San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is without any doubt one of the most emblematic natural jewels of the Basque coast in Spain. This rocky islet converted into a peninsula is attached to the mainland by a bridge with two arches. It’s located in Bermeo, close to the city of Bilbao. Since it became famous for its appearance on the HBO series Game of Thrones, there are thousands of tourists who come every year to visit it. Its beauty, composition and history make San Juan de Gaztelugatxe one of the natural monuments that attract people to the Basque Country. In this post you will find all the information you need before visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: the hermitage, tickets, how to get around, weather, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in Game of Thrones… You will also find information about what to do and see nearby, routes, maps, photos, recommendations, history, hotels and accommodation, schedules and how to paraglide near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in GAME OF THRONES
Since San Juan de Gaztelugatxe was one of the sites chosen for the filming of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, the number of tourists approaching the islet has grown considerably. Thanks to the HBO series, Dragonstone is one of the places with the most tourists in the Basque Country and the north of Spain.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is not the only place in the Basque Country where Game of Thrones has been filmed. Zumaia (Gipuzkoa) and Muriola beach in Barrika (Bizkaia) are other locations that have been used to to film GOT. We strongly recommend visiting these locations.
TICKETS San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
You will need to get a free ticket if you want to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on certain dates of the year. Due to the large amount of visitors in the recent years, the Provincial Council of Biscay has begun to regulate the entrance to avoid long queues and large crowds. For this purpose, there is a website available for visitors and tourists where you can make the reservation and get the tickets. Sometimes you can also check in at the entrance of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, but if you want to guarantee the entrance, you will need to get them on this website.
You will need a free ticket access during these days of the year from 10am to 7pm:
All weekends except January, February and the first half of March.
Easter and Christmas (except on 25 and 1)
Spanish Holidays in March, November and December.
Every day from June 15 to the last weekend of September.
The STAIRS to the hermitage
How many stairs does San Juan de Gaztelugatxe have? There are exactly 241 steps that you will need to climb little by little if you don’t want to get tired. The climb is a little hard, but the effort is worth it. So we recommend taking it easy and bringing a bottle of water to drink during the journey. In addition, the views during the stair climb are impressive, so you probably will stop every few minutes to take pictures.
In the Middle Ages, there were 450 steps and the climb was even harder. That is why a reconstruction of the stairs was carried out and now the climb has become more bearable.
HERMITAGE of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
The original hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is not the one we know nowadays. Due to attacks and battles that it has suffered throughout its history and its deterioration over the years it was demolished in 1886 and rebuilt again. However, the hermitage that we know today was rebuilt in 1978, after it was burned due to the last fire. After two years, on June 24, 1980, day of San Juan, it was reopened and has passed to the jurisdiction of the San Pelayo church in Bakio.
The original church, also located on the top of the islet, was built in the 10th century and is believed to have been a temple. At first it was called Sancti Johannis de Castiello. Burials from the 9th and 12th centuries have been found inside and outside the hermitage. In 1053 it was donated by Íñigo López, Lord of Biscay, to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña located in Jaca, province of Huesca (Spain).
Further up, next to the hermitage we can find a refuge. It is always open and it is a good solution to protect from wind and rain. Many of the visitors of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe go up at sunset and spend the night there. If you want to see the sunset and sunrise at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, this is an option that you cannot miss.
More INFORMATION about Saint John of Gaztelugatxe
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe never closes, so you can visit it whenever you want. However, you can only enter the hermitage to see it inside during the high season from Tuesday to Sunday. The schedule of the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is from 11am to 6pm , except Sundays and holidays which are open from 11 to 3. Sometimes there are some informative talks in the hermitage to learn about the history of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
TOURISM OFFICE OF SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE
The tourism office of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located in the same parking lot, next to the road. You will find it open during the months of June to September, Christmas and Spanish holidays. The opening hours are from 10am to 2pm and from 3pm to 6 pm. July, August and Christmas, it stays open until 7pm. In addition, you have other tourist offices at your disposal in the towns of Bakio and Bermeo.
WHAT TO DO nearby San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
If you do want to do some other activities near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, you can’t miss tandem paragliding in Sopelana, only 20 kilometers away.
Tandem paragliding in Sopelana is one of the most popular activities among visitors and tourists who come to spend their holidays in the Basque Country. It’s an activity for the whole family, including children up to 6 years of age. This is the best way to get to know the Basque coast. During the paragliding flight in Sopelana you’ll get to see incredible landscapes from a unique point of view. The cliffs and beaches of Sopelana, Barrika and Bilbao, are some of the wonders that can be seen from the air.
