Between the 6th-14th July every year, the small town of Pamplona in north-east Spain explodes with its annual San Fermin feria. At its heart are the early morning bull runs – encierros – during which the bulls for that evening’s bullfight are herded through the streets to the bullring, accompanied by hundreds of adrenaline-fuelled participants. Yet the bull runs are just one reason why everyone should experience San Fermin at least once in their life.
There are Spanish fiestas and then there’s San Fermin. Even when compared to the big ferias of the south, Pamplona’s annual blowout is something else entirely. And one of the most enjoyable aspects of it is that the vast majority of the partying goes on in the street, rather than in marquees on a sanded fairground on the outskirts of the city (as with most Andalusian ferias). This means that you can duck into one of the countless bars in the town centre, order your beer or claimotxo (red wine and Coke; see below) in a plastic cup and get out into the street. Groups of San Fermines drink, dance, laugh and eat, the brass bands are always playing and the parades always passing and you just get caught up in the joyful rhythm of it. The inclusive and friendly atmosphere of the feria is wonderful, with families and small children on the streets well into the early hours. San Fermin is without doubt one of the happiest parties you’ll ever attend, as well as the most exhausting.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Every morning at 8am during San Fermin, the six fighting bulls for that evening’s bullfight and six tamed bell-oxen are run from corrales on the outskirts of Pamplona and into their pens at the bullring, via a designated 875-metre course on the old town’s narrow, flagged streets. These world-famous encierros are the soul of San Fermin and attract huge numbers of participants and spectators, the latter of whom perch on the thick wooden barriers that are erected along the course each morning, or watch from balconies above the route (which can be hired solely for this purpose, at high cost). Watching is great fun – although to get a decent spot you have to turn up at about half past six in the morning – but running is like nothing else on earth. No video of the encierro can adequately convey the sheer speed, adrenaline and drama of the event, nor the mixture of emotions you feel down on the street before, during and after running. It is all over within seconds (the bulls usually complete the whole course in about two-and-a-half minutes), but if you run with the bulls in Pamplona just once in your life, you will never forget it.
Most Spanish fiestas have their signature drink, and Pamplona’s is calimotxo (the ‘tx’ is a Basque spelling that is pronounced ‘ch’), a simple cocktail of Coke and red wine. If this sounds like an unlikely partnership, give it a try: you’ll discover that it’s a tasty, refreshing drink – a slightly less sweet version of sangria. It’s also perfect for a fiesta as relentless and hectic as San Fermin, because you need to pace yourself when caught up in a party that doesn’t stop for a week. Calimotxo keeps you lightly fuelled – it varies in potency, depending on the generosity of your bartender, but is never too strong – and the caffeine gives you the energy you need to keep going through the afternoon and into the evening. As it’s served over ice, it also makes for a refreshing in beverage in the 25-30 degree celsius temperatures of Pamplona in July.
Pamplona’s answer to tapas are pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’), little snacks sold at about two euros each which are colourfully displayed along the bar. Although the hygiene of showcasing pintxos in this way during a party as riotous as San Fermin is questionable, it does at least make ordering them in a packed and deafening bar much easier: all you need to do is point. They come in the format of a small open sandwich and a huge variety of toppings is available in each bar; the most common, though, are combinations of cured hams and spicy sausages – including morcilla, the wonderful Spanish version of black pudding – and cheese (usually goats’ or brie) and fried red or green pepper. It can be quite difficult to sit down and have a proper meal during San Fermin, so pintxos are a great way of keeping hunger at bay as you party. As a general rule, if you have one with every other drink you’ll be able to stay out for much longer.
The bulls that are run through Pamplona’s old town in the daily encierros perform in the same day’s bullfight, held in the evening in the city’s 20,000-capacity bullring. During San Fermin there are eight bullfights in total, with most of these being full corridas de toros – that is, spectacles in which three matadors perform with and kill two bulls each, on foot. Sometimes, there is also a bullfight in which the matators perform on horseback (corrida de rejones). The San Fermin bullfights are some of the best of the season in Spain, attracting the country’s top bullfighters and the most prestigious bull-breeding farms. The ring is usually packed to capacity every evening for a week, although tickets can still be purchased on the day of the corrida from the bullring’s ticket office. Be prepared for a raucous atmosphere in the stands, especially in the cheapest seats at the very top. Here, large groups of San Fermines just come to carry on the party, and pay no attention whatsoever to what’s playing out on the sand below.
The protagonists of the street partying during San Fermin are the noisy, ebullient parades which carve through the boozing crowds at regular intervals, all through the day and night. Anyone can join them and doing so is a great way to explore other parts of the town and meet other San Fermines. You can hear them before you see them, the insistent drums and shrill brass melodies announcing the parades’ arrival before it snakes into view. Wait for the procession of happy, inebriated party-goers to jounce past and simply latch onto the end, calimotxco in hand, and see where you end up. Along with watching or participating in the daily encierros, becoming part of these flag-waving, drum-beating parades is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in San Fermin.
The red-and-white uniform worn by San Fermines for the duration of the fiesta is famous all over the world. Everyone puts their own variations on the costume, but its basics are white t-shirt and trousers/shorts, a red neckerchief tied with the triangle at the back of the neck and a red sash worn around the waist. The neckerchief is the most important piece of attire and can be bought in most general-purpose shops in Pamplona during fiesta. Many theories about its symbolic importance exist, one of which is that the red around the neck represents the blood of Saint Fermin, who was decapitated in Amiens in the 3rd century. Most neckerchiefs are embroided with his image or with Pamplona’s coat of arms, while others bear the Basque colours of green and white. This red-and-white uniform is crucial to the atmosphere of inclusivity and the great camaraderie that defines San Fermin.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.