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Top 10 pilgrimage routes around the world

Not solely for the spiritual, pilgrimages are epic hiking routes that take in soul-stirring landscapes. Here are 10 of the best, from Ireland to Israel.

By Kerry Walker
Published 30 Apr 2021, 11:05 BST, Updated 28 May 2021, 15:41 BST
21,778ft Mount Kailash in the Tibetan Himalayas is a sacred mountain in many religions. Said to ...

21,778ft Mount Kailash in the Tibetan Himalayas is a sacred mountain in many religions. Said to be the dwelling place of gods, climbing it is forbidden, and many pilgrims circumnavigate the mountain, lying flat and touching the floor with every step.  

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Abraham’s Path

The Middle East
This epic 1,243-mile route starts in Harran, Turkey, where God is said to have called upon Abraham to ‘go forth’, and rambles on through Egypt, Palestine, Israel and Jordan. 

2. Via Francigena 

UK, France & Italy
A 1,200-mile route connecting Canterbury to Rome via France, the Swiss Alps and the Italian Apennines, passing churches and shrines devoted to St Francis. 

3. Adam’s Peak

Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, this conical, 7,360ft-high peak is home to a footprint that’s said to belong to — faith depending — Adam, Buddha or Shiva. 

4. Caminho Português

Portugal & Spain
The wild Atlantic coast unravels before you on this uncrowded trail from Lisbon (380 miles) or Porto (140 miles) to Santiago de Compostela. 

5. Mount Kailash

This three-day, 32-mile circuit of sacred 21,778ft Mount Kailash in Tibet is a holy ritual said to bring good fortune.

Read more: Could pilgrimages be the next post-pandemic trend?

A bastion of the Christian faith, Lourdes, in southwest France, has been a popular pilgrimage site since 1858.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Lourdes

The 92-mile Piemont Route connects St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Lourdes, a holy pilgrimage site since 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have witnessed 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary. 

7. St Magnus Way

The wide-open horizons, space and silence of Orkney’s coastline enthrall on this 58-mile route honouring the island’s patron saint. 

8. Kumano Kodō

This network of ancient trails dives into the remote, densely forested, shrine-topped mountains of the Kii Peninsula, Japan’s spiritual heartland. 

Read more: Pilgrimages and peaks: how to find the right hike for you in Japan

9. Via Coloniensis 

Grand abbeys and palaces punctuate this 152-mile trail, uniting the former Roman cities of Cologne and Trier, where fourth-century St Peter’s Cathedral is a highlight.

10. St Finbarr’s Way

Traversing three mountain ranges, this 22-mile pilgrimage begins at the Top of the Rock in Dromdaleague, County Cork, where sixth-century monk St Finbarr once preached. 

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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