The Spanish region of Navarra sits in the north of the country, bordering the Pyrenees to the north and nestled in between Aragón and the Basque Country. It’s a region filled with lots of religious history, natural parks, castles and even wineries. Here are our 20 must-visit sites in Navarra.
The Royal Palace of Olite was once one of the most luxurious castles in Europe. Built in the 12th and 13th century, it was the seat of the court of the Kingdom of Navarre, which was ruled by Charles III ‘The Noble.’ In its heyday, it boasted spectacular gardens, jousting tournaments, and even a zoo. Although not a royal palace today, visitors can still visit to see inside.
The Pamplona city walls and citadel are one of the best-preserved military structures in the whole of Spain, and are quite a sight to behold. If the weather doesn’t lend itself to walking around the walls, you can still learn all about them at the Interpretation Center of the Fortifications of Pamplona. It is located within the barracks of the walls themselves and displays a range of drawings, short films and interactive screens.
The Camino de Santiago runs right through the small town of Puente de la Reina, which is named after an impressive bridge. The bridge over the Arga River joins two pilgrim paths – one from the direction of Roncesvalles and one from French city of Toulouse. Built in the 11th century, it features seven Romanesque arches and was created to help pilgrims across the river.
When in Pamplona, one of the top things to visit is of course the famous bullring, where parts of the San Fermín festivities (Running of the Bulls) takes place. Holding 19,720 spectators, it was built in 1922 and is the second biggest bullring in Spain, and third largest in the world.
The Royal Collegiate of Santa María de Roncesvalles sits right on the Camino de Santiago and is the stopping point right after crossing the Pyrenees from Sant Jean Pied de Port, where it begins. This magnificent church and collegiate is both a church and museum, and houses a collection of carvings, canvases and old manuscripts, as well as pieces of gold, silverwork and jewels. Today, part of the collegiate is also a hostel for pilgrims walking the Camino.
One of the best examples of Romanesque styles in Navarra, a visit to the Church of Santa Maria in the town of Sangüesa is well worth it for architecture lovers. It was built on the site of a Romanesque temple and also features a Cistercian-style church, which was added later. The highlight is the facade with its interesting stone carvings, columns, and scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Pamplona’s magnificent Cathedral is one of the city’s top sights, and for good reason. With a grand exterior and dazzling mix of architectural styles, this is a building you cannot afford to miss. Construction of the cathedral began in the 13th century, although it wasn’t completed until 1525. The cathedral consists of a Gothic vestibule and cloister, and has a neoclassical façade. This was the site where many of Navarra’s kings were crowned.
Another of the top monasteries to visit in Navarra is the Monasterio de Leyre. Built from the 9th to the 11th century, it comprises a delicate crypt, Gothic vault and Romanesque porch. The monastery is still in use today and is home to a number of monks. If you’re lucky, you may be able to hear them do their Gregorian chant, a practice which dates back to the 8th century. There is also an elegant hotel here, as well as a restaurant.
The Navarra Palace is the seat of the government of the autonomous region of Navarra. It was designed in 1840 by Jose de Nagusia and is neoclassical in style. Visitors can look around the building on an organised tour to see attractions such as a portrait of Ferdinand VII by Goya, and a large tapestry of the great battle of the Navas de Tolosa.
Also along the Camino de Santiago you’ll find the spectacular Monasterio de Santa María de Irache. A hospital for pilgrims, a university and religious college, it was originally built during the 8th century, with the Benedictines adding to it during the 11th century. Visitors can tour the Romanesque church, as well as the Plateresque cloisters.
Staying on the trail of Navarra’s monasteries, head to the town of Abárzuza, where you’ll find the Monasterio de Iranzu, tucked in between the mountains and the lush valley of Yerri. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, this grand Cistercian abbey, surrounded by serene pools, comprises an elegant Gothic cloister and fountain.
Located in an ancient hospital of Our Lady of Mercy and a museum since 1956, the Museum of Navarra traces the history of the region from Prehistoric times to the present day. Its most significant pieces include the first-century Roman mosaic of the Triumph of Bacchus, the Romanesque capitals of Pamplona’s ancient cathedral, and the portrait of the Marquis of San Adrián painted by Goya.
The last of the great Navarran monasteries is the Monasterio de la Oliva. Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Cistercian art in Spain, and comprises a stunning cloister and chapter hall. Today, it’s still home to 26 Cistercian monks, who you may be able to see walking around the cloisters and praying. You can also get the opportunity to stay here at the simple accommodation on offer.
Bodega Inurrieta is located in Navarra’s Ribera Alta district and was only built in 2002, despite the fact that the family’s ancestors had been growing vines on the land for centuries. Today, they grow six types of grapes here – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Graciano and Syrah. One of the most interesting places for visitors is the bodega’s grand cask room, which you can see on a guided tour.
Founded in 1674, Bodegas Chivite is one of the oldest wineries in Spain. This renowned winemaker has been producing wines for eleven generations, and the grapes are grown 120 hectares of land which has been in the Chivite family for many years. It’s worth a visit here to tour the winery, see how the drink is made, and of course taste the produce.
Away from the cute little towns, historic monasteries and churches, Navarra has many natural areas to visit too. One of the most impressive is the Bardenas Reales, a natural desert and protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of 40,000 hectares. It’s located just over one hour’s drive from Pamplona.
Another of Navarra’s natural sites is the Parque Natural Urbasa-Andía, characterised by wide lush valleys, rivers and leafy forests. The natural area was created thousands of years ago when a gigantic tectonic slip occurred that led to the opening of a wide passage between the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Andía. It’s a great spot for hiking.
The Natural Park of Señorío de Bertiz is more like a giant botanical garden than a park. It sits in the western Pyrenees and comprises 2,040 hectares. The park features plants from around the world including gingkos from China, sequioas from California and chestnut trees from the Balkans. Not only will you find plants, but also sculptures, historic gardens and elegant greenhouses.
If you’re in Navarra, be sure to pay a visit to its capital – the atmospheric city of Pamplona. Although Pamplona is mostly known for the Running of the Bulls, it has a lot of interesting history and architecture too. One of the best places to explore in the city is of course the Old Town.