The Running Of The Bulls: Essential Tips and Insights


The Running of the Bulls is a time-honoured tradition that takes place every July in Pamplona, Spain. This exciting event is part of the annual Festival of San Fermín and attracts thousands of brave participants who run alongside six Spanish fighting bulls through the city’s cobblestone streets. 

As a first-time tourist interested in this adrenaline-pumping experience, gathering all the necessary information is essential to ensure a safe and unforgettable trip.

Before setting out on this adventure, I’d suggest familiarising yourself with the event’s rules and regulations to appreciate its cultural significance and abide by local customs fully. 

Knowing the dos and don’ts of the Running of the Bulls, such as appropriate clothing and footwear, as well as advice on navigating the narrow streets filled with unpredictable bulls and fellow runners.

So if you want to avoid common mistakes made by first-time travellers, this guide is for you. Rookie errors include arriving late for the event, choosing poor vantage points, or underestimating the risks and dangers of running among the bulls. 

Let’s kick things off with a look into the origin story of San Fermin.

🌱 History and Origin

Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival

The Running of the Bulls is part of the annual San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. The festival has been celebrated dating back to the 12th century. In 1591 it was moved from September to July.

Since then, it has taken place every summer, attracting growing numbers of spectators and participants. With the latest figures reported being around the 1 million mark.

Evolution of the Tradition

Initially, bull running took place during the middle of the night and gradually became a daytime spectator sport. 

The story goes that during the 18th century, spectators began running with the animals, although few records exist to document this transition. To understand this tradition more deeply, check out the Running of the Bulls history.

🙋‍♂️ First Timer Questions

The Spanish word for the Running of the Bulls is “encierro,” meaning “confinement.” This word originates from the tradition of transferring bulls from one part of the city to another by blocking streets and confining the bulls to a controlled route.

As a first-timer, here are some questions you should ask yourself in preparation:

  1. What are the exact dates and schedule of the Running of the Bulls and San Fermin Festival?
  2. What are the rules and regulations for participating in the actual bull run?
  3. What is the recommended attire and footwear for running with the bulls?
  4. What safety measures are in place during the event, and where are the medical stations located?
  5. Are there any age restrictions or fitness requirements to participate?
  6. What is the route of the bull run, and where are the best spots to watch or participate?
  7. How can I register or sign up for the Running of the Bulls?

Common mistakes first-time travellers might make include:

  • Not researching or asking about the festival schedule leads to missed events or poor planning.
  • Wearing inappropriate or uncomfortable clothing and footwear during the bull run.
  • Ignoring safety guidelines or not knowing the location of medical stations.
  • Not understanding the cultural significance can result in disrespectful behaviour.

🐂 Running of the Bulls Process

Route and Schedule

The ‘encierro’ (see, you’re getting it now!) takes place every morning from July 7th to 14th at 8 a.m. during the San Fermín festival. No matter what, the dates remain fixed.

The route starts at the Corrales de Santo Domingo and finishes at Plaza de Toros (the bullring). And the entire 875-metre-long route is covered in roughly five minutes.

There are key points along the way, such as La Cuesta de Santo Domingo, Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Mercaderes, Estafeta, and the final stretch leading into the bullfighting arena.

Some sections, like the dead man’s corner, can be more dangerous than others. If you’re excited to participate, learn how to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

Participation Rules and Guidelines

Participants in the Running of the Bulls must be at least 18 years old. The key rules include running in the same direction as the bulls, not inciting the bulls, and not participating under the influence of alcohol.

Dressing appropriately is recommended. Think of comfortable shoes and lightweight clothes, and then consider these:

  • What safety precautions should I take?
  • What’s the best position to start in, and where should I aim to finish?
  • Are there any good viewing spots along the route for friends or family?

The bulls of Pamplona come with inherent danger and risk, so at the very least, be aware of these absolute no no’s:

  1. Starting too close to the bulls: While it might be tempting to begin near them for an adrenaline rush, it can be hazardous. Maintain a safe distance and keep to the sides of the route.
  2. Not paying attention: Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. The bulls move fast, and unforeseen situations can occur at any time.
  3. Attempting to touch the bulls: Touching or grabbing them can have severe consequences, as they could become agitated and attack. Keep your hands to yourself and focus on running.

Remember, safety should be your top priority during this event. Enjoy the experience but stay cautious and follow the guidelines.

🦺 Safety Measures and Controversies

Injuries and Fatalities

Since records began, 16 people have died during the runs, and many more have sustained injuries 1

Authorities have increased police presence and surveillance cameras to monitor the crowd and maintain safety. Despite these measures, runners must understand that the bulls can cause injury or death.

So don’t be tempted to touch the bulls, harass them, or run behind them. Creating distractions or obstructing the bull’s path could result in dangerous situations for you and others.

Animal Rights Concerns

The Running of the Bulls has faced criticism from animal rights activists due to the treatment of the bulls during the event.

This issue is an ongoing debate with this centuries-old annual tradition. So consider both sides of the coin and the ethical implications before attending.

First-time tourists to Pamplona will benefit from researching and appreciating the event’s history and traditions to better understand the local culture.

💥 Cultural Significance and Impact on Tourism

The festival of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted tradition in Spain, dating back to the 13th century, and holds significant cultural value, especially in the city of Pamplona. 

The festival takes place during the nine-day celebration of San Fermín in honour of the city’s patron saint. It originally started as a combination of a religious festival, a livestock fair, and a way to transport bulls from the fields to the bullfighting arena.

Recently, the event has become increasingly popular among tourists from around the globe, with hundreds of thousands flocking to experience the thrill of running alongside the bulls. 

This boom in tourism has had both positive and negative impacts. On the one hand, it has boosted the local economy, but on the other, it has led to massive pressure on the existing facilities for the local environment and society.

💡 Final Tips & Considerations

Some lesser-known mistakes first-time participants or travellers make include balcony selection and choosing a hotel in the wrong location.

  • You need to research and understand the event’s cultural importance.
  • Participating in the run without proper preparation or fitness level.
  • Focusing too much on capturing the moment on camera instead of enjoying the experience.
  • Ignoring or disregarding safety guidelines and tips provided by local experts and officials.

Are you thinking of joining? Here’s how to travel to Pamplona, which covers the primary travel corridors like Barcelona and Madrid.