Imagine this. You’re in a crowded alleyway that has been gated so that you cannot escape. There are spectators chanting and cheering as they watch you in anticipation. Then, you hear the thumping of hoofs hitting the cobble stoned roads and you turn around to see a half tonne bull charging towards you.
Is this something that excites you?
Well, it is something that brings hundreds of thousands of people to the Spanish city of Pamplona every year. This year, my friends and I joined these fanatics to celebrate the opening ceremony of the Running of the Bulls Festival. Here are the reasons why I think you should go complete with written and video explanation.
The atmosphere is amazing!
The Spanish know how to party! To mark the occasion, everyone wears white with red scarves on their waist and one around their wrist. The red scarf is then worn around your neck after the ceremony begins.
We were staying 15 minutes away from the ceremony location so decided to take a quick bus ride there. Little did we know that the sangria throwing begins inside the bus! This is a picture of Nathalie and I before our clothes were speckled with bits of sangria and fruit.
The sangria throwing doesn’t stop there! It continues for the rest of the day in the main plaza, in the alleyways, in the bars and everywhere there is people. We felt like big kids as we threw wine and sangria on each other and others that we met along the way. We ran threw alleyways where the locals threw buckets of water over the crowd as they chanted.
The only time that sangria was not thrown was when the marching band arrived with their french berets and matching blazers. It was a thrill to walk down the alleyways with them as they played Spanish classics.
The views are beautiful
If you’re not into running around having sangria / wine / water thrown at you, then you may also enjoy the beautiful views of the hillsides. We made our way to the start of the bull run where the bulls were to be kept overnight before their big day.
The town hall is also a beautiful building to visit and is extra interesting when there is a sea of people dressed in red and white and in a festive mood!
We also enjoyed a half hour fireworks display at night, which (pardon the pun) concluded the epic day with a bang!
The Running of the Bulls
The first running of the bulls event began on Saturday morning. We woke up at 4.30am for a 5pm bus ride to the main square. The festivities were still continuing from the previous day but the clean up had begun. The council has to clean the cobble stoned streets and create barriers in preparation for the bull run.
We moved through the crowd at a snail’s pace while the others waved as they made their way to their running position. A quarter of the group decided stand by the barriers so that they could see the bulls as they ran past, a quarter decided to run with the bulls while the remaining decided to watch from the safety of the stadium. We paid 10 Euros for tickets to the stadium and waited for the run to begin.
Although it was quite early in the morning, the crowd had already started to appear. There was chanting, mexican waves, marching bands and large TV screens to keep us entertained until 8am, when the run began.
We heard the first horn as the first batch of runners made their way into the stadium. These people are considered to be cowards as they ran too early, so the crowd pelted them with tomatoes and sangria.
Then we heard the second bell, which signified that the bulls were on their way down the narrow streets. We saw people start to flood into the stadium with their arms up in the air in victory. Many didn’t realise that there were 12 bulls; 6 tame bulls and 6 wild bulls, so they were caught off guard when more bulls started running in behind them. We cheered even louder as we spotted our friends in the crowd – they had made it into the stadium and survived the running of the bulls!
Then as the big bulls ran to the other side of the stadium, they were hustled into their pens, and baby bulls were released into the crowd! I don’t condone the hurting of animals so it was difficult for me to see the men teasing the baby bull urging it to charge at them. However, I did giggle when the baby bulls had their revenge by picking up the men with their horns and throwing them across the floor. Don’t worry, the men were not hurt as the baby bulls have covers over their horn to prevent injuries. Usually only the thrill seekers dare to taunt the bulls so they thoroughly enjoyed being thrown around!
Want to see more?
I’ve put together a short video clip of our time in Pamplona. Enjoy and comment below to let me know what you think! p.s Despite the fact that I had 3 plastic bags over my camera, the sangria still managed to trickle over the lens just a little.
Tips for preparing for the bull run:
- Wear white clothes that you are prepared to throw out afterwards
- Buy the red scarves from the grocery store near your hotel for about 2 euros
- Buy sangria or wine from the grocery store near your hotel and make sure that they are not glass as the police will take this away from you
Other places to visit nearby:
Visit San Sebastian by bus! It takes just over an hour. We spent 8 euros to buy a bus ticket to San Sebastian to eat some delicious Spanish cuisine, before boarding the flight back to London. Here is the link to the post. Let me know how it compares to Pamplona!
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