• Explore the island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the movie 'Game of Thrones'

     If you plan to visit the Spanish island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe then here's what you should know!

    Fans will know the name Dragonstone in HBO's Game of Thrones series, Dragonstone is a majestic castle located on a small island in the fictional Blackwater bay of the Seven Kingdoms game, but you have Know that you can actually visit this place in real life? The San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island along the Basque coast of northern Spain is where you should go to see if it is different from what you see on the screen?

     

    San Juan de Gaztelugatxe IslandSan Juan de Gaztelugatxe Island

     

    San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island tourist guide

    San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a small island located along a rocky coast and connected to the mainland by an artificial bridge 150 meters above sea level. A long staircase consists of 241 stone steps, winding back and forth on the steep hillside of the isle, up to the top where there is a small church. The original church was first built in the 9th century and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Legend has it that if you ring the church bell three times after hiking and making a wish, it will come true. What makes Gaztelugatxe such a scenic spot is the stone bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

    The unique San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is surrounded by pristine cliffs, islands and beaches in the towns of Bakio and Bermeo, right next to the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve. 

     

    How to get to the island?

    The largest cities in Spain close to the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island are Bilbao and San Sebastian. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is easily accessible as a day trip from either city.

    The drive from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe takes approximately 30 minutes and is easiest if you rent a private car. Drive for about 15 minutes on the freeway and the last 15 minutes on a two-lane road that runs through several small towns. Ending your drive will take you through the beautiful seaside town of Bakio, which is absolutely worth stopping on on your way home.

    If you go from San Sebastian to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe it takes about an hour and a half if you go directly and by car through the larger highways.


    What to do when visiting the island?

    The area opens at 10:00 am, so plan to arrive right then. By starting your visit on the first thing of the day, you'll avoid all the crowds that start arriving later in the day. Crowd avoidance is especially important if you want to take pictures of the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

    Now that the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island is becoming a popular sightseeing spot in Spain, the number of visitors is starting to be limited and you have to book online ahead of time. You will need your passport number as well as the date and time you intend to visit. The trip will take you to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in about 1 and a half hours.

    Walking up and down the shore, you can watch the Atlantic waves on the left and the green hills on the right - enough to satisfy any nature lover.

    The view from the top of the island is impressive, but that's not what most tourists come here to do. Instead, they came to ring the church bells of the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Aside from the fact that more and more people are searching for places in Game of Thrones, church bells are the main attraction.

    The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, but it also has a real theme of navigation. Fishing is the lifeblood of many Basque places, so it is not surprising that people come here hoping for a quieter sea.

     

    Travel tips to the island

    When you travel in the Basque country , not everything can be reached by car. There are times of year when you cannot park your car at the bridge near the entrance. Instead, you park your car on top of a hill and then walk down a trail that leads to the entrance.

    The trail can be steep and slightly slippery in some places when wet. Some sections have steps, some parts don't. The trail can be walked by people of all ages - most children and the elderly can do it. And it's a great hike, with stunning views of the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe island  as you get closer. After a 1km walk from the top of the hill to the bridge, you have to climb the stairs to reach the church.

     

    The entire island seen from above - the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe islandThe entire island viewed from above

     

    Basque tourism often rains so bring an umbrella or a gown, especially if you have a camera or phone with you. Strong winds also flow along the coast on this stretch so be careful not to fly your hats.

     

    What to prepare when coming to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe?

    In this part of the Basque region, many restaurants are not seen. When you are at the top of the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, beer, water and hot dogs are on sale next to the chapel.

    Instead, choose to eat near the trail of the parking lot. You can walk about 50 meters from the island's parking place to the Eneperi, a Basque-style restaurant with sitting in the outdoor area overlooking the Biscay Bay. 

    If you plan to go hiking on this island, you should bring plenty of water as well as some snacks to eat along the way. When you get there, there aren't many food options, so if you think you'll be hungry, bring something to eat. The top of this island is a great place to linger for a while and enjoy a light lunch or picnic while you take in the dramatic views of the Basque coastline.

    One of the most important things to know before visiting the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Island is that it is imperative that you wear comfortable shoes. You will likely be walking quite a distance, mostly downhill and uphill, and climb a lot of stairs, so be sure to wear sneakers or flats.

    Also, when traveling to Gaztelugatxe island , you should stop by Bakio - the nearest town. It's a charming seaside village with beautiful beaches and less than five minutes' drive from the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

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