Gaztelugatxe Island, Bay of Biscay, Spain (with Map & Photos)

Gaztelugatxe is a small island in northern Spain in the Bay of Biscay. This small piece of land belongs to the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. The mainland is separated from the island by a stone bridge and 240 steps that lead to the main shrine of the island - the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The sanctuary is located about 80 meters above sea level.


The nearest settlements to the island are Bakio and Bermeo. About 40 kilometers south of Gaztelugatxe is the city of Bilbao, the unofficial capital of the autonomous community of the Basque Country.

Visit to the island of Gaztelugatxe

The most convenient time of the year to visit the island is spring and autumn. In summer, the island is crowded with crowds of tourists from all over the world. The most beautiful view of Gaztelugatxe opens in the early morning and closer to sunset.

The information office is open Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 15:00 to 18:00 (July and August only). Entrance to the island is free, the road to the sanctuary of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is open all year round.

It is recommended to wear comfortable shoes for the ascent to the church. The steps go on a 1600-meter path that rises with a slope of 175 meters.

On holidays, access to the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is carried out with free tickets. This measure was introduced to control the number of visitors. You can get a ticket online or take it at the checkpoint, but in this case you will have to stand in line.


What to See on the island of Gaztelugatxe

The only attraction of the island is the Church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. The temple, which today stands on a rocky area, has undergone renovations over the centuries.


According to historians, the first church building on Gaztelugatxe was erected in the 9th century by the Knights Templar. In the XII century a monastery appeared here. The last restoration of this building was carried out in 1983. Today, the skete does not fulfill its functions as a church, but the sanctuary is always open to tourists and visitors.


The chapel was erected and named after St. John the Baptist. There are many legends and signs around this place. The most common legend is the story of John the Baptist chasing the devil. According to legend, when the saint was chasing the devil, he overtook him in 3 steps. The imprint of the foot of John the Baptist remained in the form of a deep trace in the stone.

On the island of Gaztelugatxe, you can often hear the ringing of a bell. According to one of the signs, if you make a wish and hit the bell 3 times, then it will certainly come true.


The unusual name of the island comes from the Basque dialect. In the Basque language, gaztelu means castle and aitz means rock. Hence the name "Castle Rock" or "Rock Castle".

In addition to religious significance, the island of Gaztelugatxe acted as a strategic point in the defense of nearby territories. In the 14th century, this place was the scene of battles between the Lord of Biscay and the King of Castile.

In 1596, F. Drake raided the island. He and his crew of privateers plundered Gaztelugatxe and killed the keeper of the monastery. During the Spanish Civil War in the 18th century, the island was attacked by English troops.

In 1998, the territory of Gaztelugatxe Island was declared a natural protected biotope. In 2013, the site was listed by Natura 2000 as a Specially Protected Area and a Special Bird Protection Area.

In 2017, Gaztelugatxe Island became a place of pilgrimage for fans of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Instead of a chapel with the help of computer graphics, an ancient castle appeared on the island.


How to get to Gaztelugatxe

You can get to the island by public transport or private car. There is free parking nearby, but usually there are always a lot of cars here. Public transport can be reached from the settlements of Bakio and Bermeo on route No. A3524.

Bakio and Bermeo can be reached from Bilbao by buses No. A3518, A3527, A3515. You can walk from Bakio to the island in about 1 hour.

From Bermeo it is better to go by car. This settlement is located 9 kilometers from the island. The trip will take 15-20 minutes. The route will pass through the BI-3151 highway.

You can take a taxi from Bilbao to the island. The city provides their services: Taxi Carlos EN Mungia, Adolfo G. Taxi EN Bilbao, Tele Taxi, Taxi Mikel Ortuella.

Gaztelugatxe Map