Around 4 hours by car from Barcelona you reach the beautiful town of Pamplona. Having recently visited here, and finding a real lack of good recommendations online, I wanted to let you know about some of the great places we found.
There’s quite a lot to see and do there but if you only have 48 hours to spend in Pamplona here are my top tips…
Where to stay
The historic 5 star Gran Hotel La Perla was a perfect spot right in the centre of the town. Ideal for walking absolutely everywhere and has been chosen by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin. We drove to Pamplona but didn’t use the car after that and my tip is to find parking off site (we found a car park at the Hospital 10 minutes walk away and it was much cheaper that the hotel’s parking).
The hotel had a great bathroom set up, which isn’t to be underestimated in my opinion (a double shower wet room) :-). I’d recommend not opting for any meals there as there’s enough to whet your appetite outside.
Top tip – ask for a room facing Plaza Castillo, unless you are there to see the bull run when it would be fun to hang off the balconies in the street behind to watch the craziness!
Gran Hotel La Perla, Plaza del Castillo, 1 , 31001
A visit to Mercado de Santo Domingo
The Mercado de Santo Domingo is the oldest and most impressive market to see. There has been a market on this site since 1769, but the current market was built in 1876, on the same site where a year earlier a fire burned the one that until then had been the central market of Pamplona, where the gardeners of the Rochapea neighbourhood sold their products to the people of the town. It has since undergone many renovations and remodels, but still maintains its original style. Today, it features over 30 stalls specialising in everything you can imagine.
Great for people watching as you witness the daily routine of the inhabitants of the capital of Navarra. There’s also a fantastic Carincería (butchers) just outside the entrance which is so packed that there are seats inside whilst you wait your turn.
Monday to Saturday 8am – 2pm, and 4.30pm – 7.30pm on Fridays.
Mercado de Santo Domingo, Calle Amaya 15, 31004
Walk the Walls and Fortress
Pamplona is an old city surrounded by walls and a fortress. The walls are impressive and it easy to walk and the surrounding parks very green and peaceful. Great to do investigate if you enjoy a morning run like me. This won’t take you much time as you’re likely to stumble upon these without trying.
There is also a pentagram shaped fortress of walls and lovely gardens near the underground bus station. What used to be moats has been turned into animal sanctuaries with lots of bird life, including peacocks, geese, ducks, swans, chickens and even a herd of deer.
A late breakfast at Cafe Iruña
This was the first places to have electricity in 1888 and still retains all of its original charm, with its vintage lamps, large mirrors, and old wooden furniture. The café is an exhibition of the finest architecture and interior design from the 19th Century. The name comes from the Basque language’s name for the city of Pamplona, ‘Iruña’.
It’s here that the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway started writing books like ‘Fiesta’, ‘Paris was a party’ and ‘The old man and the sea’ while he enjoyed his favourite coffee. A large bronze bust of the writer which can be found at the end of the bar.
I’d recommend their super tasty tortilla con patatas, cafe con leche and a fresh orange juice. Very affordable! Service can be a little grumpy and it can take a while for tables to be cleared but it’s worth it!
Aside from the main café and dining rooms, the Café Iruña also has a large terrace at the front of the restaurant which is open during the summer months.
Cafe Iruña, Plaza del Castillo, 44, 31001
Brunch or/AND dinner at Bar Gaucho
You can of course have full three course meals whilst in this region, but I preferred sampling my way through tasty bites at each place instead. We stumbled across this fantastic place by accident but it was by far the best pintxo bar we tried on the whole of our trip to the north of Spain.
Firstly, ‘Pintxo‘ is a ‘Basque-ified’ take on the Spanish word ‘pincho’, which itself comes from the verb ‘pinchar’, which is ‘to pierce’. Pinchos are traditionally pierced with a cocktail stick to attach it to the piece of bread that they invariably came attached to…. OK, now I can carry on….
Not only does it Bar Gaucho serve the best coffee I tried in Pamplona, but the pintxos were so unique compared to all of the other places – from sea urchin to smoked eel to foie gras to the truffled cream huevos fritos. My mouth is watering just writing about it again. So delicious and very affordable for such fantastic food.
There are standing tables outside and a few tables inside but you’ll be lucky to get them in the late afternoons or evenings so you’ll have to fight your way to the bar to sample all of the delights. Don’t be afraid of the crowd, it’s all part of experiencing the culture!
Tip – wear elasticated trousers 😉
**One thing we found a little different in Pamplona, and the rest of the pintxo bar regions (right up to Bilbao), is that they rarely charge you at the time of serving and rely purely on their memories or your pure honesty when it comes to settling the bill.
Bar Gaucho, Calle Espoz y Mina 7, Plaza del Castillo, 31002
A tour of Plaza de Toros and the Encierro
The festival of San Fermin has been held in Pamplona, Spain, for centuries and the annual event is still the area’s claim to fame. Of the many components of the week-long event, the running of the bulls is the most famous part—and, thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the early 20th century is perhaps its most famous era. It would be a shame for you to miss this central talking point of the city. Whether you are for or against the event, it’s still steeped in history from a cultural perspective.
