12 Top Tourist Attractions in Pamplona & Easy Day Trips
Thrill-seeking tourists flock to Pamplona to experience the famous Running of the Bulls event, a wild and rowdy spectacle that is part of the San Fermín Festival in July. This festival was immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun also Rises. Pamplona is also a worthwhile destination in itself. This charming historic town is still partly surrounded by its medieval walls and is filled with architectural gems like its Gothic cathedral, the 16th-century citadel, and a Baroque town hall. The quaint narrow streets and spacious squares of the Old Town, where locals gather to socialize with friends and family, have an inviting ambience with many outdoor cafés.
See also: Where to Stay in Pamplona
1 Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín)
Pamplona is famous for its annual Running of the Bulls event that is part of the Fiesta de San Fermín, celebrated from July 6 to July 14. The festival includes impressive parades of Gigantes (Giants) and Cabezudos (Bigheads) as well as a procession in honor of San Fermín (Sain Firmianus) on July 7. Bullfights are held throughout the week at the Plaza de Toros, and every morning, the fighting bulls are driven through the streets, which are closed off for the event by security fences. In a dramatic stampede, crowds of daring young men and women race ahead of the bulls, while being cheered on by hundreds of bystanders. The Running of the Bulls is a dangerous event that should only be attempted by runners who are over 18 years and have an advanced level of fitness, quick reflexes, and cool nerves. For those who accept the risk and want to participate in the Running of the Bulls, they should arrive at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento before 7:30am. This legendary event was described by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun also Rises.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Pamplona
2 Catedral de Pamplona
An impressive sight soaring above the town, the Cathedral of Pamplona is near the Plaza del Castillo just inside the ancient town walls. The cathedral was built in the 15th century in the Gothic style; the Neoclassical facade and towers date to 1780. Enter the cathedral to admire the grandiose sanctuary with its magnificent choir created by Miguel de Ancheta. In front of the choir is the alabaster tomb (created around 1420) of Charles III the Noble and his wife Leonora de Trastamara by the Flemish master Jean de Lomme. The Capilla Mayor displays an exquisite Gothic retablo created in 1507 with fine sculptural details and paintings. In the south aisle, a richly gilded doorway features the 14th-century tympanum Death of the Virgin; the door provides access to the medieval cloister, considered one of the finest Gothic cloisters in Spain. On the east side of the cloister is the Capilla Barbazana, which houses the tomb of Cardinal Arnaldo de Barbazán.
The Diocesan Museum is housed in rooms opening off the cloister. The lavishly decorated refectory displays a carving of the Maiden and the Unicorn on the lector's pulpit. The other rooms contain the cathedral's treasury, which includes a 13th-century Gospel book, a French reliquary of the Holy Sepulcher, the Lignum Crucis (believed to be a fragment of the True Cross), beautiful paintings, and sculptures.
Address: Calle Curia, Pamplona
3 Museo de Navarra
The Museo de Navarra is housed in an old pilgrims' hospital, a lovely historic building with a Plateresque facade that dates to 1556. In its 34 different rooms, the museum displays a diverse collection. The exhibits include a range of archaeological objects and fine arts: ancient Roman artifacts, medieval religious paintings, and old Moorish treasures. Among the highlights are the Roman sculptures and pavement mosaics, Romanesque capitals from the cathedral's cloister, and paintings by Becerra and Morales. Be sure to see the 11th-century Moorish ivory casket found in the Monastery of Leyre outside Córdoba.
Address: Calle Santo Domingo, Pamplona
This 16th-century fortress was built during the reign of King Felipe II who commissioned an Italian military engineer to construct it. The pentagonal citadel was designed with five defense bastions, although only three have survived. Two gated entrances allow access to the building. In the 18th century, the citadel was converted into a prison that housed illustrious figures including the Count of Floridablanca and the Marquis of Leganés. Today, the building houses several exhibition rooms and the grounds have been converted into a lovely public park.
Address: Avenida del Ejército, Pamplona
5 Plaza del Castillo
This spacious public square is the central feature of Pamplona, the heart of the city and a hub of social life. The Plaza del Castillo is used for public events, processions, and markets, and until 1844, it was a stage for bullfights. Elegant balconied buildings line the square, and a gazebo in the center provides a pleasant shaded spot for relaxation. At the southwest corner of the square is the Palacio de Navarra built in 1847 and enlarged in 1932, which is now the Diputación Foral (Provincial Council) the seat of the provincial assembly. In the palace's magnificent Throne Room is a portrait of Ferdinand VII by Goya.
