The bull run is a dangerous activity that could lead to serious injury or death. Running with the bulls is a personal choice, and participation implies that you accept all risks involved.

The Complete Pamplona Bull Run Guide

You've heard about the Running of the Bulls festival for your entire life, and this July, you're finally going to experience it in person. Whether you want to run with the bulls or watch the bull run from a balcony, read on to prepare for the experience of a lifetime.

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The History

The Pamplona Bull Run, also known as the encierro, is one of the most iconic traditions in Spain. It's also one of the oldest. Documented bull runs in Spain date back to as early as 1215 AD, at a time when bullfights were becoming an increasingly popular form of public entertainment. To prepare for the bullfights, cattle-herders needed to transport bulls from nearby farms to the arenas or city squares where bullfights would take place. Thrill-seekers began running in front of the bulls as they were herded through the city streets, and a tradition was born.

Bull runs happen all over Spain, but Pamplona's bull runs are by far the most famous, thanks to the influence of the celebrated American author Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway first visited the San Fermín festival in 1923, and, soon after, he published a novel set in Pamplona during the fiesta. The novel, titled The Sun Also Rises, quickly captured the imagination of readers all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have since flocked to Pamplona each July to run with the bulls and take part in the festivities.

Bull Run Basics

Bull runs take place every year in Pamplona, Spain during the city's Running of the Bulls Fiesta, also called the festival of San Fermín or Los Sanfermines. Every morning between July 7th-July 14th at 8:00am, six fighting bulls and six steers are released from corrals at the edge of the city's Old Quarter. The bulls race down three main streets in a roughly 850 meter, or 0.5 mile, run. Finally, they arrive at the Plaza de Toros, where they run across the arena and into their corrals. It's completely free to run with the bulls, and anyone can participate - so long as they are able-bodied and willing to follow the rules.

Map of the Bull Run

Bulls are released from their corrals on Calle Santo Domingo, and they immediately begin running uphill. Then, they charge across the town square, Calle Mercaderes, and Calle Estafeta, before curving past the Telefónica building, running through the "callejón" corridor, and finally arriving in the Plaza de Toros.

Video of a Bull Run

  • From a Balcony

    If you watch the bull run from a balcony space purchased through BullBalcony, you'll get a front-row view directly overlooking the course. This is the best way to see the action from safety.

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  • From the Bull Ring

    For a cheaper alternative, buy tickets to watch the encierro directly from the ring. With this option, you'll watch the bulls run across the Plaza de Toros and into their corrals from a seat in the arena.

    Watch from the Ring 
  • From a Barricade

    To try to watch for free, find a space at a barricade along the route by around 4:30am. Check with locals and policemen to make sure you're in a legal spot, and keep in mind that this option does not guarantee that you'll see the bulls.

  • With the Bulls

    We do not advise this option. However, if you accept the risk of running with the bulls, you can experience the tradition directly from the street. If you plan to run with the bulls, book a lesson with an expert to best prepare.

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Preparing for the Bull Run

If you plan to run with the bulls, here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • You don't need to register in advance to participate. You just need to be at the Plaza Consistorial on the morning of your run before the streets are closed. Plan to arrive by 7:00am.
  • Choose your starting point along the route before you run - even before you arrive in Pamplona. Once you're in Pamplona, visit that starting point and familiarize yourself with the next 25-50 meters. Pay attention to the type of pavement on the street, note any curbs or sidewalks, and be aware of exactly where barricades will be set up.
  • Invite your loved ones to book a balcony overlooking the segment you plan to run. Our team at BullBalcony can help you find the best places for your loved ones to watch from safety.
  • Make sure you bring proper running attire. You're expected to wear running shoes, comfortable pants or joggers, and a shirt.
  • If you choose to wear a traditional pañuelo (red bandana tied around your neck) and faja (red sash around your waist), be sure to tie the knot in a slipknot. This way, if a bull horn hooks your pañuelo or faja, you (probably) won't be dragged or choked.
  • Calle Santo Domingo

    This is a narrow, inclined street that marks the very start of the bull run. There are short, raised sidewalks that pose tripping hazards, and there are curves along the street can make it difficult to see what's ahead. At this point of the bull run, bulls are running at maximum speed. Beginner bull-runners should avoid this street.

  • Calle Mercaderes

    The beginning of this street is very wide compared to the rest of the bull run, and barricades on the right side allow runners to escape in case of an emergency. The middle of this street is ideal for beginner runners. However, the end of this street has the famous "Curva de Estafeta," which is a sharp turn that beginner runners should avoid.

