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Thursday, September 28, 2017

This American's Guide to Pamplona

The Guiri's Guide to Pamplona

After living almost three years in Pamplona, I am unequivocally and indisputably qualified to give advice about what to do and how to live in the city. I received a certificate from the ayuntamiento and everything! Read on and soon you'll be as qualified as me to speak on everything Pamplonés. You could also just go to the tourist office.
Encierro statue
The encierro statue on Carlos III
The Guiri's Survival Guide to Pamplona
History The Basics Nightlife Food
Tourism Green Space Leisure Basque Influence
Shopping Famous People Events Random Tips


Guided tours
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, Pamplona does not offer a free walking tour. The best (and cheapest) guided tours are offered by the tourism office (Jon is the best tour guide). Each tour is about 6€ and are only offered in July/August, but they are definitely worth it. Any other time of year, you are at the mercy of a large tourist company, none of which I’m familiar with. Find a local and ask them to show you around.
Cuesta Santo Domingo and the Navarra Museum
Museum of the Walls of Pamplona
Also known as St. Bartholomew’s Fort, this is a great little interactive museum where you can learn a lot about the city. If you can’t do the tour in July/August, go to this museum first! It’s totally worth it, at 3€ (free under 12y/o) and you can see it in a little over an hour.
Navarra Museum
A collection of archaeological findings, drawings, and sculptures of the history of Navarra. It is like a normal museum (not interactive), but if you love history or archaeology, it’s worth the 2€ visit. Plus, it’s free Sundays.
The former royal palace of Navarra, the building houses a large wooden model of the city of Pamplona, art exhibits, and, of course, the archives of Navarra - for those times you need to research what happened in 1654 (hint: I have no idea).
Home to many art exhibits, public talks, and also where foreigners register their residence (empadronamiento). You can get on internet-connected computers here and use the free toilets. Also where the finalists for the official San Fermin poster contest are displayed.

The Basics

(check out Survival Guide to Spain)

Cell phone
Tuenti (uses Movistar’s network) costs 7€ and has good service in the city. You reload online, but you do have to make calls and texts through their app. There are other services through Orange, Vodafone, and Simyo with similar rates. In the end it’s about your specific wants. I also recommend FreedomPop, as you can get a Spanish number, with 200MB of data, 100 minutes, and 100 sms, for FREE. Yep, free. Only drawback is that calls and texts can only be made to Spanish numbers. However, the data works in most countries in the EU, without roaming charges!
Caja Rural seems to be the biggest, with ATMs all over town. I use Sabadell and there are only 5 or 6 ATMs, and half the time they are out of service. However, Sabadell works well for online banking and debit card purchases, which is how I use it. You only need to put 700€ monthly to keep the free, no-fee account active. You can even take out the 700€ and put it back each month, to show an ingress, and keep the count active.
Having a car
My car experience here has not been the most fun. I’m not sure about where to buy a car (or moped), but someone is always selling a cheap car, and the cars have to be registered and pass ITV (technical control), just to sell them. Also, know that if you live in Spain for more than one year, you are “legally” required to get a Spanish driver’s license, which (if you’re American) requires you to go to driving school, regardless of your current license. Parking in the city is difficult during peak hours, even if you want to pay. Off-peak hours, parking is a bit easier to find. There is free parking in Soto Lezkairu, Azpilagaña, Mendebaldea, and Rochapea, but be prepared to drive around for awhile looking for a spot.
Where to live
Pamplona isn’t very big and all the suburbs are well connected by bus with the center of the city. So, living anywhere is likely going to work out ok. Finding a shared apartment for 200-300€ with utilities not included is very to find. There are some hidden gems with utilities included, which are the best because electricity is expensive! Idealista is a great resource for finding apartments, along with MilAnuncios. If you are going to the public university, it would be best to live in Lezkairu, Azpilagaña, Milagrosa, Iturrama, or Mutilva. If you are going to the private university, it would be best to live in Iturrama, Irunlarrea, Ermitagaña, or Mendebaldea. If you absolutely want to live in the center, then you’ll pay a bit more, and lose some conveniences like parking and not having drunk people by your doorstep at night. If you want the convenience of living downtown minus the in-your-faceness, I recommend Primero Ensanche, Segundo Ensanche, or Rochapea.

Ok, now to the fun stuff
Nightlife in Pamplona
After hours, the party is just beginning!


