How to Get to St Jean Pied de Port to Start your Camino de Santiago
Created by Colleen Sims * 12 October 2023 * Updated 12 October 2023
How to Get to St Jean Pied de Port
You’ve decided that you’re going to walk the Camino de Santiago and you’ve decided that your starting point will be St Jean Pied de Port in France. One of the first hurdles that you’ll face is how to get to St Jean Pied de Port. If this is you then keep reading because I’ve travelled to St Jean on many occasions and I’ve helped countless pilgrims find their way to this iconic little French town.
St Jean Pied de Port is considered the start of the modern Camino de Santiago. Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in the French Basque region, pilgrims travel here from across the world to start their journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
In this post I’ll help you navigate your own way to St Jean, I’ll offer guidance on the nearest airports, transportation and route options, and some of the less obvious choices available for travellers.
Before you start I will stress that getting to St Jean can be a two or three stage journey. You’ll need to join the dots to find the easiest way to reach the town. You’ll probably need to do the same in reverse when you reach Santiago de Compostela and head home.
How you get to St Jean Pied de Port will come down to three factors :
I always recommend that you allow plenty of time when planning your journey to St Jean Pied de Port.
Where is St Jean Pied de Port?
St Jean is situated in south west France, close to the Spanish border. It’s on the French side of the Basque country, in the French Department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques; commonly known as the capital of the Basse Navarre.
Whilst now part of France, it was once part of the Kingdom of Navarre and locals still strongly identify with their Basque roots. My neighbour was born in St Jean and is very proud of his birth town and his Basque heritage.
Planning Your Long Haul Flight to St Jean Pied de Port : How to Find the Best Flights
If you are flying long haul to your Camino, then you will probably arrive in either France or Spain and this will probably be either Madrid (Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport – MAD) or Paris (Aéroport Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle – CDG). Other options may include Barcelona, Bordeaux, Porto or Lisbon.
* Paris Charles de Gaulle is the usual choice for international flights to Paris. Orly and Paris Beauvais Airports are used more often for domestic and low-cost European flights.
Using Google Flights or Skyscanner as Planning Tools
When we fly long haul, I start my planning journey using both Google Flights and Skyscanner as tools. My aim is to find the best value flight and a journey that works for us. Time, budget and convenience all play an equal part in my decision making.
In Google Flights enter your departure airport and use the Explore option to initially see where you can fly to (and see the potential price of those flights). If you already know where this stage may not be of interest.
In the example below I’m using Seattle as my start point. The Explore option shows me that the best deals might be to Madrid or Malaga and in this instance Madrid looks like the easier option.
I already know that getting to Madrid from Santiago de Compostela is easy using the Spanish rail network or low cost airlines (I’ve done both) so in this case I might search for a return flight from Seattle to Madrid as the first leg of my journey to St Jean.
When choosing dates, Google Flights shows a guide to daily flight costs and you’ll notice that these can vary considerably. If you don’t have a fixed date in mind then use this to find the best deals. In this example 6 May 2024 looks like a good price.
Once I have decided on my departure and destination airports and I know the date I wish to travel, I use Skyscanner to double check for deals. Using both tools I can see that the best deal for this flight is with Turkish Airlines. BUT we’ve flown long haul with Turkish Airlines before and whilst the flight was great you will go via Istanbul. This is fabulous if you’d like a layover in Istanbul but if your schedule is tight then it will cost you precious time travelling (but oh my Istanbul is wonderful!)
Another consideration which will influence your choice is your favourite airline and airline points. In France we don’t have access to the points deals that you get in the US or the UK so for me this is not a consideration.
Top Tip : I always use the above method to narrow down my flight choices; playing with dates and airports.
* We travel extensively and have found that sometimes the cheapest flight isn’t the cheapest journey (hotels and taxis and meals during layovers can be costly).
* What looks like a great deal can you leave you exhausted from an extended journey. Make sure you factor this into your decision making process.
My advice is to play around the Arrival and Departure points and dates and find a solution that works for you.
Paris to St Jean Pied de Port
If you opt to arrive from your long-haul flight in Paris you will probably land in Charles de Gaulle (Aéroport Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle – CDG).
- You can fly direct from CDG to Biarritz with Air France. If flying make sure the departure airport is not Paris Orly or Paris Beauvais, neither are easy to reach from Charles de Gaulle.
- If you aren’t planning to spend time visiting Paris a good alternative is to go direct from Charles de Gaulle airport to Bayonne on the TGV fast train; there is a station at the airport. We use this service to get to and from Bordeaux and CDG Paris when travelling.
