You have probably only heard of Pamplona in association with the famous Running of the Bulls festival and its bull fighting traditions, but actually there is a lot more to the city than this. Think history museums, a charming old town, historic architecture and city walls.
The San Fermín, or Running of the Bulls festival, takes place in July, but that doesn’t mean that this is the best time to visit. On the contrary, if you’re looking to experience the architecture and the history of the city, it’s actually better to visit outside of this time, when there are more accommodation options available and it’s easier to move around.
Pamplona is the capital of Spain’s Navarra region, which sits in the north of the country. To the north lies the dramatic backdrop of the Pyrenees and the border with France, to the south the fields and vineyards of La Rioja, to the west the unique Basque Country, and to the east the region of Aragón. It’s characterised by small villages and towering limestone peaks.
The city of Pamplona is one of the first stops for pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, so you’ll find that it has a a welcoming atmosphere with plenty of reasonably priced accommodation options and a variety of cheap places to eat.
It’s not a well-known fact, but Pamplona is actually surrounded by some of the best preserved city walls in Europe. The original walls and fortifications date as far back as Roman times, but the ones we see standing today were renovated in 1530 during the reign of King Carlos V. You can find out more about the walls at the interpretation centre.
Inside the city walls, you’ll also find a beautifully preserved military citadel. It was ordered to be built by King Felipe II in 1571 and designed by the Italian engineer Giacomo Palearo. The result was an impressive pentagon-shaped fortress with huge bulwarks at each end, which was used for defence purposes, right up until after the Spanish Civil War.
If you’re travelling to Pamplona from another country, it’s actually easier to fly into Biarritz in France, than it is from anywhere in Spain. Although Pamplona does have its own airport, there are only internal flights to reach here from Barcelona and Madrid. Biarritz is just a 90-minute bus journey from the city, so it’s easy enough to get to once you’re there.
Yes, the writer Ernest Hemingway spent time in lots of different cities all over the world, but he had a particular love affair with Spain. He spent lots of time in Pamplona and travelled there a total of nine times between 1923 and 1927. It was also here in this city where he wrote his first novel The Sun Also Rises. You can find a statue of Hemingway sitting at the bar in the historic Café Iruña (Iruña is the Basque name for Pamplona).
Pamplona has an interesting history that dates all the way back to its founding by the Romans in 74BC, when it was called Pompey after the military leader Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. It was also once the capital of its own country – the Kingdom of Navarra – which can you find out more about here.
If you’re visiting Pamplona, you may want to take the opportunity to visit nearby attractions, too. These could include a 90-minute drive to the Riojan capital of Logroño with its delicious tapas scene, a trip to see the famous monastery at Roncesvalles or a one-hour drive northwest to the coast and the beautiful city of San Sebastián.