The Festival of San Fermin

Festival of San Fermin Opening Ceremony

This has to be one of the world’s most amazing festivals. So amazing, that just a few days were enough for us. Our trip taught us that there are different ways to enjoy this exhilarating event, with both exhausting, and more relaxing ways to enjoy the festivities. As our shirts will attest, we will likely go the quieter route when we next return (we must return!). But for our first Fermin, we decided to dive in completely. We left sore, hoarse, hungover and still smelling of sangria… was it worth it? Totally.


The Festival of San Fermin takes place each year for a full week (from Sunday to Sunday) during the beginning of July. We enjoyed Sunday’s opening ceremony, partaking from the raucous plaza level. Monday morning was a bit less bustled, enjoying the festival’s first bull run from a rented balcony high above the streets before a train back to Barcelona. The festival continues through the week with full force, with bull runs every morning, bull fights every afternoon, and revelry all-around.

Festival of San Fermin Opening Ceremonhy

The opening ceremony (known locally as Chupinazo) was an incredible experience, but one that I never wish to relive again (at least from the ground). Thousands of people crammed into city hall square; dancing, chanting, pushing, splashing sangria around… eventually covering the entire crowd and creating a purple mosh pit. There were times when my feet weren’t even touching the ground (no joke) because we were all so tightly wedged together.

Red bandanas are worn around everyone’s wrists (or waved in the air) during this celebration in the square (and various surrounding streets). The offical start of the festival is marked by firing a rocket from city hall balcony at 12:00 noon. It is at this time that the red banadanas can officially take their place around the neck (to remain there for the duration of the festival) and, as if it hadn’t already, the week long party begins!


The celebration filled Pamplona, spreading through the streets, squares, parks and fountains like ecstatic, drunken wildfire..


The opening party lasted all night and into the next morning. At 6AM, just a mere 2 hours before the bulls were set to run, our street was still buzzing from the night before. Many college (or younger) visitors to the festival don’t seem to get hotel rooms, they just party for 24 hours, saving sleep for the train ride home.

Planning early is essential for this trip. We booked a hotel room eight months (!) in advance and there were already few choices left. This is a tradition for many Spaniards, and even more Aussies and Brits, so hotels and balconies are typically reserved far in advance.


It’s important to know how to plan and what to expect to make the most of this short, high paced trip. Some advice!

  • Stay within walking distance to the main festivities in the center of the old town. Taxi’s and public transport are difficult with so many people.
  • Expect (super) high rates for hotels as people flock from all over the world to stay in tiny Pamplona this week.
  • Bring a cheap, white shirt and pants. Expect these clothes to be ruined by the end of your trip. Bring a change of white clothing if you want to feel fresh at some point; however, many choose to wear their wine covered clothing proudly as the party continues. 
  • Bring comfortable, old shoes. Be prepared to slosh around some truly disgusting streets.  
  • Buy a red sash, bandana, and leather wine pouch at the festival if you choose! The bandana is the most essential adornment. 
  • Expect to eat a lot of sandwiches. Bocadillo!
  • RENT A BALCONY for the bull run (if you want to actually see it, that is).

Reserving a balcony for the bull runs means going through one of the many local home owners who are lucky enough to have a spot with views of the bull run. There are many houses with many balconies for rent, with most serving coffee and snacks to guests. Again, plan early! Good balconies book fast.

Running of the bulls

The running of the bulls was fast and powerful. We overlooked a narrow street with runners packed shoulder to shoulder. When the bulls were released, they plowed through quickly and took a few runners with them causing a massive human, hoof pounding pile up. If there was one disappointment, it’s that it’s all over in about 30 seconds from most vantage points. The entire run is about 3 minutes long from start to finish.

Did we run with the bulls? Absolutely not. I am, without a doubt, an adrenaline junkie who wanted to give it a try; however, I’m SO happy with my decision to watch from the safety of our balcony. If you run with the bulls, you are GUARANTEED to get bumps and bruises, even breaks, all mostly due to being crammed into a narrow, slippery street along with hundreds of other runners. You will likely not get gored, but you have a good chance of getting trampled (by bulls or more likely other runners). While deaths are not frequent, there have been quite a few over the years. Sadly, another fatality occurred during the 2014 festival.

Running with the bulls is like playing Russian roulette with a thousand chambers and one bullet. – unknown

I’ll pass on running, but I will be returning for the closing ceremonies at some point. Next time, we’ll be renting a balcony for the ceremony and watching the madness from above.




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