San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Viewpoint View

How to visit Dragonstone in real life: from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

In Spain by Jaclynn Seah10 Comments

Game of Thrones fans will know the name Dragonstone, ancestral home and castle of House Targaryen. In the TV series, it’s an imposing castle perched on a little island, but did you know that you can actually visit the location for yourself? I visited San Juan de Gaztelugatxe along the Basque coast of northern Spain to see the shooting location for HBO’s Game of Thrones series.

Here’s a little more about how to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on a day trip from Bilbao by public transport and what to expect when trekking around the area.


Dragonstone on screen

Dragonstone features heavily in Game of Thrones Season 7 when Daenerys Targaryen finally return to her homestead after living in exile for most of her life. The massive stone castle is CG of course, but you can see the cliffs and zigzag staircase of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the exterior shots – these screenshots came from trailers and features on the Game of Thrones Youtube

Game of Thrones Trailer Dany Stairs

Dragonstone with dragons in the foreground. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Youtube

Game of Thrones Dragonstone Comparison Stairs

Check out the comparison of the stairs shot where Dany first glimpses what lies beyond the gates. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Youtube

Game of Thrones Dragonstone Comparison Rocks

Here’s a shot of Dany on the stairs and you can see some familiar rocks in the distance. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Youtube

Game of Thrones Trailer Stairs Aerial

Looking down on the zigzag staircase that leads up to the peak Screenshot from Game of Thrones Youtube

Game of Thrones Trailer Dany Standing

A closer shot of the staircase. Screenshot from Game of Thrones Youtube

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe wasn’t the only shooting location for Dragonstone. Further east along the Basque Coast closer to San Sebastian is Itzurun Beach in Zumaia which is where the beach scenes were filmed.


How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

I spent a week in Bilbao and took a day trip from the city to the town of Bakio along the Basque Coast. Driving gives you the most flexibility, but for solo travellers like myself, it really isn’t that hard to get to by public transport either. I suggest being prepared to do some hiking, or join a tour if you rather have someone else take care of all the other details.

Here’s a breakdown of the journey for you:

From Bilbao to Bakio

By public transport, the easiest way is to hop on a bus in Bilbao city.

  • Bus Stop: Plaza Moyua (Barclays Bank)
  • Bus Number: A3518 towards San Pelaio [Leaves every hour from 630am-930pm, Timetable on Bizkaia website]
  • Journey time: roughly 40 minutes
  • Cost: 2.55 Euro by cash and only 1.80 Euro with a bizkaia card

From Bakio to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located in the town of Bakio, but where exactly you choose to alight depends on what you plan to do next:

  • To take a taxi, stop at Bentalde. If you are lucky there will be cabs waiting around for you, so make friends with people on the bus headed the same way and share a ride to save some money.
  • To take feeder bus 3524 (8-seater bus), stop at Bentalde. This would be the most economical way but I don’t recommend it because this bus comes every 2 hours and there’s no fixed schedule/timing on where the bus will actually arrive, you’re much better off walking than trying to wait for this bus. [more details]
  • To hike, stop at the final stop San Pelaio (Begiratokia/Mirador) – it’ll save you a little bit of walking, and is the closest bus stop when you want to return to Bilbao.


Trekking from Bakio to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

I trekked from the Bentalde bus stop in Bakio to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and in total it took me about 1.5 hours from the time I got off the bus to the actual peak where the church is located. 

Going towards San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is more tiring because there are some insane upslopes to climb – going back was definitely faster, and also because I met a lovely American Mum and daughter pair who were headed back the same way so it made the journey back more fun. 

I’d recommend taking a taxi there and then doing the walk back so you can enjoy the coastal views and not tire yourself out. The weather that day was very clear and quite hot even though it was winter (February), so I had a nice (if tiring) trek. You’ll probably want to make sure you make the return trek before sunset because I imagine it would be super dark as there are no street lights.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Walking Start

Looking towards the town area from the viewing platform – the bus stop is in the town in the distance. I spotted some people surfing here.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Walking Hill Up

There is a road where the cars go on further inland, but I picked a path closer to the coast that seemed to cut through farmland and forests. Can you see the slopes? The path leads up to the copse of trees on top of the hill

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Walking Hill Down

Here’s a view from the top looking down, which is infinitely easier to walk on the way back

The route is mostly uphill until you get to the entrance of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – somewhere before you reach the entrance where the restaurant is, you’ll come across this clearing and man-made path which leads you to the cliff’s edge where you get an excellent aerial view of the island. Don’t go too close to the edge as there are no barriers!

