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While the houses of Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen continue to wage war, Game of Thrones fans can visit the real-life locations of their favorite TV moments. From the rocky coast of Northern Ireland to an ancient citadel in the mountains of Morocco, TPG Contributor Katie Hammel shares some of the best destinations for Game of Thrones fans.
Warning: spoilers (through season four) ahead!
Titanic Studios, which produces Game of Thrones, is located in Belfast and so it follows that many of the show’s filming locations are in Northern Ireland. Belfast International Airport (BFS) serves Northern Ireland with a few direct seasonal flights from the U.S. and several connections from Europe, but most direct flights from the U.S. land at Dublin Airport (DUB), which is about three hours from Belfast by train, bus, or car. Organized Game of Thrones tours in Ireland are available departing from either city. The Northern Ireland tourism board has a comprehensive map and guide to filming locations.
Whether you go on your own or with a tour, don’t miss Castle Ward Estate and the Castle Ward Tower in County Down, one of the most popular filming locations for the pilot and Season 1. This 18th-century castle –a National Trust Property set on 820 acres—stood in for the castle of Winterfell, the home of the Stark family.
Elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Ballintoy Bay served as the setting of the Iron Islands, home of weasely Theon Greyjoy. Murlough Bay, used for additional Iron Islands scenes, also served as the backdrop where Davos Seaworth was shipwrecked after the Battle of Blackwater Bay in King’s Landing. Mysterious Melisandre delivered her murderous shadow baby into the world at the 400-million-year-old Caves of Cushendun and she lit a funeral pyre for the old gods and uttered those famous words, “the night is dark and full of terrors,” at Downhill Beach, a nearly 7-mile (11km) long stretch of sandy beach that played the scene of Dragonstone.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable filming locations, and now one of the most photographed roads in the world, the beech-tree lined road known as the Dark Hedges near Stanocum in County Antrim is another favorite site. The twisty, overgrown tunnel of interlocking trees created an ominous setting perfect as the backdrop for the road from King’s Landing.
What better setting for the icy North than Iceland? Fans who visit during summer won’t find quite the frozen terrain depicted as the home of the Wildlings, but Iceland’s enchanting landscape still evokes the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms any time of year.
Iceland has one international airport, Keflavik (KEF), located in the southwest of the country near Reykjavik. Filming locations are fairly spread out, but thankfully, the country is a small one (about the size of Kentucky) so Iceland Game of Thrones tours depart from both Reykjavik and from Akureyri in the north.
North Iceland fills the role of the land “Beyond the Wall” – where snow and ice cover majestic mountains and the title of the books upon which the series is based truly comes to life. This is a land of ice and fire, of volcanoes and hot springs and glaciers and frozen lakes. Just don’t look for the trees that hid the Wildlings; Iceland has such a lack of tall trees that an old joke says that the best thing to do when you’re lost in an Icelandic forest is to simply stand up.
Filming sites here include Lake Mývatn, a geological wonder lined with rock pillars known as “black castles,” as well as Grjótagjá, the hot-spring-filled cave where Jon “know-nothing” Snow and Ygritte the Wildling got steamy, and Dimmuborgir, a rock-strewn lava field where Mance Rayder set up camp.
In the southwest, about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Park had a starring role in Arya’s storyline as the setting of her and Sandor Clegane’s journey from village to village in mid-Westeros. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is a popular tourist attraction and the place where the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet. Those plates are slowly moving apart, which has created rifts in the earth that just so happen to provide a perfectly dramatic setting for the epic journeys of the characters (as well as one of the series’ best fight scenes, the battle between Sandor Clegane and Brienne of Tarth).
Additional scenes were filmed near the Vatnajökull glacier (Europe’s largest ice cap) and Skaftafell National Park where Jon Snow fought Qhorin Halfhand near the end of Season 2.
Spain—specifically the Andalucía region—joined the roster of Game of Thrones filming locations for Season 5. Cordoba, where the city’s Roman bridge will become the Long Bridge of Volantis, and Osuna, where the Plaza de Toros de Osuna bullring will appear as Daznak’s Pit in Meereen, play roles in the coming season, but Seville is really the star. It will serve as Sunspear, seat of the House Martell and capital of Dorne (RIP Oberyn Martell).
