Pamplona on a Budget!
As part of our occasional series on visiting Spanish cities “on the cheap”, this week Russ Pearce gives us an insight into visiting Pamplona, and lets us know that there’s a lot more to the city than the famous running of the bulls.
Pamplona and budget are not two words you will often see used together. It’s more about finding value for money than doing it on the cheap. Probably one of the problems is that for two weeks of the year (San Fermines) most businesses make enough money to see them through the rest of the year. This means there’s no great incentive to offer special deals, but in these times of crisis one or two places are starting to buck the trend.
Food and Drink
Navarran wines are excellent. The rosés are quite well known in Spain but you should definitely try out the reds. They are wonderful too. In most bars a glass will set you back 2€ / 3€ but shop around and you may find wine available at 1.50€. When it comes to food, Spanish as International cuisine is really not too popular in Pamplona. There are a lot of Chinese restaurants around the city but they seem to be devoid of diners most of the time. If you go to a restaurant in the evening, don’t even think of dining before 9.30. Many places offer a good value menu del dia for around 12€. Not as cheap as many other locations in Spain, but not bad value even so.
The best deals though are at lunchtime. By lunch, I don’t mean British lunch at midday, I mean Spanish lunch at 2pm! A firm favourite is Cafe Iruña where Hemingway used to hang out. It’s located right on the main square, the Plaza del Castillo and their three-course lunch for 13.50 is incredible value. Don’t be put off by the rumours that it is only for tourists, as you’ll find many groups of locals enjoying the wide selection of dishes on the menu. If you’ve heard that the waiters are rude, it’s simply not true. Surly maybe, and service sin sonrisa for sure, but they are not rude!
In the evenings pintxos are king. Pintxos are NOT tapas! In some bars it may simply be a portion of tortilla or a ham sandwich, but in others it’s a gastronomic delight. The price varies a lot so tread carefully if you really are on a budget. For the best value, go out on a Thursday when most bars in the centre participate in what is known locally as juevintxos. For just 2€ you can get a beer or a wine with a pintxo. Without doubt this is good value, but they soon add up as they are irresistible!! Getting lost in the maze of streets which make up the casco viejo is just part of the fun.
Good news – history is FREE! You can walk around the city’s walls for nothing. They are remarkably intact in most places and the views of the surrounding area are fabulous. There are informative plaques dotted around the place so you can be well informed of what you are seeing. Try to find the Puerta Frances with its drawbridge, seemingly unique in Pamplona.
Ciudadela is the fortress-like structure in the park of the same name near the city centre. It’s worth a wander around both outside and inside, and it’s free! Inside the fortifications there are several buildings regularly hosting art or cultural exhibitions.
Not free, but costing just a couple of Euros is the Museo de Navarra, set just behind the impressive Ayuntamiento. Just uphill from there is the Cathedral, which may or may not be free, depending on the direction of the wind or something like that! It does seem a bit random.
What is Pamplona famous for? Despite the fact that it occurs for just 10 days in the year, running with the bulls is synonymous with the city. If you’re on a budget, it’s unlikely that you’ll visit during the San Fermines festival. The hotels rack up their prices three- or four-fold yet they are still 100% full. Prices of food and drink increase exponentially leaving the euro-conscious traveller little choice but to buy food and drink in the supermarket and sleep in the park.
Nevertheless, you can still run with the bulls. Well, at the very least you can walk the route.
Beginning at the cattle market in Rochapea (a handy lift will take you down from the old town and it’s free) you can wind your way up cobbled streets back into the centre following the red signs which tell you about significant places along the route. You will be taken all the way to the bullring, which, sadly, does not seem to be open to visitors most of the year. Close to the bullring, near the Tourist Information Office, you will find a big statue featuring several bulls chasing after some runners. A close inspection will give you a sense of what it must be to put yourself in harm’s way during the encierro.
Getting out in the fresh air for some exercise is always FREE! A visit to the Tourist Information Office is a must to get help with public transport for these walks.
Pamplona’s municipality has now created a riverside park where you can walk almost all the way around the city. Parts of it are stunningly beautiful. It’s quite a long way though, so you’ll probably want to choose just a part of it for an afternoon stroll.
San Cristobal rises high above the city just to the north. It’s a moderate climb that could take you a couple of hours. At the top you can explore the old fortifications and admire the panoramic view of the city. It will leave you out of breath in more ways than one.
And, of course, there is the Camino de Santiago. The route runs right through the heart of the city. You can follow the shiny metal seashells that trace its path along the streets. You’ll also find many souvenir shops selling Camino gear and mementos.
In Pamplona you will often stumble across a free concert, anything from classical to heavy metal! Maybe you’ll see a gigantes parade celebrating some Saint’s Day or other. Look out for the ones wielding pompoms – as an onlooker you are fair game for a bash on the head! You may also be lucky and find an exhibition of some sort in the Plaza del Castillo. It could be local crafts, a book fair or even just a protest!
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