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Lookout Path

See the manmade path? Follow it to the cliff’s edge

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Viewpoint View

Check out that view of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe!

The climb up 241 steps

At the entrance, you’ll pass by a restaurant and some small carts selling souvenirs and food and drink. This is your last chance to get some refreshments and a toilet break because there are no more facilities after this point. You’ll follow a pretty steep path downhill to get to the water’s edge.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Shadow Selfie

A look at the path. It can be uneven, so wear good shoes. I saw people in flimsy shoes and even heels and I have no idea how they made the climb.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Path Blue Stone

Decorative bluestone is a callback to the location by the sea

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Sign

I swear this is just justification on why they don’t build something like a funicular. That said, the paths are mostly well maintained even if they are pretty steep.

Now that you’ve reached the water’s edge, you’re finally ready to climb up again to get to the peak of the island where the little Hermitage church is located. It may not be as spectacular as the CG castle from the show, but that zigzag staircase is pretty cool. It’s made that way to make it hard for invaders to get to the castle. You’ll need to climb 241 steps to get to the top.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Base Carpark

Cars aren’t allowed here except for official vehicles

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Stairs Cross Me

At the start of the climb

View from the top

241 steps later, I finally reached the peak! The thing to do here is to ring the church bell 3 times for good luck – you’ll hear the bell tolling throughout the day as various trekkers celebrate their successful climb. I sat down and had a mini picnic and admired the view from here before making the long trek back to the bus stop.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Peak Stairs Zigzag

Looking down at the zigzag staircase

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Peak Church Me

The church wasn’t open but there is a rope hanging down for you to ring that bell, which is of course what I did.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Picture

Who is San Juan? He’s John the Baptist

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Peak Me

Selfie celebration from the peak

It was a pretty sweltering climb but I had a really enjoyable time, so whether you are a Game of Thrones fan or just want a scenic trek, I would recommend checking out San Juan de Gaztelugatxe if you are travelling along the Basque Coast. I was there on a weekday and it was pleasantly uncrowded, and hiking in winter meant the weather was a little cooler even though we had some real cloudless weather that day.

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Have you been to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe? Drop me any comments or thoughts below.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great guidance on the visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. We did the full hike in from the bus stop and man, it was brutal! If I come back, it’s a taxi to the carpark for sure. It’s 3 days before the final episode of Game of Thrones, so our timing is good. It’s strange to think that the cast and crew walked in exactly the same places we did, gives me a fun connection with the books and show.

    1. Author

      Glad you enjoyed the hike, and I think it’s always cool to know that these amazing places you see on screen can actually be found in real life :) Happy GOT-ing!

    1. Author

      Hi Lena, I stayed in a hostel called Quartier Hostel in the old town of Bilbao. I enjoyed my stay there, friendly staff, nice dorm rooms and a great location right opposite the Ribera Market and very convenient for hopping on the tram and a short walk from the metro. Only thing is the showers were pretty small and breakfast is pretty basic but it’s a small quibble honestly. Here’s a booking.com link for more info (affiliate link)

  2. Game of Thrones fans would definitely love this. Although, I don’t think it’s anything spectacular unless you are a fan of the series. However, it does look magical and straight out of a movie or a TV series!

    1. Author

      Yeah it’s more meaningful if you are a fan of course, but it’s still a pretty spot for hiking along the Basque Coast!

  3. What a great day you had! We are die hard GoT fans and are currently rewatching before the last season starts. sob. I did not know that Dragonstone was a CG castle. So interesting what they can do. That’s a lot of steps to get to the top. Cersei would probably have her staff carry her up. HA! Fun post.

    1. Author

      The winding stair was probably the easiest part of the trek for me though! Getting there was a real journey, kinda wish I had a dragon to fly me there!

  4. What a fun experience! I’ve seen that stairway on the show and it just looked so amazing. Nice to know that you can experience it for yourself. Thanks for the great tips on how to get there.

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