With colorful flags swaying from the facade, the Ayuntamiento is an impressive 17th-century town hall building. The Ayuntamiento is found northwest of the Plaza del Castillo on the Plaza Consistorial, a charming small square. The town hall was built on the site of an old moat, where three of the city's defense systems once met. An emblematic monument of Pamplona, the building has a beautiful Baroque facade of ochre sandstone crowned by lions bearing coats of arms and a trumpet-blowing angel. To see the interior, tourists must request a guided tour (free admission) by contacting the Pamplona town hall.
Address: Plaza Consistorial, Pamplona
7 Iglesia de San Nicolás
The Iglesia de San Nicolás lies halfway along the Paseo de Sarasate, an elegant, broad avenue lined with monumental buildings. Built in the 12th century, the church was originally Romanesque in style. San Nicolás is the only church in Pamplona that has retained its original Romanesque structure (this architecture is mainly seen on the exterior). The fortress-like church historically served as a stronghold for the San Nicolás quarter but was largely destroyed during a Castilian invasion of the town. Most of the church's interior was renovated in Gothic style with an inspiring vaulted nave and beautiful stained-glass windows. The church is open to the public for visits daily.
Address: 15 Calle de San Miguel, Pamplona
8 Plaza de Toros and Bullfighting Monument
The Plaza de Toros is the Bullring of Pamplona, located on the Paseo de Hemingway, named in honor of Ernest Hemingway who was a great aficionado of bullfighting. In front of the bullring is a monument that pays tribute to the famous author.
Nearby, on the Avenida Roncesvalles, is a striking contemporary sculpture called the Monumento al Encierro (Monument of the Bulls). This unique work illustrates a dramatic bullfight, the emblematic sport of Pamplona. Created by Bilbao sculptor Rafael Huerta Celaya in 1994, the monumental work of 11 meters in length was crafted from bronze. The scene of bulls and runners seems to magically freeze the moment in time while still capturing motion. Each figure is full of expression and emotion; viewers can easily relate to the anxiety and fear of the courageous runners trying to escape danger.
Address: Paseo de Hemingway and Avenida Roncesvalles, Pamplona
9 Iglesia de San Saturnino
West of the Plaza Consistorial, the Iglesia de San Saturnino, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, is one of Pamplona's most emblematic churches. The church towers represent the early Romanesque architecture, while the rest of the church exemplifies Gothic style. On the exterior, the north doorway is especially noteworthy. The spacious vaulted interior features an exquisite retablo in the baptistery. The clock tower (the southern tower) is topped with a rooster weathervane, and the needles of the clock face mark the start of the Fiesta de San Fermín on July 6 every year.
Address: 21 Calle Ansoleaga, Pamplona
10 Baluarte Palacio de Congresos y Auditorio de Navarra
The Baluarte Conference Center and Auditorium is in the heart of Pamplona, between the Citadel and a lively shopping district. Designed by the architect Patxi Mangado, the sleek modern conference and cultural center stages performances throughout the year. The Main Theater stages classical ballet, operas, and theater performances and offers a perfect view from every seat in the house. Featuring ideal acoustics and high-tech audiovisual equipment, the Chamber Music Room presents music concerts, symphony performances, and film screenings. The center also offers a gourmet restaurant service run by award-winning chef Enrique Martínez.
Address: Plaza del Baluarte, Pamplona
11 Parque de la Taconera
The Taconera Park is the most beautiful green space in Pamplona. Located around the ancient walls of the Old Town, the expansive gardens cover 90,000 square meters. The landscaping combines Romantic style and formal French elements reminiscent of the gardens at Versailles Palace in France. Visitors are delighted by the variety of flowers and trees as well as the peaceful open space. One of the highlights, especially for children, is the small zoo that is home to ducks, swans, peacocks, and deer. The park also has a Viennese Café that is a popular meeting place among local artists and students.
Address: Calle del Bosquecillo, Pamplona
12 Archivo Real y General de Navarra
The Royal and General Archive of Navarra is housed in a historic building that was once the Palace of the Kings of Navarre where the monarchs lived. Built in the 12th century, the palace is one of the oldest buildings in Pamplona and once hosted illustrious guests including the bishops of Pamplona. The Archive is run by the Administration of Navarra, with the mission to preserve and share the documentary heritage of the region. Many historians and cultural organizations consult the Archive for research purposes. This site is open to the public Monday through Friday and admission is free.
Address: Calle Dos de Mayo, Pamplona
Where to Stay in Pamplona for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in Pamplona with easy access to city attractions like the cathedral and Plaza del Castillo:
- Gran Hotel La Perla: five-star luxury, 19th-century historic building, fantastic location, famous guests, continental breakfast.
