Where: Pamplona, capital of Navarre, north-east corner of Spain. Pamplona’s Basque name is Iruña. Usually you will see the two names together; very ocassionally Iruña is listed first on booking sites.
When and why: We first visited Pamplona in May 2016 whilst walking the Camino de Santiago. We then moved here in September 2016 and we still live here now – and hope to for a long time because we love it here!
As with the Dongtan and Geoje pages, as we live here, this page is going to be a little different to most of the others. There is tourist information but I’ve also included useful information for expats who live here. If you are an expat and looking for specific information, you can join the Pamplona Expats group on Facebook and someone will probably be able to help you with information.
The centre of Pamplona is Casco Antiguo, the old town. To the south west and the south of the city centre are 1 Ensanche and 2 Ensanche (Ensanche means expansion and refers to the expansion of the city, through the city walls).
To the west of the city, past Taconera Park, are San Juan, Iturrama and Yamaguchi. Iturrama is the university district and also the location of the hospital. Past these areas are the more outlying areas of Meldelbaldea and Barañain.
On the other side of the river, to the north of the city centre, are the districts of Buztintxuri, Rochapea and Chantrea.
To the east of the city are the suburbs of Burlada, Villava and Huarte.
To the south east and south are the newer districts of Mendillori and Milagrosa.
We first visited Pamplona in May 2016. This was our first major city on the Camino de Santiago and our first rest stop on the walk. I remember thinking then what a lovely city it was, how pleasant and relaxed it was and how I could happily live here – and now I do!
I love Pamplona. Pamplona is a city of festivals, fun, sunshine, pinchos and parks. Life here is good. There is always something happening, always a celebration (no word of a lie, just as I wrote this a parade and a brass band started playing outside my house). It’s a fun, friendly, alternative city; a great place to live.
Tourism wise, there’s not a huge amount to do in Pamplona, though it is a good base if you are looking to explore the wider Navarre and Basque region and it’s a good place to stop to enjoy northern Spanish culture for a day or two.
Obviously, most people know Pamplona for the San Fermin festival: a Bacchnalian celebration where each day starts with the running of the bulls and each night ends with fireworks. However, this is not the only festival in Pamplona. It seems that every weekend there is some reason to dance, drink and to parade the Los Gigantes puppets of old kings and queens. The weekend we walked through on the camino it was the old town festival and a rose wine festival. Everyone was wearing pink hats, drinking rose wine and the kids were running around dressed as cardboard monsters. The weekend we moved into our house we had to dodge the barricades as they were having a festival just for our street. My parents visited town at carnival and we had a hilarious time watching the fake cows, sheep and farmers dancing around and wiggling their bums. (At one point, my dad and I were talking outside their apartment and a little kid walked between us with a pitchfork, covered in fake blood. He was so oblivious it was hilarious).
And if there’s not a festival there’s a protest. Pamplona is a very politically active city, which you can tell from the flags and slogans hanging from many of the buildings.
Mostly though, this is a place of joy and fun; an interesting place to visit and a wonderful place to live.
The train station in Pamplona is located to the north of the city. To walk from the station to the centre takes about 30 minutes. Bus 9 runs from the bus stop just outside the station to the city centre. Bus A runs from a stop opposite the train station, to the bus station and then on to the airport. The buses costs €1.35, you can pay the driver and they can give you change.
Fast trains run direct to Madrid (3.5 hours) and Barcelona (4 hours), Zaragoza (1.5 hours), San Sebastian/Donostia and Irun (2 hours ish); and there are direct services also to Vittoria, Miranda del Ebro, Burgos, Leon, Gijon and Santiago. Local services run to Tafalla, Olite and Tudela.
You can find detailed train information and book tickets (in English) at the Renfe website.
The bus station in Pamplona is located underground, next to the citadel. There’s a glass box by the roadside, next to Plaza de la Paz – and the bus station is under here. At the bus station there are a couple of shops, a pharmacist, a gym and a nice cafe.
You can buy tickets here at the counters, the machines or you can pre-buy them online.
In alphabetical order, buses run to the following destinations:
BARCELONA: The Pamplona-Barcelona direct service is run by Monbus. This service runs to Barcelona Sants station or to Barcelona Nord. Tickets cost about 28€ one way.
Although it’s cheap, I personally would always try to get the train as the bus takes six hours to get to Barcelona, wheres the train takes four hours.
Jeff has taken the late night, overnight Monbus service to Barcelona a few times. Pamplona bus station closes after midnight, so this service departs from the garage area of the bus station. Jeff says you go through the normal entrance and then just follow the people, and that it is pretty obvious where to go.
You can also travel with Alsa, but you would need to change buses in Soria or Zaragoza.
BILBAO: La Burundesa run the coach service from Pamplona to Bilbao. Journey time to Bilbao is approximately two-hours and tickets one-way cost 15€.
