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Today Pamplona celebrates the beginning of their infamous nine-day festival, San Fermín which honours the city’s patron saint. The most popular event of the festival is the Running of the Bulls, known in Spanish as Encierro, which takes place every morning of the festival. This tradition dates back to Medieval times and attracts spectators and runners from around the world. Will you be running with the bulls this year?

Historically bulls were herded through the city streets by locals into the bullring or to the marketplace to be sold. Eventually running behind the bulls became running in front of the bulls as a competition and way of proving one’s bravery, courage and perhaps even stupidity.

Today a specific course through the streets of the Old Town is barricaded off with heavy wooden fences. Six bulls are let loose shortly after the runners begin their sprint towards the bullring where a number of oxen are waiting. There are few places to watch the run at street level, the best seats are one floor up on balconies looking down.

The festival is more than just booze and parties, it is a cultural festival attended by all ages, even young children and grandparents to honour the city’s patron saint. Many find it deeply religious and there are a number of other cultural events than just the running of the bulls, a midway, concerts, parades, Basque traditional dances, fireworks, processions, etc.

Practical information:

  • How to get to Pamplona: There are cheap flights to Madrid, Barcelona or Bilbao from major cities all over Europe. All of these are perfect starting points to travel onwards to Pamplona. From Madrid there is a bullet train that takes 3.5 hours. From Barcelona there is a regional train which can take up to 6 hours so travel by car is faster and you can find many great last minute car hire deals from El Prat Airport. From Bilbao there is a bus that takes 2 hours or you can drive in 1.5 hours.
  • Where to stay: There are of course many cheap hotels in the city centre of Pamplona, many of which book up fast during the festival. If you want to party all day and all night then the city centre is where you want to be. Unless you have a good pair of earplugs, search for a hotel away from the Old Town, music and brass bands playing 24/7 during the festival.
At tight corners, there's no time to look back! (img: flickr cc)
  • What to wear: dress head to toe in white with a red sash, which can be bought at many outdoor stands around the city.
  • Can I run? Yes, anyone can run that is sober and over the age of 18. It is free and no advance registration is necessary. If you want to run, be at the start at 7:30 to put your name on the roster.
  • How long is the run: 825m and lasts roughly 3 minutes.
  • When is the run: each morning at 8am from July 7th-14th.

If you can’t make it to the festival but still want some of the action, try your hand at this Running of the Bulls video game, it’s brilliant and addictive. How long can you last running in front of the bulls?

Img: eneko / flickr cc

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9 responses to “Festival guide: Pamplona runs with the bulls!

  1. Must be very exciting to be on your way to Spain to live! It's such a beautiful country! Sounds like you've got your plateful, I hope there's time for some sightseeing as well, keep us posted on new towns and places you discover, and enjoy Espana!

  2. Attracting tourists by killing animals – oh how we have so evolved as humans!!! Poor poor animals don't know what's happening to them – absolute cruelty – shame on the Spaniard authorities to allow this event or any bull fighting – this is 2010 and we are evolving as a human race – there is no need to make fun of the weakest. If this is how they treat animals, God help any human who has a disability or is weak in life – these people would just stand on them!!!

    I am moving near Pampalona shortly and I will be campaigning for this to stop as long as it takes – it is a lack of education that animals do not feel hurt that makes humans behave like this. The animals do hurt – it is unfair for humans to evolve animals and then cut them dead out of the evolution.

  3. It's so true, the festival isn't just about the bull runs, there are plenty of parades, foods, parties and dances to take part in. It's a great chance to witness and participate in some northern Spanish culture!

  4. The Pamplona Running of the Bulls is one of the most chaotic, insane experiences anyone could possibly have. There is more to the San Fermin festival in Pamplona than just the bull run – the festivities start the night before at 11pm and continue until the run at 8am the next morning. On this page you'll find all the information you need to know about the Pamplona Running of the Bulls.i think this festival is awesome but need for attention for accident..

  5. Katie — I am sure that the San Fermin festival would attract many more tourists if they eliminated the bull running. I would certainly consider attending if the local government ended this horrific, uncivilized event. But until they do, I will not be giving them my tourist dollars.

  6. I absolutely agree with you.
    I am Spanish and I wish they would stop not only this but many other animal torturing “traditions”. It is absolutely possible to have fun and to party without having to bother and kill animals as it is still done nowadays…

  7. Although I completely agree with you, and I think PETA's anti-Running of the Bulls initiative called Running of the Nudes is a great idea, San Fermin never ceases to attract more than a million tourists each and every year not only for the bull runs but also for its other cultural activities.

    If watching the running of the bulls and the later fights isn't your thing, the San Fermin festival offers more than I guess what meets the media's eye. Thanks for your comment, it's reassuring to know travellers are still thinking critically about events happening around them, at home and abroad!

  8. Between 200 and 300 people are injured every year during the bull running. Since 1910, 15 people have been killed. Last year, 27-year-old Daniel Jimeno Romero, was gored to death.

    Still, seemingly logical people like retired university lecturer and New York Times op-ed contributor Joseph Distler, love the cruel and barbaric running of the bulls. Perplexingly, Distler describes the event “when men and bulls tumble together” as “a celebration of life.”

    After the bull running, the bulls are killed in a bullfight.

    According to PETA's UK affiliate, “Bullfighting is a cruel blood sport that should have been relegated to the history books a long time ago. No matter what its history is, bullfighting consists of the torture, mutilation and slaughter of animals for entertainment.”

    Tomorrow, the newspapers in Pamplona will say July 7, 2010. But it might as well be the 3rd century all over again.

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