San Fermín is arguably the most well-known event in Spain and was introduced to the English-speaking world by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. The celebration takes place annually in Pamplona, Spain from July 6 to July 14. The Festival San Fermin’s opening ritual is known as Chupinazo. Thousands of people assemble in the square as the mayor prepares to declare the fiestas officially underway before a rocket is fired and the partying starts.
San Fermín’s Origin
The celebration of San Fermín is named after Navarre’s patron saint. According to history, San Fermín, who served as Pamplona’s first bishop, baptized 40,000 heathen people in just three days.
San Fermín celebrations have been held in Pamplona since before the 12th century; however, they were first held on October 10. The Pamplona administration and its bishop made the decision to transfer the celebration to July only in 1591 as a result of weather-related difficulties. It was previously confirmed that the bull racing portion of the fair will take place on July 7. These two independent holidays were combined by shifting the date.
Running of the Bulls (Encierro)
Every morning from July 7 to July 14, at 8:00 a.m., the Pamplona Bull Run starts (eight runs in total). By 7:30 a.m., runners should be in the racing zone. The real run is between the bullring where they will battle that afternoon and the corral at Santo Domingo where they are housed. The run is 825 meters long, and it typically takes three minutes to complete it from beginning to end. The Bull Run’s streets in the old town are fenced off to prevent the bulls from escaping. Six steers and six battling bulls traverse the route each day (castrated bulls).
As the time for the bulls’ release draws near, the suspense increases. Of exactly 8 a.m., a rocket is launched to signal that the gate at the Santo Domingo corral has been unlocked. A second launch signals that the bulls have moved on after runners in white with red handkerchiefs around their necks pray to San Fermn. The bulls and runners then continue on their way.
They begin by ascending Santo Domingo before crossing Ayuntamiento Square and continue to descend Mercaderes. The longest length of the run, Estafeta, has a closed curve heading into it, making this part of the Bullrun the most hazardous. The Telefónica stretch, a brief segment of Duque de Ahumada, is the next. The final section is also particularly dangerous since it enters a dead-end roadway that leads to the Bull Ring.
San Fermin’s Kick-Off (Txupinazo)
The San Fermin Event’s first encierro is held at 8:00 a.m. on July 7, although the txupinazo, which kicks off the festival, takes place at noon on July 6. For the following week, Pamplona hosts one of the biggest fiestas in the world, drawing revelers from all over the world.
On the morning of July 6, a throng begins to assemble in the square in front of the town hall to await the hour of twelve. This is where the San Fermin celebration begins. When attending the txupinazo, it is customary to wear a red handkerchief and white clothing that you don’t mind ruining because they won’t stay white for very long.
The booze is pouring as 12 o’clock approaches. Be ready since the plaza is jam-packed with people—to say that they’re crammed together like sardines is an understatement!
The Pamplona mayor makes an entrance on the balcony of the town hall just before noon, accompanied by the chosen celebrity for that year’s chupinazo. When twelve o’clock rolls around, that “someone” exclaims, “Pamploneses, Pamplonesas, and Viva San Fermn! Gora San Fermn!” (Pamplonese people, long live San Fermn!) and the “txupinazo” fireworks rocket is fired.
The clamor of the audience erupts at this precise time. The crimson handkerchief is pulled out of everyone’s pocket and slung around their neck while thousands of bottles are cracked open. A full week of drinking, partying, and indulgences is just getting started.
People continue to gently spread around the old town after the chupinazo as they celebrate the opening of San Fermin by drinking, singing, dancing, etc. Additionally, it is customary for residents of the old town to start tossing buckets of water at revelers in the streets (which is really welcomed because it becomes so hot!).
The bull fighting, which occur from July 7 through July 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Pamplona’s bullring, are perhaps the second-most significant event associated with San Fermin after the encierros. The “Bullfighting Fiesta,” or “Feria del Toro,” is the sole time during the year that bullfighting takes place in Pamplona.
The bullring in Pamplona is separated into two distinct sections: the sun and the shade. In addition to the heat, the environment also contributes to the vast differences. In the shadow, where there is less noise from the general public and it is feasible to appreciate the show, tickets are, of course, more costly.
On the contrary, the sun is where the peñas (groups of individuals who get together to celebrate San Fermin together, donning distinctive attire and a flag) and partygoers gather. It has a fantastic party vibe and is a spectacle all by itself. While numerous bands are playing, kalimotxo (red wine and coke) and sangria are handed from one hand to the next.
