The world’s most exhilarating race (yes, with real bulls!)takes place each July in the cramped streets of Pamplona, Spain for a nine-day festival unlike any other. The famous Running of the Bulls in Spain is actually just a portion of a three-part fiesta known as the San Fermin festival. The origin of the Pamplona bull run dates back to the 14th century when local Spaniards began honoring the passing of Saint Ferman. Saint Ferman was dragged to his own death by bulls – so what could be more fitting a tribute than an annual run with the bulls? In his memory, participants take part in a feast day, an ancient fair and a bullfighting event that has become world-famous.
The massive party kicks off at midday on July 6 after the launch of the Txupinazo rocket. Locals and tourists come together in a rowdy crowd ready to take on nine days of celebratory drinking and eating.
The actual bull run itself includes a half-mile course that winds through four different cobblestone streets of the historic Spanish town. As you might imagine, slow runners are not encouraged to attempt the life-threatening feat of running with bulls. On the mornings of July 7 to July 14, hundreds of anxious spectators dressed in red and white await the sound of the starting rocket – and the lumbering arrival of the bulls.
Once the bulls are released, adrenaline-seeking runners sprint down the road for their lives… literally. The enraged bulls show no mercy to those who slip or fall on the course, making this one of the most dangerous running events of all-time. Once the race is completed, traditional bullfighting commences. This allows runners to take a shot at besting the bulls in true matador fashion. By the end of it all, festival-goers accompany each other for a closing candlelight performance of the song “Pobre de Mi.”
“The Running of the Bulls is a thrilling dash of emotion that takes place on the very thin line of life and death. Are you daring enough to take your chances with the bulls?”
The best spot to view the race is from an elevated balcony that hugs the sideline of the course. Grabbing a seat here requires planning far in advance and at a hefty price. For a cheaper alternative, get to the race well before the start time (8:00 A.M.). From there you can stake your position anywhere on the side of the street and enjoy a front-row view.
Make sure to dress appropriately. Put on some long white pants and a white shirt with a red belt and red scarf to fit in with the crowd. Don’t expect to stay clean either, as some may pour wine on your clothes if you look too pure!
The town of Pamplona is extremely small considering how many people will be arriving for the festival. However, the small airport of Noain is located inside the town itself.
The best way to get around the main part of Pamplona is by taxi or private driver. If you decide to land or stay in a hotel in the neighboring cities, train and bus services are the most cost effective options.
Renting a place in the actual town of Pamplona is extremely difficult and not fit for everyone. Tons of drunks will be out at all hours of the night so if you are looking for a nice quiet night of sleep, you won’t find it there.
Booking a room in the nearby town of Tiebas will provide you with a cheaper option that is easily accessible by bus, train or taxi. Willing to go all out? Plan ahead of time and go for the gold by booking a balcony on the main street of Mercaderes.
If you are looking to get away from the madness of the nine-day festival, Pamplona offers fun alternatives that aren’t quite as intense as the fiesta and the running of the bulls. Spain’s beautiful wildlife areas are just within reach.
Explore the awe-inspiring scenery of Parque Natural Urbasa and de La Taconera for a full showing of Spain’s natural beauty. If you’re into history, the quaint town includes several monuments, town halls, and plazas that are in close proximity to each other.
The party heads of the world probably won’t be venturing far from the bull festival, but it is still nice to have other options to really take in what northern Spain has to offer.
Thinking of Running With the Bulls yourself? For even more information on how to survive this incredible – and dangerous! – event, get the lowdown in A Survivor’s Guide to the Running of the Bulls