How to Get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao

The islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is one of the most visited sites of the entire Basque coast and knowing how to get to this place from Bilbao becomes a real necessity to avoid unnecessary detours.

Keyvis Montilva

Keyvis Montilva

13 min read

How to Get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain | Jose Maria Garcia Garcia

A visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe together with a punctual tour of other towns of the Biscay Coast is one of the best things to see or do while traveling in Bilbao. The natural beauty of the north of the Basque Country as well as the architectural peculiarity of its towns makes it a real necessity to explore the area beyond the largest and best known city of this Spanish autonomy.

So here I will explain the means you have at your disposal to reach without inconvenience and in a fast and safe way to the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. Which will be waiting for you along with other great attractions of this section of the northern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.

1. The best way to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao: an organized excursion

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©jordi Doria Vidal
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©jordi Doria Vidal

The fact that San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is located only 35 kilometers from the center of Bilbao makes it a basic and elementary tourist destination among visitors interested in touring the Basque Coast. Either from Biarritz or San Sebastian to the mouth of the Nervion River on the waters of the Bay of Biscay. In turn, a one-day guided excursion from Bilbao to this famous rocky islet is the best way to get to know such an attractive and peculiar place.

The first reason is a matter of logistical organization. In this type of day trips from Bilbao there is always a planned route that guarantees that you will be in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in time to enjoy its beauty. You will also be able to get to know other corners of the coast, without having to worry about investigating them on your own.

The second reason is comfort, as a guided and pre-organized excursion usually takes place in first class vehicles. Most commonly it is a minibus for up to 25 people and in this type of car you can enjoy the road trip on your own terms. You have the option of joining the group and socializing or participating in a game with your companions and family members. You could also take advantage of the trip to admire the beauty of one of the most beautiful forest areas in Spain.

The guided accompaniment of the experience is a third reason that makes this experience the best alternative to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao. At all times you will have a specialist at your disposal to answer all your questions about the history of the region, as well as the island that is the protagonist of your interests. I will explain in more detail the two types of excursions that are usually given to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe so that you have a more precise idea of the trip you can enjoy.

Excursion to the viewpoint of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

This type of excursion usually focuses on getting to know San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and two or three villages in the surrounding area. They usually start at the Vizcaya Transporter Bridge, a marvel of modern engineering that is worth seeing before leaving the metropolitan area of Bilbao.

The next point of the itinerary is usually the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, but in this type of excursion it is not usual for participants to descend to the beach and then begin to climb the more than 200 steps to the hermitage. It is located on the rocky top of the island, more than 150 meters above sea level. In this case the minibus usually parks at the viewpoint of the islet and from there the guide tells the history of the place and allows tourists to capture photographic souvenirs.

After this moment we resume driving to the town of Bermeo, one of the most picturesque in the region for its Basque architecture houses painted in bright colors just at the level of the promenade along the coast of the town. There will be an urban tour of the town before heading to Guernica-Luno, a historic town that suffered a tragic bombing during the Spanish Civil War that inspired Pablo Picasso for the creation of his most famous work.

Finally, you will return to the center of Bilbao after having toured some of the most interesting towns in the Basque surroundings. Including among them the admiration of the beautiful islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Interesting facts:

  • Price: a tour like this usually costs about 62 euros per adult. There is a 50% discount for children between 12 and 2 years of age. Babies under one year of age can pass free of charge, but must be in the arms of their representatives.
  • Duration of the trip: an excursion with these characteristics and with this number of stops usually lasts about 5 hours. However, the traffic that is created during busy tourist seasons can make the trip take a little longer.
  • Advantages: this trip is interesting for those who only want to see the rock of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, but have no interest in doing the small hiking route that is involved in the ascent to the hermitage at the top of the island.
  • Disadvantages: that very fact and the lack of ascent to the hermitage, can be a significant shortcoming for those who are only interested in this site and do not seek to know the rest of the region. Or who at least wants a little more prominence on the part of the famous stone stairs that lead to the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

Excursion with ascent to the hermitage

As San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is the most interesting element for you in any type of guided excursion, it is advantageous to know that there are some itineraries that include the ascent to the hermitage at the top of the rock as part of the tourist planning of the tour. Basically, the start of the trip is the same, as you will meet your group at the point in the center of Bilbao where the minibus will leave and start driving directly to this famous rocky section of the Basque Coast.

