The Pamplona Running of the Bulls takes place daily as part of the San Fermin Festival, which happens each year from July 6 to July 14. In 2018, that means the first day of the festival starts on Friday at noon with the traditional lighting of El Chupinazo, a giant rocket shot off from Pamploma's town hall to officially start the 204 hours of non-stop partying.
In order to properly prepare for your trip, you should make sure to book accommodations for the Running of the Bulls far enough in advance to avoid higher fees and overbooked hotels and familiarize yourself with comprehensive guides to Pamplona so you know what to expect before you arrive.
The basic schedule of events each day of the San Fermin Festival (with the exception of the opening and closing ceremonies) consists of an 8 a.m. bull run, a 6:30 p.m. bullfight in the city's bullring featuring the bulls that ran that morning, and more partying after starting at 11 p.m. On the first day of the festival, July 6, there will also be an 11 p.m. fireworks show to officially start off the week of celebrations, parties, and unofficial religious processions.
What to Expect in a Typical 24 Hours of San Fermin
The Running of the Bulls and San Fermin Festival are a non-stop party, so that means you might have to get used to staying up all night and sleeping in the daytime to get the most out of your trip to Spain this summer.
Parties start at around 11 p.m. with a nightly firework show, and as soon as the display is over, the crowd will disperse to different parts of the city to continue celebrating in the streets.
If you're looking to experience the local scene, you can follow the younger crowd to Plaza Castillo, where there will be live music, discos, and street musicians as well as plenty of places to find drinks and food.
The music and dancing won't stop at 2 a.m. (when many bars in the U.S. close)—the parties go all night at the San Fermin Festival.
However, between 3 to 7 a.m. you'll want to find a spot to watch the upcoming bull run so you get the best view of the daily Pamplona Running of the Bulls. At around 7:45, you should get your camera ready because the action comes and goes rather quickly—sometimes as quick as 10 seconds!
The daily bull run officially starts at 8 a.m. when the runners all chant the "Reno de San Fermin," which is a sort of blessing to Saint Fermin that states, "A San Fermín pedimos, or ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición." Once the bulls are released, the run to the bullring lasts about 15 minutes total.
From 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m., nothing much happens in the city as most locals are sleeping. If you don't have anywhere to stay, you might be able to find a few shops and restaurants open, but many people sleep in the parks or walk out of the city and find some shade to rest for a few hours instead. If you are planning on running (hopefully you only watched the first time), you should walk the route with someone who has run before.
At 4 p.m., you should head over to the Pamplona bullring, get tickets to the fight, then take your seat in the stands. The bullfights start at 5 p.m. and are typically followed by a light dinner before yet another night of partying starts at 11 p.m.
Different Ways to Experience San Fermin
Depending on your age, energy level, tolerance for crowds and sleep deprivation, and intentions for your trip to Pamplona, there are a number of different options for how you can make the most out of your San Fermin experience.
If you want to guarantee a good time with little risk of anything going wrong, Pamplona guided tours depart from a number of larger cities nearby and are your best bet for a stress-free trip to Pamplona. Most tours include transportation to the city, a balcony rental for the bull run with a VIP breakfast after, and a few days of exploring Basque Country (Bilbao and San Sebastion).
If you want to take a couple of days from Bilbao, San Sebastian, or Barcelona and party all night in Pamplona, the stay-up-all-night option provides a cheap way to experience the festival like the locals do.
To enjoy this, you'll want to depart from your origin city in the afternoon to arrive in time for the fireworks, stay up all night, then make your way to your chosen viewing spot by about 4 or 5 a.m. Immediately after the run, you can hop a train or bus back to the city where you're staying and sleep on the way there. Alternatively, you can just take the night train or bus from Bilbao, San Sebastian, or Barcelona and skip the all-night partying to see the run itself.
Whether you're running in one of the bull runs or you just know your limits and want to get a little rest overnight to enjoy the most of the daytime in Pamplona, you'll need to book accommodations well in advance to enjoy the "I need my sleep" option for experience the San Fermin festival. If you really want to get a full night's sleep without all the noise of the parties, it's best to book a hotel in nearby Vitoria then take the early-morning train in time for the run.