San Fermin, Running of the Bulls, Pamplona

SAN FERMIN –
RUNNING OF THE BULLS

What is the Running of the Bulls?

The San Fermín festival, internationally known as the “Running of the Bulls,” is one of the largest fiestas in the world. It is celebrated every year from the July 6th - 14th in the city of Pamplona. Although it has existed for centuries, it was first made famous in the 1930’s after Ernest Hemingway wrote about the exhilarating running of the bulls (“encierro” in Spanish) in his book “The Sun Also Rises.”

The San Fermin festival starts the 6th of July at 12pm with the “txupinazo,” a rocket launched from the city’s town hall, which marks the official start of the festivity. During that week, Pamplona becomes completely inundated with visitors – imagine a city of 195,000 inhabitants receiving over a million visitors from all over the world! The party atmosphere in town is incredible, with everyone wearing the traditional San Fermin clothing: white t-shirt and a red handkerchief (“pañuelo” in Spanish) around the neck. How long the white t-shirt stays white is another story.

Although there are many activities and events throughout the week of the San Fermin festival, the famous “Running of the Bulls” (“encierro” in Spanish) is the main highlight. It takes place every day of the festival at 8 am. The runners are chased by six bulls throughout the streets of Pamplona’s old town for approximately 850 meters until reaching the city’s bullring (“plaza de toros” in Spanish). While some people train all year for the run, others decide it at the last moment, often persuaded by the amount of alcohol drank the previous night (don’t be one of these!). This makes the running even more dangerous and unfortunately 15 participants have died since 1924. Nevertheless, the running of the bulls is an extremely popular activity and something very unique that is worth seeing at least once in a lifetime.

The bulls are also part of the second most popular activity of the San Fermin festival – the bullfights. These take place every evening from the 7th to the 14th of July at Pamplona’s bullring. But those who aren’t bull-aficionados will for sure also find something to do during San Fermin, since the list of events and activities going on during that week in Pamplona is very long. There are music concerts, rural sport competitions, firework exhibitions, games for children and much more.

 

San Fermín's Origin

San Fermín's Origin
The festival of San Fermin gets its name from the patron saint of Navarre. The legend states that San Fermín was the first bishop of Pamplona and baptized 40,000 pagans in three days.
San Fermin
Old Posters of San Fermin
Running of the bulls
Historic photos of San Fermin

Celebrations in honor of San Fermin have been taking place in Pamplona since before the 12th century, but these were originally done on October 10th. It was only in 1591 when, due to the weather inconveniences, the government of Pamplona and its bishop agreed to move the celebration to July. July 7th was already an established date for a fair that featured the running of bulls. By moving the date, these two separate celebrations were joined.

San Fermin & Hemingway

San Fermin & Hemingway
In 1923, Ernest Hemingway visited Pamplona during the San Fermin festival for the first time. Right a way, he was fascinated by bullfighting and became a big fan of the festivities. Sanfermin had such a big impact in Hemingway that he wrote a novel about it “The Sun Also Rises” (“Fiesta” in Spanish) which made the festival famous worldwide.
Hemingway San Fermin
Hemingway in San Fermin in 1959
Hemingway and bullfighter Dominguin in 1959
Hemingway and bullfighter Dominguin in 1959
Hemingway 1927
Hemingway in the livestock fair in 1927

In 1921, Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris to work as a journalist for a Canadian newspaper. Two years later he visited Pamplona during San Fermin for the first time, looking for material to finish a story. From the very beginning, he was profoundly affected by the spectacle of bullfighting, so much so that he kept coming back. During San Fermin of 1924, Hemingway ran in the encierros for the first time (although some say he never did) and was witness to the first casualty of the running of the bulls.

It wasn’t until San Fermines of 1925 that he started to put together material for a novel. By then, he had made good friends in Pamplona and enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town and the Plaza del Castillo during the festival. He frequented the bars Txoko and Café Iruña, as well as several others that have already disappeared. He also became the friend to several matadors and accompanied them during the dressing rituals before entering the ring.

Just a little over a year later (October of 1926), his novel “The Sun Also Rises” was published. It narrates the adventures of a group of American and British expatriates who travel to the festival of San Fermin to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Although he didn’t know it back then, this book would change the San Fermin festival and the city of Pamplona forever.

