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Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarra and one of the most beautiful and dynamic cities in Spain. Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, its strategic location on the route between France and Spain has made it the backdrop to many sweeping historical events starting from Roman times, when it is traditionally said to have been founded by the Roman general Pompeius in 75 BC. The high, imposing defensive walls around the Old Town speak of its past as a military stronghold. Pamplona is on the Camino de Santiago Frances pathway. Modern Pamplona is a thriving cultural hub with hundreds of restaurants and bars serving up delicious pintxos (Basque tapas) and award-winning Navarran wines. Winding through its narrow medieval streets while enjoying the buzzing atmosphere, the warm and friendly Pamplonicans, and world-class local cuisine, is pure magic. 

Pamplona, capital of the Kingdom of Navarra

Famed for the yearly festival of the Running of the Bulls, Pamplona has so much more to offer with its lush parks by the Arga River, stunning medieval architecture, museums, cathedral and lively year-round nightlife.

History of Pamplona

Pamplona is named for its supposed founder, the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey), however there is evidence that it was the main town of the Vascones (Basque) much earlier than Roman times. Pamplona would later become the capital of the Basque Country and then the capital of the Kingdom of Navarra.  Over time it grew into a fortified city as it was repeatedly attacked by Moorish and Frankish forces. At one point almost derelict after a particularly brutal sacking by Charlemagne in 778, it was revived and given new life as the center of the 11th century court of the new King of Navarra, Sancho III. Eventually it was absorbed into Spain by the armies of King Ferdinand of Aragon-Castile in 1517. By 1571 the citadel built by Philip II is what you see today, and was one of the most heavily fortified cities of the north of Spain. The magnificent walls in the highly practical star-shape allowed defensive control of all possible angles of attack. Used by the military all the way up through the Napoleonic wars (when it was held by the French for seven months before being liberated) and through the Spanish Civil War, the citadel was finally turned into a park in 1964, with the old military buildings being used for cultural events.

what to do in pamplona

What to See in Pamplona

Pamplona’s Gothic Architectural Wonder: The Cathedral of Santa María la Real

One of the most awe-inspiring sites in Pamplona is without a doubt its magnificent Cathedral of Santa María la Real in the center of the Old Town. Situated on the highest ground in Pamplona, excavations show that there were Roman era streets and buildings on the site, and possibly even a temple. There was definitely an earlier cathedral there which was destroyed by the Moorish invasion of 924. Later Sancho III built another church which was also eventually destroyed. A Romanesque cathedral was finally built in the 12th century. It also collapsed but left a façade under the 15th century Gothic church standing today. In 1783 a Neoclassical façade was added to the front of the Gothic buildings, making this a unique and fascinating architectural wonder. Inside, in the central nave of the cathedral lies the gorgeous sepulcher of Charles III of Navarra (who also built the Royal Palace of Olite) and his spouse, Eleanor. Finally, don’t miss the beautiful Gothic cloisters, one of the best preserved in Europe with delicate stonework and several more impressive sepulchers.

The Museums of Pamplona

Pamplona is not only a living museum in and of itself, it benefits from the engaging Museo de Navarra with a fantastic collection of items from pre-historic artifacts and human bones to great works of art. There is the 1st century Roman mosaic Triumph of Bacchus and other mosaics from the same period excavated from Roman homes and palaces that existed in the area. There are many mural from across the ages – Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance – and artwork from artists such as Baroque painter Mateo Cerezo and the famous Spanish painter Goya. The building itself is of interest as the old hospital Our Lady of Mercy with an adjacent church also worth visiting. Taking you on a journey through Navarra from pre-historic times to the present day, this museum is not to be missed.

The cathedral also has a very thorough and interesting museum attached to it, allowing you to pass through excavations of Roman ruins and describing in detail the history of the cathedral itself. Also displaying many religious artifacts and artwork, spending a couple hours here is very much worth your time.

Jumping to the 20th century, if modern art is more your style, there is the Orteiza Museum, which houses the art of the great and very influential Basque artist, Jorge Orteiza (1908 – 2003). His sculptures brought him great success and fame by the 1950s, and using various mediums and abstract theories, he created an enormous quantity of work. The museum contains 1,690 sculptures, 800 drawings, 2,000 chalk laboratory studies, about 5,000 books from his personal library, and his countless writings. Just 8 km from Pamplona, this museum showcasing such a prolific and intriguing artist adds another layer of complexity to the Pamplona experience.

Don’t forget to look out for Roman remains still sprinkled around Pamplona, such as in underground parking garages. Cordoned off but on display, it’s a fascinating glimpse of an ancient era right under your feet.