The UNESCO World Heritage Alcazar of Seville is already one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, known for its beautiful courtyards and gardens, but it’s set to become even more popular when Game of Thrones fans see it dressed up as the Water Gardens of Dorne. Rumor has it that during filming, when the Alcazar was still partially open to the public, staff failed to recognize Nicolaj Coster-Waldau and asked him to pay admission. The actor, who plays king-slaying Jaime Lannister, politely paid for a ticket and went to work.
Seville’s San Pablo Airport (SVQ) is served by connections from Europe, while most flights from the US arrive at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD), about three hours away by train.
Malta’s time in the Game of Thrones limelight was short lived—it was only a filming location for Season 1—but it still attracts visitors who want to see the original King’s Landing (or, you know, visit a beautiful and richly historical island in the Mediterranean). After Season 1, when island officials claimed filming damaged protected habitats, producers moved to Croatia.
Ryanair, Wizzair, EasyJet, and Air Malta connect Malta to Europe via the Malta International Airport (MLA). Malta is an archipelago of three islands, (Malta, Gozo and Comino) with ferry service connecting all three. Malta Game of Thrones tours depart from the capital, Valletta.
On the island of Malta, the 4,000-year-old walled city of Mdina served as King’s Landing; the Mdina city gate was the gate to King’s Landing and the exterior of Fort Ricasoli was the Red Keep, the castle home of the king of the Seven Kingdoms. At the St. Dominic Monastery, which became the gardens of the Red Keep, Lord Stark confronted Cersei about her not-so-sisterly love for Jaime Lannister. Stark was then imprisoned in Fort St. Angelo, which doubled as the Red Keep Dungeon, and then executed in front of a crowd at Fort Manoel, which was dressed up as the Great Sept of Baelor. Additional scenes were shot at the San Anton Palace (a 16th-century palace and the real-life residence of Malta’s president) and the Verdala Palace Grounds, where Daenerys and Viserys first met everyone’s favorite Dothraki warrior, Khal Drogo, before the wedding.
That wedding took place on the smaller Maltese island of Gozo near the Azure Window, a natural rock arch formation that frames a view of the sea. Fans looking to wed their own “Sun and Stars” or “Moon of My Life” can arrange a ceremony with a view of the 165-ft-tall (50m) limestone arch.
Since Season 2, three cities in this popular Mediterranean destination—Dubrovnik, Split, and Ston— have been used for scenes of King’s Landing. Zagreb International Airport (ZAG) is the main international hub but Dubrovnik Airport (DVB) and Split Airport (SPU) are also popular gateways for flights from Europe and are more convenient for a GoT-themed visit; Game of Thrones tours in Croatia depart from both Dubrovnik and Split, which are seven and four hours from Zagreb, respectively.
Starting in the second season, the walled city of Dubrovnik became the predominant stand-in for King’s Landing. Fort Lovrijenac, an ancient fortress set 120 feet (37m) above the sparkling blue sea, plays the Red Keep; the bay it overlooks doubles for Blackwater Bay.
The island of Lokrum, off the coast of Dubrovnik, served as the fictional Quarth on Essos, where wealthy merchant Xaro Xhoan Daxos threw a welcome party for Khaleesi in the island’s botanical gardens. Back on the mainland, the Minceta Tower played the mysterious House of the Undying, from which Daenerys rescued her dragons.
Six miles (10kms) from Dubrovnik, the 15th-century Trsteno Arboretum filled the role of the seaside garden where Tyrion and Varys frequently schemed, and near Split, the hilltop medieval Klis Fortress doubled as the slaver city of Meereen.
In Season 5, the medieval town of Sibenik will take the stage as Braavos, one of the Free Cities and home to the famous Iron Bank.
The only filming location outside of Europe, Morocco set the scene for some of the more exotic locations in Game of Thrones. Most transatlantic flights to Morocco arrive at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca (CMN) or Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK), though smaller cities are served by connections from Paris and London.
Set on the windy Atlantic coast, Essaouira showed up on screen as the ancient city of Astapor, where Daenerys took on an army of “Unsullied” warriors. Morocco’s other filming location, Ait-Ben-Haddou, is no stranger to Hollywood: Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, and Gladiator are just a few of the movies that have been shot here over the years. In Game of Thrones, the ancient citadel and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Atlas Mountains played the city of Yunkai, another slaver city whose masters quickly learned that it’s best not to make the Mother of Dragons angry.
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