In the bleak and dismal break between seasons 5 and 6 of Game of Thrones, fans may have got their Westeros fix by visiting the short-lived King’s Landing, which replaced King’s Langley for just under two weeks, or even by rolling around on these 3D street art depictions of The Wall. However, what better way to really get into the spirit of proceedings than by visiting one of the exotic Game of Thrones destinations where filming for the program actually took place? These are permanent real-life locations where the show’s incest, pillaging, and frequent death run riot. Fun for all the family, indeed.
Warning! The article below contains spoilers. GoEuro takes no responsibility (but a small amount of smug satisfaction) in ruining epic storylines.
UK based GoT fans rejoice! Much of Westeros is actually located in the not-so-exotic-nor-distant land of Northern Ireland. Given Ireland’s average 300 rainy or cloudy days a year, many of the filming locations were used to depict Winterfell, the North, and other less sunny parts of the Seven Kingdoms. Winter surely is ‘coming’.
Those who want to tread the same grounds as the Family Stark should explore the area of Downpatrick, County Down, where Castle Ward was used to film parts of Winterfell (prior to it being sacked by Theon, gutted by flames and occupied by the Boltons). Nearby Audley’s Castle and Woods were the location for the family’s war encampment in Season 1. Further north you’ll find the setting for Castle Black and the epic Hardhome battle sequence in the abandoned Magheramorne Quarry. Nearby Redhall Estate appeared in both Seasons 1 and 3 under various guises, including as the Inn where Catelyn Tully captured Tyrion Lannister before taking him to her twisted sister in Eyrie. (For bonus fan points, the rock formations that make up Eyrie actually lie in Greece and had the castle CGI’d onto them).
With eerie in mind, Ballymoney’s Dark Hedges provided the backdrop for the iconic Kingsroad. As one of the most photographed sites in Ireland, their dramatic appearance was perfect for the award-winning series.
It seems Ireland’s rugged terrain is pretty adaptable as a mythological setting, with Sandy Brae Path at Newry and Mourne used as the site of the twin horse statues marking the entrance to Vaes Dothrak. There’s obviously something especially fantastic about this area, as the Mourne Mountains are said to have inspired C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
Our final tip for Northern Ireland is to head to the Caves of Cushendun, County Antrim, where one of the more disturbing scenes from Season 2 was filmed: Melisandre’s birthing of the shadow baby that kills Renly. The area itself is actually extremely quaint and scenic, though perhaps not the best place to go into labour – for a shadow baby delivery or otherwise.
Leaving Ireland and heading south to warmer climes, we find ourselves in Malta, a landscape that constituted much of King’s Landing in Season 1. The country’s former capital Mdina was used to represent the central city of Westeros to great effect; the many well-preserved, historical buildings fit perfectly with the theme of exotic, medieval grandeur. Local structures on the Mediterranean island, such as the Mdina Bridge, Pjazza Mesquita, and Verdala Palace are all located close to one another and – as well as sounding as though they might be found in Westeros themselves – provided many locations for some of the more dramatic scenes.
As the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, Malta also housed the Iron Throne for some time. Fittingly, the San Anton Palace, which functions as one of the President of Malta’s residences, housed the Iron Throne throughout Season 1. Unlike King’s Landing’s seaside location, Mdina is located in-land of the coast, and could only be used to depict interior shots of the Westerosi capital as a result.
From Season 2-5 the filming of King’s Landing moved to Croatia, specifically Dubrovnik and Lokrum. As a seaside walled city similar to the Westerosi capital, Dubrovnik provided numerous opportunities to film exterior shots as well as the interior shots the crew had been limited to in Mdina.
The surrounding waters were put to good use, providing the setting for the epic Battle of Blackwater, whilst Fort Lovrijenac became the new Red Keep. Sections of Qarth in the Essos continent were also filmed here, with the Minceta Tower used as the exterior of the House of The Undying.
Many other parts of Qarth were filmed on the nearby island of Lokrum, including the botanical gardens, used for outdoor scenes such as the welcome party thrown by Xaro. Lokrum itself is said to be cursed, so much like the characters in GoT, you would be wise to visit but not to stay. Back on the mainland, the gates of Qarth were constructed in Dubac quarry, along with King’s Landing’s waterside garden in Season 3 which was located at the Trsteno Arboretum.
