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Survival Guide to San Fermín

By Lisa Abend

Apr 4, 2012

From the May/June 2012 issue

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Photo by Markel Redondo

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Arrive early for the running of the bulls. By 6 a.m. all the good spots along the route will be snapped up. Try Calle Santo Domingo by the railing that stretches down from the Navarra Museum. Or shell out 50 euros in advance to rent a spot on a balcony.

Although San Fermín can seem chaotic, the musical wake-up always begins at 6:45 a.m., the encierro at 8 a.m., the Big Head parade at 9:30 a.m. Bullfights start at 6:30 p.m., fireworks at 11 p.m., and the open-air dance at midnight. Processions and parades always pass through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Rules for running: Don't get to the route late or drunk. Don't touch the bulls. You can start from any part of the route; most jump out of the bulls' path after a couple seconds. If you fall, don't get up until the bulls have passed. That's the surest way to be gored.

Right before each encierro, the runners at the start of the course sing to San Fermín, asking his blessing. Join in at the end with a rousing “¡Viva San Fermín! ¡Gora San Fermín!

Enjoy some Basque culture: Go to the at the jai alai championship, the rock-throwing and log-pulling contests, and the nightly folk concerts in the Plaza del Castillo.

Don't jump off the fountain. Pamploneses do not consider jumping off the fountain to be part of their local culture; they consider it idiotic.

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Need to leave your stuff somewhere? There's a bag check open during the festival in the Plaza de San Francisco. It costs roughly 5 euros per day per bag.

Dress code: all white, with a red scarf around the neck and red sash around the waist. Bring a lot of backup T-shirts. And you really, really don't want to wear open-toed shoes.

Don't drink more than three kalimoxto in a row. Trust me.

Wine is an essential component of an Fermín. Instead of lugging around a glass bottle, choose from five different handcrafted botas (wine skins) that hold up to three liters of your favorite vino, or order a custom-made 20-liter classic.

Try the churros at Churrerio La Mañueta (Calle Mañueta 8, 34/948-227-627). The churros here supposedly get their crispy exterior from being cooked over an ax-cut beech-wood fire. You can sample the results when the 140-year-old shop is open: only two Saturdays in June, during the San Fermín festival in July, and Sundays in October.

Stay at the Palacio Guendulain. Situated in the heart of Pamplona, Palacio Guendulain hosted Queen Isabel II when she visited in 1845. The 25-room hotel is still fit for royalty—with a stone facade, an inner courtyard, and displays of vintage carriages. Doubles from $176 per night, Zapateria 53, 34/948-225-522.

>> Next: Inside Spain's Most Adrenaline-Inducing Party

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