Each participant is customarily introduced before the bullfight even starts. The actual bullfight then begins, including six bulls for three matadors, or six “faenas.” Each faena is broken up into three segments, the last of which sees the execution of the bull. The president of the ring judges the matador’s performance after the bull has died and awards him one, two, or two ears and the tail according on how well he handled the situation. If he wasn’t at all excellent, the audience would jeer him.
In addition to going to the bullfight to eat and drink on San Fermin, many people also attend to see the spectacle that takes place in the ring. After the third bull, it’s customary to take a pause for a food and beverage (often sangria), known as a “merienda.” A sandwich can be the merienda, but other people take it seriously and bring a full dinner with them, complete with various dishes, etc. Locals are delighted to share, notably with visitors who are unfamiliar with the custom. Generosity grows as the hours pass and the drinks flow.
San Fermin’s End (Pobre de Mí)
The crowd sings “Pobre de m” as a farewell song in the square in front of the town hall as the Fiesta of San Fermin draws to a close at midnight on July 14. Poor me, poor me, since the San Fermn fiesta is coming to an end, is the customary farewell song that is sung when people assemble in the square in front of the town hall on the evening of July 14. It is customary to sing while holding a crimson handkerchief high among the hands or carrying a candle.
As the festival draws to a close, the countdown for the next year begins, which is a melancholy moment. The “Pobre de m” is attended by an increasing population per year, which is not as packed as the txupinazo.
Bull Run Rules
- Under the age of 18 is not permitted to take part.
- GoPros and other cameras cannot be handled.
- The police barricades that are placed alongside the path are impassable.
- No cowards allowed! You cannot hide before the bulls are let loose in the corners, dead angles, or doors of any homes or businesses situated along the whole route.
- You cannot complete the journey while intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or in any other unsuitable condition (and yes, this rule is frequently disobeyed!).
- Avoid carrying anything that might prevent the Bull Run from running as intended (i.e., daypacks, cameras, etc.)
- Don’t wear inappropriate footwear or attire for a run.
- Never approach the bulls or cause them to become distracted when the animals are being rounded up in the Bull Ring, regardless of the situation.
Where to Watch the Running of the Bulls
From the Street
You must there before 6.30 a.m. if you desire to acquire the finest spots on top of the fences immediately observing the race. You can nevertheless remain in a seated position behind the barriers that denote the Bull Run course. Another well-liked place is the museum in Santo Domingo; however, it doesn’t have a gate in front of it. The finest locations there, though, are usually taken by 6 am, leaving you with a frigid two-hour wait before the marathon starts.
From Private Balconies
A wonderful substitute is to climb up onto a balcony and stare out over the Bull Run. If you’re lucky, you could run across someone who welcomes you onto their terrace. If not, inquire at the visitor center (Esclava, 1).
In the Plaza de Toros
The only other choice is to go to the bullring and observe the conclusion when the bulls (and a few fearful runners) enter the arena. As a substitute, you may go to a pub and observe the live broadcast of the Bull Run those airs on national television each morning.
Getting to Pamplona
Pamplona Airport does not currently serve any foreign destinations. You may take a seasonal flight to Barcelona or Madrid, then connect to a domestic service to get there. Just 6 kilometers separate the city center from the airport. Frequent bus and train routes connect Barcelona, Madrid, and San Sebastian with Pamplona.
Where to Stay in Pamplona
Pamplona is simply too small to house the enormous influx of people that occurs during the Sanfermines. If you desire the comfort of a hotel bed, you should think about making reservations well in advance because it is essentially impossible to get Pamplona hotels at short notice. Similar to cheap hotels, hostels fill up well in advance of events, so making travel arrangements far in advance is essential.
The best option is to reserve a campground in Pamplona, which is around 7 kilometers from the city center. The week of the fiestas is likewise quite crowded, but they do take security seriously and provide bus transportation into and out of town.
The free camping that arises next to the Ezcaba camping during the festivities is an alternative, although it is not advised for security concerns because petty crime is prevalent around San Fermin. Similar to how many others, sleeping in parks should be discouraged for the same reason.
Booking a hotel in San Sebastian, Vitoria-Gasteiz, or Estella and traveling early in the morning to the Bull Run from there is an alternative to staying in Pamplona. This alternative is only truly practical if you have your own vehicle because it might be difficult to use public transportation early enough in the morning to witness the Bull Run.