Exciting tourists flock to Pamplona to experience the famous Running of the Bulls event, a wild and violent spectacle that is part of the San Fermín Festival in July. This festival was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises . Pamplona is also a worthwhile destination in its own right. Still partially surrounded by its medieval walls, this charming historic town is filled with architectural gems such as the Gothic cathedral, 16th-century citadel and a Baroque town hall. The old town’s quaint narrow streets and spacious squares, where locals gather to socialize with friends and family, have an inviting atmosphere with plenty of outdoor cafes.
1 Running of the Bulls (San Fermin Festival)
Pamplona is known for its annual Running of the Bulls event which is part of the Fiesta de San Fermín , celebrated from July 6 to July 14. The festival includes impressive parades of Gigantes (Giants) and Cabezudos (Bigheads), as well as a procession in honor of San Fermín (Sain Firmianus) on July 7. Bullfights are held all week in the Plaza de Torosand every morning the fighting bulls are herded through the streets, which are closed off from the event by security gates. In a dramatic stampede, crowds of brave young men and women race in front of the bulls, while being cheered on by hundreds of bystanders. The Running of the Bulls is a dangerous event that should only be performed by runners who are over 18 years old and have an advanced fitness level, quick reflexes and cool nerves. Those who accept the risk and want to participate in the Run of the Bulls must arrive at Plaza del Ayuntamiento before 7:30 AM. This legendary event was described by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises .
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pamplona
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2 Pamplona Cathedral
An impressive view over the city, Pamplona Cathedral is located just off the Plaza del Castillo, just inside the old city walls. The cathedral was built in the 15th century in the Gothic style; its neoclassical facade and towers date back to 1780. Enter the cathedral to admire the grandiose sanctuary with its beautiful choir created by Miguel de Ancheta. In front of the choir is the alabaster tomb (made around 1420) of Charles III de Noble and his wife Leonora de Trastamara by the Flemish master Jean de Lomme. The Capilla Mayor shows a beautiful Gothic retablo made in 1507 with beautiful sculptural details and paintings. In the south aisle, a richly gilded doorway features the 14th-century tympanum Death of the Virgin; the door gives access to the medieval cloister, considered one of the most beautiful Gothic cloisters in Spain. On the east side of the monastery is the Capilla Barbazana , which houses the tomb of Cardinal Arnaldo de Barbazán.
The Diocesan Museum is housed in rooms that open onto the cloister. The lavishly decorated refectory shows an engraving of the Maiden and the Unicorn on the lector’s pulpit. The other rooms contain the Cathedral Treasury, which contains a 13th-century Gospel Book, a French reliquary of the Holy Sepulchre, the Lignum Crucis (believed to be a fragment of the True Cross), beautiful paintings and sculptures.
Address: Calle Curia, Pamplona
3 Museum of Navarre
The Museo de Navarra is housed in an old hospital for pilgrims, a beautiful historic building with a Plateresco façade from 1556. In the 34 different rooms, the museum displays a varied collection. The exhibits include a range of archaeological objects and visual arts: ancient Roman artifacts, medieval religious paintings and ancient Moorish treasures. Highlights include Roman sculptures and pavement mosaics, Romanesque capitals from the cathedral’s cloister, and paintings by Becerra and Morales. Be sure to see the 11th-century Moorish ivory coffin at the Monastery of Leyre outside Córdoba.
Address: Santo Domingo Street, Pamplona
This 16th-century fortress was built during the reign of King Felipe II, who commissioned an Italian military engineer to build it. The pentagonal citadel was designed with five defensive bastions, although only three survive. Two entrances with gates give access to the building. In the 18th century, the citadel was converted into a prison housing illustrious figures including the Count of Floridablanca and the Marquis of Leganes. Today, the building houses several exhibition spaces and the grounds have been converted into a beautiful public park.
Address: Army Avenue, Pamplona
5 Castle Square
This spacious public square is the central feature of Pamplona, the heart of the city and a center of social life. The Plaza del Castillo is used for public events, parades and markets, and until 1844 it was a stage for bullfights. Elegant balconies line the square, and a gazebo in the center provides a pleasant shady spot for relaxation. At the southwest corner of the square is the Palacio de Navarra built in 1847 and enlarged in 1932, which is now the Diputación Foral (Provincial Council) seat of the provincial assembly. In the magnificent Throne Room of the palace is a portrait of Ferdinand VII by Goya .