JACA: La Burundesa run the coach service to Jaca. Journey time is about two hours. This is limited to one or two services a day. Tickets cost 8€ and can be booked online. laburundesa.com/pamplona-jaca.
LOGROÑO: PLM Autocaresruns a bus to Madrid, via Longroño. This goes nine times a day. There’s a timetable on the PLM home page.
La Estellesa run a service from Pamplona to Longrono. All of these services also stop at the towns of Puente la Reina, Estella and Viana, some of them also stop at all the villages in between the two cities. This is a really useful service to know about if you are walking the camino. You can view the timetable here and buy tickets online (click the horarios y compra link).
MADRID: PLM Autocares run a direct service to Madrid Avenida de las Americas bus station. Twice a day this bus goes via smaller towns and villages; and once a day it goes to Madrid Barajas Airport – T4.
The PLM website is only in Spanish, but it’s pretty easy to navigate. If you scroll down the home screen there is a timetable for the Pamplona – Longroño – Madrid service.
The PLM bus costs 23€. You can buy the tickets online or at the bus station (comprar is Spanish for buy). We prefer this service to the Alsa service as the buses are nice and comfy, they have wifi and you don’t need to change, though it does take five hours to get to Madrid.
Alsa run non-direct services from Pamplona to Madrid Avenida de las Americas bus station and to Madrid Barajas Airport – T4. You have to change buses in Soria or Zaragoza. These tickets cost about 32€.
RONCEVALLES AND ST-JEAN-PIED-A-PORT: For those walking the camino, a really useful service is the coach that runs between Pamplona and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, via Roncevalles. This costs 22€ each way, takes just under two hours and it can be booked on the Alsa website.
SAN SEBASTIAN / DONOSTIA: Alsa and Conda run a frequent coach service from Pamplona to San Sebastian/Donostia. The direct buses take about an hour and a quarter to get to SS/D; the non-direct buses, which go through the villages, take about two hours.
This service can get sold out at busy times, so it’s advisable to pre-buy your tickets online or at the bus station if you can. Tickets cost 8€ one way.
SANTANDER: La Burundesa run a limited service direct from Pamplona to Santander; otherwise you need to travel via Bilbao. The journey to Santander is about five hours by public transport and costs 21€ one-way. Tickets can be booked online.
TAFALLA, OLITE, TUDELA AND ZARAGOZA: Conda and Alsa run the service from Pamplona to Zaragoza. Some of the buses go via Tafalla, Olite and Tudela in southern Navarre. You can find times and book online at the ALSA website.
VALENCIA AND BENIDORM: Bilman Bus run a bus from Pamplona to Valencia and Benidorm. The bus from Pamplona to Valencia cost me €28 each way and the journey took about five hours (it was scheduled to take six, but we were fast). The coach was lovely: the seats reclined, there was wifi and a toilet, and they played movies.
I booked my tickets online at www.bilmanbus.es. The website is in Spanish, so to book tickets select Compra de Billetes and then it’s pretty easy to work out from there.
VITORIA: La Burundesa run the coach service to Vitoria. This takes one hour 45 minutes and costs 9€. Some of the buses go via all of the villages in between the two cities.
Pamplona has a nice, little airport with a small cafe.
Pamplona currently has very limited services. There are three or four flights per day to Madrid with Nordstrom, a subsidiary company of Iberia; and flights four times a week from Pamplona to Frankfurt, on a service run by Lufthansa.
Although it can be a little more pricey flying into or out of Pamplona, the extra cost can be worth it because it makes journeys so much faster. I once flew to London on a Saturday morning and I was in London by 10.30 a.m!
The airport is located to the south of the city in Noain. A direct bus service (bus A) runs from the train station to the bus station and then on to the airport.
A taxi from the town centre to the airport cost me 12€.
Just a quick note: if you get the 6.30 flight from Pamplona to Madrid, don’t go to the airport too early as the airport doors don’t open till five and check-in doesn’t open till 5.30. I got there at 4.30 and had to wait half an hour for the doors to open.
The other closest airports to Pamplona are:
BIARRITZ: Even though it is in neighbouring France, Biarritz Airport is actually one of the closest airports to Pamplona, and one of the best for catching flights to the UK. Ryanair fly here daily from London Stansted, throughout the year. Easyjet offer seasonal services from London Gatwick.
Alsa runs a direct bus from Pamplona to Biarritz Airport in the summer. For other times, Alsa and PESA run direct bus services from the airport to San Sebastian and here you can change onto a bus for Pamplona.
BILBAO: Bilbao Airport is about two hours from Pamplona. To get here you would need to get a bus to Bilbao and then change onto the local airport shuttle bus. They arrive and depart from the same bus station so this is not too difficult to do.
You can get a direct bus here from Pamplona or you could get a train to Zaragoza Delicias Train Station and then catch a local bus to the airport from there.
VITORIA: Ryanair have recently started flying out of Vitoria airport but at the moment this service is limited and there are no flights to the UK.