At night, in the city, there are several locations that offer options for nightlife. Most people go out around 10 p.m. to eat dinner and then the bars start converting into discos around 1 a.m.. You can simply walk around and you’ll surely hear music and see people, and just tumble upon a great place, pretty much anywhere. Taxis are fairly cheap, considering you’ve lived in any major city before, where prices are ridiculous. From the center to most places will be less than 10€. Share a cab and your part becomes cheaper. The night bus is also a very economical option on Friday and Saturday, but is limited to certain areas, runs every 30 to 60 minutes, and stops running around 4 a.m.
It is not a location, but rather a designation that occurs in participating bars on Thursday night, where drinks and pintxos are very cheap. This is not just for college students, as you’ll see all ages (even kids) out enjoying juevintxo into the early morning.
San Nicolas
Where most people end up at some point during the night when they are bar-hopping and ligando (flirting). Smokers and party-goers fill the streets outside the bars, and inside them is even more packed. None of the bars charge covers, but some do have bouncers that regulate entry. The bars play pop and reggaeton music and are open until the wee hours. These same bars have pretty good pintxos during dining hours, as well.
The best place for tourists and families, given the historic route of running of the bulls passes on this very street. The pintxos are affordable and decent, and there are many bars to choose from. Once people finish eating, not many stay and dance at these bars since they are quite small, but there are always at least a few people.
La Navarreria
La Navarreria, a great place for pintxos and parties
La Navarreria, a great place for pintxos and parties
This is the most progressive area, with a large Basque presence, and the best place to get a taste of that culture. The people are friendly, so there’s no problem is you’re not familiar with the Basque, they’ll invite you right in and let you party with them. This area also tends to have more young people and more people in the street (it’s actually a plaza) than in the actual bars.
Plaza del Castillo
Where people go if they want a less cramped area to eat and party, or if they just want to see everyone that is hanging out at the plaza. The iconic Hemingway bar is here, as well as some larger restaurants that you won’t find in the other areas.
Caballo Blanco
Hidden away on the baluarte (rampart) on the northeastern edge of the center, is a quaint bar that usually has live music and decent food. But, most people go for the amazing views of the northern part of the city and Pyrenees mountains that separate Spain and France. Parents like this area, along with Plaza del Castillo, because they can let their kids run around and play, without disturbing others.
There are several full fledge discos that are frequented by all different kinds of people. I am satisfied with the bars in the center, so I rarely go to these, but they are popular. Zentral is right behind the ayuntamiento and has a restaurant upstairs. It is a nice place, and usually plays older music, so draws an older crowd. Just outside the club is Plaza de los Burgos, which, during summer, has concerts and performances each week that are free and usually quite nice. Ozone is the club that 18 year olds dominate, plays all the current hits from around the world, and actually has a cover charge to get into. I’ve never been, and I’ve heard mixed reviews, but apparently someone likes it, as it stays packed.Tthere are several other clubs, like Niza, but I don't know them well.
The area of the city dominated by college students, as it is close to the university. The night life is pretty decent, but usually people eat here, maybe do some karaoke, and then head into the center. If you prefer to go out, but don’t want to been the center, it is still a nice option.


Ah, yes, everyone’s favorite topic. One of the many things that draws people to Spain. And it’s a well-deserved reason. The food is good. You’ll see menus with words you’ve never heard of (and menus translated horribly and confusingly) and local delicacies that are worth trying. Here are some keywords you’ll see on every menu:
Yummy foods Ñam ñam foods Drinks
Pintxo is a dish for one person, usually served on bread Bacalao a mild white fish Caña is a small beer
Txistorra is a pork sausage Rabas/calamares fritos are fried squid Vino is a regional delight (wine)
Jamón is cured ham Gulas are baby eels, but usually made with 50% fish Patxaran is a locally made liquor
Queso is cheese. Goat cheese is popular Gambas are shrimp Kalimotxo is half cola and half wine. Tastes better than it sounds
Chuleton is the king of meats, a large steak Morcilla is pig blood and rice in a sausage casing Sidra (cider) is the reason you’ll hear Txotx!
You can usually get a good pintxo at any bar. Don’t be alarmed when you see pig legs hanging from the ceiling in the bars (fyi, the little triangle at the bottom is to catch the blood that drips from the legs). Also, the giant barrels full of sidra in restaurants are not for decoration, those babies are filled and used! And, don’t be surprised when you see napkins and toothpicks on the floors of the bars, as it is customary to throw small garbage on the floor of the bars. They do clean it up.

