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Game of Thrones: The Grand Tour

By Clark Norton
April 14, 2015

UPDATED: May 26, 2017

With Season 7 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones almost here, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with Westeros, Winterfell, Essos, King’s Landing, The Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Throne, Tyrion, Cersei, the rest of the Lannisters, Daenerys and the Targaryens, the Baratheons, the Starks, Lord Baelish, the Greyjoys, the Wildlings, the White Walkers…and dozens of other characters, places, families, armies, kings and would-be kings, sadists, liars, spies, schemers, charlatans, lovers, knights, dragons and dungeons we don’t have room to mention.

You can be forgiven if occasionally (or more than occasionally!) you get confused about who’s who and what’s what. The family tree’s are dizzyingly complicated and it’s hard to keep track of who’s aligned with who and who’d ancestor did such-and-such to someone else's ancestor.

Nevertheless, GoT is one of the most popular TV shows in the world right now, seen in 193 countries (we’re guessing North Korea is the outlier), and we’re big fans, too.

What better way to get ready for Season 7, which promises to be epic - bringing us ever closer to the burning question of who will end up on the Iron Throne - than visiting some or all of the countries and locations where Game of Thrones has been filmed?

*Spoilers Ahead!

Filming locations for Game of Thrones have ranged from Northern Ireland to Morocco, Iceland to Malta, Croatia to Spain. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve all been spectacularly beautiful while at the same time representing a world of timeless fantasy mixed with gritty Medieval realism -- no easy feat.  

Here’s a look at where to go on your Game of Thrones grand tour:

1. Northern Ireland

Much of Westeros, the main setting for the series, is filmed in Northern Ireland, in the regions around Belfast and along the northern coast in County Antrim. The words that come to mind are “rugged,” “forested,” and “spectacular.” 

Castle Ward in Northern Ireland’s County Down is the setting for Winterfell, home of the Starks, where then-King Robert Baratheon came to visit in Season 1. The 820-acre estate includes the house, a sunken garden, and woodland. 

Tollymore Forest Park, also in County Down, was the haunting scene of a spooky forest in Season 1, where Ned Stark and his sons find the direwolf pups and a member of the Night’s Watch comes across some dismembered bodies of Wildlings. 

Audley’s Field and Castle near Strangford Lough in County Down is the setting for Robb Stark’s Camp in Season 2, where he met Talisa. Jaime Lannister is imprisoned at Audley’s as well. 

Ireland

The Dark Hedges in Antrim form the beautiful beech-tree-lined King’s Road where Ayra Stark escaped from King’s Landing in Season 2. 

The harbor in the town of Ballintoy along the winding North Antrim coast between the  Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge -- two of the most popular tourist sights on Ireland’s northernmost coast -- has been the setting for the Iron Islands off mainland Westeros.

Downhill Beach, also on the Causeway Coast, is Dragonstone in the series, where the creepy priestess Melisandre chants “For the night is dark and full of terrors” in Season 2, making us all shudder.

30 Trips in Ireland Visit County Down

70 Trips in Ireland visit the Causeway Coast 


 

2. Croatia

Croatia

Since Season 2, the walled old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, has been the setting for King’s Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms -- where the ruthless Lannister family rule, plot, scheme, fight with and even murder each other. You know, just your average night at the dinner table.  

Dubrovnik’s Trsteno Arboretum serves as the peaceful seaside garden where various King’s Landing plots are hatched in private amid flowers and greenery.  

Outside Dubrovnik’s walls, the bay where cruise ships may be seen on non-shooting days was the scene of the bloody Battle of Blackwater, where King Stannis unsuccessfully invaded King’s Landing in Season 2, with Tyrion Lannister saving the day and his twerpy nephew Joffrey taking the credit.  

Split, Croatia, up the coast from Dubrovnik, incorporates ruins of Diocletian’s Palace into the walls of its old city. Split was used in Season 4 as one of the locations for the story of Daenyres Targaryen, dragon-bearing Khaleesi (queen) of Essos and another rival for the Iron Throne.