  • Calle Estafeta

    This is the long, straight stretch that leads runners from Calle Mercaderes to the bull ring. This street is another popular starting point for beginners, since the bulls run at a slower pace by this point along the route. This street is also ideal for runners who choose to "run on the horns" of the bulls, since the bulls are often slightly separated by this point.

Bull Runner Rules

  1. If you are not lined up in either Plaza Consistorial or Calle Santo Domingo by the time police close the streets around 7:15am, you cannot run. Plan to line up by 7:00am to make sure you're on time.
  2. Wear appropriate running attire, including running shoes, comfortable pants, and a shirt. Wearing sandals, dresses, or no shirt will get you thrown out of the bull run before it begins.
  3. Be sober and look sober. If you're covered in sangría stains from last night's bullfight, you may not be allowed to run.
  4. Don't bring any purses or backpacks. Since straps can get caught on barricades and bulls' horns, these items are not allowed on the run.
  5. Don't bring a camera. Taking pictures or videos can distract you from the fact that there are 600kg bulls on the street with you. If policemen catch you with a camera that's not your phone, you won't be allowed to run.
  6. Bring an ID. While policemen don't often check runners' ages, you must be 18 or older to run. Have an ID on you in case they ask. If you do get seriously injured, an ID will also help paramedics identify you.
  7. Be respectful of the bulls and runners. Don't touch or hold onto the bulls, and don't push people or stop in front of other runners.
  8. If you fall while running, stay down and cover your head with both hands. Trying to get up is the worst thing you can do in this situation; the bulls can detect movement, and they may target you if they see you getting up.

The Morning of the Run

The morning of the run, runners line up on Calle Santo Domingo or in the Plaza Consistorial by 7:00am. For the next 30 minutes, police walk through the crowds, checking runners for proper attire and sobriety. Meanwhile, runners mingle and pray for their safety, singing a prayer to a statue of San Fermín. Then, when the police barricade restricting runners to the Plaza Consistorial breaks around 7:45am, runners jog to their chosen starting point along the route, warm up, and wait for the bulls.

At 8:00am, a rocket sounds to signal that the corral doors are open. Seconds later, another rocket sounds to signal that all the bulls have left the corrals and are charging down the route. Runners will try to keep up on the side, and the most daring and experienced runners will try to run "on the horns" of the bulls. As the bulls charge on, paramedics pull the injured from the streets to start emergency medical care.

After a little more than two minutes, on average, the bulls make it into the Plaza de Toros, and a rocket sounds when the bulls are officially in their corrals. Then, another, lesser-known part of the encierro begins. During this event, six horned cows called vaquillas are released into the bull ring, one by one. As the cows charge out of their corrals, they jump over runners that lie flat on their stomachs, as pictured here. Throughout this event, the bravest runners will attempt to do flips over the vaquillas or test out matador cape-work, or passes. If you decide to participate in this event, do not touch the cows.

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Listen to the Prayer to San Fermín

How fast can bulls run?

Bulls typically run the entire 850-meter bull run course in 2 to 5 minutes, with the average length being roughly 2 minutes and 15 seconds. This means that the bulls run at roughly 6.3 meters per second, or 22.6 kilometers per hour. For reference, the average adult sprinting speed is between 16-24 kilometers per hour. Between the density of the crowd and the speed of the bulls, even the best runners can only hope to keep up for around 10-15 seconds.

When are bull runs especially dangerous?

Bull runs last much longer and become much more dangerous when bulls are separated from the rest of their pack. This happens when a bull leaves the corral late, when a bull slips on the run, or when a crowd of people cut a bull off from the pack. Bulls are far more afraid when they are separated, and when they are more afraid, they are also more dangerous. The dense crowds of runners, especially on weekends, are also a huge risk. Pile ups of people who trip and fall can lead to suffocation, repeated bull gorings, and other highly dangerous and inescapable situations.

How To Run With the Bulls

Can you train for the bull run?

Nothing can fully prepare you for the experience of running with bulls, but you can absolutely train for the bull run before arriving in Pamplona. If you plan on running, buy a great pair of running shoes, and get ready to practice your sprints. The bull run is not a test of endurance: it is a test of speed. To keep up with the bulls for a realistic section of the route, you'll need to practice sprinting until you're consistently running at roughly 25km/h for around 10 seconds. You'll need to start running several seconds before the bulls are near you to reach your peak sprint by the time the bulls catch up to you. Analyze videos of bull runs online to see how the best runners make it happen.

Learn from an Expert

To be best prepared for the bull run, sign up for the bull runner walking tour with Dennis Clancey. Dennis is an expert bull runner with nearly two decades of experience running with the bulls in Pamplona. He'll walk with you down the entire bull run course, pointing out dangers along the route and teaching you how to identify and escape dangerous situations.

Book a Bull Run Tour

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