Everything changes when you arrive at the parking lot of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, as the guide who has accompanied you so far will tell you that you have 2 hours free to explore the area on your own terms. He will also indicate the area where he will be waiting for the group in case they have any questions or if any unforeseen emergency arises.

That means that you will have to walk from the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe Access Control to start descending a perfectly marked path that will take you to the two-arched bridge. This marks the beginning of the steep and winding stairs that after about 15 minutes will allow you to reach the top of the island where the hermitage of the same name is located. Keep in mind that according to the locals on the last step before reaching the hermitage you can see the footprint of St. John the Baptist.

Eventually, when the two hours are up you will have to return to the meeting point with your tour minibus and from there you will continue with the tour of the Basque Coast. Which means you will still have the opportunity to enjoy a short visit to the town of Bermeo as well as the municipality of Guernica-Luno and its historic Casa de las Juntas.

Interesting facts:

  • Price: an adult usually pays about 68 euros while children between 12 and 2 years old would pay about 35 euros. Please note that this includes payment of all road tolls, any taxes and also the guide who will accompany you throughout the excursion.
  • Duration of the trip: as in this case if there is an ascent to the hermitage of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe then the duration of the trip usually extends up to about 6 hours on average. Something logical knowing that the stop at the Transporter Bridge of Vizcaya is usually eliminated to optimize logistics.
  • Advantages: in this case if you manage to enjoy everything that has to do with San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and also have the opportunity to visit other beautiful places in the region in the same tourist itinerary.
  • Disadvantages: having to climb up to the hermitage can be quite a challenge for family groups that include very young children or those traveling with elderly adults. That implies the separation of the group if someone really wants to climb the stairs and that can be a relatively bad thing depending on each person.

Book your excursion to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

2. How to get there by car?

Rent a car| ©Obi
Rent a car| ©Obi

There are other alternatives to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe from Bilbao in a direct and safe way without having to adjust to the itinerary of a tourist excursion, in case you are not interested in taking advantage of the benefits of one. The first option you have at your disposal is to arrive by private car driving along the roads of the Basque Country. Which is a good idea, as it would only be a 40 or 50 minute drive one way and the same amount of time on the way back.

In this case you will have to take the BI-631 road from the center of Bilbao and drive north as if you were going to the town of Bermeo. A couple of kilometers before arriving to Bermeo you will have to take the detour to the BI-2101 which is a new road that goes in the direction of Baquio. You will make this change at a traffic circle and from there you will have another couple of kilometers to get to Baquio.

When you get to this town you will see the signs that take you towards the road to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and when you are arriving at the viewpoint you will find a parking lot where you can leave the car.

Keep in mind that this is a good alternative, since having a car you can tour the Basque Country at your leisure to get to know the best villages around Bilbao as well as to move around the region to enjoy the best gastronomic tours of Bilbao.

Interesting facts:

  • Price: it all depends on the season of your visit and the type of rental car you choose, as well as the duration of the contract. However, on average the cost of renting a car in Bilbao is usually between 30 and 50 euros per day. Keep in mind that the price of fuel as well as road tolls are added to this rate.
  • Duration of the trip: the round trip driving from the center of Bilbao to the parking lot of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is usually between 1 hour and a half and 2 hours approximately. The time you decide to spend on the islet and its alternatives is up to you.
  • Advantages: the experience of going in a private car is the most intimate of all, as well as the most adjustable to the interests of each participant. Being able to use the car to tour the Basque Coast at your own schedule is also beneficial.
  • Disadvantages: a car implies that you will have to have a place to park it in Bilbao in case you intend to use it for more days and if you add fuel prices it could become the most expensive alternative of all.

Enjoy the best gastronomic tours of Bilbao

3. How to get there by bus?

Touring San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©Mario A. P.
Touring San Juan de Gaztelugatxe| ©Mario A. P.

If you like the idea of traveling by bus, but do not want to participate in a preconceived excursion then you can take advantage of the public transport routes in the region to your advantage. In the high season which usually runs from early to late summer there is a direct route between Bilbao and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe departing from the bus stations near the San Mames Stadium. However, during the rest of the year you will have to settle for a logistics that involves combinations of different bus routes.

And the first option available to you would be to take advantage of the line that connects Bilbao with Baquio called A3518 and that will leave you in the center of this coastal town in about 1 hour. You could also take the other more common line that goes from Bilbao to Bermeo and is called A3527. The connections are given when you have to use the line that connects Baquio and Bermeo, the A3524, as it is the only one that will take you directly to the entrance of the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe parking lots.