Here are some of my favorite eateries:

Pintxos in Pamplona
So many pintxos to choose from. You gotta try 'em all!
  • Casa Jesus Maria - makes 4€ bocatas that are amazing and filling.
  • Mesón de la tortilla - offers generous portions of tortilla (Spanish omelet) at great prices.
  • Txirrintxa - hard to miss since it is the first bar on Estafeta, coming from the plaza de toros.
  • Heladeria Larramendi Izozkitegia - has some of the best ice cream, plus they give you oversized scoops!
  • Restaurante Saraste - a delicious vegetarian place on San Nicolas.
  • Cafe Teo - a quiet café right by the official language school that is run by a very nice guy.
  • Tetería La Luna - another quiet café with an amazing variety of teas and infusions, plus delicious desserts.
Here are a few blogs that I’ve written about food in Navarra and Spain:


Pamplona has lots of fun things to do, aside from the history of the city, that tourists absolutely should see. So, if you are in town visiting, or just moving to the city, you should see these places/things before you leave.
Plaza del Castillo
The main square of the city and where many special events, concerts, and markets are located.
Cafe Iruña
Located in the Plaza del Castillo and is iconic from the Ernest Hemingway book Fiesta. If you go inside El Rincon de Hemingway, located right next door and can be accessed from inside the café, you can take a photo with a life-sized statue of Hemingway himself.
Carlos III
The main shopping street in Pamplona. Lined with stores, bars, and restaurants, all of your shopping needs will be satisfied here. If you are a more frugal shopper, check out the shopping section. Between window shopping and real shopping and watching the street performers, don’t forget to take a photo at the encierro statue.
Plaza de Toros
Where the famous encierro (running of the bulls) ends. In winter time it is also home to the city’s Christmas market. There is also a bust of Hemingway just outside the encierro entrance.
Plaza de Toros in Pamplona
Will you sit in the sun or the shade?
Paseo Sarasate
Between the parliament building and Diputación (palace of the Navarran government). Along with free bathrooms, there is a large monument just in front of the diputación with several smaller statues dedicated to Navarran heroes that line the passage. Many people come here to hang out, catch an event or concert, and to take part in the San Fermin tombola.
A great place for nightlife, but it also is part of the route where the bulls run during San Fermin. There are many tourist shops on this street and if you look up on the sides of the street, there are a few placards that explain the history of the town. Also, Kukuxumushu is located near the plaza de toros and is home to the San Fermin countdown clock, as well as a popular place for touristy paraphernalia.
Town hall is the launching place for the chupinazo during San Fermin, and home to the city’s government. The building is beautifully decorated and a great photo op.
Portal de Francia
Portal de Francia in Pamplona
Take a walk along the Camino de Santiago
The northern entrance to the city that is most frequented by those on the Camino de Santiago. If you are not doing the camino you can walk through this gate and pretend you are! It’s much easier than the real thing.
Iglesia Santa Maria
The largest of the three main churches in the city and worth seeing (the other two are nice too). You can even pay to go up to the bell tower and see the entire city.

Green Space

Pamplona is covered in parks and gardens. Whether you need to get away from the hustle and bustle, or you just want to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature, you have several options. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Parque de la Media Luna
A small park to the east of the city, and not usually very crowded, but still a nice place to read book or take a stroll.
Jardines La Taconera
Pamplona’s free zoo. You can go check out deer, peacocks, turkeys, ducks, and other wildlife roaming around. Plus, there are nice views of the north of city from the walls along the garden.
The fortress that protected the city for many years (snowballs are it’s kryptonite), and now it is home to festivals and weddings. Entrance is free, plus it houses a museum (Sala de las Armas) that is worth seeing. The gardens inside and those that surround the military structure are always packed with runners, volleyball players, people hanging out, and families enjoying picnics.

Ciudadela in Pamplona
A great place to relax, workout, and pretty much do anything you feel like
Parque Fluvial
A favorite for bikers and runners, as it is over 14km of riverside park. There are so many things to see along the path and you definitely have to check out puente de la Magdalena, the only remaining Roman bridge in the town and part of the Camino de Santiago.
Parque Yamaguchi
Was dedicated by Pamplona’s sister city, Yamaguchi, and contains a Japanese-style garden in the middle of it.
San Cristobal
Just outside the city limits, but you can see it from anywhere in the city. Once you hike, bike, or drive to the top, you can walk around the abandoned military fort/prison at the top. Plus, the view of Pamplona is breathtaking!

