Pamplona offers two very different faces to visitors. During Sanfermines the city is driven by music, bulls, drinking and general madness. The rest of the year it is a charming little place with great food, friendly people, lovely walks in the green parks and stone paved streets and great cafés and bars everywhere you go.
During Sanfermines, every evening the bullring is completely sold out. Basically the bullring, like any other in Spain, is divided into two zones, Sombra where experts and fans watch the bullfight more passively, and Sol offering cheaper tickets to people ready to see the fight as well as have fun, dance, drink and eat some local cuisine. Pamplona’s bullring is the fourth largest in the world and the second largest in Spain after Las Ventas in Madrid.
Thanks to Ernest Hemingway, who first visited Pamplona in 1923, the city has become one of the most famous but also most expensive places to stay in all of Spain.
- San Fermín Procession – At 10.00 on the 7th of July a long procession leaves the Church of San Lorenzo and winds through Pamplona in honour of Saint Fermín. It’s another of the essential events during the festival because of its sense of ceremony and the enthusiasm of the gathered crowds. All sorts of musicians march through the streets, including the city’s official brass band, and impromptu chants and songs will start up in the crowd. Also in the parade are the Giants, large papier-mâché figures that often date back decades or hundreds of years. Lining the procession route are crowds several people deep, and almost everyone will dress in the white garb with a red scarf.
- Urbasa Andía Natural Park – An hour west of Pamplona is where two mountain ranges, the Urbasa and Andía meet. It’s an idyllic landscape that is lush with vegetation and is the source of several of the region’s rivers.The karstic geology of the park also creates some stunning natural landmarks to track down, like gorges with sheer walls, lofty waterfalls and dreamlike pools of turquoise water.The source of the Urederra River is the most beautiful sight, where the spring splashes down a 100-metre cascade enveloped by woods of hazlenut, elm, maple, oak and yew.
- Ciudadela de Pamplona – Built under the reign of Felipe II, who commissioned the work to the Italian military engineer Fratín.Pentagonal in shape.Out of its five bastions, only three remain.There are two entrances, the main one orientated towards the historic quarter and the Socorro entrance.During the 18th century, it was converted into a prison for illustrious men such as the Count of Floridablanca, the Marquis of Leganés, etc. Today it houses a park and several exhibition rooms.
- Pamplona Cathedral – The site of this 15th-century cathedral has got a pretty eventful history. This spot was the centre of the Roman town of Pompaelo, and it was here that its first Christian cathedral was built. This was demolished when the Moors arrived, and put back up after the city was taken, before it collapsed and was replaced by another romanesque cathedral that also fell down! Finally this French-style gothic building was put up and has remained ever since.
- Plaza del Castillo – Pamplona’s main square is such a big part of the city’s social life that it’s often described by locals as their “cuarto de estar” “(the living room). It’s just south of the old town (San Cernin), between the former medieval settlements of San Nicolas and Navarrería.The square is arcaded on all sides in the typical Spanish renaissance style, with the outdoor seating of cafes and restaurants next to lawns and rows of pollarded plane trees.In the middle of the square is a stone bandstand and concerts are held here on summer evenings, especially during San Fermín.
- Chupinazo – At noon on the 6th of July is the emblematic opening of the festivities, held from the balcony of the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). The tens of thousands gathered in the square below will hold their red neckerchiefs in the air with two hands and join in chants praising Saint Fermín, before a firework is lit to signal the start of the festival.
- Iglesia de San Saturnino – This church has the original Gothic worship area that has a porch along the street. Inside you see a larger addition that has a much more baroque sensibility, with the dichotomy being a bit overwhelming. The older part is more serene and definitely worth a look.
- Running of the Bullshting – the origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the fields outside the city, where they were bred, to the bullring, where they would be killed in the evening. During this ‘run’, youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado. In Pamplona and other places, the six bulls in the event are still those that will feature in the afternoon bullfight of the same day. Spanish tradition says the true origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.