San Fermín Festival: Running with the Bulls in Pamplona

The San Fermín Festival in Pamplona, Spain, is one of the most iconic and adrenaline-pumping events in the world. Every year, thousands of thrill-seekers flock to this historic city to take part in the famous running of the bulls, known locally as the “encierro.” But beyond the heart-pounding excitement of dodging charging bulls through narrow streets, the festival holds a rich cultural significance that dates back centuries.

Origins and History

The origins of the San Fermín Festival can be traced back to the Middle Ages when bullfighting emerged as a popular pastime in Spain. However, the festival as we know it today began to take shape in the 19th century. It is celebrated annually from July 6th to July 14th, honoring Saint Fermín, the patron saint of Pamplona.

Legend has it that Saint Fermín, a Christian martyr, was beheaded in France during the 3rd century. His remains were later brought to Pamplona, where he became revered as the city’s patron saint. To commemorate his life and martyrdom, the San Fermín Festival was established, blending religious traditions with secular revelry.

The Running of the Bulls

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the San Fermín Festival is the daily running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona. This tradition, made famous worldwide by Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises,” attracts daredevils from all corners of the globe.

The Route

The encierro begins each morning at 8:00 a.m. The route covers approximately 875 meters (0.54 miles) through the narrow streets of Pamplona’s old town, leading to the city’s bullring. The runners, or “mozos,” line up along the route, eagerly anticipating the release of the bulls from their holding pen.

The Bulls

Each day, six bulls are released onto the streets, accompanied by a team of steers to guide them along the route. These bulls, bred specifically for bullfighting, are massive and powerful animals, capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

The Risks

Participating in the running of the bulls is not for the faint of heart. The streets of Pamplona are unforgiving, with narrow alleyways and sharp corners that leave little room for error. Every year, injuries are common, ranging from minor bruises to more serious goring wounds.

Cultural Celebrations

Beyond the adrenaline-fueled spectacle of the encierro, the San Fermín Festival is a celebration of Basque culture and tradition. Throughout the week, the city comes alive with music, dance, and culinary delights.

The Chupinazo

The festival kicks off with the “Chupinazo,” a raucous opening ceremony held in Pamplona’s main square. Thousands of revelers gather to witness the ignition of a rocket, signaling the official start of the festivities. The square erupts into a sea of red and white as participants don traditional attire in honor of San Fermín.


In addition to the running of the bulls, the San Fermín Festival features daily bullfights at the city’s bullring. These events showcase the bravery and skill of matadors as they face off against ferocious bulls in a display of traditional Spanish bullfighting.

Music and Dance

Street performers and musicians fill the air with the sounds of Basque music, adding to the festive atmosphere. Traditional folk dances, such as the “jota,” are performed throughout the city, inviting visitors to join in the celebration.

The San Fermín Festival is a thrilling blend of ancient tradition and modern-day excitement. Whether you’re brave enough to run with the bulls or prefer to soak in the cultural festivities from a safe distance, this iconic event offers something for everyone. As the sun sets on Pamplona and the sounds of celebration fade into the night, the spirit of San Fermín lives on, beckoning visitors to return year after year to experience the magic of this unforgettable festival.