It’s free to visit the site of Dragonstone from 'Game of Thrones'—but there’s a catch

Helen Sloan | HBO

On HBO's seventh season of "Game of Thrones," Daenerys Targaryen returns to Dragonstone, the abandoned castle where she was born that was once the ancestral home of House Targaryen.

Though the castle itself is just an elaborate CGI masterpiece, the breathtaking setting where the show films is completely real — and it's free to visit.

Located near Bermeo, Spain, the site is known as San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and was originally built as a religious hermitage by the Knights Templar in the ninth century. A church sits atop the tiny island, accessible only by a narrow set of stairs that bridge the island to Spain's mainland.

While the monument and staircase never close to the public, getting there can be tricky. Not only is it about an hour and a half drive from the closest town, but the trek up the mountain is far from easy. The path is straightforward, thanks to the island's status as a popular tourist destination, but it's a steep hike and not recommended for anyone not in good physical condition.

"Not a long walk but quite hilly," TripAdvisor user Jane C. commented on the site's page. "The final path to the chapel, you do need shoes with a bit of grip especially if it has been raining."

Other TripAdvisor users left similar comments. If you're planning to visit, here's what you need to know, according to those who have already make the trek:

  • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes. The hike can get steep at parts and is slippery after rain.
  • When the church at the peak is open, you can buy cold water inside, but be sure to bring your own for the journey there. It can get hot, especially in the direct summer sun.
  • If you want to tour the church, it's open between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
  • The only bathroom along the way is a hole in the ground, so come prepared with toilet paper — or go beforehand.
  • According to local legend, when you get to the top, if you ring the bell at the church three times and make a wish, it will come true.

Despite the hike's challenges, those who have done it say it's well worth the effort.

"It is even more amazing and beautiful than the photo," TripAdvisor user Smilepolitely said. "No one can ever be a hermit here again, but moments of peace and reflection are quite attainable. I didn't want to leave."

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