Thanks to the popularity of his novel “The Sun Also Rises”, Ernest Hemingway thrust Pamplona Spain into the global spotlight. The once-local San Fermin festival (also called the running of the bulls) became a full-blown international phenomenon that nowadays adorns the bucket list of the world’s most adventurous travelers. The San Fermin festival happens every year in July, attracting thousands of travelers to see the spectacle.
Although Pamplona is practically synonymous with its annual running of the bulls, the historic and charming city has a lot more to offer. Pamplona is the capital of the Navarre Basque region of Northern Spain, and it is actually the region’s third largest city. I think it’s a really underrated destination in northern Spain. You can visit Pamplona throughout the year, thanks to nice weather and minimal rain. I went in August, and while it was hot, I loved how few crowds I encountered. It really added to the charm of Pamplona!
I added Pamplona to my northern Spain road trip itinerary spontaneously at the last minute, and I am so glad that I did – it turned out to be one of the cutest cities I visited! With a rich history and a vibrant culture, Pamplona is a great destination for those looking to experience an off-the-beaten path city in Spain. Perfect for a 24 hour visit, this blog breaks down everything that you need to see, eat and do in Pamplona in just one day. I’ll give you an actually useful itinerary for spending 24 hours in Pamplona, highlighting some of the must-see attractions and activities in the city.
The Perfect 1 Day Itinerary for Pamplona
Morning: City Walls + Citadel
Start your day in Pamplona with a wander around one of the city’s most impressive landmarks – the City Walls and Citadel.
Dating back to the 16th century, the walls were built to protect the city from invaders and have survived several battles and sieges throughout Pamplona’s long history. Today, the walls are considered a national monument and are remarkably well-preserved with stone towers and bastions. The walls stretch about 5 kilometers around the old town, offering some stunning views of the city and its surroundings. Be sure to check out the Portal de Francia and the closeby Mirador de Caballo Blanco for the best views.
The citadel, which was added slightly after the walls, is a star-shaped fortress on the southwestern side of the old town. Characterized by impressive gates, moats, and barracks, the citadel was also used for defensive and military purposes for centuries. Now, it is free and open to the public as a park and cultural site. Visitors can stroll through its gardens. It is a surprisingly peaceful respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Early Afternoon: Wandering Casca Viejo
The Casco Viejo or Old City of Pamplona is such a charming historic district. I genuinely loved just getting a little lost and exploring the center of Pamplona, which dates back to medieval times. It is full of narrow streets, old ass buildings, and vibrant plazas that are sure to enchant you! Keep in mind that it is common for restaurants and shops to close in the middle of the day in Spain, typically from 3pm-6pm.
There are a few attractions to keep your eyes out for as you explore the Casca Viejo. The first is Pamplona Cathedral, or the Catedral de Santa María la Real. It lies on the edge of Pamplona’s Old Town, and was built between 1394 and 1501. It cost 5 euros to go inside, but once inside, you can admire intricate carvings and stunning stained glass windows. Plus, visitors can climb to the top of the cathedral's tower for panoramic views of the city.
Another picturesque attraction in Pamplona’s Old Town is the magnificent Town Hall or Ayuntamiento. Originally built in the 18th century, the Ayuntamiento boasts a stunning Baroque facade and an ornate clock tower that dominates the surrounding plaza. Grab a jamon and queso sandwich at the shop on the corner for an unbeatable lunch view! For a dose of history (and maybe some AC), head into the Museum of Navarre, which is housed in a former hospital and offers a fascinating collection of art and artifacts from the region's past.
Late Afternoon: Bull Ring + San Fermin History
While locals close their shops for a midday siesta, I recommend learning about Pamplona’s most famous festival – San Fermin. Also called the Running of the Bulls, Pamplona is known worldwide for its seemingly unhinged San Fermin festival. I had absolutely no interest in visiting Pamplona during the festival, but I really enjoyed learning about it at the informative and interactive bullfighting museum at Plaza de Toros.
The San Fermin festival takes place each year in July. Every morning during the festival, brave runners take to the streets to run ahead of a herd of bulls as they make their way to the bullring. It is a thrilling and dangerous spectacle that has been the subject of books and films. The festival is pretty controversial and faces regular criticisms and challenges from animal rights and respect organizations. You can develop your own opinion about San Fermin after learning about the history and culture of it at the museum.
