For those who may not have heard about the running of the bulls, I recommend looking it up on YouTube. This annual event occurs in Pamplona, Spain, the second week of July. It is part of what began as a religious holiday celebrating the saint “San Fermin” and it takes place in the “Old City” of Pamplona. In the past few decades, however, it has blown up as a tourist event, with Australia, the UK, and the USA generally having the largest tourist presence. Despite that, it is still a remarkable festival to attend. I went with my cousin this past July and it completely exceeded my expectations.
If you decide to go, make sure you are there before July 6th, as this is the day of the opening celebration known as Chupinazo (Txupinazo in Basque language). The morning starts out with brunch. It will be common to see large families with tables set up in the streets waiting for the Festival’s opening ceremony at noon. You will definitely want to try the “tortilla de patata” for brunch. It is a thick omelet with potatoes that is then fried for your eating pleasure. If you want to get a firsthand view at the opening ceremony make sure you arrive to Plaza Consistorial by 11 am. The Plaza fills up with people, all dressed in white with red handkerchiefs, and it livens up quickly! Sangria, a red wine concoction offered in plastic bottles, is the most popular beverage. It is also the most popular thing to throw and pour over everyone around you.
This means, don’t wear any clothes you may care about…those stains aren’t coming out. At noon, the mayor shoots fireworks off of the balcony to official open the Festival, and the crowd celebrates with chants. The rest of the day is just an extension of the opening festivities.
Running with the bulls is an adrenaline-filled, slightly stupid idea that I completely recommend you should do if you are considering it. Just make sure you are not reckless about it. The large majority of people who get hurt end up doing so because they stay awake drinking all night and are probably not functioning humans when the race begins at 8 am on the 7th. We slept about 5.5 hours and did not drink the night before. We each had a Red Bull in the morning and we were ready to go. Plaza Consistorial is also the meeting spot for the racers. You should be in by around 7:15 since the police won’t let you in after 7:30 - better not to cut it close. The biggest concern in the race is staying on your feet. This is tough because it is kind of an every-man-for-himself situation.
This does not mean people are out to get you, but everyone is running and pushing forward trying to outrun the bulls, so be aware. You likely will not want to line up at Dead Man’s Corner (yes, it is actually called that). Ask anybody where it is and then make sure you don’t go there! It’s actually not thaaat dangerous, as the race has only seen 15 deaths in over a century, but the atmosphere is definitely laced with a slight feeling of danger and plenty of adrenaline. To make it into the bullring you should start running about halfway down Estafeta Street. Once you are in the bullring you can celebrate and hop out, or you can remain in the spectacle for about another hour, running with smaller steers.
After that you can continue hanging out all day because the festivities continue through the 14th, though I would not recommend staying the entire week simply because it’s expensive and it can get repetitive.
Those of you who may not want to run, which is completely understandable, can look into renting a balcony to watch the run. Plenty of people do this and it gives an awesome birds-eye view of the action. It can get expensive, so try and lower the rates by signing up as a group.
Whichever you choose to do, I can assure you it will be an unforgettable experience. The Festival is very unique and now it’s a melting pot of diverse cultures and ethnicities. Altercations are very few as the large majority of people are just enjoying the festival with friends and family, so it definitely has good vibes. You will definitely have to do a bit of preparation as accommodations and flights should be booked as early as possible. Other than that, enjoy Pamplona and Felices Sanfermines!