My advice is to go from Bilbao to Baquio and then take the bus to Bermeo. In this case you will have to get off at the Gaztelu Begi stop, since this is the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe stop and leaves you less than 100 meters from the Tourist Access Control. You would apply the same route in reverse to be able to return to the city and thus be able to join the best plans to do or see in Bilbao at night.

Do not forget that you will need to get the Barik card to make all these transfers by bus, as it is the mobility card between public transport systems in the region of Vizcaya. You can buy it at any Bilbao metro station for about 3 euros and a 5 euro recharge will be enough for you to do the round trip route I have suggested.

Interesting facts:

  • Price: if you add the 3 euros of the card with the 5 euros recharge you can assume that this trip has an approximate cost of 8 euros per person. Now, these rates are estimates, as there may be adjustments in prices and that could slightly raise the final cost.
  • Duration of the trip: adding the stops and the change of bus that you would have to make in Baquio twice, it can be inferred that the trip in total can take 2 and a half hours and even three if there were significant delays.
  • Advantages: public transportation is an extremely economical and even entertaining experience for many tourists. In addition, by taking the card you could take advantage of it to move around the region as well as within Bilbao.
  • Disadvantages: there is no guarantee that the buses will run at exactly the times you are interested in and this can be very distressing for those who enjoy timed logistical planning at all times.

4. How to get there by cab or Uber?

Ordering an Uber| ©
Ordering an Uber| ©

If none of the other options are compelling to you you'll be pleased to know that you still have one last alternative. It is a bit more expensive and depends a lot on the availability of vehicles and the willingness of the driver, but you always have the alternative of traveling in a cab, in an Uber or in a BlaBlaCar.

Keep in mind that in the case of Uber you will have to adjust to the rates that are available based on the supply and demand of trips at the time of your request. This means that everything can be more expensive on a day with too many tourists, such as Easter or summer weekends.

In turn, with a cab driver it all depends on whether you get one who is willing to travel to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe on any given day. The truth is that you have to take into account the fact that you will pay him for the one-way trip, but there is no guarantee that he will want to wait for you to pay him for the return trip to Bilbao.

The same thing happens with BlaBlaCar, as you will have to be monitoring the application to see if there is someone who is doing that route from Bilbao to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe or at least to Baquio. In a touristy time you'll most likely get a compelling ride on this platform, but keep in mind that whether it's Uber, cab or BlaBlaCar there's no guarantee that you'll get the same alternative for the return. That means you'll likely rely on public buses.

Facts of interest:

  • Price: the approximate fare for an Uber to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe at an average time without much demand for services is usually 50 or 60 euros. Keep in mind that the trip will be in two directions and the price goes up to 100 or 120 euros. A cab will charge very similar rates and on BlaBlaCar you may be able to get prices that have a discount of up to 30 or 40%.
  • Journey time: the driving remains the same and that means that equally the round trip if done exclusively in a cab or private ride will take about 2 hours or a little less.
  • Advantages: with a cab driver you get to enjoy a little more privacy than with public transport or a shared tour and you still don't have to worry about dealing with driving the car while behind the wheel.
  • Drawbacks: it's not the cheapest alternative of all and depending on the time you choose to go to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe there are significant odds that you won't find a cab driver or Uber for the return trip. Which leaves you completely dependent on the bus system.

Tips for the journey between Bilbao and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Visiting the rock castle of Gaztelugatxe| ©Luis A. López
Visiting the rock castle of Gaztelugatxe| ©Luis A. López

The first tip I can give you is to bring sunscreen no matter how cloudy the sky looks at the time of your visit. Remember that there is still a chance of getting sunstroke even if the sun is not fully visible.

This is one of the things to see and do in Bilbao with kids and that is a good thing. Although to ensure the success of this idea it is preferable that you take some entertainment option for the trips by minibus, public bus or car.

I also recommend that you take snacks to cope with the appetite if it should appear at an inappropriate time. But I would also point out that right next to the parking lot of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe there is a traditional Basque restaurant called Eneperi that is quite good and has nothing to envy to an urban establishment.

I also advise you to request a reservation for your visit completely free of charge in case you are visiting San Juan de Gaztelugatxe between June 13 and September 11. As well as during Holy Week, a holiday or during a long weekend. For a couple of years this system has been in place to prevent the deterioration of the park by limiting the entrance to a certain number of people when there are times of excessive tourist influx.