The Frances route of the Camino de Santiago is the most popular of all of the Camino trails. And while you can start and end anywhere, many people choose to do the full 800/k (500 miles) from St Jean to Santiago.
If that’s your plan, you’ll need to figure out how to get yourself to this tiny little Basque town in France. You aren’t alone. The question of how to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port is a common one in the Camino forums and Facebook groups.
This guide will give you advice on how to choose your primary airport along with detailed logistics for getting yourself to St Jean.
Which Major Airport Do You Fly Into for Saint Jean Pied de Port?
There is no magical “best” way to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port. The nearest airport to Saint Jean Pied de Port is in Biarritz. But flying into Biarritz isn’t necessarily the cheapest or fastest way to get to St Jean.
The closest major transcontinental airports to St Jean are Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. Regardless of which major airport hub you choose, getting to St Jean will require at least three connections, with some combination of air, train and bus.
If you can catch reasonable connections, it takes roughly the same amount of time and transfers getting to St Jean from any of the three airports. The cheapest option is the train from Madrid Atocha station and the most expensive is a plane to Biarritz, France. The options noted below range from €55-245 and require 6-8 hours.
So, pick the airport that offers you the cheapest or most convenient routing from home.
You may also want to think about where you’d like to spend a night burning off the jet lag on the front end OR resting up and sightseeing on the back end.
You can also look into what’s called an “open jaw” return fare. This means that you go into one airport and out of another— such as into Paris and out of Madrid. These routes are worth checking out because they are sometimes no more expensive than going out and back from the same airport.
Once you’ve made a decision about your international hub, it’s time to sort out your on-the-ground logistics for how to get to St Jean Pied de Port.
I recommend bookmarking this page so that you have the logistical advice and booking links at your fingertips once you are on the ground.
Advice for Pre-Booking Transportation to St. Jean
All of the ground transportation options will cost less if you pre-book. However there is some advantage in waiting, so that you can leave your options flexible. Most of the buses and trains don’t book more than 90 days out.
- Airfare: It’s useful to use an online booking service (such as Expedia) or Google airfare Matrix to price check the fares. But I always recommend booking directly with the airline. If you have issues with your flight, it’s much easier to work directly with your air carrier.
- Any ground logistics: Rome2Rio is a very useful tool for sorting out logistics. We are providing detailed info below, but you may want to check your final routing options with Rome2Rio as you can book buses and trains through them.
- Buses: ALSA is the primary bus service in Spain.
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Getting from Madrid to Saint Jean Pied de Port
Routing: Madrid Barajas (MAD) airport > bus/train/plane to Pamplona > bus/shared taxi to St. Jean
Getting to Pamplona by Air
There are a few flights per day from Madrid to Pamplona. Fares are usually under €100 and the flight takes 1 hour. The MAD airport is huge so give yourself a generous layover for transferring between the International Terminal and the main Domestic Terminal.
If you are coming in from Germany or from the US on United, you can also fly to Pamplona on Lufthansa via Frankfurt.
Take this routing if you can get a cheap flight to Pamplona or if the layover time in Madrid is convenient.
Getting to Pamplona by Train
There are 3 trains per day from Madrid’s downtown Atocha station. From the airport, you can get to Atocha in :45 minutes on the metro line. You can pre-book the train on the Renfre website, or you can just wing it and get your ticket on the fly, but it will cost more. The train takes 3:15 hours.
If you want to overnight in Madrid, we recommend the Urban Sea Hotel. It’s close to the train station and the fantastic Reina Sofia art museum. The rooms are basic but clean and modern and the hotel has a nice rooftop deck. You can also check out our Madrid itinerary for some ideas.
Take this routing if you want to overnight in Madrid if you prefer train travel to buses. This is also surprisingly cheaper than taking the bus if you book ahead.
Getting to Pamplona by Bus
There are 3-4 ALSA buses per day from the airport to Pamplona. You can catch the bus from Terminal Four. The route takes 7.5 hours.
Take this routing if you get into Madrid early and want to get to Pamplona with minimal transfers.
Getting from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied de Port
There are two primary ways to get from Pamplona to St. Jean: the seasonal bus service or a taxi/shared ride.
ALSA runs at least 2 buses a day (and sometimes more) between Pamplona and St. Jean during the high season. Getting information on scheduling is difficult and the ALSA website isn’t helpful. It’s probably just easiest to show up at the bus station or message ALSA for timing information.
You can also pre-book a shared taxi or private ride through Camino Facil or Taxi Pamplona. The shared ride costs ~€104, but if they can fill the car with other people, you can share the cost with others.
Another alternative is to simply wing it at the airport or bus station. This is exactly what I did on my most recent Camino. I had planned to go downtown and take the bus. There were 4 pilgrims on my plane and one of them had pre-booked a private ride. We got to chatting and learned that but there was extra room in the van, so we all piled in and paid our share, getting to St Jean much earlier than if we’d taken the bus.
