This year, we were rewarded with a nice long weekend for Easter break. Since we hadn’t taken a vacation in almost 4 months, we decided to make the most of it and made plans to take a road trip. Yes, that’s right! Instead of flying or taking the train to our destination like we usually do, we would drive. That begged the obvious question: what would the destination be?
After scouring over maps for hours, we finally decided to drive to the city of Bilbao, in the north of Spain. To avoid driving close to 8 hours in a single day, and to take advantage of the flexibility of having our car, we added Pamplona to the itinerary.
I have to preface the details of the trip by pointing out how wonderful the journey was. We were not stressed about having to leave the house early to find parking at the airport, go through security and make our flight. We woke up at a reasonable hour, and set off when we were good and ready. We stopped as and when we pleased to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery.
Our first stop was Pamplona, most well-known for its San Fermin festival which involves the running of the bulls through the city’s streets. Unfortunately, San Fermin is celebrated in July, so it’s not something we were able to witness. On an unrelated note, I was surprised to learn that although Pamplona is in the state of Navarra, it is culturally and linguistically very closely tied to the Basque Country state, which is further up north. It might also interest you to know that Pamplona falls along the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.
We reached in the early afternoon and were fortunate enough to be welcomed with good weather. After freshening up, we were out and about enjoying the city. I should point out here that the city has a very different vibe during the day and at night. During the daytime, there are people of all ages up and about, both tourists and locals. At night however, most of the landscape was dominated by younger people just having a good time. It was sad to see how much they littered. At night, this beautiful city was filled with empty glass bottles, and standard fast food packaging strewn all over the place. All this might have simply been because it was a holiday weekend. In any case, most of the sights here are better enjoyed with daylight. To keep things simple, we’ll follow the pattern of previous posts and focus on our 5 favorite sights.
1. Plaza del Castillo: The center of the city’s social and cultural life, this grand square has porticos on all sides and a is great place to spend a few hours people-watching and sipping on a cold beer. The center of the square is occupied by a beautiful domed kiosk adorned with small water fountains and stone staircases.
2. Plaza de Toros: This massive structure is an active bull fighting ring with a capacity of close to 20,000 people. It is famously also used as the ending point of the running of the bulls during the San Fermin festival.
3. Santa Maria Cathedral: A grand cathedral that was repeatedly rebuilt, it is an impressive structure from inside and out. Apart from the main building, I would also recommend paying a visit to the peaceful surrounding cloisters.
4. The Citadel: One of the largest green spaces in Pamplona, the citadel overlooks the newer parts of the city and the Arga river. It comprises fortifications, moats, pavilions and is well-integrated into the city. It was built in 1571 to protect against the invading French forces and is considered the best example of military architecture from the Spanish Renaissance. We really enjoyed exploring the area on foot for a couple of hours later in the afternoon.
5. Smaller Streets (Carmen, Curia, etc.): One of our favorite things to do in Pamplona was walk its small streets and take in all the activity. These small streets are lined with restaurants, bars & shops, and are buzzing with activity. We spent hours walking around the above mentioned streets, as well as the streets surrounding the Plaza del Castillo and stumbling upon plazas, monuments and parks.
I’d like to also give a special mention to La Turronería Primitivo Rovira e Hijos. If you like ice-cream, this is the place to go. It’s located right at the Plaza del Castillo and probably had one of the Top 10 ice-creams I’ve ever had.
Overall, we really enjoyed our 24 hours in Pamplona. It’s a great place to spend the day, but I wouldn’t recommend making a separate trip just to visit Pamplona. Your time will be better spent visiting Pamplona as an add-on to your primary trip.
Next time, we’ll look at our final destination of our Easter trip: Bilbao.