Pamplona is the first major city on the Camino Frances, one of the Camino de Santiago paths. The path enters the Pamplona conurbation at Villava, it then goes through Burlada, crosses the river over the ancient Magdalena Bridge, then the path goes through the bastion walls of the city and up through the French Gate into the old city.
For anyone walking the camino, you can walk into the city by the official roadside route or along the river path. The roadside route is more direct but the river is much prettier. There’s cafes on both options. And if you want to cheat, bus 4 runs from Villava into the city centre.
For more information on walking the Camino Frances, visit the Camino de Santiago page.
Pamplona has an excellent bus service which covers the whole city. Buses are frequent, though the services at night are more limited.
Bus tickets cost 1.35€ and can be bought on the bus from the driver, who can give you change.
If you are in the city for a while it is worth picking up a bus-card from one of the Tabac shops. These pre-paid cards reduce the fare to 70c. You can top them up at any shop which displays the city-bus symbol (Tabacs and Tahona bakeries usually have a top-up machine).
If you join the gym or library and get a red city-card, these can be used as bus passes too.
Bus information is embedded into Google Maps or you can find route information at www.infotuc.es.
Pamplona city is perfect for cycling as it is flat and there are lots of wide footpaths. It’s only when we leave Pamplona that we tend to realise how flat this city is, though it’s surrounded by mountains. Most of the centre of Pamplona is pedestrianised (ish) and there are bike paths across the city.
Cycling is a really popular activity in Pamplona as there’s such good terrain in the surrounding areas. Miguel Indurain, five times Tour de France winner, is from Villava and the Spanish Movistar cycling team are based at Egues, just outside the city.
You can hire a city bike from one of the N-bici city bike stands. According to the website there are stations in Ciudadela Park, by the Plaza del Tores and in Rochapea. www.c-cycles.es.
There’s also a bike hire shop on Calle Campana, a street behind San Santurnino church, although this seems to be seasonal and only open in summer.
Personally, I don’t enjoy driving in Pamplona as there’s traffic lights and cross-walks everywhere and because parking is a pain in the bum.
There’s street parking and underground parking in the city centre, but spaces are limited and this parking is more expensive. We very rarely drive into the centre as we just get the bus instead; but if we do, my preferred parking-lot is the car park underneath Plaza del Torres, as this is so close to the centre.
There is a large, cheap car-park in Rochapea, on the other side of the river. If you park here you can get the free funicular up into the old city.
Street parking and city parking can be paid for via the Telpark App.
What to do if you are here on your holiday
Although it is a great place to be, I wouldn’t say that Pamplona is a hugely touristy city in that there’s not a huge amount ‘to do’ per-se. You could see most of the key sites in a day, or even a morning. It is, however, just a lovely place to be, to potter about and to party. It’s also a good base for the sights of Navarre, the Basque country and the Pyrenees.
If you are looking for touristy stuff though, these are the cool things to see.
This is probably the most famous building in Pamplona. It is a very pretty building with lots of balconies and flags on it.
There is a plaza out front where you can see one of the barriers from the bull run. At San Fermin festival, this is where the crowds gather for the opening and closing ceremonies.
I’m not sure if there is anything inside the town hall to go see, but the clocks go bingety bong on the hour and there are often concerts or protests here.
The tourist information centre is just to the left of the Town Hall.
Behind the town hall is an orange building. This is the market hall. Upstairs is a supermarket and downstairs there are interesting food stalls. The market closes for siesta (I think from about 2 til 4.30). This is a great place to go for local products, such as cheese from the Pyrenees and local sausages.
Museum of Navarre
Downhill from the town hall is the Museum of Navarre. This is a great, local museum, located in the 16th century Our Lady of Mercy Hospital. It contains relics and treasures from Navarra.
Inside the museum you can the world’s oldest map, lots of interesting paleolithic relics from the area, some beautiful relics from Navarran religious houses, Roman mosaics, old statues from the Cathedral, a Goya painting and lots and lots of local art. I particularly liked the Oriz Murals, which used to encircle a wall in an old palace. These show very detailed scenes from the Schmalkaldic Saxony War, with all the tiny troops lined up for battle.
The Museum of Navarre is an interesting tourist attraction with enough to occupy a visitor for an hour or two. The only thing about the museums is that the signs are only in Spanish and Basque, so I had to go online to their website to find out what I was looking at and why it was important.
Normal entry is 3€, it’s free for pensioners and sometimes free on a Sunday too.
To get to the museum walk down the hill from the Town Hall, the museum is up the road on the left (the one that goes uphill).
There’s a large car park just outside the museum and in the corner of the car park are the pens where they keep the bulls before the bull run and from where the bull run starts.
General Archive of Navarre/ Palace of Navarre
On the opposite side of the car park is a restored-castle looking building. This is the Royal and General Archive of Navarre.
