Pamplona hosts of one of the world’s most famous events: the encierro, or running of the bulls. Some say it’s barbaric, others say it’s a great tradition. At 8:00 a.m. July 6-14, six bulls are released to run the narrow streets to the bullring (where, by the way, they are killed at the bullfight that evening). In 1927, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises made this event famous. The festival is the Fiesta de San Fermín and the city is swamped with revelers, many drunk and without hotel rooms (as there aren’t nearly enough to accommodate the crowds). Theft is common. It’s simply one non-stop party.
If you choose to visit at any other time of year, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this tidy, attractive city. You’ll find ruins of a 16th-century Ciudadela (citadel), a Gothic cathedral, and the Museo de Navarra showcasing art of the region. Pamplona’s main sights are all within walking distance in the historic Old Town.
The heart of the Old Town is the Plaza del Castillo. Check out the attractive Café Iruña at number 44. This square was the site of the former bullring. The current bullring, the Plaza de Toros, is only a few blocks from Plaza del Castillo.
Among the narrow streets around this square is Calle Estafeta, the main street for the running of the bulls and home to many tapas bars. For a break, try the restaurant/bar at Casa Otano at number 5 at nearby Calle San Nicolás. Another attractive square in the old town is the Plaza Consistorial where you’ll find the 18th-century Ayuntamiento (City Hall) with its ornate façade.
Parts of the Catedral date back to the 14th century. Its Gothic interior contains the alabaster tomb of Carlos III. Not to be missed are the Gothic arches of its cloister. Also here is the Museo Diocesano (Diocesan Museum) with a collection of religious art and artifacts. Info: At Calle Curia and Calle Dormitalería. Tel. 948210827. Cathedral open daily. Museum open Mon-Fri 10am-2pm and 4pm-7pm, Sat 10am-2pm. Admision to Cathedral: Free. Admission to Museum: €5.
Pamplona was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Navarra. The Museo de Navarra, located in a 16th-century former hospital, houses a collection of regional archaeological artifacts, local costumes and art (including a portrait by Goya). Info: 47 Cuesta de Santo Domingo at Calle Jaranta. Tel. 948426492. Open Tue-Sat 10am-2pm and 5pm-7pm, Sun 10am-2pm. Admission: €4.
For more on visiting Spain, check out Andy Herbach's Open Road's Best of Spain.