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Unfortunately, due to the political unrest in Spain, Hemingway visited San Fermin in 1931 for the last time in what would be a 22 year hiatus. When he finally came back in 1953, the fiesta had changed quite a bit – bigger crowds, many foreign visitors – and Hemingway seemed to have mixed feelings about it.

Although he visited Pamplona in 1956, he didn’t come back to San Fermin until 1959, and that would be his last time. By then Hemingway was already a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, which made it impossible for him to go unnoticed – everyone wanted an autograph and photo with him.

On July 2nd 1961 Hemingway decided to put an end to his life by shooting himself in his house in Ketchum (Idaho). Legend has it that he died with the tickets for the San Fermin bullfights in his hand.

Running of the Bulls (Encierro)

Running of the Bulls
The Running of the Bulls (“encierro” in Spanish) is the main highlight of the San Fermin festival and the reason for the festival’s worldwide fame. It takes place every day from the July 7th - 14th at 8 am in Pamplona’s old town, when runners are chased by six bulls for approximately 850 meters until reaching the city’s bullring.
San Fermin
Running of the bulls during San Fermin
Bulls running in the old town
Bulls running in Pamplona's old town
Pamplona's bullring
End of the encierro at the bullring

The running of the bulls is always preceded by the same traditional ritual. Before the encierro, the runners gather around the image of San Fermin located in the Calle de Santo Domingo, just steps away from the corral where the bulls are kept. Five minutes before 8 am, the runners sing the traditional song “A San Fermín pedimos” first in Spanish (“A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición”) and then in Basque (“Entzun arren San Fermin, zu zaitugu patroi, zuzendu gure oinak, entzierro hontan otoi”) which can be translated as “We ask San Fermín, because he is our patron saint, to guide us in the running of the bulls and give us his blessing.” This is followed by the shout "¡Viva San Fermín! ¡Gora San Fermín!” (Long live San Fermin!). And the whole singing is repeated two more times during those 5 nerve-racking last minutes before the start.

At 8 o’clock, the first of four fireworks is launched, indicating that the running of the bulls has started – the corral door is opened. It is time for the first participants to start running. The second firework explosion indicates that all the bulls have left the corral.

By then, the six bulls are already running down the streets of Pamplona’s old town: from the Santo Domingo Street to the town hall, then through the Mercaderes Street to continue along the Estafeta Street and finishing in the bullring. It all happens very quickly and usually the encierro is over in under 4 minutes. Once in a while, however, the herd of bulls separates making it even more dangerous. That is why the four firework rockets are so important – they inform the runners of the current situation.

Once all the bulls have reached the bullring and the door of the bullring is closed, the third firework rocket is launched. The fourth and final rocket indicates that all the bulls are locked at the bullring’s corral.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Total distance: 850 m
Average total time: between 2 and 4 minutes
Who can run? Everyone that is at least 18 years old. It is free and it is not necessary to register.
Conditions: it is forbidden to run intoxicated; it is forbidden to run with objects (backpack, photo camera, etc)
Access: through the gate at the town hall between 6:30 and 7:30am

If you decide to run the encierro…

If you want to run, we recommend that you inform yourself about it: the itinerary, the dangers, the do’s and don’ts, etc. There are some basic rules that every runner must know. For example, you should never touch the bulls or run behind them. Also, if you fall, don’t get up, stay in the ground protecting your head with your hands. These are just a couple of many rules/tips, so please make sure to inform yourself before participating.

Be aware of the danger! We are talking not only about the bulls’ horns, but you also do not want to get trampled by one (each bull weighs an average of 600 kg or 1,323 lbs). The overcrowding of the encierro is also something to keep in mind – it is difficult not to stumble or fall because of other runners.

It is also important to understand that it is impossible to run from the beginning to the end. As a runner, you should choose a section and incorporate into the run when the bulls are getting closer. When the bulls are nearby, run faster trying to stay in front of them until you are tired or feel in danger. When that moment arrives – or once the bulls have passed–, it is time to step aside without putting yourself or any other person in danger.