The Archive is located in the old Palace of Navarre. This was built by King Sancho 4, ‘The Wise’ in the 12th century. For 700 years, this palace was the seat of power in Navarre, first for the kings and queens of Navarre and then for the governors.
There’s not a huge amount to see in the building, though it is interesting to go inside to have a look at how the castle used to be. When I popped in I was able to go down into one of the medieval crypts to see an exhibition about Pamplona in the civil war, which was interesting and heartbreaking. There was also a cool model of the city in the entrance way and I enjoyed looking for my friend’s houses..
You can see relics of the palace down in the car park too..
San Saturnino Church
If you exit the Town Hall Square to the left and walk past the Tourist Information Centre, following the Camino de Santiago, down Calle Mayor, you will come to San Saturnino Church, which is on the left hand side.
Just outside the church, in the street, there is a manhole cover in the road which marks the site of the well where San Fermin was baptised by San Saturnino.
San Saturnino (San Cernin to his friends) was a third century apostle and the first bishop of Toulouse. He came to Pamplona and whilst here Christened San Fermin, who became the first bishop of Pamplona. It was actually San Saturnino who was killed by bulls, back in Toulouse (or this may be a myth and he may have been killed by pagans, represented by a bull) – which may be the roots for the San Fermin festival.
San Saturnino’s Church was built on the site of an older, pagan temple. The 13th century church there now is distinctive because of its arched portico and two high towers. These were built as defensive towers for the city and they always feel like the centre of the city to me. Our old house overlooked these towers, so I can tell you that the bells are a significant part of the soundscape of this city, ringing out every quarter of an hour (while I was writing this it dinged, like it was agreeing with me).
From a tourism perspective, I’d highly recommend popping in to have a look at this church as the interior is incredibly ornate and wonderful. The inside has a very strange shape, with two prominent chapels – it’s hard to know which is the front. The alter pieces are stupendously opulent, with gilted gold, and the floors are interesting as all of the floor panels are numbered, I presume as there are people buried under there.
Incidentally, just before you get to the church there is a set of steps on the right hand side, leading down to a lower street. If you have a look in the alleyway between the steps and the bakery, you can see an interesting piece of hidden history. Up on the wall is an 16th century statue of Mary and down below you can see the medieval archways of a 13th century gate of the city, called Portalpea. Lined up in front of this are stone cannon balls, fired by catapaults at this section of the city in the War of the Boroughs in 1276. This was an internal city war in which the San Nicholas and San Cernin boroughs massacred the Navarrese borough. It wasn’t until 1423 that the three boroughs were united into one city.
Further down Calle Major there are lots of interesting, old fashioned style shops and a few ancient palaces.
First of all, on the right hand side, is the Palace of Contestables. This is a renovated palace, which expertly blends old and new. The original palace was built in 1548 by the Beaumont family (an important family in Pamplonican history). The Palace of Contestables has previously been the Town Hall and an episcopal palace.
This is mainly an administrative building now, and if you live in the city this is where you go to register for your Empadrenado. Sometimes they keep the Los Gigantes puppets in here and you can pop in to say hi.
Further on down is a beautiful medieval house with an ornate carved doorway, featuring medieval people throwing up snakes. This is the Noble house of the Ezpeleta family, built in 1711, Apparently you can still see whee a cannonball hit it during the Carlist war, though I’ve not been able to spot this yet.
Iglesia de San Lorenzo
At the end of Calle Mayor, on the left hand side, is the Iglesia de San Lorenzo, which is where the icon of San Fermin can be found. This icon is taken out and paraded through the streets every 7th July, at the start of the San Fermin festival. The icon has black skin and they don’t know if this is part of the original design or if the saint’s skin has just turned black from centuries of candle and incense smoke.
San Fermin was a local boy who became the first bishop of Pamplona. He is now co-patron of Navarre.
Just past Iglesia San Lorenzo is one of my favourite parts of the city: Taconera Gardens. Taconera Park is a designed, English-garden style park with flower beds, hidden statues and lovely paths designed for a slow stroll. There’s benches for lounging on with a good book and playgrounds for the kids. In the first area of Taconera Park there is a lovely garden cafe, with outdoor seating, called Cafe Vienés.
Because Pamplona was a fortified city, building was restricted around the edges of the walls, in the defensive areas. This means that large spaces were left at the edges of the city and as the city became peaceful, these were changed into parks. There’ are loads of parks around the edge of the city and as it rains a a lot here in Pamplona, these are very green, lovely places to hang out.
Taconera Gardens encompasses quite a bit of the city’s old defences. The ‘moat’ is now a nature area, where deer and birds live.
You can access Taconera Gardens from the city walls or from Calle Bosquecillo. Incidentally, if you enter the gardens from the city walls you’ll walk over Portal de la Rochapea (see photo at top of page), which has a lovely acoustics effect. If you whisper a message into a corner of the gateway, it can be picked up in the opposite corner.