Your fellow pilgrims will be totally obvious at the airport, so don’t be afraid to chat them up.
Getting from Barcelona to St Jean Pied de Port
Routing: Barcelona (BCN) airport > Renfre to Barcelona Sants station > train to Pamplona > bus/shared taxi to St. Jean
Most international pilgrims don’t think about getting to St Jean Pied de Port from Barcelona. However, the logistics are very similar to Madrid and you can sometimes snag a great international airfare to Barcelona.
From the airport, catch the local Renfre train to the downtown Sants train station. There are 4 trains per day from Sants to Barcelona and the trip will take 3:25-4 hours.
If you want to overnight in Barcelona before going to Pamplona, we recommend the Leonardo Gran Via. It’s a well-rated hotel that’s just 6 blocks from the station and 8 blocks in the other direction to La Rambla and Old Town.
Once you are in Pamplona, simply follow the same logistical instructions above.
Getting From Paris Charles de Gaulle to St Jean Pied de Port
Route #1: Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) > air to Biarritz > shuttle bus to St. Jean
Route #2: Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) > train to Bayonne > train to St. Jean
Getting from Paris to St. Jean by Air via Biarritz
Air France runs 2 flights a day from CDG to Biarritz and it takes 1.5 hours. This routing is only worth the time and money if you can catch the flight from CDG. Orly airport also has flights to Biarritz, but transferring between CDG and Orly takes too much time and in that scenario, you’d be better off taking the train.
Once in Biarritz, catch the Express Bourricot shuttle, which will take you directly to St Jean in 1.5 hours. It runs twice a day and you should pre-book the ride.
If you are coming from elsewhere in Europe, you can also fly into Biarritz from: Dublin, Bristol, London Stansted, London Gatwick, Brussels, Luxembourg City, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Geneva, Lyon, Basil and Lille. The carriers are Air France, Easy Jet, Ryanair and Scandinavian Airlines.
Take this routing if you can get a flight to Biarritz with a reasonable layover time.
Getting from Paris to St. Jean by Train via Bayonne
IF you want to overnight in Paris, then take the RER train from CDG to the Denfert Rochereau station, which is near the Montparnasse train station. Then stay somewhere nearby. In the morning, take one of the 8 trains per day from Montparnasse to Bayonne. The ride takes 4 hours.
Staying in Paris: The Lenox Montparnasse is a well-rated, inexpensive (by Paris standards) hotel near the Montparnasse station. You can also explore nearby Luxembourg gardens or anything else on this Paris itinerary.
IF you want to take the train directly from CDG, catch on of the 3 daily trains to Bayonne via Bordeaux. If you catch the earlier train, you can get to Bayonne by 3pm. If you catch the later train, consider overnighting in Bordeaux, where you can sleep off your jet lag and catch an early train to Bayonne.
Staying in Bordeaux: Check out the Stay City hotel. It’s fairly inexpensive and is located directly in between the train station and the old town.
From Bayonne, catch the local to St. Jean, which runs 5 times per day. It will take about an hour. The last train of the day is at 5pm.
Take this routing if you’d like to work off your jet lag by overnighting in France. Train travel can also be more relaxing than rushing to make an air transfer.
Where to Stay in St. Jean Pied de Port
You can simply roll up to St Jean and choose one of their 13 albuerges for the night. Frankly, this is how most of your Camino will go.
But if you are nervous about securing a bed for your first night, here are a few pilgrim-friendly resources on the main street that you can pre-book:
- Gite de la Porte Saint Jacques offers single beds, rather than bunk beds.
- Gite Malika is clean and modern with a nice outdoor space and bed privacy.
Be sure to stop into the St. Jean pilgrim office. They will give you a credential (if you don’t already have one) and they will also give you a sheet listing albuerges along the Frances Camino. Their list is very comprehensive and includes places that aren’t in the guidebooks. You can download it from the Camino Forum.
If you have some extra time, it’s worth walking up to the 17th century Citadel above the town. It’s an interesting historic site and they have lovely views overlooking St. Jean.
More resources for planning your Camino
- Get advice and inspiration for doing the Camino solo.
- Sign up for our FREE budgeting spreadsheet and a printable packing list using the form just above.
- Then move on to our packing list. It includes everything you need (but nothing more). It’s thorough but it will ensure that you bring a light pack.
- Get ready for your pilgrimage using our Camino training guide, which includes trail tested tips and a 12-week fitness planner.
- Find the right Camino de Santiago app or guidebook for you.
- You should also check out our article on how much the Camino costs. It offers advice for different budget levels.
- Read up on the Camino with this list of 31 books featuring inspiring memoirs and wacky tales of derring do.
- If you prefer movies to books, we’ve got you covered. Check out our list of inspirational Camino movies (but don’t forget to bring the tissues, because some of these stories are very touching).
- Plan a longer stay in the region with one of these guidebooks for Spain.
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