The Camino de Santiago Passing through Pamplona

The famous and popular Camino de Santiago passes through Pamplona on its main route, the French Route, or Saint James Way, heading toward Santiago de Compostela, 700 kilometers away. Crossing the Arga River over the medieval Magdalena bridge, pilgrims enter the Old Town through the Puerta Frances (French Gate) and pass by all of the most important sites in Pamplona: the imposing defensive walls, the cathedral, the ornate and unique Town Hall building, the medieval San Saturnino church, and the San Lorenzo church which houses the statue of the co-patron saint of Pamplona, San Fermin (the other patron saint is San Francisco de Javier). The Camino de Santiago follows a path that has existed since ancient times – and is even said to have been an early path following the Milky Way to the end of the Earth – but became an official Catholic pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages when it was the third most trodden pilgrimage destination only after Jerusalem and Rome. Following the gold or yellow shell signs through Pamplona, it is easy to trace the path through the city. The shells are the symbol of the Camino because it is said that in medieval times people would collect a shell from the coast to prove they had finished the route. These days people collect colorful stamps in their Camino “passports” to show they have reached each milestone. While the popularity of the Camino fell off for several hundred years between the Middle Ages and the 20th century, it is now seeing traffic of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year. People travel from all over the world to walk, bike, or even ride horses and hilariously enough occasionally camels, the several hundred kilometers across parts of France and Spain. Whether for spiritual or personal reasons, the challenge of completing the Camino is for some, if not most, the experience of their lifetime. Pamplona is an important stop on the French Route and the pilgrims passing through the city on any given day lend an air of mystique and a living connection to history.

Join one of our challenging Camino de Santiago journeys by bike and on foot.

Only the best hotels in this region

  • Parador de Olite ****

    Delightfully Gothic

    This hotel is located within the majestic Palace-Castle of Olite, declared a national monument. The interior offers beautiful stained glass windows, arcades and other characteristic medieval features. The palace is the most significant example of Gothic non-ecclesiastical architecture in Navarra, and one of the most outstanding examples in Europe.

  • Hotel Elgorriaga Hotel & Spa ***

    Mountain spa getaway

    This hotel is located in the cinco villas region, surrounded by valleys and mountains, it is nestled in one of Navarra’s prettiest landscapes. Their mantra is Water, Nature and Silence, making this hotel the perfect reward after a morning of exercise. Its natural springs contain with the highest salinity in Europe and the thermal circuit and massage hit the spot.

  • Hotel Roncesvalles ***

    Where the Camino Begins

    At the gates of the Irati forest, the second largest beech tree forest in Europe, this quaint pre Pyrenee hotel is in the heart of the commencement of the Camino de Santiago. It is a charming oasis from the cities and town and an excellent base from which to visit numerous attractions in the Orreaga – Roncesvalles valley.

  • Hotel Palacio Borda ***

    Historic Heritage Building

    This pretty Navarra Palace Hotel is an emblematic building, cataloged by the Prince of Viana Institute as an Historic Heritage Building. Maintaining its characteristic red stone, this hotel has an air of holding within its stately walls rich stories of the past.

  • Hotel Alma Pamplona *****

    Oasis from the City Hub Bub

    Alma Pamplona is an active travel friendly hotel. Modern and avant-garde, has its own personality, which seeks to surprise. This quiet enclave is where we luxuriate in the Spa and Treatment center, and chill at the gastro bar after a morning of activity.

  • AC Hotel Ciudad de Tudela ****

    To the Land of Vegetables

    AC Hotel Ciudad de Tudela is in part an 18th century historic building once called Casa de Beneficencia. This hotel is in the historic quarter of charming Tudela. We are in walking distance to the Muñoz Sola Modern Art Museum and a visit to the Marqués de San Adrián Palace. After a great ride, the sauna and Turkish bath hits the stop.

  • Hotel Aire Bardenas ****

    Luxury in the Desert

    This exquisite and very unique hotel is within the National Park Bardenas Reales which is Navarra’s wonderland desert. This is an oasis from the desert terrain with a chance to lean back, relax and watch a zillion stars, a brighter moon and the spectacular Architecture of this outstanding hotel.

  • Hotel & Spa Castillo Gorraiz ****


    This four star hotel + spa personalized and sophisticated for maximum comfort, making this hotel the quiet oasis from the city of Pamplona. A decorative symphony of elegance and exclusivity. The fusion of stone, wood, velvet, works of art and furniture of exclusive design create a warm unique atmosphere. At the foothills of the Pyrenees, we can begin to peddle from the moment we step out the door.

  • hotel palacio las pujadas

    Hotel Palacio de Pujadas ***

    This quaint palace combines the historical building charm of the 16th century and the comfort of a modern hotel. It is located within the town of Viana (Navarre), at the foot of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route in the historical part of the town.

  • Outstanding accommodation

    Propriedad de Arinzano

    Sleep on the Arinzano Estate

    Señorío de Arínzano is one of the oldest wineries in Spain, but is also one of our favorite accommodations for walking, cycling and food and wine visits.

Discover Pamplona’s gastronomy

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