On the edge of the park are two gates: San Nicolás Gate (built in 1660, moved here in 1929) and Taconera Gate (built 1666, rebuilt 2002).
Just past Taconera Gateway are the old walls of the city and there is a huge duck pond, which I can’t walk past without stopping to say hi to the ducks and geese. This is where they put the nativity scene at Christmas and it’s quite funny walking past seeing the real animals, hanging out with the wax-works.
Down in the dry-moat you will often see deer or peacocks, turkeys and chickens. There’s even an albino peacock who lives there.
Just past this is a sporty section of the park. The wide road is used for rollerblading and often this is roped off in the evening for speed skaters. In the middle of the park there is a skate park. They also often hold concerts in this area of the city.
La Ciudadela (Citadel)
The citadel is the star shaped building, set in a large park, to the west of the city centre. This was an army garrison right up until the 60s. It’s an interesting building to walk around, but there’s not much in there to see per se. They sometimes have art exhibitions in there and people use it as a cool shortcut to get to the city.
The citadel is used for concerts and during San Fermin there are fireworks here every night.
What Pamplona has more information.
Defensive Walls / Funicular
The defensive walls used to ring the whole city, but now they run from Taconera Gardens to San Bartolomé Fort, which is by the bull ring.
These walls are lovely to walk upon. There’s a particularly dramatic section next to the free funicular, overlooking the mountains to the north. When the weather is wild and storms are brewing, I love to come up here and pretend that I am in Game of Thrones.
The free funicular is actually just two elevators at an angle that go through the walls, down to the river and the car park by Rochapea. This is a quick way to access the city. You can take bikes on here. In the old town the funicular comes out on Calle de los Descalzos street. I think it closes after midnight.
There’s also a particularly lovely view point at the Frente Magdalena corner of the city, Mirador de Caballo Blanco (View of the White Horse). This overlooks Burlada and Villava, looking towards the foothills of the Pyrenees.
There’s a great bar here called Meson de Caballo Blanco. They have a medieval bar and a lovely garden-terrace. In summer, on a Thursday night, they have live music.
There is an exhibition centre about the walls in Fortin San Bartolomé, the small fort just behind the bull ring. www.murallasdepamplona.com/centro-de-interpretacion. There’s also a cool elevator down to the riverside here – a great free shortcut to help you avoid the steep hill into the city.
Bull ring (Plaza de Toros)
Pamplona’s bullring is the third largest in the world, after Madrid and Mexico. However, bull fights only take place during the San Fermin festival. You can do a tour of the bull ring if you’d like to learn more about it.
The Christmas Market takes place here in December and they occasionally have specialty food shows.
There’s a big statue of Ernest Hemingway outside, looking like someone has trapped him in a concrete jumper. The expression on his face makes me think he doesn’t like it.
(Incidentally, if you’d like to watch the San Fermin bull run and have a nice sit-down at the same time, you can watch it from the bull ring for only €5. More information about this below in the San Fermin section).
When we first moved to Pamplona, we tried to tell our boss what weekend it was by saying there was a festival. ‘There’s always a festival in Pamplona’ he replied – and after living here for a few years we know this to be true. Most weekends there are crowds of people, bands, random marquees, processions, music or artists on the street. The day I wrote this page, we went to do our shopping and there was a random opera festival at the Town Hall, for example. The weekend we moved into our first apartment there was a street festival happening – just in our street – and we had to navigate our way around the brass bands. It’s wonderful.
And being Pamplona, if there’s not a festival there’s a protest. They love a good protest in Pamplona; often at the same time as there is a festival. We love it!
San Fermin – 6th to 14th July
The San Fermin festival is nuts! I have never known anything like it. The party literally never stops. We had brass bands outside our house at two, three, four o’clock in the morning! Yes it was wonderful being in the heart of this festival – but the post-festival quiet afterwards was heavenly. The festival was a week of constant crash, bang, wallop, noise, drinking, parties, people, crowds, sellers – all dressed in a sea of red and white.
The city becomes so busy that businesses will take as much money in this one week as they would in the rest of the year; people sleep in the parks and the streets; there’s a constant, fun, crazy party – and people get chased around the streets by bulls.
The San Fermin festival celebrates San Fermin, first bishop of Pamplona and co-patron saint of Navarra. It’s not clear why the day is celebrated with bull running, but it might be linked to the legend of San Saturnino who is believed to have been killed in Tolouse by bulls. Or not. Bull running is not actually unique to Pamplona, it’s just that this is the most famous festival of its kind.
The bull running takes place at 8 a.m. each day, though apparently it is so crowded that if you want to watch it you need to be in place hours before. A good way to watch the bulls is to go mid-week, when there are less people, and one of the best spots to see the encierro (bull run) is at the end of Calle Estafeta, where the run crosses the road and goes into the bullring – as there’s a lot more space there.
