Historically most pilgrimages, which date back thousands of years, are dedicated to or associated with a specific religion, and while many travelers still make the treks for religious or spiritual purposes, many now also make the journeys for varying other reasons from connecting to nature, getting in touch with oneself, exercise, writer’s block, bonding with travel companions, epic photography opportunities, or just a reasonable excuse to make your summer vacation last like two months instead of two weeks. Whatever the reason, the inspiration to walk, there’s no arguing that simply wandering through or around a land is the best way to see it, discover it and know it deeply, which, along with the obvious other reasons, makes pilgrimages the perfect activity for travel enthusiasts. And don’t worry, if you aren’t physically up for a good 50 or so day hike, there are plenty of ways to make the pilgrimage suit your personal capabilities. For one, while most paths have popular or suggested starting locations, the true pilgrimage starts, well, wherever the pilgrim chooses to begin… you could start one mile out from the end if you wanted, if it’s a pilgrimage in your heart then no one can argue its legitimacy. There are also options to see the majority of the popular routes via bike or horseback for those who want the full journey but feel less inclined to commit to lasting that long in their sneakers. These seven pilgrimages are some of the most famously beloved treks of humanity from around the world. So what are you waiting for? Grab a walking stick and get a move on, travel freak.
Camino de Santiago – Spain
Start: Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees is a popular starting point
End: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Miles: about 500
Fun Fact: There are scallop shell symbols on signposts along the most popular routes to guide pilgrims to the end, and you will likely not complete this pilgrimage without peeing in front of a stranger somewhere outside.
Photo via Photo Pin/Alfredo Miguel Romero
88 Temples – Japan
Miles: about 750
Fun Fact: Along the journey pilgrims often receive offerings known as o-settai from locals who believe one of the travelers might be a reincarnation of the Buddhist saint Kobo Daishi, the saint the pilgrimage and temples are associated with.
Photo via Photo Pin/Simon
St. Olav’s Way – Norway
Start: ancient section of Oslo
End: Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim
Miles: about 400
Fun Fact: The trail is more difficult than the other popular pilgrimages of Europe, but if your legs get too tired you can hop on and off the train that runs along practically the same route as needed.
Photo via St. Olav Ways
Via Francigena – Italy
Start: Canterbury, England
Miles: about 1,300
Fun Fact: All roads actually lead to Rome though… especially if you studied abroad there and can’t get over it.
Photo via Photo Pin/Paolo Ramponi
St. Patrick’s Footsteps – Ireland
Start: Base of Croagh Patrick
End: Peek of Croagh Patrick
Miles: 2,509 feet up the mountain, the traditional pilgrimage, and 38 miles alone the St. Patrick’s Heritage Trail
Fun Fact: Many pilgrims make the journey barefoot.
Photo via Flickr/Office for Education Abroad
Mount Kailash – Tibet
Start: Technically anywhere around the base of the mountain.
End: Where you started.
Miles: about 32
Fun Fact: While some pilgrims believe it’s best to walk the trail in a single day (15 hours at a fast pace over tough terrain and conditions) others believe the pilgrim should preform full-body prostrations, or lay on the ground and inch their way around the trail, which can take considerably longer, multiple weeks at least.
Photo via Photo Pin/ccdoh1
Te Araroa – New Zealand
Start: Cape Reinga
Miles: about 1865
Fun Fact: This pilgrimage contains diverse landscapes from cities to beaches to mountains and volcanoes.
Photo via Flickr/Simon Cook