6 Town Hall
With colorful flags waving from its facade, the Ayuntamiento is an impressive 17th-century town hall. The Ayuntamiento is located northwest of the Plaza del Castillo on the Plaza Consistorial, a charming little square. The town hall was built on the site of an old moat, where three of the city’s defense systems once met. The building is an emblematic monument of Pamplona and has a beautiful baroque facade of ocher sandstone, surmounted by lions with coats of arms and a trumpeting angel. To view the interior, tourists must request a guided tour (free entry) by contacting Pamplona Town Hall.
Address: Plaza Consistorial, Pamplona
7 St. Nicholas Church
The Iglesia de San Nicolás is located halfway down Paseo de Sarasate, an elegant wide street lined with monumental buildings. Built in the 12th century, the church was originally Romanesque in style. San Nicolás is the only church in Pamplona that has retained its original Romanesque structure (this architecture is mainly seen from the outside). The fortress-like church historically served as a stronghold for the San Nicolás neighborhood, but was largely destroyed during a Castilian invasion of the city. Most of the interior of the church has been renovated in Gothic style with an inspiring vaulted nave and beautiful stained glass windows. The church is open to visitors daily.
Address: Calle de San Miguel 15, Pamplona
8 Plaza de Toros and the Bullfighting Monument
The Plaza de Toros is Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros , located on Paseo de Hemingway , named in honor of Ernest Hemingway who was a big fan of bullfighting. In front of the arena is a monument that pays tribute to the famous author.
Nearby, on Avenida Roncesvalles , is a striking contemporary sculpture called the Monumento al Encierro (Monument to the Bulls). This unique work illustrates a dramatic bullfight, the emblematic sport of Pamplona. The monumental work of 11 meters in length was made in 1994 by Rafael Huerta Celaya, sculptor from Bilbao and made of bronze. The scene of bulls and runners seems to magically freeze the moment in time while still capturing motion. Each figure is full of expression and emotion; viewers can easily relate to the fear and anxiety of the brave runners trying to escape danger.
Address: Paseo de Hemingway in Avenida Roncesvalles, Pamplona
9 Church of San Saturnino
West of the Plaza Consistorial, the Iglesia de San Saturnino, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, is one of Pamplona’s most emblematic churches. The church towers represent early Romanesque architecture, while the rest of the church is a Gothic style. On the outside, the northern doorway is particularly noteworthy. The spacious vaulted interior features an exquisite retablo in the baptistery. The bell tower (the south tower) is topped with a cockerel weathervane, and the needles of the dial mark the beginning of the Fiesta de San Fermín on July 6 every year.
Address: 21 Calle Ansoleaga, Pamplona
10 Baluarte Conference Center and Auditorium of Navarra
The Baluarte Conference Center and Auditorium is located in the heart of Pamplona, between the Citadel and a lively shopping area. Designed by architect Patxi Mangado, the sleek modern conference and cultural center hosts performances throughout the year. The Main Theater hosts classical ballet, operas and theatrical performances and offers perfect views from every seat. The Chamber Music Room offers ideal acoustics and high-tech audiovisual equipment, with music concerts, symphony performances and film screenings. The center also offers a gourmet restaurant, run by award-winning chef Enrique Martínez.
Address: Plaza del Baluarte, Pamplona
Official site: www.baluarte.com/eng/facilities-services/facilities
11 Taconera Park
The Taconera Park is the most beautiful green space in Pamplona. Located around the ancient walls of the old city, the sprawling gardens cover 90,000 square meters. The landscape combines a romantic style with formal French elements reminiscent of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in France. Visitors are delighted by the variety of flowers and trees and the peaceful open space. One of the highlights, especially for children, is the small zoo which is home to ducks, swans, peacocks and deer. The park also has a Viennese Café which is a popular meeting place among local artists and students.
Address: Calle del Bosquecillo, Pamplona
12 Royal and General Archive of Navarre
The Royal and General Archives of Navarre is housed in a historic building that was once the Palace of the Kings of Navarre where the monarchs lived. The palace dates back to the 12th century and is one of the oldest buildings in Pamplona. Illustrious guests were once received here, including the bishops of Pamplona. The archive is managed by the administration of Navarra, whose mission is to preserve and share the region’s documentary heritage. Many historians and cultural organizations consult the Archives for research purposes. This site is open to the public Monday through Friday and admission is free.
Address: Calle Dos de Mayo, Pamplona
Where to stay in Pamplona for sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in Pamplona with easy access to city attractions such as the Cathedral and Plaza del Castillo:
- Gran Hotel La Perla: five-star luxury, 19th-century historic building, fantastic location, celebrity guests, continental breakfast.
