Set in the north of Spain in the stunning Navarra region, Pamplona is internationally famous for its annual running of the bulls as part of the San Fermin festival every July. The festival attracts more than a million visitors to the city for eight days of non-stop party atmosphere, bullfights and holiday-style celebrations. Outside of this fiesta, however, you’ll find that a rich history, laid-back lifestyle, charming architecture and delicious tapas are the orders of the day in Pamplona.
If running with bulls isn’t your thing, fear not; Pamplona is bursting with things to do for thrill seekers and sensible souls alike. Set off on an architectural tour of this beautiful city, with the first site on your agenda being the historic City Walls. A nod to Pamplona’s medieval past, the impressive walls run a 5-kilometre loop around the city. Keep your eyes peeled for the French Entrance, the Old Fortress and the Taconera Gardens as you complete the circuit.
Next up, seek out the magnificent Cathedral of Royal Saint Mary. Dating back to the 15th century, this exquisite example of gothic and neoclassical architecture is a must-see when visiting Pamplona. Round out your cultural journey with a visit to the Museum of Navarre, which is home to some of the finest collections of art and historic artefacts in Spain.
Eat and Drink
There’s no denying that Spain has high culinary standards, and Pamplona is no exception. Favouring fresh vegetables, local wine and quality meats and cheeses, dining in this city is something special. If you’re visiting during the San Fermin festival and want a cultural culinary experience, you must try estofado de toro; a traditional bull stew.
Tapas are a firm favourite with visitors and locals and are available all year round. Restaurants in the Old Town serve up great tapas and wine – look out for special meal deals around Estafeta Street.
No trip to Pamplona would be complete without sampling a jug of local sangria. A word of warning, alcohol content levels can vary dramatically across the city so be careful to pace yourself. If you want to revel in a nightclub instead of festival-style on the streets, head to Plaza del Castillo and party Spanish-style until morning.
Where to Stay
If you’re travelling to Pamplona for the San Fermin festival, be prepared to book your accommodation with plenty of notice. The city simply isn’t big enough to accommodate the floods of people who descend on it during the festival, so hotels get snapped up months in advance. Either book extremely early or head to one of the many campsites dotted around the city, which are sure to be brimming with fellow party-goers.
If, however, you’re visiting outside of the festival you’ll find yourself with all manner of accommodation options. Staying in the Old Town is a great choice if you want proximity to major attractions, with accommodation types to suit every budget.
If international retail chains, charming restaurants and neoclassical architecture sound like your thing, look no further than the ultra-cool Avenida Carlos III, Pamplona’s hub of fashion. For unique souvenirs take a walk around the picturesque Old Quarter and stop in at the smaller independent stores.
Traditional handicrafts, ceramics and woodcarvings are available in abundance in the Old Town, as are several quirky specialty shops. There’s also a great selection of wine retailers that offer top local drops that make for impressive take-home gifts.
Pamplona Like a Local
When they’re not out running with the bulls, Pamplonian locals can be found congregating around the city’s beating heart: the Plaza del Castillo. A central meeting place lined with cafés and restaurants, it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. When big numbers of tourists are in town the locals take to the winding streets and alleyways leading away from the Plaza to enjoy, in typical Spanish fashion, drinks, tapas and leisurely conversation.