In case you are crazy enough to run with the bulls, this is the stadium that is used for bull fighting after the running. I recommend that to get as much as you can out of this tour, you first walk the narrow path of the bulls (the Sant Fermin Encierro) and then enter the stadium. The audio tour of the Plaza de Toros is excellent value for money (6 euros) and allows you to wander around the areas at your own pace. It takes you on a journey via the encierro, the callejon, the preparation, the bulls, the bullring, the matadores, picadors, banderillos and the bullfights.
At the end you get to enter the bullring and hold the capes and they even have a bull on wheels with which you can simulate a bullfight.
The city fathers renamed the street outside the bullring after him in 1968 and erected a statue of ‘Papa’ just off the wide, tree-lined Paseo Hemingway.
Ernesto, as many Spaniards call him, both out of fondness and an inability to pronounce his surname, came to regret in some measure the success with which he had spread the raucous sanfermines. In ”The Dangerous Summer” – the book that describes his 1959 bullfight tour across Spain – Hemingway denounces the intrusion of the hated modern world on his beloved fiesta: ”I’ve written Pamplona once and for keeps. It is all there as it always was except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there nearly four decades ago. Now on some days they say there are close to a hundred thousand in the town.” He was said to be sorry about writing about it as it attracted masses of people…
Plaza de Toros, Paseo Hemingway, s / n, 31002 Pamplona
Dinner at Restaurant Alma
The gastronomy of Leandro Gil was nominated as revelation chef of the year (Madrid Fusión 2018). He has created a great menu using local ingredients and the best seasonable vegetables from the Navarrese riverside.
You can taste local style dishes in their set menu and I’m still dreaming about the super chunky freshly baked bread with homemade butter and rosemary infused sour cream. Lush.
The service was excellent and the setting was lovely. Something to give you a break from all of the pintxos and you can also walk to it from the centre, seeing the other side of the town.
Restaurant Alma, Beloso Bajo, 11 – 31006
5 euros to enter and I promise this is so much more than just another Cathedral. Definitely worth a visit to see the beautiful inside. It’s unbelievable how close you can get to each piece and alter inside, the closest of any religious place I’ve ever visited. Just beautiful, and if you’re not religious, just head to the toilets to appreciate the retro-ness of the setup.
From Roman ruins underneath to incredible artwork from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this Cathedral will impress you. The alabaster figurines in the center of the cathedral are amazing. Unfortunately The Cloister, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, was undergoing major renovation when we were there. A must-see in Pamplona.
Top tip – visit the BELL TOWER daily at 11.15am
Calle Curia s/n, 31001 Pamplona
A mid-morning snack at Beatriz
Take the queues as a sign that these pastry shops are worth waiting for.
Beatriz is a hole in the wall that has been supplying Pamplona for generations with pastries, nougats and chocolates.
More than forty years ago, Pabro Sarandi and his wife, Beatriz, opened this store. It was a grocery store, but over time it ended up becoming the pastry shop most wanted by the people of Pamplona, and also by the tourists.
Currently, the ones in charge are the Asunción sisters and Lourdes Gómez Tellechea , who have learned from the former owner to make the products, and, of course, their specialty, the garroticos .
The sisters wake up at four in the morning to bake and, dressed in white, they make around 2,400 garroticos a day in the back of Beatriz.
The cost is around 10.50 euros per kilo but you can have as much or as few as you like.
Tip – better to go early in the morning, which is when there are fewer queues and they are super fresh and warm.
Beatriz, Calle de la Estafeta, 22, 31001 Pamplona
Try the baked Tarta de Queso at El Panadero
This was a great little find. Possibly the best basque style cheesecake ever! Baked fresh every day and served still warm, it’s no surprise this tarta de queso draws in the crowds at this fab cafe. Highly recommend a visit as they also serve great tortilla, coffee & beer…and the interior takes you back a few years!
El Panadero de Eugui, Calle Intxaurdia, 3, 31620 Huarte, Navarra
Let me know if you visit any of the places and what you thought in the comments section below! Have fun.
I’ve learnt through several recent blog-reading experiences, after ‘Googling’ top tips for cities I visit and ending up at the promised ‘gem’ of an eatery/bar/shop, only to be very disappointed by my own experience and wondering what the hell they were going on about!, that many of these posts/gems are written in return for free food, experience or promotion and aren’t a reflection of the true experience. So, this is really just a reminder to be aware of these posts and also the fact that everyone’s experience is relative to their level of expectations. Maybe mine are too high?!
All of my feedback and tips are based on my own experiences at each place, sharing the things that I absolutely loved about Pamplona (this goes for all of my posts, unless specifically stated).