145 Trips Visit Dubrovnik

97 Trips Visit Split


 

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3. Malta

Malta

The history-seeped island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean stood in for King’s Landing in Season 1 of the series, before it moved to Dubrovnik. The gate to the town of Mdina served as the gate to King’s Landing and Fort Ricasoli formed the exterior of the king’s home.  

The Azure Window, a natural rock formation extending into the sea on the small Maltese island of Gozo, was the scene of Season 1’s dramatic Dothraki Wedding between Daenerys and Khal Drogo, king of the Dothrakis, who soon perished.

Unfortunately this may have been a premonition for the tragic collapsing of the Azure Window into the ocean in late 2016.

16 Trips Visit Malta


 

4. Morocco

Africa

The rugged, harsh desert landscapes of Morocco serve as the realm where Daenery’s spends much of her time during Game of Thrones. The sepia toned sand and rock amid dusty wind and rough conditions reflect a distinct character - easy to brush off, but slowly building into a steadfast threat against the rest of Westeros.

Three exotic-looking towns in Morocco -- Essaouira on the coast, Ait Benhaddou, and nearby Ouarzazate in the Sahara -- served as locations for the two slave-trading cities, Astapor and Yunkai, which were outsmarted and outfought by Daenerys and her dragons in Season 3.

37 Trips Visit Essaouira

19 Trips Visit Ait Benhaddou  

18 Trips Visit Ouarzazate


 

5. Iceland

Iceland

Iceland is a very appropriate setting for the icy lands Beyond the Wall where Jon Snow bravely ventures in Season 3 and beyond. Locations have included rock-lined Lake Myvatn, the Gullfoss waterfall, Svinafellsjokull glacier and the Geysir hot spring.

The Dimmuborgir Lava Field was used as a Wildling Camp. And if that wasn’t enough, in real life it is connected to much folklore including being the Gate to Hell, and the home of trolls and other creatures. Who needs Game of Thrones when you have Iceland’s rich imagination?

Grjótagjá lava cave is where Jon and Ygritte...you know. And you can visit! TIP: go in the winter when the water isn’t too hot to take a dip.

The surrounding natural landscape of Iceland must be sick of hearing every iteration of "You know nothing, Jon Snow" from enthusiastic fans attempting their best Ygritte impression, a favorite character who perished in Season 4.

The vast lands North of the Wall can be found in Vatnajökull, which contains Europe’s largest glacier, in Southeast Iceland.

27 Trips Visit Dimmuborgir

2 Trips Visit Grjotagja

62 Trips visit Vatnajokull


 

6. Spain

Spain

Spain makes its first appearance as a location setting in the fifth season, standing in for the city of Dorne.  

Shooting has taken place at Seville’s Moorish-style Alcazar, a one-time fort turned royal palace, which serves as the Water Gardens of Sunspear in Dorne. The Game of Thrones crew had exclusive use of the Alcazar gardens during shooting, a major concession by Spanish officials since the site already drew many daily tourists.

As season 5 progressed, the number of visitors increased exponentially, a similar pattern to what has happened in Northern Ireland, Croatia, and Iceland.

A much talked about new location for Season 6 last year was Girona, Spain. This relatively sleepy town had had minimal tourist activity before Game of Thrones. As the setting for Arya’s intense and character building storyline, as she trains to be No One, the town has seen a major upswing in visitors.

86 Trips visit Alcazar

19 Trips Visit Girona


You can put together your own tour of Game of Thrones sites in conjunction with many guided tour operators who plan private itineraries, or join an organized group that follows a Game of Thrones theme. Check out our list of Top Guided Tours for Game of Thrones Fans for inspiration!


 

Did you enjoy this article? Did you enjoy this article? You might enjoy these Stride blogs too:

Spain From Tatooine to Hoth: Real Life Star Wars Locations

Petra Location Scouting: Movie Sites Around the World

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