- Hotel Palacio Guendulain: affordable four-star hotel, former palace, friendly staff, period pieces, beautiful dining room.
- Maisonnave Hotel: mid-range pricing, great location, contemporary style, pedestrian-only street, fitness room and sauna.
- Holiday Inn Express Pamplona: budget hotel, great service, comfortable bed, ample free parking.
Day Trips from Pamplona
Museo Oteiza in Alzuza
For art lovers, the Oteiza Museum is a worthwhile detour from Pamplona (only 10 kilometers away) in the lovely rural surroundings of Alzuza. This large, modern exhibition space is dedicated to the renowned Basque sculptor and artist Jorge Oteiza, considered one of the the most important sculptors of the 20th century. The collection displays thousands of sculptures and experimental pieces as well as an extensive collection of drawings and collages.
Address: 7 Calle de la Cuesta, Alzuza, Pamplona
Monasterio de Leyre: A Serene 11th-Century Monastery
An easy 30-minute drive (50 kilometers) from Pamplona, the serene Monastery of Leyre stands on a hilltop of the Sierra de Leyre with commanding views of the surrounding landscape. The ancient monastery was founded in the 11th century. Its splendid church features a Romanesque exterior and Gothic interior. The somber and unadorned crypt is the oldest part of the church, and was an important burial place of the Kings of Navarre. Most of the monastery's other buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Visitors will appreciate the historical setting and the tranquil escape in nature. The monastery has a small hotel with 32 rooms and an excellent restaurant.
Location: Monasterio de Leyre, Yesa, Navarra
The Historic Town of Sangüesa in the Countryside
The little town of Sangüesa is found 43 kilometers southeast of Pamplona in a tranquil rural setting. In the 12th century, Alfonso el Batallador (King Alfonso I of Aragon, the "Battler") fortified the town to ensure its defense against invaders. In the 15th and 16th centuries, many aristocratic families built impressive mansions in the town. The finest of the mansions are the Palacio del Príncipe de Viana (now the Town Hall) and the Palacio Vallesantoro (now the Casa de Cultura) featuring an elaborately carved canopy. The town also has an important church founded in the 13th century by the Twelve Knights of Sangüesa. Covered by a 16th-century portico, the facade features exquisite sculptural reliefs depicting a scene of the Last Judgment with Christ in the center surrounded by angels, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Baptist.
Roncesvalles along the Way of Saint James Route
This medieval pilgrimage destination was an important stop on the Way of Saint James route to Santiago de Compostela. Roncesvalles lies just beyond the pass of the Burguete Valley (47 kilometers from Pamplona), which was the most frequently traveled route through the Pyrenees Mountains in the early Middle Ages. The town was made legendary by the Chanson de Roland. The monastery and hostel of Roncesvalles were established to offer the pilgrims hospitality and spiritual sanctuary during their stop, and became the most famous establishments on the pilgrimage route.
The Pyrenees Mountain Village of Ayerbe
Ayerbe lies about 135 kilometers from Pamplona in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Nestled in an idyllic valley, this quaint little village offers a peaceful escape in the pristine countryside. The main tourist attractions of this area are the nature sights, especially the Riglos and Agüero rock formations. Hiking is a popular activity as well as whitewater rafting on the Gállego River. Nearby cultural attractions include the 11th-century Castillo de Loarre and the Colegiata de Bolea, a splendid Gothic church built in the 16th century.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada: A Legendary Pilgrims' Town
Santo Domingo de la Calzada lies about 130 kilometers from Pamplona in the La Rioja region along the Oja river. The little medieval town was an important stopping point for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route during the High Middle Ages. Saint Dominique was a deeply spiritual hermit from the nearby village of Viloria who built the town's arched stone bridge, church, and a hostel. The saint also commissioned a stretch of paved road to ease the journey for Jacobean pilgrims, giving the town its name: Saint Domingo de la Calzada (Saint Dominique of the Causeway).
The town has a magnificent Romanesque-Gothic cathedral constructed in 1180 on the site of an earlier church built by Santo Domingo. The Baroque tower and facade date from the 18th century. The cathedral has an unusual feature, a birdcage, which relates to a local legend. The story goes that a young man traveling with his parents to Santiago de Compostela was wrongly accused of theft and was hanged. But when his grieving parents returned from their pilgrimage, they found their son still alive on the gallows. They went to tell the town's judge, who was about to dine on a roast cock and hen. The judge refused to believe that the boy was still alive, declaring that he would just as soon believe that his dinner of roast birds were alive. At that moment, the birds jumped up from his plate and crowed. The boy was returned to his parents and since then a cage containing live birds has been kept in the cathedral to commemorate the miracle.