Pamplona, the Basque City of the Bulls

Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

The Basque city of Pamplona has been many things to many people. The city is believed to have been founded by the famous Roman general Pompey. It’s also been the capital of the northeastern part of Spain since at least the 9th century. American author Ernest Hemingway also immortalized Pamplona and its famous fiesta in his classic novel The Sun Also Rises. Today though, Pamplona is most famous for its San Fermin Fiesta and what is known as the “running of the bulls.”

Fiesta of San Fermin

Photo courtesy AP/Ivan Aguinaga

The fiesta of San Fermin is 8 days of non-stop parties, drinking, dancing parades and all of the fun that you can have in a medieval Spanish (or Basque) town. The fiesta starts every 6th of July at midday to the bang of an exploding rocket outside the city’s town hall. The locals dress up and tie red handkerchiefs around their necks and shout “viva San Fermin!” Everyday at 8AM during the fiesta, six bulls are released into the cobblestone streets of the town in the direction of the bull-fight ring. Daring men (and some women, though not many) run with the bulls in the street, risking serious injury and in some cases even death.

The fiesta lasts for eight days with the last night, the 14th of July, filled with everyone holding candles and singing various Basque songs.

Pamplona is not just one big party. There are also plenty of things to explore in this historical Spanish town.

A Quick Tour of Places and Things to See in Pamplona

Plaza del Castillo

The Plaza del Castillo is the heart and the center of life in Pamplona. It is here where most of the big public processions and events are held. Historically, it is also the place where bullfights were staged, though this was ended in 1844 and moved to the Plaza de Toros. The plaza is lined with elegant buildings with a large gazebo in the center.

The southwest corner of the plaza is the home of the Palacio de Navarra (Palace of Navarra), the seat of the provincial assembly of Navarra. Inside the palace’s throne room is Goya’s famous portrait of King Ferdinand VII.

Catedral de Pamplona (St. Mary’s Cathedral)

Other than the actual fiesta and mad bulls running through the city, the Cathedral of Pamplona is probably the next best known single attraction of Pamplona. Built in the 15th-century and located just outside the old city walls, this Gothic-style cathedral is both a museum and religious establishment. It is here that the tombs of King Charles III and his wife Eleanor of Trastámara are located. Surrounding the tombs is collection of 28 figures of nobles and clergymen guarding their remains.

In the southern part of the cathedral is a doorway that is the entrance to one of the most famous and intricate Gothic cloisters in all of Spain. Also of interest is the cathedral’s Library containing over 14,000 old books and manuscripts.

Visit the cathedral’s website for more information.


The Ciudadela are the remains of a 16th-century citadel built by King Felipe II. Built in the shape of a pentagon, the fortress once had five defense bastions of which only three survive today. Several hundred years later in the 18th century, the Ciudadela was converted into a prison that once housed some of the most famous political prisoners of the time.

Today though the area has been converted into a small museum and most of the Ciudadela grounds converted into a public park.

Plaza de Toros

Located on the Paseo de Hemingway (named after the American author Ernest Hemingway), the Plaza de Toros is Pamplona’s famous Bullring. If you’re into bullfighting, this is the place in Pamplona to see this old Spanish tradition. The Plaza de Toros also has a statue of Hemingway in its front.

Parque de la Taconera (Taconera Park)

Popular with both families and local artists, Taconera Park covers around 90,000 square meters and is the most spacious sea of green in Pamplona. The landscaping and layout was modeled after the Palace of Versailles and contains a zoo with swans, peacocks, ducks, deer and other animals.

Museum of Navarra

The historical Museum of Navarra contains 34 different rooms filled with archaeological objects and art from different time periods of Spanish and Basque history. You can view ancient Roman, Moorish and Renaissance-era artifacts, sculptures, paintings and mosaics. It’s an incredible place for learning more about the region. Interesting fact: the Museum of Navarra once an old pilgrims’ hospital.

Archivo Real y General de Navarra

The Archivo Real y General de Navarra, also known as the General Archive of Navarra, is housed in the building that was once the royal palace of the monarchs of Navarre. It’s mission is to preserve the archives, manuscripts and historical documents of the region for historians, the government and other related organizations. Constructed in the 12th century, the Archivo Real is one of the oldest buildings in Pamplona and is run by the Administration of Navarra with the stated mission of preserving and sharing the documentary heritage of the region. Even if you’re not into history and old manuscripts, simply viewing the historical architecture of this historic place is worth the visit.

For information on Pamplona and the region, visit the Kingdom of Navarre website.

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