If you want to watch the encierro…

If you just want to look at the action, you have several possibilities. The cheapest option is to see the running of the bulls from the street – it is free! However, you should know that the itinerary of the encierro is protected by two fences. The first fence is for runners in danger, while police and emergency services are located between the two fences and viewers behind the second one. To get a spot, you have to be there before 6:30 am and generally the views aren’t that good because of the double fence. Also, keep in mind that it is a long wait for an event that will go by so quickly (the whole encierro lasts an average of 3 minutes).

The best spot to watch the encierro from the street is at the beginning, at the stretch from the Navarre Museum to the Santo Domingo Street. In that area there isn’t any fence in between, you can watch the runners singing to the saint before the encierro and see quite a long distance in both directions. However, at that spot it is recommendable to arrive before 6 am to find space.

The second possibility for watching the encierro is renting a spot on a balcony. It costs between 50 and 150 € per person, depending on the exact location of the balcony. It is a very comfortable way of seeing the encierro as well as culturally immersive, since you will find yourself “adopted” by a local family for a couple of hours which will also give you the opportunity to learn more about the encierro from them.

The third option for watching the encierro is from the bullring, where the encierro ends. Although you only get to see the very end, there are big screens televising the rest of the encierro and afterwards there is an amateur bullfighting spectacle. The entrance ticket costs 6 €, although the closest stand to the bulls (“tendido” in Spanish) is free from Monday to Friday.

San Fermin's Kick Off (Txupinazo)

Txupinazo
The first encierro of the San Fermin Festival is celebrated on July 7th at 8 am, however, the festival itself starts the day before at 12 pm with the txupinazo. From that moment on, Pamplona becomes one of the largest fiestas in the world for one week, attracting party-goers from every corner of the globe.
Pamplona's City Hall - Spain
Pamplona's City Hall – where San Fermin begins

The festival of San Fermin starts in the square in front of the town hall where a crowd begins gathering the morning of July 6th waiting for the clock to strike 12. People traditionally don a red handkerchief and wear white clothes to the txupinazo – clothes that you don’t mind to if they get ruined, because they will not stay white for that long.

As 12 pm nears, the alcohol is flowing. To say that people in the square are packed like sardines would be an understatement, so be prepared!

Shortly before 12 o’clock, the mayor of Pamplona appears on the town hall’s balcony accompanied by a notable person chosen to launch the chupinazo that year. When 12 o’clock arrives, that “someone” shouts “Pamploneses, Pamplonesas, Viva San Fermín! Gora San Fermín!" (people of Pamplona, long live San Fermín!)” and the firework rocket (“txupinazo”) is launched.

At this moment, the roar of the crowd explodes. Thousands of bottles are popped open and everyone takes the red handkerchief from the pocket and hangs it around their neck. It is the beginning of a long week of drinking, partying and excesses.

After the chupinazo, people start to slowly disperse throughout the old town while celebrating the beginning of San Fermin by drinking, singing, dancing, etc. It is also a tradition for people living in the old town to start throwing buckets of water from windows and balconies to the people partying in the streets (very appreciated because it gets really hot!).

RULES / GENERAL INFO
  • It is forbidden to access the square with glass
  • However, wear shoes with a good sole to protect you from the glass on the ground, because there will still be a lot
  • Be aware that it gets very very crowded and hot at the square. We would not recommend you to go with children
  • Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined, because that is what usually happens

Bullfights (Corridas)

Bullfights
Apart from the encierros, the second most important activity of San Fermin are probably the bullfights which take place in Pamplona’s bullring from the 7th to the 14th of July at 6:30 pm. This event is called the “Bullfighting Fair” (“Feria del Toro”) and is the only time of the year when there is bullfighting in Pamplona.
Bullfight San Fermin
Bullfight during San Fermin
Bullfight San Fermin
Bullfight during San Fermin

Pamplona is proudly home to the second largest bullring of Spain and fourth largest in the world. Although the bullfights start at 6:30 pm, for a lot of party-goers it is the beginning of the day, while others may not have even gone to sleep yet.

Pamplona’s bullring is divided in two very differentiated areas: sun and shade. It is very different not only because of the heat, but also because of the atmosphere. Of course, tickets are more expensive in the shade, where the public is quieter and it is possible to enjoy the spectacle. On the other hand, the sun is where the peñas (clubs of members that unite to celebrate San Fermin together, wearing characteristic clothing and banner) and party-goers sit. It is an spectacle on its own, with an incredible party atmosphere. Kalimotxo (red wine and coke) and sangría are passed from one hand to another while several music bands play.

