Game of Thrones fans will know the name Dragonstone, ancestral home castle of House Targaryen. In HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series, Dragonstone is an imposing castle perched on a little island in the fictional Blackwater Bay of the Seven Kingdoms, but did you know that you can actually visit the location for yourself in real life? I visited the Game of Thrones shooting location in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe along the Basque coast of northern Spain to see how it compared to what you can see on screen.
Also, detailed instructions on how to get from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on a day trip by public transport (I was based in Bilbao) and what else to expect when trekking around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
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 on screen is a computer graphic of course, but you can see the cliffs and zigzag staircase of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the exterior shots.
A disclaimer that these screenshots in my article came from trailers and features on the Game of Thrones Youtube so you can see how they blended the real location into creating Dragonstone.
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 – that’s where the beach landing scenes were filmed.
How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
I spent a week in northern Spain and took a day trip from Bilbao 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 San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by public transport either. Be 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 my journey from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe 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 going 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.
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 a 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.