Table of Contents

What is San Juan de Gaztelugatxe?

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a tiny island off the northern coast of Spain, in the Basque Country. The island is connected to the mainland by a thin, winding, manmade pathway. The chapel at the top of the small island has been a place for pilgrims for a long time.  San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has traditionally also been a very easy day trip to enjoy from Bilbao, a day excursion locals from Bilbao would enjoy nature, the landscape, a demanding walk, and the reward of a hearty meal in San Juan itself or in nearby Bermeo, a typical Basque fishing village. 

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is today one of the most famous hikes in Spain  

It has become as famous as el Caminito del Rey in Malaga, or la Ruta del Cares. 

What is so special about San Juan de Gaztelugatze?

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe became very popular worldwide due to its appearance in Game of Thrones, where it is portrayed as the ancestral home of Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons. But this amazing spot in the northern coast of Vizcaya has been a very popular pilgrimage destination for locals for a long period of time.

What makes it so special is the stone bridge and stairs that climb all the way up till it reaches a hermitage chapel. It is this chapel that used to attract local pilgrims. A local wedding put San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the eyes of many Spanish citizens that had not heard about it before. When a celebrity decided to wed at the small chapel and expected all attendees to the celebration to walk up the hundreds of hard stone steps in their high heel shoes the news spread quickly!

Then Game of Thrones happened and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has been included in most guides and travel blogs. The old road had to be cut to avoid too many cars and the old parking had to be enlarged. The views, however, remain the same. Simply breathtaking.   

What is the meaning of Gaztelugatxe in basque language?

The word Gaztelugatxe as it stands is composed of two words: gaztelu is a castle and gatxe means inaccessible. A different possibility based on the way the word is pronounced links it with the meaning “castle rock” or gaztelu-aitz in euskera or basque language.  

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Hermitage

The island is home to the hermitage of Gaztelugatxeko Doniene or Saint John of Gaztelugatxe. The small religious building is dedicated to John the Baptist, and has been standing in the same place since the 10th century. There have been several tombs discovered in and around the church dating back to the 9th and 12th centuries. The site was attacked by Francis Drake in 1593 and has also suffered several fires.

The hermitage is also home to several offerings from sailors who survived shipwrecks.

Planning your visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

We would recommend not to limit it to the hermitage and the trail that leads to it. The area between Bakio and Bermeo offers fantastic beaches and a beautiful landscape of cliffs and greenery. Bakio is perfect if you would like to enjoy a few relaxing hours at the beach. Bermeo is ideal if you seek authenticity and would like to enjoy the beauty of a truly Basque fishing harbor. There are many pintxos bars near the port and you will also find top-quality restaurants that specialize in Basque gastronomy and especially on fish.

Bearing this in mind we would suggest a full day for this day trip from either Bilbao or San Sebastian (find more details on how to get there from either location below)

Available tours of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Dragonstone in Game of Thrones. 

History of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

History says that Saint John was at Gaztelugatxe and that he got to the sanctuary in just three long strides. The last one of these is meant to be visible. Locals say touching this footprint will bring you good luck. The bell is another element connected to good luck in the sanctuary and legend says if you make it ring three times you will also enjoy good luck.

Many of the legends and elements inside the shrine are connected with fishing activity, fishing boats, and sailors. You will find paintings from shipwrecks, small-scaled fishing boats, and votives from sailors.

As you can well imagine by taking a quick look at the pictures, the area was considered as highly strategical in times of war. In the late XVIth century, no other than Sir Francis Drake himself (a pirate for Spaniards, a Lord for the British) attacked the sanctuary and killed his keeper.

But well before Drake was there, Gaztelugatxe stood where it does. Historians date back to the IXth century the construction of the first temple and it was built by the Templar knights. Fires and battles changed the shape and look of Gaztelugatxe through history. The last renovation was undertaken in 1983 following a fire.

How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe?

First, you will have to get to the Basque Country. Arriving to San Juan de Gaztelugatze from Bilbao and San Sebastián is easy. Your best bet is to fly into Bilbao, it’s fast and easy and relatively cheap from Madrid or Bilbao. The road from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is simple, no more than an hour and the road is beautiful. You can also take a bus from Bilbao to Bakio and walk from Bakio to San Juan (some 4 kilometers of a rather flat walk). You can also use public transportation from Bakio (or from Bermeo) and take a bus that will stop near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. 

Now, from either San Sebastian or Bilbao, the best and most comfortable way of getting to Dragonstone is by car, but you can also get there using public transportation. The A3518 bus from Bilbao will take you directly there in about an hours’ time. There is no public transport option unfortunately from San Sebastian.

How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao?

If you are driving from Bilbao it will take you 50 minutes:

How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from San Sebastián?

If you are driving from San Sebastián, it will take about an hour longer:

Where to park near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe?

There are a couple of parking options. There are two public parking lots that can get pretty crowded and hectic and a private parking area that belongs to a local restaurant. In either case, your best bet to find an easy parking space is to get up bright and early and beat everyone there. Check out your parking otions here

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe video

Things to see near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Bridge of Vizcaya

Bridge of Vizcaya (Portugalete)

Bridge of Vizcaya The Bridge of Vizcaya also known as Portugalete Bridge is the amazing feat of engineering that spans the width of the Ibaizabal estuary, just west of Bilbao. Designed by the Basque architect Alberto de Palacio and completed in 1893, stands 45-m-high and 160m wide. It features a mix of 19th-century iron working traditions with the then-new lightweight

Guggenheim musem

Guggenheim musem- Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao  The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao is the city’s most emblematic monument. A visit to Bilbao wouldn’t be complete without at least strolling by and admiring it from the outside. This spectacular shimmering building on the bank of the Nervión river is itself a piece of art. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the museum is considered one

LA PLAYA DE ITZURUN-Fantastic cliffs with amazing shapes!

La playa de Itzurun – otherworldly beach in Zumaia

PLAYA DE ITZURUN Beach. If you visit Itzurun beach unexpectedly your visit will be, for sure, one of the highlights of your trip to Spain and the Basque country. This beach is simply amazing and it should be on your priority list of things to visit while you stay in the city of San Sebastian or nearby. What makes Itzurun

PLAYA DE LAGA-Golden sand and a surfers paradise

PLAYA DE LAGA – a great beach near Bilbao

PLAYA DE LAGA Beach near Bilbao Located in the Biosfera de Urdaibai nature reserve, near cape Ogoño, north east of Bilbao city (45 minutes drive)  you will find one of the top beaches in the Basque country. It is located near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (featured in Game of Thrones)  and Bermeo La Playa de Laga features beautiful dunes of

Additional Details

  • Romantic traveler:No
  • Trendy traveler:No
  • Culture seeker:No
  • Fun seeker:No
  • No hassle traveler:No
  • Family traveler:No
Show all
  • Like a local:No