Flight Horizon in Sopelana: 55€
Horizon Sopelana + Video + Micho SD 16GB Class 10 Card: 65 €
Premium Flight Sopelana + Video + Micho SD 16GB Class 10 Card: 110 €
OTHER SPORTS AND ACTIVITIES TO DO NEARBY SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE
Surf in Mundaka, Meñakoz, Barrika and Sopelana. Surfing is probably one of the sports with the most fans in the Basque Country. Thanks to the quality of its waves, thousands of surfers choose the coast of Biscay to do their favorite sport in places like Mundaka, Sopelana and Meñakoz. You can also go hiking and go on boat tours in the Cantabrian Sea.
HISTORY of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
For many years, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has been the scene of akelarres, pirates and legends. According to the legend, San Juan disembarked in the port of Bermeo and in three steps arrived at the island. You can see one of his strides on the last step before reaching the hermitage.
In addition, the legend says that Saint John of Gaztelugatxe has healing powers like: calluses of the feet, insomnia, headaches and help with fertility problems.
There are several traditions around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The best known of these is to ring the hermitage’s bell three times and then make a wish. In addition, they say that ringing the bell also serves to chase away evil spirits. We do not know if it works or not, but what is certain is that in your visit you will hear the bell many times.
Another tradition among the Bermeo sailors is to make three turns to port and starboard at the beginning of the fishing season, so that the saint brings them luck.
In the 11th century it was called Santi Johannis de Castiello or in Spanish, San Juan del Castillo. Many years later it would be called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. But what does Gaztelugatxe mean? The name comes from two Basque words. The word gaztelu- means “castle” in basque and the word -gatze means “terrible” or difficult.
HOW TO GET AROUND San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe? This wonder of nature is located on the Biscayan coast, next to the sea, in a privileged natural environment. It belongs to the municipality of Bermeo, although it is located closer to Bakio. Being away from the city, in a protected natural environment, you will need a car o bus to access the nearest parking. And although there are several ways to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao, we will detail the two main means of transport.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is 35 kilometers (21 miles) away from Bilbao and it takes about 40 minutes to get there if you do it by car and between 60 and 90 minutes if we choose to go by bus. Although it’s more comfortable to get around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by car, it’s more advisable to go by bus since the parking lot is full of cars, especially in summer. In addition, we contribute to protecting the environment.
HOW TO GET AROUND FROM BILBAO BY CAR
In order to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by car from Bilbao there are different ways but here the most common one is explained, which is also free of tolls.
First, head towards the Loiu airport joining the N-637 (Aireportua / BI-631 / Mungia / Donostia / San Sebastián). Then, take exit 18 towards BI-631. Continue on the road until you reach the roundabout and once there take the second exit (Bakio Bidea / BI-2101). You will leave behind Mungia. Afterwards, continue towards Bakio on the BI-2101. During the journey you will find signs that indicate the way to San Juan de Gatelugatxe, so you will have no difficulty in reaching your destination.
From Donostia – San Sebastian the shortest route is going first to Bilbao on the A-8 and then following the above indications to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
HOW TO GET AROUND BY BUS
Getting to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe with a single bus directly from Bilbao is only possible in summer. The route lasts approximately one hour. In winter you can take an 8-seater taxi-bus in Bakio that will leave you in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe’s parking lot. Click on this link on the page of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia to find more details about bus schedules and service frequencies.
PARKING LOT AT SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE
Parking at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is free and it is located next to the Eneperi restaurant. We recommend that you go on the week days because there are fewer people and it is easier to find a place to park. In addition, since 2018 the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the municipality of Bermeo are have carried out works to improve access to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Nowadays there are three parking lots; two public parking lots at the top and another private parking lot that belongs to the Eneperi restaurant which is for customers. The views from that point are amazing!
ROUTES and access to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
There are two different routes to access San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The first of the routes is Urizarreta and the second one, Ermu. On the map below you can see the routes marked in orange. Regardless of which of them you choose, the round trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe will take you at least one hour.
1. Urizarreta. This is the most usual and direct route. The road is narrow and is more uneven. However, at the same time it is the shortest one and it’s 1.5 kilometers long.
In order to access to this route you have to take the road that is next to the Eneperi restaurant. On rainy days, the road becomes muddy and slippery, so it is advisable to use suitable shoes. At about 300 meters the road branches off. The road on the left leads to a viewpoint with spectacular views of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The road on the right goes down to an esplanade before climbing the 241 stairs.
