Pamplona, Spain might not be on the top of minds as a destination for food travelers. But it should be. We were surprised not only at how good the food was in Pamplona. More important, how different it was from other nearby cities and regions in Northern Spain. In this post, we’ll share why Pamplona travel should be on your list.
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How To Visit Pamplona Spain
In this Pamplona Travel Blog, we share some of our top Pamplona travel tips. This includes how to get to Pamplona, recommended Pamplona activities, and, of course, what and where to eat.
Pamplona is a “small” city of 200,000 residents, with loads to do and to eat. This makes it a great destination for people looking to explore more of Spain outside the major cities of Madrid and Barcelona. Pamplona is easily reached by car or by train. And the city itself is easy to navigate on foot and pedestrian-friendly.
How To Book Hotels In Pamplona Spain
Since leaving the US over a decade ago, we’ve traveled to Spain numerous times. We’ve even lived in Spain for over three years. During these trips to Spain, we learned a few things about booking hotels in Spain. We’ve stayed at stunning luxury hotels like the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville and the W Barcelona. And sadly we have stayed in our fair share of not-so-great hotels in Spain.
When planning our trips to Spain, we use Booking.com for hotels in Spain. In addition to booking hotels, we’ve used them to book apartments in Spain for longer stays. When we’ve wanted something special, we’ve used Booking to find stunning villas in Spain. We’ve even found some charming and less expensive guest houses in Spain on Booking.com.
Where Is Pamplona Located
I’ve known about Pamplona as a destination for a long time. Thanks mostly because of its famed festival, the Running of the Bulls made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his book, “The Sun Also Rises“. But there’s so much more to Pamplona.
Sadly, until visiting, I couldn’t even answer the question, “Where is Pamplona Spain?” A little embarrassing considering we lived in Spain for three years. After visiting, we now know where Pamplona is and that its one of the most underrated destinations in Spain.
Pamplona is the capital city in the northern Spanish region of Navarra. Dating back as far as 74 BC, Pamplona has been at the crossroads of numerous invasions by Roman, Moorish, and French invaders due to its strategic location on the Arga River.
These invasions left lasting imprints on the architecture, culture, and food in Pamplona. As you walk around Pamplona you can notice these subtle influences. While today Pamplona is firmly a Spanish city, its roots are from outsiders.
Navarra is a landlocked region, which borders France to the North, along the Pyrenees Mountains. The Rioja wine region is just to the south of Pamplona. With fertile lands, it’s no wonder the region was invaded and conquered numerous times.
Pamplona is also part of the Basque Country. The Basque Country is an autonomous community in Spain. As such, the Basque language is used in Pamplona. Don’t worry, Spanish is understood as well. It might be confusing for travelers to see Iruña listed on street signs, but that is the Basque word for Pamplona. If you are traveling by train, keep this in mind.
When To Go To Pamplona
The weather in Pamplona, Spain is relatively mild throughout most of the year. August is the warmest month, and it can get colder in the winter. This makes Pamplona a year-round destination.
However, as with most parts of Europe, August is when Europeans go on holiday (vacation). A large number of shops, bars, restaurants, and tourist attractions are closed. If you can avoid traveling to Spain in August, do so. Eric and I have unfortunately made this mistake a few times both in Spain and Italy. It’s not fun traveling a long distance only to find half of the city or country closed.
San Fermin Festival
If I were asked what Pamplona is famous for, I would have to answer with one word: bulls. San Fermin Festival or more commonly known as the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain is the most popular Pamplona festival. Arguably, it’s even the most famous festival in Spain.
The San Fermin Festival Pamplona, occurs every July. The festival takes place from July 6th until July 14th. More precisely, the festival begins at noon on the 6th and ends at midnight on the 14th.
During these 8 days, Pamplona’s population explodes. Estimates have over 1,000,000 visitors coming to Pamplona. I doubt that Ernest Hemingway could ever imagine how popular this once low-key event has become.
As with popular festivals worldwide, travelers to Pamplona are advised to make plans well in advance. Most accommodations are limited and secured months prior to the festival. Additionally, if you don’t like crowds, then avoid coming to Pamplona during the festival.
