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How to Attend the San Fermin Festival
The Pamplona Running of the Bulls is one of the most chaotic, insane experiences anyone could possibly have. There is more to the San Fermin festival in Pamplona than just the bull run - the festivities start the night before at 11pm and continue until the run at 8am the next morning. On this page you'll find all the information you need to know about the Pamplona Running of the Bulls.
What Happens at the Pamplona Running of the Bulls?
The San Fermin Festival can be split into the two parts: the opening day and the other days. On the opening day is the opening ceremony, which soon degenerates into a water, wine and flour fight.
After that, Pamplona settles into a pattern of 8am bull runs, 5am bullfights, and night time partying.
What to do the rest of the time? A good question. Pamplona sleeps. If you don't want to do the same, you might get bored. And as Pamplona isn't really geared up for tourism so much during the rest of the year, there isn't much of a tourist... infrastructure to keep you occupied.
The wineries of La Rioja aren't far away, but you'll need a designated driver or a guided tour, such as this one: Rioja Wineries Tour from Pamplona.
- Pamplona Running of the Bulls Pictures
- When is the Pamplona Bull Run? What happens on each day?
Did you know? Pamplona's Running of the Bulls is not the only such festival in Spain. There are plenty of Bull Runs in Spain.
Running of the Bulls Quick Facts
- Where? Pamplona. See also The Best Hotels in Pamplona According to Tripadvisor
- Know Any Good Running of the Bulls Tours? Yes! Read about Pamplona Tours.
- Nearest Airport for Flights from Europe? Bilbao or Zaragoza.
- Nearest Airport for Flights from the US? Madrid. Book Flights to Spain
- How Do I Get to Pamplona? By train or bus. Book Trains to Pamplona or Book Buses to Pamplona
See also: What are the origins of the Pamplona Running of the Bulls? Why do grown men (and a few women) run with a pack of bulls?
Next page in this article: How to get to Pamplona and Where to StayContinue to 2 of 3 below.
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Getting to Pamplona and Where to Stay
You have a number of choices when deciding on where to stay when attending the Running of the Bulls at the San Fermin Festival, Pamplona. You can book a hotel (or campsite) in Pamplona, stay in a nearby city or stay further away and travel overnight, arriving just in time for the morning run if you are lucky with arrival times.
Hotels in Pamplona during the festival are very expensive. A good alternative is to do a Pamplona Guided Tour. There's one that takes in Barcelona, Pamplona, San Sebastian and Bilbao, with two days at the festival.
Staying in Pamplona
There are hotels in Pamplona, but many of these will be fully booked months beforehand. Also, as the whole of Pamplona turns into a party zone at night during the San Fermin Festival, getting a decent night's sleep might be difficult. However, if you stay up all night to enjoy the festivities, there's nothing better than being able to fall into bed after the running of the bulls in... the morning. If you intend on sticking around for the bullfighting in the evening, you'll welcome somewhere to sleep in Pamplona itself.
If you'd like to stay in private accommodation along the route, San Fermin Travel Central can help you book a place to stay during the festival.
Where is the nearest campsite to Pamplona?
The nearest campsite to Pamplona is Camping Ezcaba, which is 6km outside of Pamplona.
Where else can I go camping near Pamplona?
Ezcaba is by far the closes campsite to Pamplona. The rest are at least 25km out of the center. Always check if the campsite provides transport to the festival and find out how much a taxi will cost. If you are really concerned about transport, consider taking a Pamplona Guided Tour.
Note that most of these tours involve spending time with drunken youths from the US, the UK and Australia, but you can always use the services they provide and then do your own thing when you're actually at the festival.
Other campsites in the area include:
Home Exchange and Couchsurfing in or Near Pamplona
A home exchange is a great way to get what would normally be expensive accommodation during high season.
If you don't have a home to swap, maybe you could just borrow someone's couch for a few days (known as 'couchsurfing'). Your host should also act as a handy guide during the festivities.
Check out my page on Home Exchange and Couchsurfing for more details.
Staying near Pamplona
It may be possible to stay in a hotel just outside Pamplona, though you will need to make transport arrangements if you want to get into the city for the bull run. A Canadian company, SPYNS, offers an up-market Pamplona Bull Run Tour where you stay in a hotel a few minutes's walk outside the city centre. This ensures you get a good night's sleep before the bull run.
You could also stay in one of these nearby cities:
- Vitoria Not the most exciting city in the world, but Vitoria is the closest city to Pamplona, making it an idea base to visit the Pamplona Running of the Bulls.
- Bilbao Home to the Guggenheim Museum and some of the best Basque pintxos.
- San Sebastian Excellent beaches and even better pintxos.
To get to Pamplona from these cities, you'll either need your own transport or a conveniently timed bus or train. Check departure times here:
Traveling Overnight to Pamplona from Further Away
To save on accommodation costs, many people travel overnight from a city further away, or travel in the daytime the day before, party all night, watch the bull run and then travel back without stopping. This is what I did the first time I went to Pamplona, but bear in mind that I didn't run with the bulls. It is not advisable to run on no sleep, inebriated and on sleep. Read more Tips for Running with the Bulls in Pamplona
These cities have buses and trains that arrive in Pamplona in time for the running of the bulls in the morning.
