Record-keeping officially began in 1910, but the Festival of San Fermín is believed to date back as far as the 1800's. This annual event, made famous internationally by Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, has put Pamplona, Spain on the map.
Each year, San Fermín festivities kicks-off at noon on 6th July and carry on through midnight on 14th July. This fiesta honors the city's first bishop and patron saint, Saint Fermín. Of the many festival activities, the most famous event is the encierro, or the Running of the Bulls.
In the wee hours each morning, between 7th-14th July, wooden fences and boards are put in place along the streets of the course. People are evacuated and the roads are hosed down to remove the debris from the previous night's debauchery.
If you're not feeling like a daredevil, but would still like being in the thick of it all, I recommend securing yourself a balcony spot from which to view. These sell out early in the year. I reserved mine in January, through Bucket List Events.
I only attended one morning of bull running, on 12th July. Our Bucket List Events crew escorted us up to out balcony around 6:45am, just before the streets were beginning to be shut down.
The apartment owner had coffee, sangria and snacks prepared for us and pre-event coverage was projected on the wall.
Our balcony overlooked 'Dead Man's Curve', a 90-degree bend where Calle de Mercaderes meets Calle de Estafeta and the course gets extra unpredictable.
Around 7:30am, runners started to fill the streets. Participants said a prayer to Saint Fermín, in the hopes of protection - "Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermin!" ("Long live Saint Fermín", in Spanish and then in Basque).
The run begins promptly at 8:00am. It's 875-meters long, passing through several narrow streets in the old quarter of Pamplona, culminating at the bullring. The average run takes between two and three minutes.
In each run, there are six aggressive bulls, which can usually be identified by their dark hair. The other six more tame bulls are actually steers that keep the pack together and calm down the hostile bulls. These steers will not try to gore people, but if someone stands in their way, they may get bumped into.
Two minutes after the first set of bulls are released from their corrals, a second set of slower steers are set loose to collect any bulls that may have strayed from the herd.
After the run is complete, the street cleaners promptly get to work. Within moments everything is spic and span.
We were allowed to stay in the flat where our balcony was until 8:30am. After descending from our vantage point, we headed back to our hotel to catch some shut-eye before the rest of the day's festivities kicked off.
After emerging from our daytime slumber, around 2pm, we headed to the main square to drink sangria, people watch and listen to live music.
Imagine trying to find Waldo/Wally in this crowd?!
Later on there was a parade, known as the Parade of Gigantes y Czbezudos (Giants and Big-Heads) in the old town.
At 6:30pm each evening during Fermín, a bullfight takes place, where the six bulls that ran in the encierro that same morning fight till their death. I understand that bullfighting is a beloved cultural tradition in Spain, but the fights are unfair and cruel. There is nothing heroic about what the matadors are doing. I decided to spend my €95 on other things instead.
Also occurring every night, at 11pm, is a half an hour of fireworks at Vuelta del Castillo Park. Fireworks were first seen in Pamplona in 1595, but in 2000 it was turned into an international competition. The fireworks were spectacular - the best I have ever seen.
When we couldn't stomach any more sangria and the night started turning into morning, we decided it was time to head back to our hotel. On the walk back, we passed a carnival and decided to end our San Fermín experience with a few carnival rides.
Know Before you Go:
This is the easiest trip you will ever pack for! Everyone, and I mean, EVERYONE is dressed in white, with a red band tied around their waist and a red bandana around their neck. If you don't have these items on-hand, you can purchase them for about €2 each in Pamplona. Don't even bother bringing any other clothing; you'll feel out of place if you wear anything other than this uniform.
Book early - like in January. It's not a big town and the accommodations sell out, as do the balcony viewing decks.
Do you research if you plan to run. There are a lot of rules to be aware of.
Be prepared to see bull on the local menus - stew, steaks, etc.
I highly recommend that you tack a visit to San Sebastian, Spain and/or Biarrtz, France on to your trip. Both are well worth it.