The bullfight traditionally begins with the presentation of all of the participants in the ring. Then starts the bullfight itself: six bulls for three matadors, that is, six “faenas.” Each faena is divided in three parts, with the bull finally being killed in the final part. Once the bull is dead, the president of the ring decides how much of a good job the matador did, granting him one ear, two ears or two ears and the tail. However, if he wasn’t good at all, the audience will boo him.

During San Fermin, people go to the bullfight to enjoy the spectacle in the ring as much as they go to eat and drink. It is tradition to have a break after the third bull to have a snack (“merienda” in Spanish) accompanied by something to drink (usually sangría). The merienda can be something as simple as a sandwich, but some people take it seriously, carrying with them a real meal with multiple dishes, etc. Locals are happy to share (especially with foreigners that aren’t aware of the tradition). As time goes by and the alcohol flows, generosity also increases.

WHERE TO BUY TICKETS?
Official sale: Most of the tickets have been pre-sold to the bullring subscription members. Only about 10% of them are up for sale in the box office of the bullring (the day before the corrida at 9 pm). There are usually long lines at the box office and locals that buy them just to re-sell them. For more info: feriadeltoro.com
Re-sale: The re-sale is ilegal but its existence is widely accepted. The re-sellers are usually found around the bullring before the bullfight. However, keep in mind that without speaking Spanish it may be tricky to get them. The tickets have the price printed on them, so we recommend you to have a look at them to get a better idea of how much you are willing to pay for it (check also that the date is correct and if it is a shade or sun ticket)
Note: If you aren’t punctual, the gate is closed during each bull – you will not be able to enter the ring until the next bull starts.

San Fermin's End (Pobre de Mí)

Pobre de Mí
The Festival of San Fermin comes to an end at midnight on July 14th, with the gathering of people singing the farewell song of “Pobre de mí” in the square in front of the town hall.

On the night of July 14th, as midnight gets closer, people start to gather in the square in front of the town hall singing the traditional farewell song “pobre de mí, pobre de mí, que se han acabado las fiestas de San Fermín” (Poor me, poor me, because it is the end of the San Fermín fiesta). It is tradition to carry candles and/or to hold the red handkerchief high between the hands while singing.

It is a sad moment as the fiesta comes to and end, but also the beginning of the count down for the following year. Although more and more people attend the “Pobre de mí” each year, it is not as crowded as the txupinazo.

Other Activities

Other Activities
The week of the Sanfermin festival is filled with activities for both old and young alike that go far beyond encierros and bullfighting.
Music San Fermin
Local band playing during San Fermin
Wood chopping San Fermin
Wood chopping competition during San Fermin
Running of the bulls
Giants in front of Pamplona's city hall

As its name indicates, the Fiesta of San Fermin is dedicated to the saint with the same name and, due to its catholic origin, there are several religious celebrations throughout the week. The most important of them is the procession of San Fermin on July 7th. The saint figurine leaves the San Lorenzo church at 10 am and parades through the old town for about 90 minutes and is finally returned to the chapel.

Music also plays an important role during the week of Sanfermin. Each peña (club of members that unite to celebrate San Fermin together) has a music band that plays all day long throughout the streets of Pamplona and there is also the Municipal Music Band, called “La Pamplonesa.” In addition there are many free concerts, such as the jazz cycle in the Paseo Sarasate and Basque traditional music.

Every morning, the parade of giants and big-heads tours Pamplona’s old town, entertaining both young and old. During the day, there are games organized for children. And at 10pm, the traditional bull of fire – a wooden structure with the shape of a bull that is carried by a man and has fireworks in its horn – chases children around the square in front of the city hall.

One hour later (11pm) it is time for the daily firework show. Everyday for about half an hour, fireworks are launched from the Ciudadela Park. Locals traditionally gather around the park, where it is possible to lay on the grass and comfortably enjoy the show.