There are scheduled guided tours a few times a day, but if you miss the time slot, you can buy a ticket and accompanying audio guide at the bullring entrance. The audio guide was surprisingly good with recordings and sounds from the festival. You’ll start the visit by walking into the Plaza de Toros, an impressive round bull ring structure that can hold up to 19,000 spectators. Dating back to 1922, the ring has hosted countless bullfights. The tour continues with a visit to the bullfighters' chapel, as well as the stables where the bulls are kept. Along with bullfighter costumes and artifacts, there are lots of videos and multimedia exhibitions which give museum visitors a true sense of what San Fermin is really like.
Early Evening: Plaza de Castillo
One of the must-see sights in Pamplona is the Plaza del Castillo, the city's main square. I think it is best at golden hour in the early evening because it is buzzing with locals. You’ll be bombarded with music, kids running around, and bicycles riding by. It is very lively and has a warm atmosphere. I found myself simply people watching here, as I admired the elegant buildings and bustling cafes.
One of the most popular cafes on the square is Café Iruña. Popularized by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, Cafe Iruña was the primary hang-out of the author Ernest Hemingway. It is still styled in the 1920s Art Deco style, and visitors can even find a statue of Hemingway sitting at the bar.
Late Evening: Pinxtos
Exhausted from a long day of touristing about Pamplona? Quench your hunger and thirst with some delicious local food and drink! From Plaza de Castillo, wander down Calle San Nicolás and follow your nose to the best places in town. This busy pedestrian street is absolutely full of restaurants specializing in the region's most iconic food – pintxos. Pronounced "pinchos," these are small-plate dishes typically served on bread, toothpicks, or skewers. Usually eaten as a snack or light meal, they are a staple of Basque cuisine.
The proper way to do pintxos, according to hungry locals, is hopping from bar to bar. I have always called this Bourdaining, after Anthony Bourdain’s approach to eating and traveling. When it comes to pintxos, you’ll probably have to be a little aggressive at the bar to place an order. Locals will sometimes shout their order at the bar, and plates will be passed overhead. Be prepared to stand up as you eat, as that’s what the locals do.
Where to Eat in Pamplona
Like many of the nearby cities in northern Spain like San Sebastian or Bilbao, the food in Pamplona is a highlight. Even with just one day in Pamplona, you’ll be eating well! Start your day with a baked treat from Beatriz Cake shop. I stumbled on this place as I was wandering around Casca Viejo and a big line out the door. I tend to follow a “trust the locals” approach to selecting eateries, so I immediately hopped in line. As soon as you walk through the door, you're greeted with the delicious aroma of freshly baked pastries. One of the standout items at Beatriz Cake Shop is their signature "Rosquillas," a type of Spanish doughnut made with aniseed and sprinkled with sugar.
As I mentioned above, pintxos are a must-try dish while traveling in Pamplona. I can recommend two spots in the city. Vermutería RÍO is a vermouth bar that also offers a range of unique pintxos. The atmosphere at Vermutería RÍO is lively and convivial, with locals and tourists alike sipping on vermouth and munching on pintxos. Their fried egg is probably the most popular item on the menu, and boy is it delicious. Half a boiled egg wrapped in a soft bechamel sauce and covered in a crunchy tempura batter. Then it is fried to perfection!
The next pintxos place to try is Bar Gaucho. This traditional Spanish bar is located just off Plaza de Castillo in the heart of Pamplona. With wooden tables and a cozy fireplace, the bar has a rustic and authentic feel. The menu at Bar Gaucho is focused on traditional Spanish cuisine with a particular emphasis on grilled meats. Get an order of the Pimientos de Padrón to start. These are small green peppers that are fried and sprinkled with coarse salt. Then order a road of Txistorra, a delicious grilled pork sausage that is flavored with paprika and garlic.
Where to Stay in Pamplona
There are a number of simple but comfortable hotels to choose from in central Pamplona. Because the city is so compact, I would recommend choose a place in the heart of Pamplona so that you can easily explore on foot. I stayed at Hostal Arriazu, a modern hostel on the main shopping street. The check-in process was a bit odd, but otherwise it was a great affordable stay option.
For a more mid-price option, Hotel Maisonnave is a great choice. Just a few minutes' walk from the historic center, the hotel features elegant rooms with a modern design and solid amenities, like a restaurant and a fitness center. If you’re looking to splurge on a luxury option, Gran Hotel La Perla is perfect. The rooms are beautifully decorated and some even offer stunning views of the city. You can relax at the onsite spa or grab at a drink at the rooftop terrace!
Have questions or a comment about visiting Pamplona Spain? Tell me below!
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