With hundreds of thousands packed into the narrow streets of Pamplona’s city centre it can be overwhelming to many. 51 weeks of the year, Pamplona is a great place to visit. But unless you are ok with being elbow to elbow under the hot Spanish sun, avoid this week in July.
But, there are other festivals in Pamplona that are interesting and not as intense as the San Fermin Festival. Other interesting Pamplona events include activities surrounding Semana Santa or the Holy Week around Easter. In February, the city hosts a handful of Saints’ Day festivals as well.
What To Do In Pamplona Spain – Top Pamplona Attractions
If you don’t plan to run with the bulls (something we will proudly never do) Pamplona offers a number of activities and sites to explore. With its own pintxos culture, Pamplona is a world-class culinary destination. And because Pamplona is near the Rijoa wine region, you can several wine tastings around the city.
In between tasty bites, the Citadel of Pamplona, the ancient fortification dating back to the 16th Century is worth visiting. With its guns silent, the Citadel now serves as a public park with excellent running paths and plenty of green space.
Built on the oldest site in the city, the Pamplona Cathedral was destroyed in 924 and rebuilt in 1004. Its final adaptation took place beginning in the 15th Century.
At the center of Pamplona and the perfect place to take in the sights and sounds of the city is Plaza del Castillo. A large open-air space ringed with bars, restaurants, and hotels, the Plaza is the ideal location to kick your feet up and enjoy this historic city.
Bullfighting in Pamplona Spain is still a thing. You can visit the Pamplona bull ring, which is near the city center. To understand the cultural significance and history of bullfighting in Spain, perhaps pay a visit to the Pamplona Museum at the Plaza de Toros.
Pamplona is also a stop on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage trail that runs almost 500 miles across Spain. Even if you are not doing the walk, it’s cool to see the plagues and markers on the streets in Pamplona noting all of the pilgrims who’ve walked there before.
Day Trips From Pamplona
There is enough to keep travelers occupied in Pamplona over a long weekend. We could easily spend that time eating, napping, and then eating again.
But, when wondering about what to see in Pamplona that is more outside the city, there are a few options. Here are some recommended Pamplona day trips. Most of them require a car to reach.
The Navarra Region, with the Pyrenees Mountains to the north is home to several natural parks for outdoor enthusiasts. This includes the Bertiz Natural Park and the Bardenas Reales Natural Park, which are each about an hour away from Pamplona by car.
For food and wine lovers, the train from Pamplona to San Sebastian only takes about an hour. Or, the Rioja wine region is about two hours away.
Or, try the Oteiza Museum, an art museum just outside of the city in Alzuza. Alternatively, there is the Monastery of Leyre, an 11th Century monastery with a view of the Navarra countryside.
It’s about a 30-minute drive from Pamplona. Or, there is a hotel attached to the monastery for overnight stays in the countryside.
Is Pamplona Worth It?
Yes, there are enough things to see in Pamplona to keep travelers occupied. And, outside of the San Fermin Festival, the city is relatively peaceful, which also means it is pretty authentic. I love San Sebastian. It is one of our favorite cities in Spain.
But, San Sebastian Old Town is becoming overly touristy and is starting to lose some of its authenticity. That is not the case in Pamplona, and the food is just as good as its Basque neighbor to the North.
For travelers who’ve already visited the more popular cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Sevilla, Pamplona is a good alternative to dig a little deeper into Spanish cuisine and culture.
There are not only traditional pintxos bars, which have been serving up some of their famed specialties for generations but also contemporary and fusion options as well. Pamplona nightlife is also pretty interesting, with groups wandering from one pintxos bar to the next, or just drinking in the streets.
FAQs – How To Visit Pamplona Spain
Without a doubt, the San Fermin Festival is the event that is most closely associated with Pamplona.
Fiesta de San Fermín is a week-long festival that takes place every July 6-11. Over 1,000,000 visitors come to Pamplona to witness one of the most famous festivals in the World.
For the most part, Pamplona is an affordable city especially compared to larger cities like Madrid or Barcelona. You can find good quality accommodations and food at affordable prices.