2. Ermu. This is the least used route since it is the longest. It’s a 3 km long paved road. The unevenness is not as pronounced as in the first route and the road is wider. Even so, since it is a longer route than Urizarreta, people usually choose the first way. Ermu can be accessed by the road that surrounds the hillside and passes by to the restaurant-hostel Gaztelu-Begi.
If you want to walk more after visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, there are another two routes.
ROUTE CAPE MATXITXAKO
Cape Matxitxako is at the end of Mount Sollube and there you can find two lighthouses; one older than the other one. From San Juan de Gaztelugatxe’s parking lot you can walk to Cabo Matxitxako on a route of about 4 kilometers. It’s marked in yellow on the map. In case you don’t want to walk so much, you can leave the car in the parking lot before starting the descent.
ROUTE SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE – BAKIO
The route to Bakio is a 2-kilometer road along the coast. It is a pedestrian route in very good condition that will take you to Bakio beach. On the map it’s marked in blue.
MAP of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
WHAT TO SEE near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
If you want to see and visit other sites near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, here are some suggestions. The closest attraction to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is the hermitage of San Pelayo (Bakio). This church is located in less than 1 kilometer from the parking lot. You will love this small hermitage of the 12th century.
Also very close to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe you can find Cabo Matxitxako. Cabo Matxitxako is the most prominent or outgoing point of the Cantabrian. There are two lighthouses, one built in 1852 and another automatic lighthouse built in 1909. In the section “Routes from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe” we have explained the route and we believe that if you are going to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, this is a place that you can’t miss.
Another place with many visitors in Biscay is Butrón Castle. Located in Gatika about 25 km away from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and 18 km from Bilbao, the medieval castle of Butrón is a must-see site.
Finally another of the sites to see near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is Barrika. This beautiful place is also a location used in Game of Thrones. It’s located 30 km away from San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and 20 from Bilbao. Its impressive flysch can be seen going down to the beach or while paragliding in Sopelana.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a protected biotope since 1998 thanks to the richness of its nature, its beautiful landscape, rarities and uniqueness. Located next to the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, this islet in the Cantabrian Sea is part of Red Natura 2000. Very close to San Juan de Gaztelugatze is Akatz Island, which also is a protected biotope.
RECOMMENDATIONS and TIPS before visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Unfortunately accidents at San Juan de Gaztelugatxeare are very common. Whether due to falls or people who are unprepared, it’s very common to see evacuations by helicopter. This is why you should read the following tips and recommendations before visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.
TIPS FOR SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE:
· Try going during the week. There will be fewer people and you won’t need to get a ticket. In addition, it’s much easier to find a place to park.
· Take care of the environment and don’t drop trash, please.
· The best time to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is summer and spring.
· You can take your dog with you, but it has to be on a leash at all times.
WHAT TO BRING TO SAN JUAN DE GAZTELUGATXE:
· Although there is a fountain on the route to the hermitage, it’s important to bring a bottle of water. Climbing 241 steps becomes hard and you will appreciate having something to drink upstairs. It’s also a good idea to bring a snack or something to eat.
· Sports shoes or trekking boots. Some parts of the stairs are slippery so it is essential to wear appropriate footwear.
· For rainy days it’s important to wear a raincoat. The umbrella can be somewhat uncomfortable when crossing with other people.
· Cap and sunscreen for sunny summer days.
· Even in hot days, the sea breeze is cool and you may need to bring something to keep you warm.
ACCOMMODATION y HOTELS: hotels, camping, rural house…
If you want to stay near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe you can choose among hotels, rural houses, campingsites and places to sleep suitable for caravans and campervans.
Hotels / Hostal
Parking Agirre Auzoa. Av. Agirre Auzoa, 822. 48370 Bermeo. Free.
Área de Bakio. Bentalde Auzoa, 50. 48130 Bakio 6€ per day.
WHERE TO EAT near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – RESTAURANTS
If you want to eat near San Juan de Gaztelugatxe these are some of the restaurants near the island:
Eneperi Restaurant, brewery and bar with pintxos with a capacity of 300 people. The restaurant Eneperi, is a farmhouse with exceptional views that is located next to the parking lot. The average menu price is 35€.
Gaztelu Begi. Restaurant and hostel next to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The Gaztelu Begi is a traditional Basque cuisine restaurant where you can eat seafood and fish of Bermeo and steak. You can also taste pintxos and rations in its spectacular terrace overlooking the Bay of Biscay. The menu price is between 25€ and 35€.
WEATHER in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
Before planning a trip or excursion it’s important to know the weather forecast. Here is the weather forecast for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe for the next 7 days.