Back in the early 2000s, I took a trip over to Pamplona and ran with the bulls. (I don’t really remember the year without looking it up. Some of it was a bit of a blur.) The San Fermin Festival was a fantastic experience. However, I was drinking for most of it or running away from crazy bovines. I admit that I didn’t spend much time exploring the city.
So when I decided to take a shot at the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this year, I couldn’t seem to find a better place to start it than Pamplona. The city is old and has a spot directly on the French Way. This starting point would give me a chance to see a city I was once at, but managed to miss out on.
1. Getting There.
Getting to the old city, buried deep in the Basque countryside of Northern Spain, is surprisingly easy. Spain has a well-established public transport system. Airlines, trains, and the bus system all service Pamplona. I caught a flight out of Madrid, for a short hop over to the city.
The city’s regional airport is small, but well maintained, and services several low cost carriers. It’s a two or three room building, with minimal amenities. It’s serviced on the arrivals side by some taxis and the local city bus.
2. Getting Around Town.
There is a central bus service that runs around Pamplona. It has several routes and you can purchase your ride ticket from the driver. After that, you can really walk the main city quite easily. The city is well signed and marked. The old city center isn’t excessively large, and is easy to navigate.
Most all of the must-see historic sights are located in the city’s old town center. Pamplona’s center is a collection of narrow streets connecting squares and plazas.
3. Places To Stay.
Pamplona is replete with good hotel choices. Since it has a university, they are almost a prerequisite. There is everything from hostels to the big chain hotels. I prefer the mom and pop places myself.
All of the major internet hotel sites cover the city. I found a great locally-run hotel with bar, in the middle of the old city center, on Booking.com with no problems.
As far as getting to your new hotel goes, I would say this. If your hotel is outside the city proper, a taxi is going to be a good option. If you’re in the city, the bus system will get you close enough to walk it. Pamplona is a well-established location for starting the Camino pilgrimage. As such, they are used to having big influxes of travelers showing up with baggage, and needing a way to their hotel. The bus is cheap and easy enough to navigate.
4. Things To See And Do.
The city Cathedral, and the section of ramparts the secure its backside, are must-see items. There is also a lovely park below the rampart walls that is quite enjoyable, even on a rainy day.
There are numerous museums and old structures in the city that are worth your time. Most all guidebooks cover the must-see items. Even the Camino de Santiago guidebook that I used while there called out the A-list stops.
There are many small squares scattered around the old town center. All of them have some iteration of the outside cafe. They are excellent people watching areas. The squares. are also great places to stop and take a break. The city of Pamplona is built on a slight incline. You will burn some calories walking around all day.
To be honest, I spent a lot of my time walking around the warren of tightly woven street. Drinking in cafes, looking at stuff in shops, and generally absorbing the vibe.
Small city square, located just to the west of the Pamplona Cathedral. A little wet from the rain, but very picturesque. Circa May, 2019.
I highly enjoyed my second run at the city. It has all of the charms you expect from a European city, and a sleepy Attitude that harkens back to its older days as a fortress town. I think you will enjoy a day or two wandering its streets and drinking a beer or a nice glass of the local wine. If you’re up in the Basque corner of Spain, do yourself a favor a check it out.
Now, get out there. Go see someplace new!