Pilgrimage or Walking Holiday?

October 21, 2018 by
Alex hiking in Connemara
POSTED BY October 21, 2018

We recently wrote about thru-hiking as a form of long-distance hiking. Pilgrimages and walking holidays are other types of long-distance, multi-day hikes. The question is, what sets a pilgrimage apart from a walking holiday, and vice versa?

The Camino de Santiago is a world famous pilgrimage, but many may choose to walk it as a walking holiday. Given that the same route can be treated as both a pilgrimage and walking holiday, the answer must be that it comes down to the outlook of the walker. The outlook, mindset, reason for walking, and end goal all play a part in determining whether you’re undertaking a pilgrimage or a walking holiday.

O'Cebreiro - Camino de Santiago

Taking the Camino as an example again, it has a very clear spirituality to it. It is a religious pilgrimage, with all routes leading to the Catedral de Santiago, where St. James (Santiago) is buried. It is a centuries-old pilgrimages, with tens of thousands people walking it each year. The Camino is considered the best-known pilgrimage in the world.

However due to its popularity, many people choose to walk the Camino as a walking holiday. While they are walking a pilgrims’ route, they themselves are not pilgrims. Even though the Camino is a pilgrimage, not everyone who walks it must be a pilgrim.

Best Time To Walk the Camino


The camaraderie of a pilgrimage is often greater than that of a walking holiday. On a walking holiday, you may very well pass several people on the trails, and even become acquainted with people who stay at the same B&Bs as you. On a pilgrimage, however, there is a very strong sense of camaraderie. Everyone is waking it for different personal reasons, but all for the same overall reason.

Communal meals are common on a pilgrimage. Walking with complete strangers for days and then parting ways is just part and parcel. Each pilgrim understands that the journey isn’t just a physical one – it’s mindful and spiritual.

Camino Frances with Hillwalk Tours (27)


On a pilgrimage, many people choose to walk it very cheaply, staying in the cheapest accommodations along the way. There is a true sense of getting back to the basics. Each moment on a pilgrimage is sacred. The laughs, the conversations, and the new friendships. The blisters, the low moments, and the agony. All of these are incredibly important components of a pilgrimage. It’s what makes a pilgrim a pilgrim, what helps them to understand more of the journey, and more about themselves.

Walking the Camino Frances

The Goal

The goal of a walking holiday is a noble one. Getting back to nature and relaxing, while getting some physical exercise, is one of the most important thing for one’s mental health. Seeing the nature and culture of a new place is great for broadening the sense of exploration.

The goal of a pilgrimage is both a physical destination and an emotional journey. Understanding more about your life and about yourself is one of the main draws for undertaking a pilgrimage.

Cathedral Santiago de Compostela - Camino Frances

Interested in taking a walking holiday or pilgrimage? Check out our self-guided walking tours today.