90km (56 miles) SE of San Sebastián, 385km (239 miles) NE of Madrid, 168km (104 miles) NE of Zaragoza
Ernest Hemingway's descriptions of the running of the bulls in his 1927 novel, The Sun Also Rises, made Pamplona known throughout the world. The book's glamour remains undiminished for the crowds who read it and then rush off to Pamplona to see the encierros (bull running) during the Fiesta de San Fermín. Attempts to outlaw this world-famous ceremony have failed so far, and it remains a superstar attraction, particularly among bullfighting aficionados. The riotous festival usually begins on July 6 and lasts to July 14. Fireworks and Basque flute concerts are only some of the spectacles adding color to the fiesta. Wine flows and people party nonstop for the festival's duration. Those who want to know they'll have a bed after watching the encierro should reserve a year in advance at one of the city's handful of hotels or boardinghouses, or lodge in San Sebastián or another neighboring town.
But Pamplona is more than just a city where an annual festival takes place. Long the most significant town in Spain's Pyrenean region, it was also a major stopover for those traveling either of two frontier roads: the Roncesvalles Pass or the Velate Pass. Once a fortified city, it was for centuries the capital of the ancient kingdom of Navarre.
In its historic core, the Pamplona of legend lives on, but the city has been engulfed by modern real-estate development. The saving grace of new Pamplona is La Taconera, a spacious green swath of fountain-filled gardens and parkland west of the Old Quarter where you will see students from the University of Navarre.
Pamplona became the capital of Navarre in the 10th century. Its Golden Age was during the reign of Charles III (called "the Noble"), who gave it its cathedral, where he was eventually buried. Over the years, the city has been the scene of many battles, with various factions struggling for control. Those who lived in the Old Quarter, the Navarrería, wanted to be allied with Castile, whereas those on the outskirts favored a French connection. Castile eventually won out, although some citizens of Navarre today want Pamplona to be part of a newly created country of the Basque lands.