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

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 and are not mine or used for commercial purposes. I included them in this article so you can better see how they blended the real location into creating Dragonstone. 

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 – 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.

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 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!

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, or check out my other posts on Spain and how I’m learning to speak Spanish


Wednesday 25th of December 2019

Hello, thank you for the thorough walkthrough of your journey! Just curious, if one were to take the bus from Bilbao, taxi in Bentalde, walk the 241 steps, and return back to Bilbao via bus on the San Pelaio (Begiratokia/mirador) bus long was that journey? I am planning to do this and then bus over to Zumaia afterwards to visit the Zumaia Flysch – Itzurun Beach. I'm afraid this might be overly aggressive to fit into 1 day. Thank you in advance!

Jaclynn Seah

Wednesday 25th of December 2019

Hi Corie,

I don't think it's doable by public transport - even with the taxi, just getting to Gaztelugatxe will probably take you about 1.5 hours, and if you head back to Bilbao and a quick google shows it'll take about 2 hours to bus from Bilbao to Itzurun... even if you started super early I think it'll be pretty packed and you'll have to hope the public transport is punctual and available when you want it. You probably need longer summer days to properly enjoy both locations properly, but even then I'm not sure how late the buses run till.

Might be possible if you drove yourself and don't have to worry about bus schedules and you can go straight from Gaztelugatxe to Itzurun, and perhaps instead of heading back to Bilbao from Itzurun, maybe go to San Sebastian instead which is much nearer?


Saturday 3rd of August 2019

Hello. Thank you for all those infos. Im a solo traveller and a Got fan, im planning to vist the site onb a weekday in september, i will be only in Barcelona for work and i will take a plane to Bilbao, spend 24 hours there and visit San Juan and maybe Bermeo if enough time, i was advised about public transport, the bus A 3518 from Bilbao to Bakio and than a taxi bus to San juan the A3524, is it enough to get close or i must take also a taxi after? do you advise the hike in the morning time to reach there around 11 am, or in the afternoon? for photos. Thanks for your help

Jaclynn Seah

Monday 5th of August 2019

i think you definitely need to take the taxi especially since you're short on time! Morning will probably give you more time and probably be cooler to hike, but afternoon is nice too :) Have a great time visiting!


Sunday 14th of July 2019

Hi Jaclynn, I want to reach the view that you've described in the photo as 'Check out that view of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe!' ..'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!' - what is the name of the restaurant so that I can orientate myself? thanks!

Jaclynn Seah

Sunday 14th of July 2019

Hi Michelle, I marked it on the Google Map, and it also says the restaurant is called Eneperi but I can't actually remember for sure that was the name of the restaurant, but trust me there is only one entrance to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe so you can't miss it!

Michael Brown

Friday 17th of May 2019

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.

Jaclynn Seah

Friday 17th of May 2019

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!


Sunday 21st of April 2019

Hey Jac, Where would you recommend staying in Bilbao?

Jaclynn Seah

Monday 22nd of April 2019

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 link for more info (affiliate link)