9 Do’s and 3 Don’t of San Fermin (The Running of the Bulls)

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain

The Festival of San Fermin – otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls – is on again between the 6th and 14th of July, where hundreds of people will be taking to the streets of Pamplona, Spain for the four-minute run.

Are you running this year or thinking about running next year? Here are my top 9 do’s and 3 don’ts to make sure you have the best experience during the fiesta!

DO book in advance

When visiting Pamplona any time outside of San Fermin you’ll find a peaceful, relaxing city that is reasonable in price, but come San Fermin prices are raised exponentially for everything – even water!

If you really want to stay in a hotel, check out a hotel comparison site, like Hotels Combined, that will show you availability both in town and locally.

With hotels booked out, I recommend booking through airbnb for a more local experience and a great price!

DO train for the run

826 metres. It doesn’t sound like much but at7 am, with adrenalin coursing through you and with six bulls running after you it feels like miles longer.
Some locals train for years to run with the bulls – though they may be a little crazier and trying to tap the bull with a newspaper for good luck – but a little bit of training never goes astray. There’s even an app for that! (Search for ‘Bull Running Trainer’)

I added a mix of jogging and sprint intervals into my usual training for around 2 months before San Fermin, but I know some of the other girls I ran with trained for much longer. Also, because I was way travelling for a few months, I kept training with some of these great travel workouts.

Balconies ready to watch San Fermin, the running of the bulls, in Pamplona, Spain

DO take the time to see the run from different points of view

You don’t have to be a runner to see all the action from the run.

Consider watching the run from a residential balcony (be sure to book in advance or book through a reputable seller), stand along the path of the run, watching it on TV in any of the local cafes, or from the seats within the Plaza de Toros – where the bulls and runners will end up. The presenters may be speaking rapid Spanish, but it’s the atmosphere that you’ll be there for!

DO make a plan

If you choose to run make a plan.
Where will you start the run? Where will you meet at the end? What will you do if you get separated from your group?
The streets of Pamplona are chaotic for the hours leading up to and after the run so a solid plan will save you from worrying about other or being worried about.

For a brief low down on the best places to run for new runners be sure to read ‘Running Tips for Beginners

DO talk to the locals

The girls and I had a solid plan of where we were going to run and what we were going to do, but after talking with some of the locals who were experienced runners and listening to their valuable advice we changed our plan at the last minute.

It may have been the best decision we made.

Remember, no matter how much reading you do sometimes a person who has run – and the locals have often run countless times – may have some valuable advice which is worth listening to, even if it means navigating the conversation in broken English and Spanish!

DO remember you can get out of the run at any time

Standing on the path of the run and anxiously waiting for the first cannon to fire, sometimes nerves can get the best of you and you need to pull out of the run.
If this is you then just walk – or run – over to the exit and climb through – Police and spectators will be there to help you – but remember, you can’t get back in once you climb out.

DO learn about what happens with the bulls, the culture of bull fighting and decide if it’s the right decision for you

Before going to San Fermin, I firmly believed the Bull Run was just that: a run. I didn’t know about bullfights, with the matadors striking the bulls with long candle-like lances with red wax. In hindsight, I feel silly for not doing more research and understanding the culture of the bullfight.

There are many ethics surrounding the Running of the Bulls and the bull fights, with many people and activists labelling it a blood-sport and calling for a ban (much of Iruña, the province that Pamplona is part of, and cities including Barcelona, have banned the sport).On the other hand, there is a rich history of bull runs and fighting throughout Spanish history that does deserve to be acknowledged and learned.

On the other hand, there is a rich history of bull runs and fighting throughout Spanish history that does deserve to be acknowledged and learned.One thing is for certain, the Running of the Bulls is not for everyone and I encourage that before you run, no matter the reason, you read more and make an educated decision for yourself.

One thing is for certain, the Running of the Bulls is not for everyone and I encourage that before you run, no matter the reason, you read more and make an educated decision for yourself.

