19. Run with the Bulls
Traditional shouts of “Viva San Fermin!” ring out from the city hall balcony followed by a rocket blast, signalling that the incredible nine-day street party known as the festival of San Fermin has officially begun. For the next nine days, there’s nowhere better in the world to be than the small Spanish city of Pamplona!
The festival of San Fermin is best known for the ‘encierro’ – ‘the running of the bulls’. Historically this began as a way to herd from Pamplona’s livestock enclosure to its bullfighting ring. The animals would run as children and adults directed them with shouts and sticks. The practice may date back as far as the 13th century, and people are thought to have joined the herd sometime in the 1800s.
Nowadays, thousands of participants from around the world make the half-mile dash through Pamplona’s narrow streets chased by charging bulls. Every morning at 8am, hordes of daredevils gather in the city centre, most dressed in the traditional all-white outfits with red neckerchiefs. They sing a traditional homage to St. Fermin asking him to guide them through the run. Two small rockets are fired, six bulls are released and the chase is on! Thousands more watch from safe nooks and balconies along the route, and spectators can also follow the events on national TV.
The running of the bulls is an incredible spectacle which comes with obvious dangers. Since officials began keeping records in 1910, 15 people have died in the run, and countless others have been injured. Ernest Hemingway wrote that the most exhilarating feeling a man could experience was being shot at and missed. That is the joy of running with the bulls, and it’s an acquired taste!
Where’s the best place to watch the bull run?
Anywhere around the start (Cuesta de San Domingo) and end (close to the bullring) of the running. To secure a good spot you have to occupy it two or three hours before the run starts. Alternatively, you can buy a ticket for a city centre balcony through your Topdeck Trip Leader.
I’m going to run! Any tips?
- Don’t run on your first day in Pamplona - watch the first time to get an idea of what to expect, and walk through the course.
- If you go down, stay down. Cover your face and lie low. You might get a few bruises but it is safer than trying to get up. Onlookers will tap you on the shoulder with a rolled-up newspaper when it is safe to move.
- Take the corners tight as the bulls are going to go wide.
- Don’t drink before the event, and be hangover-free.
- Your biggest fear should not be of the bulls but of other people falling in front of you and tripping you up!
If being chased by horned beasts through the streets doesn’t sound like your cup of tea then no worries! You’ll find there’s so much more to the festival of San Fermin - music, dance, paella, sangria, fireworks, and processions around every corner. The famous Spanish ‘lust for life’ can be almost breathed in the air.