Pilgrimage is a meaningful journey to a sacred place, and luckily for the conscious traveler, there are many ancient pilgrimages around the world. When one embarks on a pilgrimage, they gain a deeper understanding of themselves and cultivate an appreciation for the world. Taking part in a pilgrimage does not need to be religious, though it is how most of today’s pilgrimages began. Now, the modern day pilgrim walks for many reasons.
Whatever one’s reason for stopping the busyness of their lives and starting a reflective, arduous journey, much will be learned along the way! Here are some ideas of incredible pilgrimages to take in this lifetime.
Kumano Kodo, Japan
The pilgrimage stretches across the mountainous Kii Peninsula to three well-known shrines in Japan collectively known as Kumano Sanzan. While the pilgrims wanted to reach the shrines, the pilgrimage itself was designed to be a profound religious or spiritual experience as one passes through the mystical mountain range and through ancient villages.
In the 11th to 13th century, the Imperial family is said to have walked the Kumano from Kyoto during a time known as the Imperial Golden Age. The Kii Peninsula area is considered a sacred dwelling place of the gods, and because of this, shrines were constructed. Two Buddhist temples, Seiganto-ji and Fudarakusan-ji are also closely associated with the Kumano Kodo.
Routes & Distance
Like most pilgrimages, there are many routes (5 main routes). The most popular route is Nakahechi, known as the Imperial Route, which is just over 30 miles long. This route takes most pilgrims 4 – 5 days to complete.
Family-run inns known for delicious meals and hospitality are located along the route. The accommodations are a great way to learn more about the local way of life. Be sure to research Japanese customs (i.e. removing shoes before entering the house) before you go to ensure you are respecting local culture.
A favorite guidebook to the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.
The Abraham Path, the Middle East
In 2006, the Abraham Path Initiative (API) created this epic 1,204 km trail throughout the Middle East. The pilgrimage goes through Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Their goal is to connect pilgrims with the local communities and rich history of the region. The API website states,
We have trained guides that are now training a new generation of trekking experts from the coast of the Red Sea to the Jordan Valley, and from the plains of southern Turkey to the mountains of northern Iraq.
The route traces the historical path of the prophet Abraham from his birthplace in Turkey to his final resting place at the Tomb of the Patriachs in Israel.
Routes & Distance
The whole trail is 1,204 km, but parts of the trail should be avoided due to political unrest in certain areas. The Abraham Path is best experienced in shorter stints like the Jordanian Path, a five-day hike taking in the ancient history and Jordanian culture along the way. Read a blog post of one pilgrims experience walking the Jordanian Path.
Local accommodations with families in the villages along the way are found throughout the trail. Hiring a guide will be helpful in finding the best accommodation!
The Lonely Planet offers guidance on how to plan your trek along the Abraham Path. It is best to hike this in sections based on the political situation of the countries in this area. It’s also not recommended to hike alone as a woman or with a group of women. Read further recommendations here.
The Camino de Santiago, Spain
The Camino is the most popular modern-day pilgrimage in the world. There are 5 main routes all leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I highly recommend walking the Camino if you’ve never done a pilgrimage. It’s safe with lots of great accommodation specifically for pilgrims. There is a friendly, supportive vibe throughout the trail, and Spain is absolutely beautiful!
Millions of pilgrims have walked this route since the medieval days to atone for their sins. It is said that St. James (Santiago) is buried under the main cathedral, the Compostela de Santiago, in Santiago, Spain after his body was brought by boat from Jerusalem.
Routes & Distance
The most common route is the Camino Frances, starting in the French Pyrenees. Give yourself a month to walk the 500+miles and ENJOY! If you don’t have a month to spare, walk part of the Camino Frances or choose a different route that fits your needs.
Albergues, or pilgrim’s hostels, are dotted throughout the way. Booking ahead of time usually isn’t necessary, especially if you’re walking during the less busy time.
The Camino Bible as most pilgrims call it – John Brierly’s Camino de Santiagoguidebooks.
Via de Francigena, Italy
Like the Camino de Santiago, the people walked the Via Francigena dating back to medieval times from Canterbury, England to Rome, Italy. This is a great pilgrimage for anyone who wants to enjoy the lovely European landscapes. Though the route has changed to be more peaceful and avoid busy highways (thankfully), but it is generally the same path. Today, pilgrims walk this route for self-discovery, a personal challenge, and spiritual quest as well as for religious reasons. Whatever your reason, it’s a deeply rewarding long-distance hike.
The route dates back to 990 AD when the Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric traveled from his home in England to be appointed by the Pope in Rome. He traveled the long arduous journey and recorded his way by journaling. Because of this, we can trace back his journey and stops quite precisely.
Routes & Distance
The full route is more than 2,000 km (1,250 miles) takes three months to walk. It’s very challenging, yet beautiful. Most people choose to walk a 2-week route through Italy. Pilgrims who walk at least 140 km (87 miles) to Rome are eligible to receive the certification of completion.
Hostels, hotels, B&Bs…there are plenty of options along the Via Francigena. You’ll find super charming spots if you plan correctly, too!
The Lightfoot Guide to the Via Francigena is the one I see most recommended online. It’s got everything you’d need to know from accommodation, route and maps, food, packing list, etc.
St. Olav Way, Norway
Retrace the steps of a Viking king through breathtaking fjords in Norway. Yep, that’s right. Norway’s 400-mile pilgrimage St. Olav Way recently reopened to the public and is downright gorgeous.
St. Olav’s ax is a part of Norway’s coat of arms, symbolizing his importance in Norwegian history. He lived a legendary life as Norway’s first king, exiled to Russia. Legend has it, he died in battle in attempt to reclaim his kingdom. When his coffin was to be moved, they found him in perfect condition, smelling of roses and looking positively, well, alive. And that is how St. Olav became a saint in 1070.
But wait! Then, in 1537, the Lutherans BANNED the ancient pilgrimage. Just at the brink of losing it completely, in 1997 the Norwegians funded the trail’s restoration. Because of this, the trail is clearly marked for generations of pilgrims to come.
Routes & Distance
There are many routes that lead to St. Olav’s remains in Trondheim. The most popular is Gudbransdalen. This is the 400-mile route from Oslo to TrondheimIt’s. It’s the most popular route as it’s longest, most central, and hits major historic marks along the path. Give about 32 days for this route at around 25km a day. You may want to include a couple of rest days. . The official St. Olav Way website provides about 30 route suggestions.
You’ll find more than 150 registered places to stay along the route. Historic farm hotels, restored cottages in the wilderness, pilgrim shelters, medieval lofts…the accommodation for St. Olav Way is enchanting and adventurous. You can choose to pitch a tent or stay in comfortable lodging that provide meals.
The official website for St. Olav’s Way has a plethora of useful information.
There you have it. Feeling inspired? Share this article with friends and start planning your trip to walk one of these life-changing pilgrimages around the world. If not now, when?