Continue to 3 of 3 below.
- Madrid The capital of Spain and closer to Pamplona than you might think. It is a simple overnight train or bus to Pamplona from here.
- Barcelona A little further from Pamplona but just one bus or train away from Pamplona.
- Zaragoza A couple of hours away from Pamplona, which makes the overnight journey a little difficult (you have to stay up till late to catch the train) but the journey is shorter.
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Tips for Attending
This page is about watching the bull runs. If you want to take part and run with the bulls, visit my page on Tips for Running with the Bulls
The bull run is 825m long (2750 feet) but the most action is at the Cuesta de Santa Domingo - which is where the run begins - and at the bull ring (where everything finishes).
The difference between getting nearly the best vantage point at the Cuesta de Santa Domingo and the very best place to watch from is about three-and-a-half hours: when we arrived at 3am all the spots by the railings were filling up, but even as late as 6.30am the crowd was still only one or two deep.
Is it worth the extra three hours? Well, you've come all this way, would it have been worth coming at all if you have to stand on tip-toes and miss some of the action?
Locals hire out their balconies in Pamplona for two events - the opening ceremony and the daily bull run. But do you really want one?
Advantages of a Balcony for the Pamplona Running of the Bulls
- You get to stay... out of the way of all the mess in the streets (particularly during the opening ceremony.
- You don't need to stand in your spot for hours to guarantee a good spot.
- Pamplona is cold in the early hours of the morning - your balcony won't be.
- You get a pretty good view. As you're higher up, you get to see the bulls for longer.
- You get to watch the bits you miss on TV (assuming your balcony has a TV!)
Disadvantages of a Balcony for the Pamplona Running of the Bulls
- The balconies are expensive for what is in effect about 15 seconds of excitement.
- You might not get the best view.
- You don't get all the atmosphere of the event
How to Choose Your Balcony in Pamplona - Points to Consider
Pamplona's old town is like most old cities in Spain - cramped, with tall buildings all around. The bull run winds through the streets in a haphazard manner. Each balcony on offer will offer you a different view, some better than others
- Will the owner show you pictures? Ask to see previous years' photos of the running of the bulls from the balcony you're hiring. They should oblige.
- What floor are you on? Cameras have zooms, so just seeing the pictures won't necessarily tell you how good the view will be. Generally speaking you want to be on the second or third floor, but the fourth floor may be ok. Remember that in Europe the first floor is what North Americans would call the second floor - so in European terms you want the first or second floor, perhaps the third. Any higher up and it'll be too difficult to see.
- Do they have a TV? They should do, but it's worth checking. You want to see the replay that is shown immediately after the run takes place.
- Where does the shadow fall? This is important if you want to take photos. If have the street is in shadow and half is in sunlight, you'll struggle to get good exposure on your photos. The festival takes place each year at the same time and each run takes place at 8am, which means the sunlight and shadow will always be in the same place. Take a look at the photos - you want either a lot of sunlight or a lot of shadow, not somewhere in between.
What to bring to the Pamplona Bull Run
There are a few essential items to bring in your backpack when you go to the Pamplona Bull Run at the San Fermin festival. Make sure you come prepared in order to fully appreciate the San Fermin festival.
- White trousers and white t-shirt or shirt. This is not just for the participants in the run; everyone is wearing this, male and female. You will stand out like a sore thumb if you don't dress appropriately. Pretty funky souvenir t-shirts can be bought on the night if you don't want to wear your own, though white trousers are a little harder to find (and what would you do with the ones you are wearing when you get changed).
- Red handkerchief. Fold it in half and tie it around your neck. Again, everyone will be wearing this. Can be bought at the festival for under 5 euros.
- Long, thin red scarf. Tied round your waste like a belt. Again, can be bought at the festival quite cheaply.
- Two liters of red wine. (About 1 euro in a supermarket) & two liters of Coca Cola. Mix the two together to make Calimocho (Kalimotxo in Basque), the drink at San Fermin.
- Ice. For the Calimocho. (This can be bought at the festival, which is probably for the best, as ice bought in Bilbao will be a wet backpack in Pamplona.)
- Deck of cards. To pass the time waiting for the bull run.
- A blanket or sweater. It can get quite cold in Pamplona at 5am!
- Red Bull. You're going to have to stay awake somehow.
- The lyrics to the 'rezo de San Fermin'. This one is more important for those who intend on participating. The 'rezo de San Fermin' is the chant that the bullfighters shout out three times shortly before the run takes place. Those taking part should learn it. It goes like this:
"A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición"
- A newspaper. Not just something to read to pass the time while you wait for the bull run - see my Pamplona Bull Run Image Gallery to see what else to do with it.