All about San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: tickets, how to get there & more


Visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

The island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe looks like it’s straight from a movie set. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that it was selected as a filming location for the HBO series, Game of Thrones. But whether you are a fan of the series or not, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe will dazzle you with its raw beauty.

Located just off the shore along the Bay of Biscay and 35 km (22 miles) east from Bilbao, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a definite “must” if you are visiting the Basque Country.

Many will recognize San Juan de Gaztelugatxe as the island fortress of “Dragonstone” from season 7 of Game of Thrones, however, its real name can be translated as “castle rock” from Basque (“gaztelu” = castle + “aitz” = rock).

If you have your own car or are planning to rent a vehicle, you can easily get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao in about 45 minutes.

However, if you don’t have a means of transport, the easiest way to visit is by taking part in an organized tour of Gaztelugatxe. These tours include the transport making it a very convenient yet affordable alternative.

Steps to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

The island is connected to the mainland by a man-made stone bridge. The bridge transitions into a narrow path that contains 241 steps and zigzags its way back and forth to the top. These steps have even been recognized as one of the world’s grandest staircases.


The Chapel of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Once at the top of the island, you will find the church which has a bell situated along the front of its facade. According to legend, after you have completed the climb, you should ring the bell three times and make a wish.

The church on top of the island is dedicated to John the Baptist. Although not proven, it has been said that he even set foot on the island. The small church is however, not original. Over the centuries the church has burned down and been rebuilt several times.

It is believed that the first hermitage that existed here was erected in the 9th century. In the 12th century, it became a convent. However, two centuries later, the friars abandoned it taking with them everything of value.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
View from the top of the island

History of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Later on, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe had a strategic purpose as a defensive outpost for the lords of Biscay. It was used as a bastion against the King of Castile, Alfonso XI. The seven knights from Biscay fought against him at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Alfonso XI was humiliated and was forced to retreat.

In 1596, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was attacked again, this time by Sir Francis Drake and his corsairs. They looted everything they found and killed the hermit that was living there by throwing him off a cliff to the rocks and water below.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe also played a role, albeit small, during the Spanish Inquisition. Witches and their ritualistic meetings known as Akelarre in Basque, make up a part of the Basque mythology.

For this reason, the Catholic Church focused much of its time during the inquisition hunting for witches in the region. Several accounts seem to indicate that many of the accused were locked up in the caves of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

The church deteriorated over time and it was eventually demolished in 1886 and then rebuilt from scratch. Unfortunately, during the demolition process, all of the artifacts found in the ground, such as coins and cannon balls, were thrown to the sea.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Tourism
View of the coastline & San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bakio

Tickets to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Since San Juan de Gaztelugatxe appeared in Game of Thrones, its popularity has only increased and during high season there can be long queues to access. For that reason, it is now necessary to book tickets to access San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Book a tour of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

If you are in Bilbao and don’t have a car, the easiest way to visit is by taking part in an organized tour of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. These tours include transport and tickets so you don’t have to worry about anything.

We highly recommend this option because public transport to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is complicated and very time consuming.

Book your ticket for San Juan Gaztelugatxe

Access to Gaztelugatxe is still free, but a ticket is mandatory when visiting between 10am and 7pm (5pm in winter) on the following dates:

  • Easter, Christmas and official Spanish holidays.
  • Daily from mid-June to mid-September.
  • Weekends from the last week of March until the end of October.

However, these dates are indicative and change every year. If you are unsure whether a ticket is necessary on the date of your trip, we recommend you to try to book it online. When you select the desired date on the calendar, the system will indicate if you need to book tickets or not.

This is the official website to book tickets to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It is possible to make reservations 6 months in advance.

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Access and routes in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

There are two routes to get from the road to the hermitage. The main one is called Urizarreta. It is the shortest path (1.2 km) but also the steepest (35% slope) and has stairs. This route starts next to the Eneperi restaurant.

The second one is the Ermu route. It is a little longer (1.6 km) but easier. In addition to being less steep (15%), the entire path runs on a paved road with no traffic (and no stairs!).

Prepare Your Visit to Gaztelugatxe

When visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, we recommend to take it easy and don't forget a snack and some water. You can always stop at one of the many benches located off the road and take in the views.

In addition, at the top of the island, next to the church there is also a small area protected from the wind with tables and benches.

There is also a restaurant/café called Eneperi on the mainland hillside in front of the islet, where you can enjoy a good meal while contemplating the gorgeous views.

The best times of the year to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe are spring and autumn, since it can get quite crowded in the summer months.

How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located between the towns of Bakio and Bermeo in the Biscayan coast, and is 35 km east from Bilbao.

Tour from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

If you are visiting Bilbao and don't have a car but would like to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, then the easiest option is to book a tour.

There is a large variety of options - for both half and full day excursions - that will take you to explore not only Gaztelugatxe, but several other beautiful sites along the Basque coast.

By Car from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

By car it takes about 45 minutes to get from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. To do so, you need to take the BI-631 road, towards the airport. After passing the town of Mungía, the route continues along the BI-2101 road to Bakio. Gaztelugatxe is located 6 km east of Bakio.

From San Sebastian, the trip by car takes about 1 hour 45 minutes (120 km).

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Where to park in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Once you arrive at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, there are several parking areas at the entrance. The number icon main parking lot is located next to the road and is free of charge.

Another option is the number icon Eneperi restaurant parking lot, larger and better located than the first one (closer to the starting point of the route). However, keep in mind that it is a paid parking (3€).

It is also important to know that the parking lots in Gaztelugatxe are often full in high season. In that case, you can always park in Bakio or Bermeo and use a bus or cab from there. From Bakio, you can even walk to Gaztelugatxe!

Do not park on the shoulders of the main road under any circumstances. It is strictly forbidden and you will be fined.

By Bus from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

If you are planning to go to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by bus from Bilbao, Bizkaibus offers the following two options:

  • Bizkaibus line A3518 Bilbao-Mungia-Bakio
  • Bizkaibus line A3527 Bilbao-Mungia-Bermeo

Then, from either Bakio or Bermeo, you can take a taxi or continue by bus. The Bizkaibus line A3524 that goes from Bermeo to Bakio stops right in front of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The name of the stop is “Gaztelu Begi.” However, this bus only works on weekdays (one bus every 2 hours).

Walking from Bakio to Gaztelugatxe

A great option for nature and hiking lovers is to leave the car in Bakio and from there continue on foot to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It may also be the best alternative if you do not have your own vehicle and have to travel by bus, or you visit in high season and the Gaztelugatxe parking lots are full.

From the Bakio lookout (Mirador de Bakio) there is a beautiful 2 km route that will take you along the coast to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Hotels around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Festivities celebrated in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

There are some festivities celebrated every year which include a visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Here the most important ones:

  • June 24th, day of St John. This is a traditional pilgrimage particularly popular among people from Bermeo.
  • July 31st, day of St Ignatius of Loyola. It is celebrated by a traditional pilgrimage from the town of Arrieta.
  • August 29th, day of St John Degollado. It is celebrated by a traditional pilgrimage from the town of Bakio. On that same day, the people from the town hall of Bermeo also visit the island to renew their sovereignty over San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
  • When the fishing season starts, Basque fishermen also visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe asking the saint for good luck.
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Other Places of Interest in the Surroundings

Map of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

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