In Spain, Pamplona is a city famous around the world as the home of the Running of the Bulls, an annual event where participants volunteer to be chased by real bulls through the old city streets. Besides this dangerous event, Pamplona is also a popular stop en route to the Basque cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao and a stop on the Camino de Santiago. If you're traveling from the Spanish capital of Madrid, Pamplona is about 241 miles (389 kilometers) away in the region of Navarra, which sits between Basque Country and Aragon on the French border, just south of the Pyrenees Mountains.
If you are traveling for the Running of the Bulls, you should expect ticket fares across all modes of transportation and hotel rates will also be much higher than at other non-peak times. If that's the case, consider renting a car and driving yourself—although you may hit traffic. If you're making the trip at any other time, a direct flight is the fastest way and is not much more expensive than taking the bus or train. However, you will be limited in how much luggage you can bring with you, so if you are traveling with a lot of stuff, the train is probably the quickest and cheapest way to go.
How to Get from Madrid to Pamplona
- Train: 3 hours, $19+
- Bus: 5 hours, 15 minutes, $19+
- Flight: 1 hour, $32+
- Car: 4 hours, 241 miles (389 kilometers)
Compared to other cities in Spain you could travel to like Barcelona or Seville, Pamplona is not that far from Madrid and it only takes 3 hours to get there on the high-speed AVE trains. Most routes are direct, so you won't be able to get off and see other towns along the way if you choose the train, but it is the fastest way to get there after flying and pretty inexpensive. Also, the train will take you from city center to city center, so there's no need to figure out how you're going to get to and from the airport.
The train will arrive at the Pamplona Railway station, which is located on the other side of the Agra River and about a 25-minute walk from the old quarter. Pamplona is not a large city, so you'll find it easy to walk around, but you can also make use of the city's public bus system.
PLM Autocares is the only bus company that offers routes between Madrid and Pamplona with tickets starting at about $19 each way. You can catch the bus from the Madrid-Barajas International Airport or in town at the Avenida de America Bus Station. Depending on how many stops your bus makes, the journey can take anywhere between 5 and 8 hours. The buses are pretty basic, but they're comfortable enough and the Wi-Fi is free.
Your bus will arrive at the Pamplona Bus Station, which is centrally located and is only a 10-minute walk from the Plaza de Toros.
Iberia is the only airline that operates a non-stop flight from Madrid to Pamplona, but the cost varies between about $32 to $215 or more depending on when you fly and how early you book your ticket. For example, if you fly out the day before the Running of the Bulls begins, you'll probably be paying about $215 each way. The flight is only an hour, however, and the Pamplona Airport (PNA) is just 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the city center. It will only take you about 20 minutes in a cab or 50 minutes by bus to get there.
The drive from Madrid to Pamplona takes a little over 4 hours, but is pretty straightforward as the cities are connected by major highways. From Madrid, you'll travel northwest, getting on E-90 for 117 miles (189 kilometers ) and then merging onto CL-101 and using the right lane to merge onto the A-15 toward Zaragoza/Pamplona. You'll stay on the A-15 for about 25 miles (40 kilometers), before taking Exit 101 to AP-15 for another 45 minutes or until you can take Exit 83B, which will bring you directly in Pamplona.
Along the way, you might consider taking a detour into La Rioja towards Logroño, where you can visit some of the vineyards in one of Spain's most famous wine regions. Some of the most notable wineries not far from the Madrid-Pamplona route include Bodegas Riojanas and Bodegas Marqués de Riscal, which is famous for its ribbon-like roof designed by architect Frank Gehry.
What to See in Pamplona
Of course, if you're traveling to Pamplona in July, you won't want to miss the San Fermin Festival, a.k.a. the Running of the Bulls. The event occurs every year on the same dates between July 6 to 14. If you're planning on visiting for the bull runs, you need to have your accommodation booked well in advance. Start looking for hotels at least six months before your journey to get the best prices. If you plan to be more than a spectator and run with the bulls yourself, make sure you read up on all the safety tips and rules beforehand. Remember, these are two-ton bulls we're talking about and the danger is very real.
If you plan to visit at any time of year other than July, Pamplona still has plenty to offer. As one of the stops along the Camino de Santiago, the city is frequently visited by hikers passing through. Among the sights in the city to see are the Museum of Navarra, which tells the stories of the region's history, the old city walls, and Casco Viejo, the charming old quarter. If you're missing the festival, you can also take a tour of the bullring to learn more about the famously dangerous event and the traditions of Spanish bullfighting.