We’ve all heard that Spain is well known for it’s food, culture, and without any obvious spoilers, wine. I mean really — who wouldn’t want to lay in the southern European sun while eating tapas and sipping sangria? But besides all the of these glorious options, Spain’s summer festivals are what make the months of June, July and August pretty much perfect, especially in the northern region.
Pamplona is a small city tucked away in the northern Basque Region of Spain. A well-known stopping point on the Camino De Santiago hiking trail, Pamplona sees tons of travelers looking to indulge in a little Spanish culture. And as if that wasn't reason enough to go there, the city holds one of the largest festivals in Spain, the Running of The Bulls (San Fermin) Festival.
Starting on July 4 and lasting until July 15, the festival finds a handful of bulls led down the old cobbled streets by runners towards the bullring. Sure, it sounds totally insane, but it’s actually extremely entertaining and we’ve got your guide on how to make the most of it.
A Little Back Story
Before we tell you the do’s and don’ts, we need to give you some backstory on the festival so that you understand the significance. Dating back to roughly the 13th century, bulls were herded through the streets by various townspeople shouting and smacking sticks along the way to move them to another location. The cattle were then rounded up into the bullring in honor of the religious patron St. Fermin. Since then, the festival has grown into a world-renown event that upholds it’s adrenaline pumping atmosphere.
We’d be foolish not to mention that alcohol is definitely involved in this festival — it is Spain after all. Sangria filled glasses and bottles litter the streets, while event runners stain their iconic white and red outfits. If you think about it, a little alcohol seems absolutely necessary when you're being chased by six bulls.
Before the Running Day
After you’ve gathered your outfit, it’s time to grab some sangria and enjoy the street parties throughout the city. With millions of attendees, you're bound to meet people from every corner of the world, which makes the event that much more exciting. With wine in hand, go explore the festival pathway and pick out where you’ll want to stand on the day. Tip: this event starts at 8am every morning until July 15, so if you’re not prepared the first few days you’ll definitely have time to set up throughout the week.
During the Running Day
Due to its overall fame and popularity, it's necessary to wake up early and get to the street barriers no later than 6am. You’ll definitely be missing out if you don’t, unless you pay the 85€ ($95 USD) starting fee for balcony views (which are the safest areas). Though you'll have to wait for awhile, the guns go off at exactly 8 am leaving a two minute head start for the runners. The best place to watch the start of the race would have to be at the end of the street, directly across from the starting line. Adrenaline pumping, you can watch the terrified faces run towards the bullring as you sit pleasantly thrilled from the (somewhat) safety of the sidelines.
With runners on a mad dash towards the ring, it's necessary to note that there's always one or two that stumble and fall — there's been a total of 15 deaths on record since 1910. The ring fills up quickly with the mass amount of attendees trying to position themselves, and the animals quickly flood in behind them. After the runners leave, the total 6 minute event is up, leaving you with an energetic feeling and memories of a true Spanish experience.
Tip: If you’re not one for the early wake up calls to get in the heart of the action, you can easily buy a cheap ticket for the bullring and sit tight awaiting the final end to the day’s event.
After the Running Day
After the quick run is over and done with, it’s probably best to keep loading up on Sangria (naturally). The parties in Spain never end, and this is especially true with their festivals. Over the course of the eight day event you can experience the run, drench yourself in wine, and check out a bullfight. The bullfights are held within the ring throughout the course of the festival and end in an honoring of St. Fermin
San Fermin is an iconic festival to Spanish Culture, and with about 1.6 million visitors it’s no wonder so many people jump in to run. Whether you’re there for the atmosphere and sangria or are actually crazy enough to run with a 1700 pound animal, Running of the Bulls is definitely worth going to. Just note that if you decide to run, be aware of what’s chasing you... Spain isn’t nearly as fun from the hospital bed.
Want more Spanish culture? Check out the Sagrada Familia.