DO bring your family

Upon arriving in Pamplona, one thing really surprised me, how family friendly the San Fermin festival is! Spanish families will bring both their young children, often perched upon parent’s shoulders watching the run, and Grandparents, often enjoying paella or Sangria in the shade.

There’s plenty to keep kids amused, with daily morning parades of gigantes y cabezudos (giants and big heads) that dance and interact with the crowds and a kid size bull run with a stuffed animal.
There’s also a nightly “fire bull” run where flammable material (sparklers) are placed on the horns of a metal bull that is carried by a runner through the streets. People, mainly children, dodge the sparks.

To keep your family safe I suggest skipping the weekends when the crowds are at their busiest and stick to weekdays when it’s mainly Spaniards from around the country running and the atmosphere is a lot more community orientated than the weekends raging fiestas!

DO get into the spirit

San Fermin is a festival, so get into the spirit of the event! Bring your white clothes (ones that can be ruined with the potential mud and definite sprays of sangria!), buy your sash and bandana (around  20euro), eat the local food, enjoy a few drinks with the locals, talk in broken Spanglish, and get into the spirit of the fiesta!

DON’T run alone 

I wanted to run a second time during San Fermin, but the rest of my group was leaving the city. Each person, including the locals with whom we were spending time with strongly recommended that I don’t run alone.

If you have to run alone, and I strongly suggest against it, then be sure to take a photocopy of your passport or id and have it placed firmly in your pocket or inside some clothing in case something bad does happen.

DON’T run drunk/hung over/with flip-flops/with a backpack 

There are rules in place during the run for a reason, so please don’t run drunk, hung over or with flip-flops. The Police are vigilant and if you appear to be under the influence or they see your flip-flops then you will be questioned and pulled out.

Also, don’t run with any type of backpack or have any loose cords that the bulls can catch on to as a precaution because the Police will call you out, and put those phones and cameras away as well!

DON’T worry – if you don’t want to do it in the end

Don’t be worried if you choose not to run; cheer the runners and remember: there’s always the fiesta!

Have you run with the bulls and have some more tips?
Perhaps you’re debating running and have some questions?
Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Reply
    nicole | the wondernuts
    June 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    zomg! That photo is amazing! Is that yours? It’s an incredible action shot. Thanks for the tips. One of these days, maybe we’ll participate. =)

    • Reply
      June 16, 2013 at 4:07 am

      Hi Nicole,
      The photo is great, isn’t it? Not mine though (there’s an image credit at the bottom. It’s from Flickr creative commons)

      Hope you get to visit one day, even just for the fiesta! 🙂

  • Reply
    June 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Would love to eventually go, though I think I’d much rather watch from a balcony than actually run with them!

  • Reply
    June 22, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Wow – definitely on my list. What a great experience!

  • Reply
    Adam Ross
    June 24, 2013 at 12:58 am

    My god! This is one extreme activity i would never ever try in my life. I would rather do Wingsuit diving than this. LOL! But this one sure is exciting to watch,…………………….from afar.

  • Reply
    Kiko Labiano
    July 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    A “Pamplonica” here.

    Very nice tips for the run and for the “fiesta”. Just an appointment, Iruña/Iruñea is the Vasque name of Pamplona and the chief town of the Vascones (original settlers of the area) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamplona). The province is Navarra (Navarre in english).

    Have fun and take care!

  • Reply
    Chanel @ La Viajera Morena
    July 12, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    So I did it today (alone) and didn’t even think to bring id with me [looking back probably not the best idea]. I did however dip out right before the stadium so I didn’t get trampled.

    • Reply
      July 13, 2013 at 12:37 am

      Congratulations, Chanel!!! What an achievement.

      How did you find it? Can’t wait to read your round-up. =)

  • Reply
    Celia Clarke
    July 6, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Running with the bulls is not what a lot of people think. ALL the bulls end up being tortured to death in the bullring. Anyone who likes watching animals being tortured to death is a psychopath.

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