Check on the Trainline website for TGV trains. From Bordeaux and Bayonne you can easily travel on to St Jean.
Top Tip : There is a free shuttle train which takes you from your Charles de Gaulle arrival terminal to the TGV station. It is called the CDGVAL which is really not helpful when you’re looking for it! Follow CDGVAL or signs for Grandes Lines. And if in doubt ask at the information desk.
Bordeaux is a wonderful destination and an ideal place to relax and get over your jet lag. If you have time, consider spending a day or two in the city. From here it’s just a short train ride away from Bayonne and St Jean Pied de Port.
Madrid to St Jean Pied de Port
If your flight lands in Spain then getting to and from the city centre and the airport is straightforward using the Madrid city metro. Madrid is another fabulous city to visit but you may choose to continue your journey and move forward to Pamplona. Pamplona is another gateway to St Jean Pied de Port.
- There are daily flights from Madrid to Pamplona (some days two or three flights a day). Flights are inexpensive and if timings work this maybe a good choice
- You can also take a train or an ALSA bus . My preferred second choice might be the ALSA bus; you can take the bus from Terminal 4 from as little as 22€.
Which Airports are Closest to St Jean Pied de Port?
St Jean doesn’t have it’s own airport; it’s a small rural town and there are just four ways in. You can take the train, bus, drive or go pilgrim style (walking, cycling or on horseback). However, there are several airports which you can consider when planning how to get to St Jean Pied de Port.
The nearest airports tend to be smaller regional airports served by domestic routes or low-cost European airlines. The airports below have good inward options from Europe, Paris or Madrid and good onward options for getting to St Jean Pied de Port.
The Biarritz Pays – Basque Airport (BIQ) is just 53 kilometres away from Saint Jean Pied de Port making it one of the closest airports. It’s a convenient choice for pilgrims arriving from other European cities.
I wouldn’t recommend Biarritz for your return flight home. If you’re walking to Santiago de Compostela, this is not an easy destination to go back to.
Bordeaux–Mérignac Airport (BOD) is my local airport (if I don’t count Bergerac) and whilst it’s some distance from St Jean Pied de Port, it is still be a good option for three reasons.
- Lots of domestic, low-cost and international airlines use Bordeaux; it’s a much smaller easier airport to navigate than Charles De Gaulle. Use the Google flights method above to see if you can get a long-haul flight into Bordeaux.
- Bordeaux is a fabulous city to visit and could be a great choice for a layover before starting your Camino.
- You can take a direct train to Bayonne and on to St Jean Pied de Port.
Pamplona Airport is 78 kilometres away from St Jean, over the border in Spain. I’ve included it in my list as it’s a good choice for folks arriving on international flights from Madrid. From Pamplona you can use bus or taxi options to get to St Jean.
Getting to St Jean Pied de Port from Spain, France and Other Europe Destinations
If you are starting your Camino journey from Europe, your journey to St Jean Pied de Port you will still probably take you to either Bayonne in France or Pamplona in Spain. Both towns are hubs or gateways to St Jean.
Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port
Bayonne is a major rail hub for pilgrims travelling to St Jean Pied de Port. If you arrive in France, this is the town that you should aim to reach. Bayonne is a lovely city to visit so if you have the time, allow a day to explore before moving on.
Really Important : In Spanish, Bayonne is called Baiona; which is really confusing as there is also Baiona in Galicia, in Spain (you walk through it on the Camino Portuguese Coastal).
There are currently five trains a day leaving Bayonne for St Jean Pied de Port. The journey lasts just over an hour and cost 11€.
If for any reason the train from Bayonne is not running (if there are works on the line) a bus will be laid on for pilgrims.
Top Tip : Check train timetables and book your ticket use the Trainline website or app. I use this website to book my rail tickets in Europe. Create an account and you’ll have easy access to your tickets.
Bordeaux to St Jean Pied de Port
If you are travelling from Bordeaux the easiest way to get to St Jean Pied de Port is by train, from the aptly named Gare St Jean in the city centre. You’ll need to change trains in Bayonne.
If you are travelling from Bordeaux airport to the train station you can use the Airport Shuttle Bus or the new tram service. Both are close to each other outside the Arrivals/Departure building, at the Billi end of the covered walkway.
Airport Shuttle : 30 Direct
The Airport Shuttle Bus goes directly to the train station. It is called 30 Direct. You can buy a ticket in advance from their website (it’s cheaper). Make sure you’re get on the 30 Direct bus and not a car park shuttle or a city bus (which takes a lot longer).
