Running with Bulls and Beyond: Exploring the Charms of Pamplona

From ancient Roman ruins to the running of the bulls, Pamplona is bursting with culture that’s just waiting to be explored

Granada’s exotic beauty and Madrid’s metropolitan magic may work hard to allure travellers for a long-weekend escape, but Pamplona pulls out all the stops. Often overlooked by Spain’s more popular cities, Pamplona is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Navarra in northern Spain. Its seductiveness can be put down to the bewitching architecture and delectable local cuisine. Yet, it is worth discovering the city for yourself. 

Pamplona history in a nutshell

Distinctive and diverse, Pamplona has a long and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. During the Spanish Empire, it was one of the most important cities and today it still remains a cultural hotspot. Outside of Spain, it is most commonly known for the San Fermin festival, which takes place every July and includes the famous running of the bulls. From its humble beginnings as an Iron Age settlement and Roman city to the modern day destination that it has become, Pamplona is thriving. Read on to discover all the Pamplona things to do on your next getaway.

San Fermin and other festivals that have become Pamplona tourist attractions

The San Fermin festival, or the Running of the Bulls as it is often known, is undoubtedly Pamplona's most famous event. This historically rooted, religious festival puts a halt to daily life and for a week at the beginning of July.  At this time, Pamplona becomes a sea of white and red in honour of Saint Fermín. 

However, if San Fermin is not your cup of tea, there are many more cultural highlights to enjoy

However, if San Fermin is not your cup of tea, there are many more cultural highlights to enjoy. One of these is the Tamborrada, which takes place in January and features lively drumming performances throughout the city. The Medieval Fair is another one of the popular Pamplona sights which takes place in October and features historical reenactments, food, and entertainment. 

The streets of Pamplona come alive in July with San Fermin

Start your route of Pamplona things to see at the San Fermin Cultural Centre

Considered by many to be an iconic part of the city, the bullring is where you will find the Centro Temático del Encierro y los Sanfermines - a space dedicated to the city’s traditions. If you happen to be visiting outside of the San Fermin season, this is a wonderful way to relive the sights and sounds of the event as well as learn about its history.

The bullring is open to the public and houses some exhibits showcasing interesting artefacts relating to the sport. Yet, another curious attraction that makes the bullring a Pamplona tourist spot is the bust of Ernest Hemingway which can be found just a stone’s throw from the bullring itself. Hemingway famously visited the city and wrote his book, “The Sun Also Rises” while in Pamplona. 


Local culture is celebrated on the streets of Pamplona

Soak up local culture while Pamplona sightseeing

After exploring the bullring, take a stroll across to the Palacio de Navarra, the home of the regional government. To really feel like a local, try to arrive around noon to experience the rendition of the Hymn of Navarre chiming from the palace’s clock.

After hearing the city’s anthem and admiring the neoclassical facade of the palace, head to the Plaza del Castillo, a Pamplona must-see, where you will step into the heart of the city. This is where locals come to gather, so take a while to watch the world go by and admire Pamplona’s bustling daily life. Enjoy a coffee in one of the many cafés and rest your feet before heading off exploring again.

While away an hour or so watching the world go by in the Plaza del Castillo

Of course, one of the best things to do in Pamplona, Spain is visit the Old Town

If you are looking for a way to spend an afternoon, head to Pamplona’s Old Town and explore the picturesque cobbled streets lined with strikingly tall, multicoloured buildings. The city’s walls, dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries, can also be found in this historic neighbourhood and are one of the interesting places to visit in Pamplona for history buffs. 

Another eye-catching landmark is the Citadel, once a military fortress and now a protected cultural space

Another eye-catching landmark is the Citadel, once a military fortress and now a protected cultural space. It is easy to spend the entire day exploring this corner of the city, but with so many places to see in Pamplona, a few hours here will be enough to fully immerse yourself in the city’s heritage

Marvel at the multi-coloured buildings of Pamplona’s Old Town

Go souvenir shopping and continue to admire the things to see in Pamplona, Spain

Pamplona is a city bursting with charm. This may be thanks to its friendly locals and fascinating culture, yet it could also be that with every turn, you are faced with iconic landmarks. Souvenir shopping is no different.

Head to the street, Calle Estafeta to discover interesting boutiques full of tempting treasures to take home. But, in between diving into the different shops, take time to admire the Santa María Cathedral that overshadows life in these streets. The 14th century building is a bewitching mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical design and as well as being a cathedral, it is also a religious museum.

Just a short distance from the cathedral is an impressive lookout, the Mirador de Cabello Blanco which offers fabulous views across the city and Arga River. It is also close to the footpaths used by pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago route. 

The Santa Maria Cathedral towers over the Pamplona landscape

Brush up on your local knowledge and head to a Pamplona museum

While sightseeing is an amazing way to uncover the city’s history, there is nothing quite like a trip to a museum to learn from the experts. The Museum of Navarra is the place to be and is often listed as one of the top 10 things to do in Pamplona. 

The Museum of Navarra is the place to be and is often listed as one of the top 10 things to do in Pamplona

The highlights include ruins from the city’s first Romanesque cathedral, an impressive mosaic depicting the Triumph of Bacchus that dates back to the 1st century and a Moorish ivory chest from the 1000s. Once you have enjoyed the museum, don’t forget to pop around the corner to catch a glimpse of the Pamplona City Hall, perhaps one of the most emblematic buildings in the city. 

The facade of Pamplona’s City Hall is one of the visual highlights of the city

One of the best things to do in Pamplona is visit the parks

Wondering what to do in Pamplona if you are craving some greenery and fresh air? You are spoilt for choice! Fans of Japan will fall head-over-heels for the Yamaguchi Park which has been designed in the style of an urban Japanese garden complete with water features and sculptures. The Taconera Gardens are also a popular choice if history and culture is what you are looking for since they form part of the city’s oldest park. Couples will enjoy taking a handheld stroll through the manicured grounds of Parque Media Luna, a truly romantic corner of Pamplona. 

Enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Yamaguchi Park

Don’t forget to try the Pintxos, one of the fun things to do in Pamplona, Spain for foodies

Pamplona is the third largest city in the greater Basque cultural region which, for foodies, means one thing! Amazing snacks called Pintxos. They are the local version of tapas and are served as finger-food alongside a cold pint of beer or a glass of wine. Pamplona has a rich variety of pintxos on offer and in our opinion, there is no better way to get to know a place than by savouring its gastronomic offering. 

There are also many exciting things to do around Pamplona

Just because you are visiting the city of Pamplona doesn’t mean you have to stay within the city walls. Venture further afield and explore things to do near Pamplona such as visiting the Navarran Pyrenees, the winemaking region of La Rioja or Zugarramurdi, home to the “Cave of the Witches”. San Sebastian is also close-by and home to some incredible Michelin star hotel restaurants and relaxing beaches - what’s not to love?