Lying within the rolling green hills of the Basque countryside in Northern Spain is Pamplona. The sleepy capital of the Navarra region explodes from a modest population of 180,000 to over 500,000 during Spain's most notorious Festival, San Fermin, more commonly known as 'the Running of the Bulls'.
Where is it?
Pamplona is the capital of Navarra and has a population of around 180,000. It is about 50 miles from the Pyrenees and the Spanish-French border and around 250 miles north of Madrid. The transfer journey will be approx 1 to 1.5 hours between San Sebastian and Pamplona.
The festival in this fortress town first gained notoriety in Ernest Hemingway's novel 'The Sun Also Rises'. Bullfights and sangria aside, 'San Fermin' is a festival honouring Saint Ferminus, one of the town's patron saints. Each year from July 6th to July 14th the town transforms into a playground for locals and foreigners alike, where litres upon litres of sangria, cava (Spanish champagne), and cerveza (beer) are consumed.
At midday on July 6th, the opening ceremony is held in the main square of Pamplona, 'Plaza de Castillo', where the Pamplonés dress in white outfits and wave red bandanas over their heads. White is not necessarily the best colour to be wearing when the ceremony involves showering everyone around you with champagne, sangria and eggs. After the cannon is fired the red scarves are then tied around the neck and the festival has officially begun.
The highlight of the event is the 'Encierro'. This is the actual 'running' bit where the bulls are released from the Parque de Santo Domingo and sent charging after the brave (read: crazy/stupid) participants. The course runs through the Plaza Consistorial, along the Calle de Estefeta finishing at the Plaza del Toros. There is an 'art' involved in the running, and while it might simply be the 'art' of saving yourself from being horned in the butt, you'd be doing yourself a favour by watching the professionals do it before attempting to participate yourself. There is a 'run' each day of the festival if you feel the need to work up the nerve. Traditionally, the 'Encierro' began at 7am to coincide with the 7th day of the 7th month for a 7 day fiesta. These days the Encierro commences around 8am marked by the roar of a cannon, with six bulls released each day.
The best vantage point is from Parque de Santo Domingo. People start finding places along the track from 5am, so if you don't want to miss the action, you need to be there early. Alternatively, you can just stay out all night and walk there straight from the bars to a spot track-side.
The fiesta is likely to provide the best street parties you'll ever attend, with revellers drinking throughout the day and night. Twenty-four hours of sun, sangria and fun - but don't forget to siesta or you won't last the distance.
The bar that seems to attract the most foreign visitors is La Mejillonera (the mussel bar). For 51 weeks of the year, this is a tranquil bar situated in a small Basque square with the tall St. Cecilia statue as the centrepiece. Then comes San Fermin week, where the square transforms into a mosh pit, with the 'stage diving' performed from the top of the St. Cecilia statue. This is not fun, repeat, NOT FUN! Serious injuries occur every year from this statue diving ritual. This practise is as risky to your health as having a bull hot on your heels. The locals actually grease the statue and pelt eggs at the punters to discourage this ritual but yet it doesn't seem to deter the drunken revellers.
In addition to the Encierro, bullfights are held nightly at 6:30pm.
The festival of San Fermin finishes at midnight on the 14th July, marked by a gathering in the Plaza de Castillo with candles and Basque songs.
Just remember, anything and everything is possible at the Fiesta de San Fermin!
The official San Fermin costume is a white shirt, white pants/skirt, a red sash, and a red neck-scarf. Yes, everyone wears white and red during the entire fiesta. Trust us, you will feel more foolish if you don't dress up! There are booths and stores all around the city that sell cheap white pants and shirts, as well as scarves that will allow you to dress with the rest of them. We found pants for around €6 and shirts for €4 last year! Remember that these clothes are going to get very dirty and drenched with sangria during the bull-fight and if you attend the Txupinazo, so you'll need a few replacement outfits unless you'll be getting your laundry cleaned. We recommend that you wear comfortable shoes that you don't mind getting dirty. Even though it is summer, do not wear sandals downtown. Shards of glass cover the ground and you don't want to spend your days or nights in the emergency room getting stitches!
The first bull-running take places on the morning of the 7th of July at 8a.m. (yes, AM!) and then each successive morning up to and including the 14th. There's no need to sign-up anywhere. It's simply a matter of walking inside the fencing about an hour before the running of the bulls starts (before the fencing is closed) and waiting for the rocket to go off (that signifies they've let the bulls out). The important thing is simply to be sure you want to run and to be conscious and considerate of the other runners so that you don't disturb them through any reckless misbehaviour. If you're set on running, talk to one of our Guides who have run in the past. It's very important that you go to the right place at the Town Hall.