Pamplona is the capital of Navarra, a region in the North. It is famous for a festival called San Fermin, or as you may know it, the Running of the Bulls. By bus, it’s about 5 hours from Madrid and 6 hours from Barcelona. When it comes to Pamplona, there’s a lot to say so I’ve narrowed it down to a list of 8 random facts/events/things. It maybe be a small city, but it’s my city and truly a home away from home.
Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago, a.k.a. St. James’s Way, is a famous pilgrimage that leads to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The route goes through cities in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc. A major starting point of the trail is located in Pamplona; every morning, I see backpackers heading out early to walk on the Camino. Although I did not get a chance to walk on the Camino, I have several friends who did. Some friends walked from the starting points in Pamplona to Puenta la Reina, a municipality of Navarra. Other friends have completed three day walks from a city in southern France to Pamplona.
The Two Universities
There are two universities in Pamplona: The Public University of Navarra and Universidad de Navarra. My exchange school was Universidad de Navarra, a private university located on a large campus surrounded by beautiful mountains. I never met anyone from the public university, but from what I hear, I know that the university is smaller and free to attend. The University of Navarra is one of the best univerisites in Spain and all of Europe.
Located in Northern Spain, Pamplona is somewhat inconveniently situated when it comes to travelling out of the country. The closest international airport is in Madrid, a mere 5-hour bus ride away. To get to Barcelona’s airport, it is a 6-hour bus ride. We refer to the €44 roundtrip to Madrid as the Pamplona tax. For example, my flight to London, UK was only €55, but I had to add €44 to the cost of my trip in order to account for getting to the Madrid airport.
I love trying new foods when exploring a city. During my first weekend in Pamplona, I went on a food adventure and discovered the huge variety of pinchos (a.k.a. tapas of the North) served throughout the city. Pinchos are always flavourful and cheap.
Did you know that Pamplona was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite cities? In fact, he wrote his famous book “The Sun Also Rises” about Pamplona and the San Fermin festival.
In Pamplona’s main square, the Plaza del Castillo, there is a huge and beautifully decorated café called Café Iruna. I refer to the café as the Hemingway Café because of the Hemingway statue at the back of the restaurant. Café Iruna serves amazing pinchos and coffee. I also love admiring the black and white tiles that make up the floors, as well as the mirrors and detailing that make up the ceilings.
San Fermin, also known as the Running of the Bulls, is a world-famous, week-long celebration that takes place in July in Pamplona. Prior to coming to Pamplona, the Running of the bulls is the only thing I knew about the city. Essentially, human participants and bulls run through the narrow streets of old town Pamplona while people scream, drink, and cheer.
Although I wasn’t in Pamplona during the festival, I’ve had the chance to watch clips of the celebrations. It looks like an absolutely wild week; Pamplona is completely crowded with tourists and locals dressed in all-white with red bandannas tied around their necks.
Throughout the city, you can see evidence of the Running of the Bulls. For example, above is a statue depicting the Running of the Bulls.
The bull ring is also open to tourists; for €4, visitors can enter the ring and see where the bulls live and fight. When I visited, I got to check out the pink/red capes used during the celebrations. Personally, I find the entire premise of San Fermin to be cruel. I’ve watched clips of the bulls being trampled and killed and have heard about injuries sustained by those who choose to run with the bulls. Nevertheless, San Fermin is a very important part of Pamplonian culture and history.
Plaza del Castillo
I mentioned Plaza del Castillo in one of my other posts about Pamplona. Plaza del Castillo is the biggest square in Pamplona, situated in the heart of old town. Plaza del Castillo consists of many cafes, clubs, and restaurants, as well as residential buildings. In the spring and summer, you can see the beautiful trees that line the plaza. Every weekend, there seems to be an event taking place in the plaza that brings together families and friends. For me, the plaza acts as a meeting place. We often will meet in the gazebo and then go on to explore the rest of town.
I have also eaten in the plaza on several occasions. One of my favourite places is Café Iruna, a.k.a. the Hemingway Café.
Another great spot in the plaza is La Tagliatella, an Italian chain restaurant in Spain. I tried a really interesting pizza with meat on one side and spinach on the other.
Pamplona’s major cathedral is called Santa Maria la Real, located at the edge old town. For €5, I was able to enter the cathedral, explore the main area and the many passageways, as well as go up the bell tower. The main area is not very memorable to be honest, but the passageways really made an impression on me. The passageways and many back rooms were a little spooky because of the ominous music playing and echoing throughout the church. Additionally, the cathedral felt very deserted. That being said, the cathedral is worth the visit and very important to Pamplona.