A Beginners Guide to the Via Francigena

A Beginners Guide to the Via Francigena

One of the oldest published pilgrimage routes in Europe, the Via Francigena is largely overshadowed by the more popular Camino de Santiago through Spain. Following the historic route recorded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric the Serious, to present himself to the Pope John XB in 990 AD, the Via Francigena takes pilgrims from England through France and Switzerland before culminating in Rome, Italy



Walking the Via Francigena: The Route

Unlike the Camino de Santiago and its many paths to Santiago de Compostela, the Via Francigena has one singular starting point: Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, England.  From the Kent Downs, the way follows through northern France and into the celebrated champagne region, on to and over the Swiss Alps, all culminating at the tombs of the apostles’ Peter and Paul in the Holy See. In total, the Via Francigena measures more than 2,000 km and will generally require more than 90 days for pilgrims to complete the trek.

For more information on the Via Francigena stages, GPS / KML files and route maps, please see this Guide to the Via Francigena.  




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Walking the Via Francigena: Talk the Talk

Everyone who walks the Via Francigena should get familiar with the following terms:


A Testimonium is the “pilgrim certificate” you may receive at the end of the walk if you’ve completed at least 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) or more on foot. If you are not Catholic but walked the way for ‘spiritual reasons’ you can get a Testimonium. If you say your goals were non-spiritual, you get a rather plain certificate of completion.


credential is the ‘pilgrim passport’ issued by various Via Francigena-friendly organizations. Along the way, pilgrims will collect stamps to document their progress. Unlike the Camino de Santiago (where seemingly every bar and hostel has a unique stamp), collecting stamps along the Via Francigena can be challenging. Most monasteries and churches will have stamps. If not, pilgrims may have a local resident sign and date the passport. This is especially true for all stops prior to Italy. You may need a credential to stay in pilgrim accommodations and a complete record of at least two stamps per day is required during the last 100km to receive a Testimonium.  Credentials can be mailed to pilgrims prior to beginning their pilgrimage or obtained from the Canterbury Cathedral.





Must Know:  The Via Francigena is not the Camino de Santiago

It is important for pilgrims to know that the Via Francigena is completely unlike the Camino de Santiago in many ways. Beyond the obvious difference in distance, the Via Francigena is a more European route. The customs and languages are much more varied and there is truly no “common tongue” along the way. A good two-way translation app, such as Microsoft Translator (iOS/Android) or Google Translate (iOS/Android), as well as a willingness to learn courtesy expressions in English, French, German and Italian are recommended.


Another key difference is far fewer pilgrims walk the Via Francigena and even fewer walk through England, France and Switzerland. It is very likely that pilgrims walking prior to Italy will have multiple days were they do not meet any other pilgrims. In fact, much of the Via Francigena is a solitary walk with hours passing without crossing any other walkers or local people.


For those starting the pilgrimage in England, please be aware that post-Brexit immigration laws may be in effect and that traveling from the U.K. into France will require customs and immigration processing. At the time of this writing, French immigration and customs inspections are performed in Dover, England prior to boarding the ferry to Calais, France. Pilgrims should stay current on immigration matters from reliable sources and follow signs at the Dover Ferry Port for “foot passengers”.


A minor but important distinction between the Camino and the VF has to do with local currencies. While traveling in England, all prices and payments will be in British Pounds.  Throughout the entirety of Europe, the Euro is the currency for prices and payments. In many areas, it is expected that merchants will be paid in cash and some may not accept credit / debit card payments. This is especially true in smaller villages and rural areas.


If you have walked the Camino, you will be familiar with the albergues and pilgrim hostels along the way. These basic, inexpensive lodgings cater to the pilgrimage with cooking facilities and abundant beds. Unlike the Camino, there are very few pilgrim accommodations along the Via Francigena. In many locations, pilgrims will need to book hotels or bed-and-breakfast accommodations at least one day prior to arriving. This key difference in infrastructure can make for some longer stages along the VF, where Camino facilities are rarely more than 5km away at any time. If you are not opposed to camping, there are campgrounds nearby the Via Francigena that can help reduce lodging costs considerably.  In some areas, abbeys and monasteries will gladly welcome pilgrims for a modest fee, but the difference in lodging (and lodging costs) is one of the more significant differences between these two pilgrimage routes.


Lastly, it is very important for pilgrims along the Via Francigena to be prepared with a map, the official Via Francigena app, or updated GPS track of the official way. Unlike the Camino where yellow arrows are very prevalent, you may find that some areas of the VF have no directional markings. It is very beneficial to be familiar with basic navigation and to refer to your map regularly.

For more information on the Via Francigena stages, GPS / KML files and route maps, please see this Guide to the Via Francigena.