The new tram link is open and will take you from Bordeaux Airport to Bordeaux Gare St Jean. You will need to change trams in the city centre. We have used this tram several times and it is an easy and inexpensive way to travel; currently the journey costs less than 2€. But allow a good hour for this journey.
Take a look at the Bordeaux Transport Metropole website to buy your ticket and for details of tram routes.
The tram route you want is Tram A : Airport to Port de Bourgogne and Tram C or D from Port de Bourgogne to Gare St Jean (you need to switch sides of the tram stop at Port de Bourgogne).
Taxis and Uber
There are taxis available but taxis in France can be pricey; Uber is also available in Bordeaux and will be better value. We’ve used UBER when time is tight for a connection.
Biarritz to St Jean Pied de Port
Many pilgrims fly to Biarritz to start their Camino. Biarritz is a beautiful seaside town and a destination in it’s own right; we’ve previously chosen to spend the night here before starting our Camino in St Jean Pied de Port.
There are bus, train and private transfer options for onward travel to St Jean (via Bayonne) from Biarritz :
- From Biarritz centre take the train to Bayonne and then onward to St Jean; we walked to Biarritz station from our hotel as it’s pretty central.
- From Biarritz Airport you can take a bus direct to Bayonne train station; the website has comprehensive travel information.
- Express Bourricot is a pilgrim-centric company based in St Jean Pied de Port; their office is a few doors down from the Pilgrim Office in Rue de Citadelle. They offer a car-pooling service from Biarritz, Bayonne and other destinations.
Pamplona to St Jean Pied de Port
If you have arrived in Spain then your next port of call will probably be Pamplona. You can travel to Pamplona on the bus, train and even domestic flights.
Important Note : Pamplona is often called PAMPLONA/IRUÑA and not to be confused with Irun another city in the Basque region of Spain.
Getting to Pamplona
- Check out SkyScanner or Google Flights for onward flights from destinations such as Madrid, Malaga, Lisbon or Barcelona to Pamplona.
- Check RENFE – the Spanish Train provider for trains from Madrid (or other Spanish destination) to Pamplona.
- Check ALSA – Spanish National Bus Service for buses from Madrid (or other Spanish destinations) to Pamplona
Once in Pamplona you can either choose to take the ALSA bus to St Jean Pied de Port or use a Taxi or car-pooling service.
There is an ALSA bus that leaves Pamplona at midday. It doesn’t run year round (usually April to November) and in 2023 it costs 22€ per person. I do recommend that you reserve your ticket in advance from the ALSA website.
Taxi and Private Transfer
On my last visit to Pamplona I had led a group from St Jean Pied de Port on a short Camino Taster; we needed to return to St Jean to find our cars.
- A taxi was more practical for us. The Pilgrim Albergue in Roncesvalles recommended a local taxi company called Taxi Asier. They are a small local taxi company and very easy to contact via WhatsApp (and they speak English). Contact them directly on +34 670 61 61 90
- Express Bourricot also offer shared pilgrim transport from Pamplona; get in touch with them to find out more.
Driving to and Parking in St Jean Pied de Port
I live in South West France and my usual method of arriving in St Jean is by car. Often if I’m leading a group with my walking club the Gerry will drive us and sometimes a member of the group will take a car and park in St Jean. The road journey to St Jean is easy on excellent roads.
Parking in St Jean Pied de Port
Finding somewhere to securely park your car can be a challenge. There are several public car parks which are fine for short term parking but few allow overnight or extended stays and those that do offer little security.
The town website provides information on public car parks, but be aware that illegal parking in France will 9 times out of 10 result in a hefty fine.
Private Parking at Garage Donibane
During our last few visits to St Jean Pied de Port we parked at Garage Donibane. We paid 3 euros a day but for a 7 day minimum period. It gave us peace of mind that we were not parking illegally and we had a certain level of security. You do need to call ahead to reserve.
Address : Chemin de la Nasse, 64220, St Jean Pied de Port
Telephone : +33 (0)5 59 37 34 65
The Last Word : How to Get to St Jean Pied de Port
One constant that I’ve found after a decade of travelling to and from the Camino, is that your journey needs planning.
Whether you are trying to figure out how to get to St Jean Pied de Port to start your pilgrimage or how to get home from Santiago de Compostela, you will need to do a little research.
Expect to make at least two or three jumps and plan to move forward to either Pamplona in Spain or Bayonne in France; both of which have good onward travel to St Jean Pied de Port.
If you’re planning to walk the Camino De Santiago you may find these posts useful too :
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy. I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything.
We all hope and expect to complete our Camino without incident but I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.
Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.
TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions
Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.