- Hotel Palacio Guendulain: affordable four-star hotel, former palace, friendly staff, antique furnishings, beautiful dining room.
- Maisonnave Hotel: mid-range pricing, great location, modern style, pedestrian street, gym and sauna.
- Holiday Inn Express Pamplona: budget hotel, great service, comfortable bed, plenty of free parking.
Day trips from Pamplona
Oteiza Museum in Alzuza
For art lovers, the Oteiza Museum is a worthwhile detour from Pamplona (only 10 kilometers away) in the pretty rural area of Alzuza. This large, modern exhibition space is dedicated to the famous Basque sculptor and artist Jorge Oteiza, considered one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. The collection features thousands of sculptures and experimental pieces, as well as an extensive collection of drawings and collages.
Address: Calle de la Cuesta 7, Alzuza, Pamplona
Official site: https://www.museooteiza.org/lang/en/
Monasterio de Leyre: A Serene 11th Century Monastery
A 30-minute drive (50 kilometers) from Pamplona, the serene Monastery of Leyre stands on a hilltop of the Sierra de Leyre with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. The old monastery was founded in the 11th century. The beautiful church has a Romanesque exterior and a Gothic interior. The gloomy and unadorned crypt is the oldest part of the church and was an important burial place of the kings of Navarre. Most of the other buildings of the monastery date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors will appreciate the historic setting and peaceful escape into nature. The monastery has a small hotel with 32 rooms and an excellent restaurant.
Location: Monastery of Leyre, Yesa, Navarra
Official site: https://www.monasteriodeleyre.com/en
The historic town of Sangüesa in the countryside
The small town of Sangüesa is located 43 kilometers southeast of Pamplona in a quiet rural area. In the 12th century, Alfonso el Batallador (King Alfonso I of Aragon, the “Battler”) fortified the city to ensure its defense against invaders. In the 15th and 16th centuries, many aristocratic families built impressive mansions in the city. The most beautiful of the mansions are the Palacio del Príncipe de Viana (now the Town Hall) and the Palacio Vallesantoro(now the Casa de Cultura) with an elaborately carved canopy. The town also has an important church founded in the 13th century by the Twelve Knights of Sangüesa. Covered by a 16th century portico, the facade features beautiful sculptural reliefs depicting a scene of the Last Judgment with Christ in the center surrounded by angels, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
Roncesvalles langs from Way of Saint James Route
This medieval pilgrimage destination was an important stop on the Way of Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela. Roncesvalles is just beyond the pass of the Burguete Valley (47 kilometers from Pamplona), which was the most visited route through the Pyrenees in the early Middle Ages. The city was made legendary by the Chanson de Roland . Roncesvalles Monastery and Inn was established to provide hospitality and spiritual sanctuary to the pilgrims during their stop and became the most famous establishments on the pilgrimage route.
The mountain village of the Pyrenees of Ayerbe
Ayerbe is located about 135 kilometers from Pamplona in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Tucked away in an idyllic valley, this quaint village offers a peaceful escape in unspoilt countryside. The main tourist attractions of this area are nature attractions, especially the Riglos and Agüero rock formations . Hiking is a popular activity, as is white water rafting on the Gállego River . Nearby cultural attractions include the 11th century Castillo de Loarre and the Colegiata de Bolea , a beautiful Gothic church built in the 16th century.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada: a legendary pilgrimage city
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is located about 130 kilometers from Pamplona in the La Rioja region along the Oja River. The small medieval town was an important stopping point for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route during the High Middle Ages. Saint Dominique was a very spiritual hermit from the nearby village of Viloria, who built the town’s arch bridge, church and a hostel. The saint also had a stretch of paved road built to facilitate the journey for pilgrims on the Jacob, and gave the town its name: Saint Domingo de la Calzada ( Saint Dominique of the Causeway ).
The city has a beautiful Romanesque-Gothic cathedralbuilt in 1180 on the site of an earlier church built by Santo Domingo. The baroque tower and façade date from the 18th century. The cathedral has an unusual feature, a birdcage, which relates to a local legend. The story goes that a young man traveling with his parents to Santiago de Compostela was wrongly accused of theft and hanged. But when his grieving parents returned from their pilgrimage, they found their son still alive on the gallows. They went to the judge of the town, who was about to dine on a roast hen and chicken. The judge refused to believe the boy was alive, stating that he would just as soon believe his roast bird dinner was alive. At that moment the birds jumped up from his plate and crowed.