Let me share with you my favorite attractions in Navarra, Spain. While the whole of Northern Spain keeps surprising me with its unique landmarks during each of my Spanish road trips, the autonomous community of Navarra holds a special place in my heart. Years ago it used to be my first place of residence in Spain (during my study-abroad program). Therefore, it´s always a joy to return – time-travel back to my student years in Pamplona. So, whenever I have a chance – I can´t miss the opportunity to visit the Navarra region and explore more hidden gems along the way.
Visiting Navarra, Spain
Let´s begin with the basic information about Navarra for those of you planning to visit this autonomous community for the first time. If you need to get a quick glimpse of the region right now – check my IG and Tiktok videos from Navarra. You can also check the official website of Navarra Tourism for further planning here.
Where is Navarra
What is Navarra Known For
The autonomous community of Navarra is such a beautiful Spanish region, known for its rich history of Royals and lots of landmarks. Although most international visitors coming to Navarra definitely aim for the Festival of San Fermin, one of the most globally-famous attractions in Navarra. I bet even people who have never visited Spain, have occasionally heard about the crazy local fest where people run in front of the bulls. Yes, this is the very same fest you´re thinking of.
But it would be unfair to narrow down the celebration to the bulls only.
The Festival of San Fermin has long historical roots in the Navarra region. Initially, it was celebrated in October in honor of Christian missionary San Fermin de Amiens since 1186. However, back in 1591, the date was changed to the 7th of July.
Nowadays the celebrations take place every year from July 6 to July 14. In between the older generations and even the younger Spaniards living in more traditional and rural areas of the country, it is still popular to watch encierro (eg. the bulls running) every morning during the Festival of San Fermin. As I´ve already told you in my post about the almuerzo culture in Valencia – many local bars will have the TV on broadcasting the bulls run around 8 a.m.
Part of the international fame came to Navarra with the novel of Ernest Hemingway – “The Sun Also Rises”. The writer himself was a big fan of fiesta, bullfights, and Spanish wine.
While nowadays Navarra is an autonomous community in Spain, throughout history it has always been a kingdom of its own. Surprisingly, despite its relatively small size, Navarra did not belong either to its ally France nor to Spain. Although the Ferdinand II of Aragon initiated the conquest of Navarra in 1512, only in 1839 the region entirely turned into a Spanish province with special tax and administrative privileges.
Till the present day, Navarra is known for the lowest IRPX (income tax rate) in Spain, together with the Basque Country. Spanish Law considers both autonomous communities “historical territories” with a special tax system. The Spanish Chamber of Commerce ( or Camara de Comercio in Spanish) ranks Navarra as one of the places with the lowest tax pressure in Europe.
The Way of Saint James
Navarra is set on the way of the globally famous El Camino de Santiago (or The Way of Saint James in English). Four different routes of Saint James are passing through Navarra – two branches of the French route, the Baztan route, and the Ebro route.
How to get to Navarra
While there´s an airport in Pamplona (Noain), it mostly serves national flights (although years ago there used to be a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt). The cheapest plane offers are usually from Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, and Malaga. However, you can easily fly to one of the nearest airports – Bilbao (155km) or Zaragoza (179km). If traveling by bus or train, the biggest number of travel options are always from Madrid.
Also, Navarra is situated really close to France (80km), and its iconic Biarritz, Bayonne, and San Jean de Luz. Moreover, you can easily reach Navarra by train when coming from France (usually you´ll need to switch trains in Bayonne).
Top Attractions in Navarra, Spain
Let me share with you my personal list of top attractions in Navarra. As you´ve already noticed – in this post, I refer to the region as Navarra and not Navarre, as it is called in English, simply because it feels more natural to me. Hope it won´t bother you.
1. The city of Pamplona
The city of Pamplona is the heart of the Navarra region and its official capital. Pamplona houses the Festival of San Fermin from July 6 to July 14. Although it’s probably the worst time to visit the city, as everywhere is overcrowded and overbooked.
As I´ve already told you, Pamplona was the first city in Spain I ever lived in (by the way, back then I had no idea I´d ever stay in Spain for the next 10 years) and I still believe this city is very much underrated, like Cadiz or Soria.
First of all, Pamplona is one of the greenest cities in Spain. The city bursts with its rich history, which could be traced back to the times of the Roman Empire in Spain.
Also read: Historical Valencia – The Borgia Route
Don´t miss the old city center, the central square Plaza del Castillo, and Entzierroa Monument. You can also walk along the street Calle de la Estafeta (famous for the Sun Fermin bulls run) – this area is full of local bars to taste wine and tapas (or pintxos – mini-bites all laid out in front of you, popular in both Navarra and the nearby Basque Country).
Other emblematic locations in Pamplona are Catedral de Santa Maria la Real and Ciudadela de Pamplona. If you have some extra time for museums – don´t miss Museo de Navarra, Planetario de Pamplona, Museo Catedral de Pamplona, and Fundacion Museo Jorge Oteiza.