Another option, which I did, is to watch the end of the bull run in the bull ring. It costs 5€ for a ticket and the whole build up is a lot of fun. When I went there were bands and a kiss cam, the audeince were singing and dancing, drinking pints at 7 a.m.. They showed the whole bull run on big screens before this sudden mass of people all came streaming into the bull ring – followed by the bulls. It was an easy way to see the encierro without having to brave the crowds.
There’s also fireworks at the citadel every night, concerts, parades, a marathon – all part of a full programme of events.
I don’t want to give too much detail here for San Fermin because there’s other sites who do a much better job than I will ever do; including the official San Fermin website.
Route of the Bull Run
The bull run (or encierro) starts in a corner of the car park, just by the Museum of Navarre and the Royal General Archive.
The runners sing a tribute to an icon of San Fermin located on Calle de Santo Domingo, before the firework is lit and the bulls are released.
The bulls and the runners first run up hill, up Calle de Santo Domingo, to the Town Hall Square (Plaza Consistorial), where they take a left into Calle Mercaderes. Then it’s past Burger King and a sharp right into Calle Estafeta. Then it is a long straight run up to the bull ring. Calle Estafeta is probably the most famous part of the encierro and people hire balconies along the route so that they can watch the spectacle in comfort.
Find out more about the festival (in English) and book a balcony at the official San Fermin website.
We popped into Pamplona Cathedral whilst walking the camino as we thought that it would be a very significant house of worship as it is a royal cathedral and because it is in the first major city on the Camino Frances – but in actual fact, from what I remember, it’s actually quite plain and we were left feeling a little underwhelmed. However, my mum and dad have visited since and they have told us that there is a very interesting museum which contains a lot of historical relics and information about the cathedral’s history.
The current cathedral was built in the 15th century, on the site of two previous cathedrals. The medieval Kings of Navarre were crowned and buried here and parliament took place here too.
In the centre of the nave is the beautiful tomb of Charles 3, the Noble, of Navarre and his wife Eleanor of Castile. The tomb is surrounded by beautiful carvings showing tiny courtiers, crying over their lost king.
Entrance to the cathedral and museum is 5€.
Shopping in Pamplona is pretty fab; not so much for the high street chains but for all the small, independent shops that are in the city centre. A particularly nice street for a shopper-potter is Calle de Zapateria (shoe-shop street). There’s a good second hand bookshop here with an English section (Re-Read), cheap shoe shops, pastry shop, trinket shops and some clothes shops too.
The main shopping street in the city centre is Avenida de Carlos 3 el Noble. Here there are the usual Spanish chain stores. The road is pedestrianised and runs from Plaza de Castillo to Monumento a los Caidos.
Corte Ingles is located off Calle Estella. It has a great supermarket in the basement, which is good for foreign foods, and a lovely cafe at the top. Just outside Corte Ingles are Sfera and Stradivarus.
There’s a mall on the edge of town called La Morea. There’s a food court and a cinema here too. Bus 11G goes from the town centre to La Morea. www.lamorea.com.
La Morea is surrounded by large box-stores, including a small Ikea, Leroy Merlin, a Corte Ingles outlet mall and Aldi.
There’s also a mall at Huarte called Itaroa, with a YELMO cinema. Itaroa also has a good food court and an ice-rink.
Walk by the River
There’s a lovely path that runs along the side of the Arga River, from the village of Arre right through town. There’s a cool, wiggly bridge, next to the swimming club and the old power station, by the bull ring. There’s also parks alongside the river and in some places there are benches and barbecues.
If we have visitors, we tend to take them on the same circular walk to see the best sights of the city: we go down Calle Estafeta to the bull ring, around the bull ring to Fort San Bartolome, down in the elevator the the river side, across the wiggly bridge, we walk along the river to Magdalena Bridge, then we follow the camino, around the walls of the city and come back into the city at the French Gate.
Camino de Santiago
Pamplona is the first major city on the Camino Frances. It enters the conurbation at Villava. There’s a lovely old bridge across the river and then a small chapel on the other side. Pelegrinos can then either follow the official route, along the road side, or walk along the river to the town centre.
The Camino passes through the Bastion Walls, up over the drawbridge and then enters the city at the French Gate. It’s a very dramatic entrance to the city.
For those walking the camino, there’s a great albergue just outside the cathedral; if you need supplies the pilgrim shop is on Calle Curia, one of the roads running up to the cathedral; there’s a Decathlon on the edge of town for cheap sports equipment and there’s a self-service launderette in Plaza Castille.
Outdoor sports and hiking
There’s great hiking in the hills around Pamplona. A nice walk is to take the paths or road up to Fort San Cristobal (where the TV masts are). From there you can get amazing views over Pamplona, the neighbouring valley and the Pyrenees. Forte San Cristobal is an interesting fort, well located to dominate the surrounding valleys. The views from here are phenomenal.
Another great walk is to follow the camino to Alto de Perdon, a wonderful viewpoint high above the city, with an important camino monument.
Kayaking is available on the Arga River – you can hire canoes from the old power station, by the bull ring.
