At the end of XIX century Pamplona was a small town ready to grow. The economy was boosting, modern times were coming, new ideas spread coming from Europe. It was the moment to watch and be watched. This is the moment when fancy cafes all around Europe were created as places to gather, talk and why not, gossip.

Cafe Iruña since 1888

It was July 1888 when Café Iruña opened its doors at Pamplona’s main square, Plaza del Castillo. The café was inaugurated the day we got electrical lights for the first time in town. Well, maybe I should be more specific and say that it opened its doors the “night” when electrical light was shown to the people of Pamplona for the first time.


Can you imagine the expectation? Hundreds of anxious locals waiting to see the future, nervous kids running around, tension was in the air. Suddenly the city-hall officials turned off all the street gas lights of the square, and without delay Café Iruña turned on all the electrical lamps. People held their breath, there was an electrifying silence in the air, a lady who was watching from the back of the room fainted. Electrical light was so bright, so new, so incredible, so everything that some people ran away screaming that the “light is evil”.


After the first shock everybody learnt how to love Café Iruña. When I say everybody I mean it, I really mean it. People like Ava Gardner, Charles Chaplin and of course Ernest Hemingway loved to hang out at the café whenever they arrived in Pamplona ready to enjoy the Running of the Bulls. In fact, Ernest loved the café so much that all the characters in his first novel ¨The sun also rises¨ party at this café. Thanks to Hemingway, Café Iruña became world famous.


Café Iruña has always been the epicenter of the city. It was and still is the place where workers get together to drink a quick coffee in the middle of the morning. It is the place where our elderly have their Chocolate with churros every afternoon. It is the place where many couples have started their love stories. Café Iruña is really a big part of Pamplona´s DNA.


Today, the building where Café Iruña stands is a heritage building, so the owners are not allowed to change the décor. When I walk in, I am instantly transported to the XIX century. I can imagine all the intellectuals reading the newspapers and debating about the Republic. I can also imagine Ernest Hemingway taking notes from a corner of the Café while Ava Gardner flirts with a young matador.


To finish, just a couple of curiosities: check that in the arcades around in the main square, all the pillars are squared except the one that is right at the entrance of Café Iruña that is rounded. One more thing, the name Iruña is the Basque name for Pamplona.


If you want to experience Café Iruña, take a look at our BASQUE STAYCATION. We will join Ernest and Ava for a “café con leche” at Cafe Iruña!

Traveling steps cafe iruña