The Cathedral of Santiago

The great cathedral of Santiago is the the goal of the camino pilgrimage.  Every pilgrim arrives in the square in front of it, the Plaza Obradoiro, and can gaze up at the beautiful façade with its many statues of Saint Iago, Saint James, himself.

There's usually someone in the square outside the cathedral who is in tears. After such an emotional journey it's normal 

Pilgrims are normally welcome in the the cathedral, though not with their rucksacks.  On St James Day, 25th July, and other holy days, a giant censer, the famous Botafumeiro, is swung on ropes from the floor to the vaults, emitting clouds of incense over the people inside. 

Please note, however, that for the rest of 2020, at least, there will be no pilgrim masses held in the Cathedral, and sadly no botafumeiro swung. Certain areas of the building will be closed for restoration. A pilgrim mass will still be held every day at noon in nearby Iglesia de San Francisco. That said, pilgrims will still be able to access the tomb of St James.

The pilgrim mass on Sunday in the church of San Francisco in Santiago was a joyous occasion, packed full of people from around the world. It didn't matter what language you spoke!

Swinging the Botafumeiro


There are a plethora of things to do once you reach Santiago de Compostela. Apart from being a beautiful city in its own right, there are churches, museums, and exhibitions many of which offer a pilgrim discount. And if you're not too exhausted(!), there is some lovely walking around its parks, through its ancient cobbled streets, and of course even onwards to the coast!  The seaside town of Finisterre was once believed to be the end of the world, hence its name, and nowadays offers spectacular views, sweeping beaches and a special mysticism that camino pilgrims can identify with. 

The CSJ sell a booklet on the city of Santiago city which gives all the details about what there is to do when you arrive. Available for just £5 here in our online shop


When the feast of St James the Apostle (Santiago) falls on a Sunday, it is said to be a "Holy Year."  Taking place on 25th July, the last Holy Year was in 2010, and after 2021, the next won't be until 2027.  Typically, Holy Years mean a huge surge in the number of camino pilgrims, and the city becomes extremely busy, particularly around Easter and the feast of St James. 

It is a very exciting time to do your camino and to be in Santiago - but we recommend very strongly that you book your accommodation as far in advance as possible because of the increased numbers of pilgrims. 

Holy Year celebrations

Top tips:

The Hotel de los Reyes Católicos gives away 10 free pilgrim meals three times a day. If you take a photocopy of your Compostela (they will keep it) you can take advantage of this for up to 3 days.  Make sure you queue at the garage door, down the ramp to the left, and collect the meal on a tray from the kitchen. There is a small dining room set aside for pilgrims.

It also gives you reduced-price access to the Cathedral museum, and is supposed to give access to the refugios for those making the return journey the way they came.

For anyone on pilgrimage to the Cathedral but travelling by air/road/rail etc, it is now possible to buy a Certificate of Visit from the Archicofradia Offices in the Plaza de la Quintana (€3) to commemorate your visit there – please see the Cathedral website.

The Compostela

The Compostela is like a Certificate of Welcome. Pilgrims must present their credencial and answer questions about their personal details and their motivation for doing the camino. Once the Pilgrim Office worker is satisfied that you have either walked the last 100 km or cycled the last 200 km, you will receive your final stamp in your credencial and be issued with either:

  • The Compostela (still written in Latin) confirming the completion of the camino) if you state “religious” or “spiritual” as part of your reason for doing the pilgrimage
  • Or the Certificado, the certificate for pilgrims who have done it for other reasons or have not quite met the requirements of the Compostela

See the Pilgrim Office website for details about how to qualify for a Compostela and a translation of the Latin text.
The compostela and certificado are free, but you may make a donation if you wish.

You might also want to purchase a Certificate of Distance to record exactly how far you have walked or ridden (€3), and a tubo (€2) (a cardboard tube to protect your compostela or certificado). Alternatively, shops nearby will laminate your compostela in plastic for a small fee.