Apparently there is also white water rafting available nearby too – though I haven’t been able to find out about this yet – but I’ll try to and will add this in.
Where to eat and drink
As a party city there are lots of wonderful restaurants and bars in Pamplona. The best places to head to to eat and drink are Calle Estafeta, Plaza del Castillo, Calle San Nicolas/Calle San Gregoria and Calle Navarreria.
Although you can find wonderful food in Pamplona, the range of options can be quite limited. Most bars and restaurants serve pinchos or set-menus, often featuring the same range of dishes. These are delicious, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I just want to buy one course, rather than a full meal or a snack.
Pinchos are the northern Spanish equivalent of tapas: small snacks to be eaten with a drink. The big difference is that they tend to be served on bread and they aren’t free. Popular pinchos include smoked salmon on toast, eggs and morcilla (blood sausage) on toast, goats cheese and red fruit on toast, boalas (delicious fried croquettes) and tortillas (omelettes). Most bars will also offer simple bocadillos: rolls with chorizo, cheese or serrano jamon.
Thursday nights is Jeuvincho night (Jeuves (Thursday) + pincho) when many bars sell a pincho and a glass of wine or beer for just 2€. Our favourite place to go to for Juevinchos is San Gregoria on Calle San Gregoria.
Meal wise, most restaurants offer set-menus, rather than individual courses. These usually cost from 10€ to 15€ and include three courses and half a bottle of wine. Our favourite place for a set menu is the weekday menu at Chez BelAgua on Calle Estafeta: the roast duck is sublime!
At the weekend BelAgua’s restaurant is a Sidreria – which is where you have a meal of barbecued beef and set-starters, with unlimited amounts of wine and cider – which shoots out of a barrel in the wall.
My dad and brother are both vegetarian and for them we have found a few places to eat. If you’re looking for vegetarian restaurants a great resource is The Happy Cow website: they currently list six places in Pamplona. Our favourite veggie places are Sarasate (on Calle Nicolas) and Herriko, which is next to the French Gate.
Finally, a few extras I just have to mention: Mejillonera is the best Spanish fish and chip shop in Spain, with garlic covered potatas bravas and garlic covered calimari boaccadillos or muscles. This stand up food-shop is located on Calle Navarreria, just down hill from the cathedral. They always seem to be crazily crowded, but a visit here is a lot of fun and the beer and wine is super cheap (70c for a wine).
Next door is Meson de Tortilla, which has an amazing array of tortillas.
A place which always has a queue out the door is Pastas Beatriz on Calle Estafeta. This unassuming, old fashioned looking bakery serves the most amazing pastries. People will go in here and buy kilos of cakes! If you’re looking for a sugar-rush, pick me up – then this is the place to go. They are particularly famous for their garroticos, pastry rolls filled with chocolate paste. You have to be careful not to end up covered in the dribbly, soft chocolate.
Drinks wise, there’s hundreds of great bars. The best areas to head to are Calle Estafeta, Calle San Nicolas/Calle San Gregoria and Calle Navarreria. There’s a great brew beer bar, Txirrintxa (see below), at the end of Calle Estafeta, opposite the bull ring.
Finally, I have to mention Café Iruña on Plaza del Castillo, which is the most famous bar in Pamplona. This beautiful bar is a stunning, 1920s, art-deco palace of glass and dark wood – made famous by Ernest Hemingway. It’s a beautiful space to go into but sadly their service is terrible – probably because they are so famous – and we have left on a number of occasions because the waiters have just ignored us.
The small Rincon de Hemingway Bar (Hemmingway’s snug), which is to the side of Café Iruña, is much more friendly however – and still in the same gorgeous space. They have great spirits and lovely little nooks, for chilling with a book. They also have a statue of their old patron, who you can raise a glass to. www.cafeiruna.com.
As it is on the main Camino de Santiago there are quite a lot of cheap accommodation options in Pamplona. Some of the albergues are only open to people with the pilgrim passports but there are also a number of other private hostels.
One of the main albergues, which our camino friends stayed at, is right outside the cathedral. This is in a great central location and apparently it was a good place to stay.
We pre-booked our accommodation as we wanted to be guaranteed somewhere to stay and also because some albergues only let you stay one night and we wanted to be in the same place for two.
The Xarma Hostel is a hostel based in a large house, just past the bullring. It is a friendly, sunny, relaxed hostel with a large living room, a garden and comfy rooms. We booked the private room, which had a double bed and a TV, and this cost us 44€ per night. Our friend Katie, who met us here, stayed in a six-bed dorm and this cost 20€ per night.
What I loved about this hostel was being able to lounge in the lounge, reading books; that they let my friend sleep off her jet-lag, even though they really wanted to get in to clean her dorm room; the great breakfast – which was supposed to finish at ten but which they left out for much longer so everyone could access it – and the very friendly staff.