2. The Castle of Olite
Those of you who love exploring dreamy medieval towns in Europe – set your eyes on the Royal Palace of Olite (or Palacio Real in Spanish). It is absolutely one of the most luxurious medieval castles in Spain. It might not have the epic hilltop setting of Loarre in Huesca or Morella in Castellon, but this is fully offset by its interiors and panoramic city views.
The Olite Castle was home to the Court of Navarre until its union with Spanish Castile (1512). The interiors feel unique even nowadays. You don’t get to see lots of furniture and decorations once inside, but the walls literally whisper to you how wealthy this place used to be. Everything in Olite – towers, gardens, and window ornaments – has a sophisticated touch and reveals the importance of Navarra throughout European Royal History.
Fans of the secret small towns in Spain simply can’t miss the village of Ujue. I honestly did not expect it to be so charming.
Ujue is a tiny medieval village full of cobbled streets, tiny old houses, and gorgeous lookouts (due to its hilltop setting). While even the remains of the Roman buildings were found during excavations in Ujue, the first historical notes of the village date back to the 11th century when the local castle and cathedral were built.
This beautiful village is on the list of my 2022 favorite travel experiences in Spain.
4. Bardenas Reales
While the Iberian Peninsula is full of otherworldly landscapes, places like Bardenas Reales do get more international attention after being featured as GOT filming locations in Spain.
The lunar landscapes of Bardenas Reales will teleport you to a good-old-Hollywood Western, very much like Almeria and its Las Tabernas Desert. Actually, it’s hard even to imagine these geological formations existing in Navarra, only 70 km away from the Pyrenees.
You can access Bardenas Reales Biosphere Reserve by car and make a few stops along the way to explore the landscape.
5. Irati Forest
Those of you looking for some epic hikes in Spain, can´t miss Irati Forest (or Selva de Irati in Spanish). It is one of the largest and best-preserved beech and fir forests in Europe. Irati forest is set in between the Aezkoa and Salazar valleys of Navarra and, the French valleys of Cize and Soule.
Also read: Must-See Magical Forests in Spain
You should start your visit from one of the local information points to get more details about the trails and maps – Arrazola, Centro de acogida Casas de Irati, Irati-Abodi Mountain Activities Centre. Also, there is an App for hiking the Irati Forest – Irati.
5. El Cerco de Artajona
Alongside Ujue, Artajona is an authentic medieval gem of the Navarra region. This small town is surrounded by the XIth century Medieval walls. The fortification was originally called El Cerco de Artajona.
Originally it had 14 towers, but only 9 of them have made it to the present day. The walls were meant to protect the local cathedral Iglesia-Fortaleza de San Saturnino, built on the remains of a romanesque church by the canons of Toulouse, France.
6. The Castle of Xavier
Located 52 km from the city of Pamplona, the Castle of Xavier is another reminder of Navarra´s glorious past. It was built in the 10th century as a vigilance tower, but with time it grew into a real castle belonging to the Azpilicueta family (XIV century).
Nowadays you can enjoy many medieval objects and art pieces within the castle´s stylish interiors. One of the most unique features of The Castle of Xavier is the chapel Capilla del Santo Cristo decorated with Danse Macabre paintings, also called the Dance of Death. During the late Middle Ages, it was a popular artistic genre across Europe to remind people of the fragility of their lives. Nevertheless, there are almost no examples of it left in modern Spain.
7. The Monastery of Leyre
The Monastery of Leyre is one of the most important monuments of Navarra. Aside from its beautiful architecture and serene natural setting, the most impressive landmark of the complex is an 11th-century crypt. Apparently, the function of the crypt, set below the Romanesque church, was to save the unevenness of the steep slopes of the Sierra. It feels surreal, so silent and majestic inside. This is why I Iove visiting monasteries and cathedrals in Spain so much – the Catholic church somehow has managed to preserve tones of mindblowing artworks, ancient books, and secret sculptures, despite all the European wars and revolutions.
8. Caves of Zugarramurdi
Caves of Zugarramurdi is one of the trendy mysterious places in Spain I did not get a chance to visit myself yet. Since the XIIth century, it used to be a place to celebrate witch covens. Consequently, locals suffered a lot from the Saint Inquisition ( you may know that especially since Isabel I of Castile Spain has been an extremely religious country).
Caves of Zugarramurdi were featured in the movie Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi by the Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia.
More places to visit in Navarra:
As always, I´m leaving here for you more places to explore the top attractions in Navarra. Also, I´d be happy to hear your suggestions and recommendations (in case you´ve already visited Navarra) and can recommend me (and my blog readers) something for future trips.
- Gorges of Lumbier and Arbaiun
- Valley of Baztan
- Señorío de Bertiz
- Source of the River Urederra
- Theme and Adventure Parks – Tierra Rapaz, Sendaviva, Irrisarri Land, Bertiz Abentura Park, Baztan abentura Park, Urbasa Aventura, Artamendia