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General Information

General Info
When visiting San Fermin Festival, keep in mind that you are visiting one of the largest fiestas in the world. Imagine a city of 195,000 inhabitants receiving over a million visitors from all over the world in one week!
Park during San Fermin
Party-goers resting in the park

To say that Pamplona gets crowded is an understatement. Not only does it get completely packed for a week, but everyone is looking to party – the city goes completely crazy. If you don’t like crowds, maybe San Fermín isn’t for you. Or at least, we would recommend you to avoid visiting on the weekend.

Pamplona is a safe place all year around. However, during San Fermin, the large amount of visitors attracts pickpockets. Like in any crowded situation, common sense should be used. Don’t leave your belongings unattended, try to carry only the money that you will need and leave any important documents at home.

Hotels in Pamplona

Hotels in Pamplona
Over one million party-goers from all over the world visit Pamplona during the fiesta. Although there is a large variety of accommodations in Pamplona and its surroundings, many end up sleeping in the streets (which is actually both common and widely accepted during Sanfermin). If you want to avoid that, we recommend you to book well in advance. We have hand selected a few great hotels in Pamplona for you. However, if you want to see a complete listing of all available accommodations, be sure to use the search function below.

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Get In & Around

Get In & Around
Wether you are planning to come to Pamplona by plane, bus or train, the most important thing is that you book well in advance.

Once you are in Pamplona, everything is pretty much reachable on foot and you will probably not need any type of transportation. However, it may be of interest to know that, while there isn’t a metro or tram in Pamplona, there are 25 bus lines circulating around the city during the day (10 buses at night).

LOCAL BUSES
TCC Pamplona

Pamplona is also trying to become more bike friendly and during the past few years, more and more bike paths have been built. The government offers a bike rental service known as nbici.

BIKE RENTAL SERVICE
nbici

Arriving to Pamplona

PLANE – Pamplona has its own airport, located 6 km outside of the city. It only offers flights to Madrid and Barcelona (operated by Air Nostrum). From both Madrid and Barcelona, it is possible to get a connection to cities all over the world. The local bus line 16 connects the airport with the city center (there is one bus every 30 minutes during the day).

The airport of Biarritz is 90 minutes away. There is one daily bus operated by the company ALSA and the trip takes 1 hour and 50 minutes. The airport of Bilbao is about two hours away but there aren’t any direct buses.

CAR – Pamplona is connected by the highway A-15 to San Sebastián (83 km away, 1h drive) and by a combination of the highways A-1 and A-10 to Vitoria (97 km away, 1h drive). To get to Pamplona from Bilbao by car, it is necessary to do it via Vitoria or San Sebastian. The drive takes between 1h 45 min and 2 h.

From Pamplona, it takes about 4 hours to drive to Madrid or Barcelona.

If you arrive in Pamplona by car, you will have several parking options. If you want to park on the street, you will have to pay pretty much everywhere within the city center. There are also several underground paid parkings in the center of Pamplona (at the bullring, Plaza del Castillo, bus station, etc.)

The third option is to use one of the free parkings located outside of the city center. Pamplona is a small city, so you can be in the old town in less than a 30 minutes walk from pretty much everywhere. Or if you don’t want to walk, you can catch one of the multiple local bus lines to the center.

PARKING IN PAMPLONA
policiamunicipal.pamplona.es
Click on “Lugares” & then on “Aparcamiento gratuito” (free parking) or “Aparcamiento de pago” (paid parking)

BUS – The bus station of Pamplona is located at the street Yanguas y Miranda 2, a couple of minutes walk away from the Old Town. It is a modern underground station that offers connections to a lot of the villages and towns of the surroundings as well as to the main cities of the country. There are, for example, several daily buses to Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Vitoria, etc.

During the week of San Fermin, a lot of bus companies increase the amount of connections from the surrounding cities to Pamplona. However, make sure to book in advance, since the buses get full quickly and it is almost impossible to get a ticket last minute.

TRAIN – The train station of Pamplona is located about 1.5 km northwest from the city’s Old Town, at the Station Square. The local bus line 9 connects the train station with the city center.

There are several daily trains to Pamplona from Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Vitoria and many other Spanish cities. As is with the buses, the frequency of the trains usually increases during the festival week. The high-speed train Alvia connects Madrid with Pamplona in 3 hours. From Barcelona, the train trip can take between 4 and 9 hours, so make sure to check it before buying your ticket. Again, we recommend you to book as much in advance as possible.

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