The most famous place for tourists to see the running of the bulls- and even join it- is in Pamplona Spain. Not many people know that this festival is actually held at many cities around the country.
I went to one that was completely off of the beaten path. In fact- I didn’t meet a single other person who spoke English. I was very fortunate because I went with my Spanish friend and stayed with her family in the town of San Sebastián de los Reyes- a municipality of Madrid. This is what went down…
The festival goes on for an entire week. Every day the bulls get bigger and bigger. Each festival day starts early in the morning at about 8 a.m. in the streets when they release the bulls. For this you can sit on the wooden gate and watch as people run from the charging bulls.
The street leads to the arena where the bulls then run around as people try to dodge them. I recommend buying tickets for this event since the running through the streets goes by very quickly.
I didn’t realize how much festivities came along with this event- the Spanish sure know how to party!
The evening before the first running of the bulls is the opening ceremony. This consists of everyone joining in the town square to listen to the mayor give a speech. He ends his speech by spraying a bottle of champagne all over the crowd. Next thing you know, the whole crowd starts spraying and pouring their alcohol all over each other! Luckily my friend warned before hand so brought clothes I was comfortable getting ruined.
But don’t worry too much because in a few moments you will be washed clean. After all the alcohol has been poured, the crowd walks through the streets of San Sebastián screaming “Aqua! Aqua! Aqua!” as people pour buckets of water down from their balconies. This part was so much fun! It was also hilarious to partake in as you never see the water coming and get taken by complete surprise as a huge cold bucket gets dumped on you.
After we went home and changed into some dry clothes before heading back for more festivities. We were out drinking and dancing all night but never even went into a single bar one because the whole town just turns into one big party. No one spoke any English and I don’t speak any Spanish but I still managed to make friends and have a phenomenal night. We stayed out until 4 a.m.- pretty early in Spanish standards.
Running of the Bulls
The first day I woke up around 7 a.m. to find a spot on the fence to watch the running of the bulls. It was a pretty surreal feeling. I had always seen this event on T.V but now I was literally sitting on a fence where bulls would be running through any second now. I could see the fear on the faces of the men standing in the lane. I wasn’t even running and I was afraid.
When the bulls came running it all happened so quickly. It was cool to see but it also flew by in a flash. I think that the end of the run would be the most exciting place to see since that is where it gets more crowded as people try to fit through the doors as angry bulls are charging at them- but it will also be a lot harder to find a spot here.
The stadium was my favourite part- it lasts a lot longer so you get to see a lot more action. The last days of the festival will be the most exciting because that it when the bulls will be the biggest.
It is amazing seeing the skills of some of the men dodging the bulls. The goal is to dodge the bulls by arching your back and jumping over them. I couldn’t believe how brave (or stupid) the men were! As skilled as the Spaniards are you still do see a few get mauled by the bulls. It’s gruesome and half of you can’t stand looking and the other half of you can’t look away.
This first video I took one of the first days of the festival before the bulls got too huge. Here you will see one guy get mauled by a bull. But don’t worry- he didn’t get seriously hurt.
This second video is the last day of the festival with full-sized bulls. Here you will see a lot fewer men in the stadium and of the few that are there, they are a lot more skilled.
As a tradition people go for churros and chocolate after the event is over, yummmmmmmmmmmmmm.
In the evenings around 6 p.m., there is also bullfighting where the torero slaughters the bull. Attendees later eat the bull that was slaughtered. My Spanish friend was kind enough to warn me that this can be very gruesome and (judging from my shrilling scream when she almost hit a bird with her car the other day) she advised me not to go. A few of my friends went and they all came back saying that it was pretty horrendous to watch. So it’s up to you if you think that you can stomach this. Currently there are protests to try to stop this gruesome ‘sport.’
This festival is amazing and embodies the Spanish culture. Beyond the seeing the bulls I also enjoyed dancing late into the night, great food and fireworks (and very little sleep). So throw your routines and expectations out the window and give into the Spanish way of life to truly experience this amazing festival. It is by far one of the most amazing festivals that I have ever experienced!
Tip: Running of the Bulls is a strong tradition in Spain and so it is strongly frowned upon for tourists to participate- the one exception would be in Pamplona.