I didn’t plan to run with the bulls. In fact, I’d always said I wouldn’t go anywhere near them. But in the end, it just happened. That’s how the fiesta of San Fermin works. Planning and predicting is futile. Being in the moment is everything. There was an instant where I thought to myself
I would rather be a participant than a spectator.
I jumped over the wall that separates the bulls from the crowd and that was it. This wasn’t on the street but rather inside the bullring. On the street they pass you in a matter of seconds but in the bullring, you’re in there with them for an hour as they charge at you constantly.
Plaza de Toros, PamplonaPaseo Hemingway, s/n, 31002 Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
How it works
In San Fermin, the party lasts all night. Every morning at about 6:30am the crowds of people, who haven’t gone home yet, start making their way to the bullring. The first time I saw this happening, I didn’t know what was going on. Nonetheless I joined in. It seemed like a better idea than standing outside the bars that were just emptying out. I firstly ended up in the bullring seats, where an opera choir beautifully opened the events before marching brass bands carried on the show.
This is the routine each morning; the bullring opens at 7 and is filled with entertainment. Then the bulls are released at 8 from a small enclosure on the other side of the old town. They run through narrow streets where people try to run with them. Eventually they arrive at Calle Estafeta which is a long and straight street, giving them the chance to sprint. This street leads to the bullring. Once they enter, they are taken away to an enclosure. Then for the next hour different bulls are released into the ring to charge at runners. It was here where I lost my mind and jumped over the barriers, onto the sand, exposed to the bulls.
“The shortest answer is doing the thing.” – Ernest Hemingway
Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín)Pamplona, Navarre, Spain
Where it comes from
There are different theories as to the origins of this madness. What we know is that the fiesta is actually supposed to be a religious festival to celebrate the life and martyrdom of Saint Fermin. Fermin was a Christian from Pamplona who travelled to Amiens, France, in 303 AD to spread the word of Christ and was beheaded for doing so. This is believed to be the reason behind everyone wearing white and red; white for the saint and red for the blood lost in his martyrdom.
But why the bulls?
Saint Fermin was baptised by Saint Santurnin who was killed by having his body tied to a bull and dragged through the streets of Toulouse, France. Some say the running of the bulls originated as a way of paying homage to Santurnin. The most popular theory however, is that people who wanted to sell cattle would run their bulls through the streets of Pamplona as a way of advertising them to potential buyers and that, over the years, local people started to run with them for fun.
Whether you actually participate or not, there is something crazy about being in the bullring in the morning; it’s the combination of the music, the crowds and the lunacy of this tradition.
We recommend to book your stays in Pamplona in advance as it can get booked up quickly during certain periods. If you use this link, you pay the same price and we get a small commission - thanks for your support!
Want to plan this trip? Build your own hotel+flight package, or reach out for personalized advice from one of our travel experts.
Interesting towns related to this story
Adam L. Maloney
Are you ready to experience this story yourself?