Dubrovnik’s Gradac Park provided the filming location for one of Season 4’s largest set pieces- the Purple Wedding Feast. This large public park is adjacent to Dubrovnik’s Old City and can be reached by climbing the century old steps which provide an excellent vantage point for viewing the death of a teenage tyrant King as well as the city below. Similarly, the Stradun or main street between the Dubrovnik Cathedral and Sponza Palace provided the filming location for one of Season 5’s most memorable sequences- Cersei’s walk of penance. This long medieval street was filled with over 500 extras for the sequence!
Meereen and Braavos were also filmed in Sibenik, Klis and Split, but reports indicate that most of the King’s Landing filming will move from Croatia to Spain for Season 6.
Volcanic but frozen, Iceland is truly the Land of Ice and Fire. Barren, alien, beautiful but brutal, this mysterious landscape is the perfect location for the land Beyond The Wall. Line Producer Chris Newman said they wanted as much of the scenery to be as true to life as possible, and that they weren’t “doing anything in post production to add mountains or snow or anything.” Hence, many of the locations used in these scenes are available to be visited… should you be able to bare the cold.
Filming spots included Höfðabrekkuheiði, the Myrdalsjokull glacier, the Vatnajökull glacier – Europe’s largest ice cap – and Lake Myvatn which, although a protected area, is easily accessible for visitors. Annual events hosted here include the Icelandic marathon. The lake is littered with unusual lava formations, aptly known as “black castles”. While a majority of scenes were filmed at the Lake, Iceland’s Skaftafell National Park was also put to good use. Lying in the south of Iceland, the park is well known for its surprisingly agreeable summer climate, although judging by the snow-topped scenery in Game of Thrones, filming at Skaftafell took place during winter.
While the life of an actor may seem glamorous, those who were involved in Icelandic scenes had to brave severely cold conditions. The scene where Jon Snow fights Qhorin Halfhand near the end of Season 2 took place on a cliff with a 500-metre drop in snow so deep the actors kept sinking into it during an exhausting two-day shoot.
Heading back to a more comfortable environment, Morocco was used as the primary setting for many of Daenerys’ travels in Season 3. This was actually a revisit for the production team to the area – it was originally used as King’s Landing in the unaired pilot.
Although some of the shots here were used to represent King’s Landing in the third season, the historic city of Aït Benhaddou, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, was utilised to represent Yunkai, or the Yellow City visited (and sacked) by The Mother of Dragons. The beautifully sandy citadel, known widely for its kasbahs, is no stranger to the limelight, having been a backdrop for blockbusters such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, and Gladiator.
Another out-of-this-world shooting location is Essaouira, Western Morocco, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In GoT it served as the location for the slave-trading city of Astapor and housed the Plaza of Pride and the Palace of The Good Masters. In real life, this little city is buzzing with culture, with its historical beauty and stunning sea views preserved thanks to strict building restrictions.
Spain was added as a major filming location in season 5, primarily doubling for the home of the Martell’s Dorne. The fact that much of Dorne’s history in the novels is inspired by medieval Spain makes this the perfect filming location for the series’ newest locale. It is also rumoured that most of the filming for King’s Landing in Season 6 will be moved from Croatia to Spain.
Seville, in the south of Spain, doubled for much of Dorne in Season 5, with the famous Alcazar of Seville doubling as the location for Jaime and Bronn’s Myrcella rescue attempt in the Dornish Water Gardens. Alternatively, the Osuna bullring, located just outside of Seville provided the filming location for Meereen’s fighting pit and Daenerys’ first dragon flight towards the end of Season 5.
Various Spanish landmarks are also set to double for numerous Season 6 shooting locations including the long anticipated Tower of Joy flashback scene. The remote Zafra Castle in the Spanish province of Guadalajara is purported to function as the Tower of Joy, located in the Red Mountains of Dorne in the novels. Additionally, the Bardenes Reales Mountains in Naverre Spain are rumoured to be featured as part of Daenerys’ Season 6 storyline with a Khalasar in the Dothraki Sea. Almeria in Andalusia has also been reported to function as the capital of the Dothraki and home of the Dosh Khaleen, Vaes Dothrak.
Finally, Barcelona’s Castell de Santa Florentina is rumoured to double as Sam’s family home, Horn Hill, as he makes his way south with Gilly and baby Sam towards Oldtown – a main location in the books yet to be realised on the screen. Girona is also said to be used for exterior shots of Oldtown and Braavos in upcoming Season 6 plot lines while Besalú provides the perfect backdrop for what is rumoured to be Highgarden in the upcoming season.
So there you have it. Whether you’re a Game of Thrones fanatic or simply enjoy beautiful locations, this list of destinations are sure to appease.
Ready to plan your trip? Find the best way to get there here.