Running of the Bulls in Pamplona!
January 11, 2017
I love Ernest Hemingway and from the first time I read, “The Sun Also Rises,” I knew I had to visit Pamplona for The Festival of San Fermín! Today’s post is going to talk about what you need to know to check this trip off of your bucket list! Please note, I won’t be covering the bullfights in my blog because while I respect all cultures and traditions, killing an animal for show isn’t something I support. Ok, now on to my post!
Plaza de Toros de Pamplona
Why do people run with the bulls?
The Encierro, running with the bulls, takes place during the Festival of San Fermín, which is thought to have started as far back as the 14th Century. Fermín is said to be a Saint, who on a preaching voyage, was beheaded and is now considered a martyr in the Catholic Church. Today, Saint Fermín is considered one of the two patrons of Navarre. Some people in Pamplona claim Saint Fermin was killed by being dragged through the streets with angry bulls chasing him, hence the tradition, but no one really seems to know how this actually started. It is believed that running with the bulls began around the 17th Century. Ernest Hemingway made the festival popular with his book, “The Sun Also Rises,” and many foreigners started visiting Pamplona. Today, around 1 million people attend the festival each year!
Where exactly is Pamplona?
Pamplona is located in Navarre, Spain, which is in the Northern part of the country. It is about 245 miles from Madrid and 301 miles to Barcelona. Pamplona can be reached via train or bus. The city also has a small airport with direct flights to Madrid and Barcelona. Taking off was a little bit bumpy, since you have to fly over the Pyrenees Mountains, but it sure was beautiful!
Why does everyone wear the same outfit?
The traditional attire for the San Fermín Festival is a white shirt and white pants with a Pañuelico, which is a red scarf, and a red waistband. While it is unclear exactly how this tradition started some people say they wear white to honor San Fermín, a saint who was martyred, and the red to represent his blood. Others say that people wear the white and red outfits to dress like the butchers who began the tradition of this run. Either way, if you go to this festival you MUST wear the outfit. It’s fun!
Where do I get the outfit?
Up at 3am to go run with the bulls!
I would recommend bringing a few white tops and pants with you to the festival. Within 5 minutes of being in Pamplona, Christopher got drenched in red wine buy a party goer so we were so thankful we brought more than one set of clothes! You can buy the Pañuelico and red waistband all over Pamplona. Check out Estafeta, Mercaderes and Chapitela streets and around the bull arena to purchase them.
When is the run?
The San Fermin Festival is held yearly from noon on July 6th- midnight on July 14th. The Encierro, or running with the bulls, starts promptly at 8am from July 7-14th but runners must be in line by 7am to be guaranteed a spot. The entire run is only 825 meters and usually only lasts between 3-4 minutes. It ends in Plaza Del Toros.
Should I run with the bulls?
Honestly, probably not. A local told us, it’s mostly tourists who get injured in the run each year. Many of the people who run train their entire lives for this event. He told us to watch the race the first day and then decide if we actually wanted to run. This was great advice. I put the photos up above to show you just how narrow the streets are that you run down. They also get very crowded. If you still want to run make sure you are dressed properly and are not intoxicated. You will get kicked out of the event if they think you are. Also, know that you can’t take photos during the run and if you get caught trying to you will get fined. A few other rules are you must be 18+ to participate and you can’t touch the bulls or run behind them. The city blocks off the street as the bulls pass so they can’t double back in to town.
If after all of my warnings you still want to run, then meet at the start line on Mercaderes Street by 7am. There will be two rocket shots before you should start running. The first one signifies that the gates have been opened and the bulls are running, and the second shot tells you the last bull has left the coral. When you see the bulls start to run! Some people started to run before they saw the bulls and were greeted to a booing, laughing audience in the arena. Know if you want to run with the bulls you need to actually see one first, or the crowd will think you are a sissy, and you may even get bottles thrown at you. We saw this happen! At the end of the race there are two more rocket shots. The third rocket shot signifies all of the bulls are in the arena and the fourth one means all of the bulls are safely in the corral.
Ok, so where should I watch the run?
The best place to watch is on a balcony in town by the run. This is really the only way to get a full view of the run. That being said, to get balcony space if can be expensive and you need to book it up to a year in advance. If it is too late for you to get a balcony space you can watch the run from the street at Mercaderes, Telefonica, and Plaza Consistorial but space is very limited, and you will need to arrive early to try to get in the second row of viewing behind the EMTs. It was already crowded at 6am when we were in town so I would even suggest arriving by 5:30am! Another place to watch that I really enjoyed was in Plaza Del Toros, the bull arena. Plaza Del Toros was $8 Euro to get in but they allowed us to bring in our own wine and snacks. The plaza shows the full run on big TV screens and then you get to see the end of the run live. It was quite the celebration and a great place to see how the race worked on our first day in town. Be aware, it can be rather chilly in the morning in Pamplona, so bring a sweater, and arrive by 6am to get a front row seat!
What’s the nightlife like at night?
The nightlife in Pamplona is unlike anything I have ever experienced! The closest thing I can compare the festival to in the US is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. During the festival the entire town of Pamplona is in celebration mode and people are drinking and dancing throughout the streets of the city. There are tons of bars that line the city streets but they can get quite crowded so we enjoyed taking our drinks to go and trying to learn some of the local dances, like the one above!
Anything else I should know?
Yes! Don’t miss the firework show at night! Every night a firework show is held at the Citadel Park at 11pm and they are absolutely incredible. The firework show is actually an international firework contest, so, companies go all out on the shows and they last 30 minutes! Arrive by 10:30pm to get a nice spot and bring something to sit on just in case the grass is wet.
We hope you enjoy Pamplona!!!
Lindsay & Christopher