7 Things to Do in Pamplona for First-Timers
You may know Pamplona for its annual Running of the Bulls festival each July, but this small town in Spain’s scenic Navarre region has a lot to offer throughout the year. You won’t run out of things to do in Pamplona – the walkable town is packed full of restaurants, bars, and parks. It’s also conveniently located between Basque Country and Barcelona, making it an ideal stop on a Spanish rail journey.
Things to do in Pamplona
1. Run with the bulls
The number one attraction in Pamplona is the San Fermín festival, between July 6 and 14 each year. The focus is the Running of the Bulls, but it also serves as an excuse for all-night parties and true Spanish revelry. There are various one-day events that run throughout the festival, as well as daily cultural extravaganzas including bullfighting, a “Giants and Big-Heads” parade, and a handful of traditional sports such as stone-lifting and woodcutting.
Insider tip: Plan ahead if you want to visit during the festival – accommodation fills up months in advance.
2. Tour Pamplona’s main cathedral
Pamplona’s main cathedral, Catedral de Santa María, is a beautiful gothic church with a vast, fascinating interior. Inside you’ll find the 15th-century tomb of Carlos III of Navarra. There’s also an intricate Gothic cloister carved in stone, a small museum, and the second-largest church bell in Spain.
Insider tip: Speak to the staff about going on a guided tour of the church. There are regular English tours and they offer fascinating insights into the building. The morning tours will often take you up the bell tower as well.
3. Walk the walls of Pamplona
Pamplona is a medieval walled city strategically located high above a valley. A walk along the city walls offers impressive views and interesting insights into the past. The walls are also among the best-preserved military structures in Spain, and they stretch for 3 miles (5 kilometers). It’s perfect for a gentle afternoon walk to acclimatize yourself with the city and the Navarre region at its feet.
Inside tip: Start by visiting the Interpretation Center of the Fortifications of Pamplona. It will provide a good foundation for exploring the walls.
4. Learn about the region at the Museum of Navarre
Navarre is a fascinating part of Spain with a long, complex history. If you like art, archeological finds, and the background of Pamplona and the surrounding region, then you have to visit the Museum of Navarre. The museum is closed on Mondays and takes a three-hour siesta most days between 2pm and 5pm.
Insider tip: Entry to the museum is free on Saturdays between 5pm and 7pm, and on Sundays between 11am and 4pm.
5. Relax in a famous Pamplona park
Pamplona has several parks and green spaces. They’re perfect for quiet afternoon walks, invigorating jogs, or just for relaxing on a quiet bench with a good book – Hemingway, preferably. Taconera Gardens and Media Luna parks are among the oldest and most beautiful in the city. Taconera Gardens has a miniature zoo in the old city moat, and Media Luna has a rollerskating rink, goldfish pond, and a wide range of trees to walk amongst. Both are large, impressive, and well-worth exploring.
Insider tip: There’s a popular café in the middle of Media Luna, which is particularly enjoyable on warm summer nights.
6. Retrace Hemingway’s footsteps at Café Iruña
Pamplona owes much of its status in pop culture to Ernest Hemingway. Café Iruña was one of his favorite watering holes in the city. These days it’s one of the most popular cafés in Pamplona. While slightly overpriced and touristy, a visit is essential for anyone who harks back to Hemingway’s golden days.
Insider tip: The café has a nice terrace, which is perfect for sunny afternoons. But the true charm of Café Iruña is on inside, so don’t forget to take a look.
7. Spend a night on the (old) town
Pamplona’s Old Town with its winding streets and beautiful architecture is intriguing to explore during the day. But outside of San Fermín, it really only comes to life after dark. Many restaurants and bars excel at the art of pintxos – bite size snacks served at the counter – and on busy nights crowds spill out onto the streets and enjoy the good life. Most restaurants are within easy walking distance of each other, and if you’re feeling restless, all you need do is stumble down a quaint cobblestone street to find another bustling establishment.
Insider tip: Avoid the touristy squares and head to the back roads of the Old Quarter – the narrow alleyways serve up a surprising array of bars.
Pamplona may have earned its fame thanks to San Fermín and its bull runs. But these days many visitors are discovering that the city is, in fact, more manageable, cheaper, and enjoyable at other times of the year. You’ll discover many things to do in Pamplona. And with easy connections to Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastian, it’s a great city to include on a Spanish rail trip.