When Jeff’s parents came to stay with us, they stayed at the Europe Hotel which is just off Plaza Castille – the main square of Pamplona. Europa is actually really famous for its restaurant and we have been told that this is the best restaurant in town, but they also have rooms available.
Again, the staff here were really friendly and helpful to my parents in law. Twice they let my in-laws leave their bags in their hotel room, even though we were going off on overnight trips and they hadn’t booked the rooms for those nights.
The rooms were apparently very comfortable and great value. My in-laws paid about 50€ per night – which for a hotel in the city-centre at carnival time is amazingly good value.
Europa has balconies overlooking Calle Estafeta, the route of the bull run, so I suspect it is very expensive at San Fermin time.
My parents came to Pamplona at the same time as my in-laws and they stayed in a private apartment, booked through Booking.com. Their apartment was also in a great location, on Calle Caldereria, the road parallel to Calle Estafeta.
The apartment had all the facilities they could need – including their own personal shrine. Their apartment was quite a lot like ours: they had one bedroom, kitchen/living room and a small bathroom. The flat was located right in the party district, but they said they were so high up, and as their bedroom was at the back of the building, they didn’t hear any noise. The apartment had good heating and free wifi.
My parents have visited a few times in their motor-caravan and they stay at Camping Ezcaba, in Orikain, a village just in the next valley. This is a nice, pretty campsite with a pool, a cafe and a shop. www.campingezcaba.com.
The other option for camping is a caravan car park on the edge of town, in Berriozar. This is more like a car park where you can camp. You can find out more, including which bus to get from here into the city, at the Pamplona City website. This is in Spanish though.
Pamplona has an abundance of sports facilities. It’s one of the things we love about this city. A lot of the sports facilities are private and pretty expensive, but there are city run facilities which are really good value. The Civivox sports centers are run by the city and can be found across the city. Some of them have pools.
I was a member of Aquavox, which is on Calle Caldereria, near to the bullring. This sports centre, hidden away amongst the city-centre terraces, has a lovely swimming pool, gorgeous thessalonica spa and gym. They offer swimming lessons and different exercise classes. It cost me 40€ to sign up and then costs me 30€ each month. Non-members can go in too, but a one-off visit costs 10€.
If you’re looking to meet other expats then the best thing to do is to meet with the English speaking group (Pamplona Speaking Time) on a Friday night. Although technically this is a language exchange group, it often becomes an expat meet-up.
Pamplona Expats is a Facebook group where people can ask local questions and get local information.
The main library for the city centre is on Plaza de San Francisco, in the old Hotel de Ville.
There’s a huge library in Mendelbaldea, right by our school. This is a great place if you are looking for somewhere quiet to study.
There are lots of supermarkets in the city. If you’re in the old town then the closest big supermarkets are the Eroski in the Market Hall and the supermarket in the basement of Corte Ingles.
There are three or four smallish Carrefours in the city centre. The small Carrefour at the end of Estafeta is open late and on a Sunday too.
In the suburbs there are a couple of Mercadonas, Aldis, Lidl’s, there’s a E’Leclerc at La Morea, a huge Eroski just off the road to San Sebastian and a large Carrefour supermarket just past the hospital.
If you’re looking for household stuff then there is a Leroy Merlin and an Ikea at La Morea. The Ikea is not a proper Ikea and so has a limited range of products, though you can order things to be delivered here (there are proper Ikeas in Zaragoza, Bilbao and Bayonne). At La Morea there is also a Media Markt if you are looking for electronics.
There’s Chinese stores dotted around the city which sell loads of random stuff. Some of them have Chinese and Korean foods.
Finally a street market (mercadillo) takes place every Sunday at the industrial area in Landaben. This is a cool place to head to if you’re looking for somewhere to potter about on a Sunday morning, for cheap fruit, veg and plants and bargain clothes etc.
Exhibitions / Events / Concerts
The exhibition hall is on Calle de Tudela, next to El Corte Ingles. This is the old bus station (Antigua Estción de Autobuses Pamplona). Here they have trade shows and markets etc.
The big touristy/cultural stuff takes place at the Baluarte, the cultural centre which is between El Corte Ingles and the citadel. They have musical concerts here (mostly classical but the occasional big star stops by).
Concerts also take part at Zentrum, which is a venue above the market hall. Primal Scream played here last year.
Finally, big name exhibitions and concerts take place at Navarra Arena, which is next to the Osasuna football stadium. Bob Dylan played here last year.
There are Golem cinemas at the mall at La Morea Mall and there are two Golem cinemas on Avenida de Bayonna, in Iturrama
There is a YELMO cinema at Itaroa Mall.
You can get cinema times for all the cinemas from www.sensacine.com/cines/cines-en-72436.
Most films are dubbed into Spanish though occasionally they will show films in V.O.S.E, which means the original language. The English showings tend to be the last showing on a Tuesday or Thursday nights, though YELMO at Itaroa often has earlier V.O.S.E showings in the summer months.