one of the best treks in Asia. This incredible 3-day adventure will take you clockwise around Mount Kailash, allowing you to travel to high altitudes while taking in the incredible mountain scenery. While you will be reaching fairly high elevations, the route itself isn’t overly strenuous, making this a fantastic pilgrimage adventure for a variety of different travellers. If you’ve ever wanted to explore the mountains of Tibet on a classic Asia trek or take part in a spiritual experience, then Trekking to Mount Kailash should definitely be on your radar.

Location: Tibet
Distance: Approx. 52.0 km
Days Recommended: 3 days
When to do: April-October

5. Footsteps of St Paul

The Footsteps of St Paul, also known as the St Paul Trail, is a breathtaking adventure through rural Türkiye that provides an insight into the route St Paul may have taken when spreading the Christian faith through Asia Minor. A more rugged and wild route than the nearby Lycian Way – another popular long distance route in Türkiye – the St Paul Trail traverses the old Roman roads, footpaths, forests, and hills between Antalya and Yalvaç, near the shores of Lake Egirdir; providing a window into the natural beauty of this ancient part of the world.

Location: Türkiye
Distance: Approx. 500.0 km
Days Recommended: 27 days
When to do: April-October

6. Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick – meaning hill or mountain of Patrick – is an important Christian religious site along Ireland’s west coast, due to the fact that St Patrick had supposedly spent the forty days of Lent on the mountain during a missionary journey in 441 CE. While the pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick is a shorter trip than many of the others on this list, thousands of pilgrims make the journey each year, many of them barefooted as is the custom, to seek forgiveness on the last Sunday of July, known as Reek Sunday. For those who aren’t particularly religious, the summit of the mountain offers incredible views of the coast of Ireland, the Atlantic Ocean, and other nearby islands, making it one of the highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way and Islands Hiking Tour.

Location: Ireland
Distance: Approx. 7.0 km
Days Recommended: 0.5 days
When to do: April-September

7. Kumano Kodo

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is a network of trails throughout the Kansai region of Japan that have been in use for over 1,000 years. Alongside the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes that can be found in Spain, the Kumano Kodo trails are the only other pilgrimage routes that are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Originally created as a means for people to travel between sacred areas in the region, such as the shrines of Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha, and Hayatama Taisha, the Kumano Kodo gained popularity throughout Japan as early as the 12th Century and have continued to draw in people from outside the region ever since. Terrain in the region is mountainous and densely forested, making this a challenging experience in addition to a spiritual one!

Location: Japan
Distance: 70.0 km
Days Recommended: 5 days
When to do: April-May/October-November

8. Lagunas de las Huaringas

The journey to Lagunas de las Huaringas is less of a pilgrimage and more of a healing experience, as weary Peruvians and intrepid travellers make the trip into the rugged Huancabamba region to visit a series of 14 sacred lagoons and be healed by the curanderos. These medicine men practice traditional healing ways that are tied to the land, and the region is fairly difficult to reach, making this pilgrimage an ‘off the beaten path’ experience that will truly change your worldview.

Location: Peru
Distance: Vary depending on the route chosen
Days Recommended: 4-5 days
When to do: May-October

9. St Olav's Way

Beginning from various points throughout Norway, St Olav’s Way, also known as St Olavsleden, is a network of long distance walking routes that end at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. It was here that the former king Olav II Haraldsson was canonized as a saint in 1031 CE, making it one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Nordic countries. 

While there are nine variations of the St Olav Way, the most popular is the Gudbrandsdalsleden, a 643 kilometer journey from Oslo to Trondheim that follows what was once the main road to Nidaros during the Middle Ages. If you have enough time to make the roughly month-long journey, there is no better way to experience the breathtaking beauty of Norway.

Location: Norway
Distance: 643.0 km
Days Recommended: 32 days minimum
When to do: May-September

10. The Way to Canterbury

Arguably one of the best-known British pilgrimages, the Way to Canterbury is a nearly 250 kilometer adventure in the south of England that follows an impressive chalk ridge that runs from Winchester to Canterbury. While the route was only recently ‘rediscovered’, there are records of pilgrims walking the Way to Canterbury dating all the way back to 1172 AD, just two years after Thomas Becket had been martyred and buried. Plenty of charming villages, beautiful English countryside views, and historic pubs to quench your thirst can be found along the route, making it an excellent long-distance walking adventure for pilgrims of all varieties – religious or not!

Location: England
Distance: 246.0 km
Days Recommended: 15 days
When to do: April-October

Other Best Treks Articles

Looking for more life changing experiences beyond the world’s best pilgrimage routes? If you want to explore the most epic trekking adventures from around the globe, be sure to check out some of our other articles that provide an in-depth look at other regions and the amazing long-distance trails that can be found within them:

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