Luckily, no bulls to be seen
Visiting the historic city of Pamplona in the northern Navarre province of Spain is a perfect way to dip your toes into the Basque region of Espainia.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Pamplona is all about the ‘Running of the Bulls’; it is so much more than those few hectic days in July. The ancient streets and squares are bustling with locals, young and old, enjoying a family lunch and sharing tales of the week gone by.
While exploring the charming plazas and lanes you may even bump into an enthusiastic pellegrino on their way to Santiago de Compostela in the west, following the Way of Saint James.
Pamplona was the first stop on our 2023 road trip tour of Spain; we’ve wanted to visit Pamplona for quite a few years to discover for ourselves the charm behind the energetic streets in the capital city of Navarre.
Did you catch our inspiration for this Spanish road trip?
Where is Pamplona
Where to stay in Pamplona
The hotel Sercotel Europa in Pamplona is very centrally located and just a 2-minute walk to the Plaza del Castillo and the famous Calle de la Estafeta.
The rooms are very comfortable and clean and perfect for a couple of nights’ stay. Breakfast offers a good selection of cheese, meats, and sweet snacks.
Nearby the hotel is a public car park with allocated hotel parking spaces, where a daily charge is applied.
Alternatively, pop your dates in the Booking.com search box and discover further options for all budgets.
A brief history of PamplonaFrom the Romans to the bulls
The city was fortified during the 16th century and was regularly at the centre of fighting troops and nearby wars. In 1915, one side of the citadel was destroyed to allow expansion of the city, and the fort continued to be used as a garrison until 1964.
Over the centuries, the Basque city of Iruña continued to expand; however, the distinct Navarre Old Town is easily identified with its beautiful architecture and historic features.
The annual San Fermin festival must be mentioned, and of course, Ernest Hemingway, who made the festival famous. The San Fermin festival runs from the 6th to the 14th of July; if you’re looking for high-octane action with the ‘Running of the Bulls’ and full party vibes, then this annual tradition is for you.
However, we happily avoided the festival and explored Pamplona in its full Basque glory.
There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
Exploring Pamplona’s Plaza del CastilloStyle and sophistication in Navarre
Although our visit to Pamplona was just for a few hours, it’s amazing how much you can squeeze in and how quickly you start to enjoy Pamplona’s laid-back and friendly atmosphere.
We immediately strolled towards the Old City, passing the Palace of Navarre, the site of Navarre’s Government. This mid-19th-century building has a striking neo-classical façade.
Ensure you spend a little time exploring Plaza del Castillo; take a seat and enjoy the sights and sounds of Pamplona. For a little decadence and style, wander inside Café Iruña for that special spot of lunch.
Don’t forget you’re in the Basque Country, so it’s pintxo, not tapa.
Create your own Spanish Road Trip
Discovering Pamplona’s ancient streetsJourney through time
Strolling down the narrow streets of Pamplona, it is almost unbelievable to visualise that these ancient lanes are still used during the San Fermin festival for the ‘Running of the Bulls’.
Ambling through the colourful cobbled streets, we discover Pamplona’s Ayuntamiento (City Hall) in Plaza Consistorial. This charming plaza is overshadowed by the splendid City Hall with its majestic Baroque façade, which was built in 1752.
There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Guides,
I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more
Pamplona’s ‘Running of the Bulls’Ernest Hemingway left his mark
The route is around ½ a mile in length. It is mainly run along Santo Domingo, continuing along Calle Mercaderes, leading up to Calle Estafeta’s crossroads. This is where it becomes exceptionally tight and continues up to Pamplona Bullring.
Even though 15 people have died since 1925 it doesn’t appear to put people off.
Visiting Pamplona reminded us of the scene in the 1991 Billy Crystal film City Slickers. Where “Mitch” (Crystal’s character) is gored from behind by a bull during his vacation with his friends.
Pamplona's bullring is quite imposing; it was rebuilt in 1923 and seats 19,529 people. It is the second largest bullring in Spain after Madrid.
Just in front of Pamplona’s bull ring is a statue of Ernest Hemingway; Hemingway made the festival famous in his 1926 novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Ernest first visited the Pamplona festival in 1923 and returned frequently until 1959.
Apparently, Ernest Hemingway regularly drank in Café Iruña in Plaza del Castillo; in Ernest’s relatively short lifetime, he certainly experienced life.
There's also a plaque to Ernest Hemmingway in the hilltop town of Ronda in southern Spain. His novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is allegedly based on the accounts of killings that took place in Ronda at the cliffs of El Tajo, during the Spanish Civil War.
Visiting Pamplona CathedralGothic elegance
María la Real Cathedral has three Gothic-style naves as well as several neoclassical features within.
Take a stroll inside to appreciate the sheer scale of the structure.
In the central nave of Pamplona Cathedral is the alabaster mausoleum of Charles III of Navarre and his wife Eleanor of Castille.
The high altar is dominated by the striking image of the Virgin of Santa María la Real. It’s here where the monarchs of Navarre swore their oaths in coronation ceremonies.
More from Spain
This is our third road trip around Spain, and we have also had a couple of weekend mini-breaks. On those trips, we discovered a lot about this beautiful country, from north to south, east to west.
Why not look at some of our other posts if you want to discover more.
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