Leisure Activities

There are so many activities to keep the 250,000+ inhabitants busy during their free time. Here are a few that I recommend for meeting people and having a good time.
Train with TMax
Easily the most popular and interesting group that exists in Pamplona. People come together to enjoy fitness in the outdoors, while practicing their English. It is for all levels of fitness and all levels of English (including level zero). They meet in Soto Lezkairu every Saturday at 11h, and it’s free!
Train with TMax
If you haven't come out yet, you need to
Where you can see a live concert, the orchestra, a dance performance, or even a video game exhibit. There’s always something going on, and it’s easy to walk to a bar after and tomar algo (have food and drink).
Teatro Garraye
Where you can see a play or the opera. Even if you don’t go inside, you’ll often hear the performances from right outside the building.
A group that meets up weekly and is a really good way to meet travelers and people who like to go out and see the city. They also plan events and meet for special events.
Running clubs
One thing that Pamplona does not have a shortage of. If you like running with others, you simply need to type in a google search or check Facebook, and you’ll be running with new friends in no time.
Language groups
There are several groups like Pamplona Speaking Time and Pamplona en Français, meet up weekly to practice language and meet new people.

Basque influence and language

Basque flag
"Ikurrina" in Basque
You will see the street signs have two languages, Spanish and Basque (euskera). The Basque influence in Pamplona is easily seen, heard, and tasted. La Navarreria is an area where many Basque people hang out, if you want an especially Basque experience. Watch Ochos Apellidos Vascos and then compare the movie to what you see in person. I thought it was a pretty good representation (though, obviously exaggerated for humor) and many of my Basque friends agree with me.


I personally don’t like spending money, but sometimes you gotta buy something. If Carlos III is too expensive for your taste, then check out these places:
La Morea and Itaroa
La Morea
Shop for clothes, watch a movie, or eat dinner
The two malls in Pamplona, both located outside the city limits, but accessible by bus. If you want to see a movie or do some mall-style shopping, these are pretty much your only options.
La Zapatería
Located right in the city center near the ayuntamiento and offers some interesting local shops.
Corte Inglés
The only department store in the entire city and has a little bit of everything. Conveniently located downtown and has it’s own parking garage.
Mercado Santo Domingo
Located just behind Zentral and is a typical market with fresh foods and decent prices.
Mercado Segundo Ensanche Tafalla con Olite
Located off a Carlos III and is very similar to the Mercado Santo Domingo. There’s also a restaurant inside the market.

Famous people

Visiting or living in Pamplona, you hear a couple of names a lot, and because of their historical importance, many things are named after them. I won’t give you a history lesson, but you should lookup: Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Sarasate, Víctor Hugo, Napoleon, Carlos II, Carlos III, St. Francis Javier, Ignatius of Loyola, Iñigo Arista, and los Reyes Católicos.


Thousands of people walk or bike, solo or in groups, from their city to Javier’s Castle (for some this journey can be over 40 kilometers. It is an in-region pilgrimage, often attended by the archbishop (or another high ranking official), who will give remarks at a certain hour, once most have reached the castle.
San Fermin
My parents and I with los gigantes
San Fermin
The biggest and most intense festival in Pamplona, maybe even all of Spain. There is no shortage of info on this event, but one thing is for sure, plan to be there on July 6th and try to see and do everything you can. You won’t regret it.
San Fermin Chiquito
A festival celebrated in early September that is like a mini version of San Fermin (I guess that’s where it gets it’s name from). Many of the same activities take place and the atmosphere is similar to that of San Fermin, but with very few tourists.
Camino de Santiago
The famous pilgrimage that people from all over the world come to the Iberian peninsula to walk, bike, run, or however they desire to progress toward Santiago de Compostela. One of the routes passes right through Pamplona, and you’ll see the iconic shell around the city.
Three Kings parade
Takes place in the first week of January, where the three kings (wise men) throw candy to crowds lined up to watch them parade around town on real camels and large floats.
La puente Magdalena
The three kings are coming to town on the Magdalena bridge

Random tips

  • Wifi all around city (mostly parks) but I’ve only ever used it in Plaza del Castillo and was slow.
  • There are quite a few good escape rooms - OverTime, Logical, and Way Out are the most popular.
  • See the comments below for more tips
  • In the winter, you can find small carts selling roasted chestnuts in the city center. Buy some!

  • What do you think?

    Anything I missed? Of course! That’s where you come in. Put your recommendations in the comments below and make this unofficial (but still awesome) guide, even better.
    Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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    Thank you for your comment! It will be reviewed and then posted shortly. See you on the next adventure!

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