Does your life lack dragons? Do you long for the excitement and danger of a constant, treacherous struggle for ruling power? If you find yourself simply counting down the hours to the new season of Game of Thrones (or for George RR Martin to finally write another book), one option is to spend time traveling to the real-life locations that were used in the filming of the show.
From Iceland to Morocco, the show’s creators have traveled the globe to bring to life the mythical world that Martin describes in his novels straight to the screen. While much of the filming takes place in a studio, and of course there is a lot of technology involved, many of the landscapes and buildings seen throughout the show are real locations open to the public. We can’t promise dragons or control of the Iron Throne, but what you will get are some spectacular sights that might make you feel like a real Westerosi. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite backpack with lots of pockets and visit all the real-life Game of Thrones locations.
Winterfell (Castillo Ward)
One of the main filming locations for the series is the 400-hectare estate around Castle Ward in Northern Ireland. Located near the village of Strangford in County Down, the main castle is a national property dating back to the 18th century. The property, however, has been in the Ward family since 1570; Old Castle Ward was probably built by Nicholas Ward around 1590. The Old Castle Ward serves as the location for Winterfell, home of the Starks and the backdrop for most of season 1. You can even sign up for a “Winterfell Tour” that takes you on a journey of 20 key locations from the filming spread around the castle complex.
King’s Road (The Dark Hedges)
Another Northern Ireland location is the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, an avenue of beech trees planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century as an entrance to their mansion. As one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland, some viewers probably recognized the tunnel of trees when it was used as the northern part of the King’s Road. In the first episode of the second season, when Arya Stark has escaped Winterfell disguised as a boy, she travels this road in a wagon with a group of boys and men headed north to The Wall to join the Night’s Watch.
Dragonstone (Downhill Strand)
“The night is dark and full of terrors”. Another notable location in Northern Ireland (although there are many besides this list) is the beach at Downhill Strand, used not as a set for the North like many of the other places in Northern Ireland, but instead as Dragonstone Island. Downhill is a beach that stretches for approximately 11 kilometers; designated as an area of scientific interest and a special area of conservation, the scenic beach attracts visitors from all over County Londonderry and the nearby small town of Castlerock. In the Game of Thrones universe, the beach is visited by Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre where they burn the Seven Idols of Westeros and the Red Priestess proclaims for the first time her oft-repeated phrase.
King’s Landing (Walled City of Dubrovnik)
Moving from the outer edges of the kingdom to the center of power, much of the setting for King’s Landing is in Croatia, specifically Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik’s city walls were a great match to book descriptions, enclosing the Old City in massive stone fortifications directly on the coast. The medieval walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which are still intact and were built mainly between the 12th and 17th centuries. An enduring source of pride for the city, the walls run uninterrupted for approximately 1.9 kilometers and reach a maximum height of around 25 meters. Figuring in many episodes, one notable scene is in the Season 3 premiere when Tyrion Lannister, Bronn and Podrick walk along the walls as they are being repaired after the Battle of Blackwater.
King’s Landing (Stradun, Dubrovnik)
Another location in Dubrovnik, Stradun is worth mentioning, as it was the location of Cersei Lannister’s memorable Penance Walk in season 5. The Stradun is Dubrovnik’s main street, running for almost 300 meters between Dubrovnik Cathedral and Sponza Palace through the historic part of the city. Paved in limestone, the Stradun is a pedestrian street that became the main artery of the city in the 13th century, but the area had to be significantly repaired and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1667. To film Cersei’s tour, more than 500 extras were used, but if you visit the Stradun, avoid getting too much into character and stay clothed. Shame! Shame!
Beyond the wall (Grjótagjá Cave)
Speaking of nudity, the intimate cave scene in season 3 between Jon Snow and the wildling Ygritte takes place in a mystical-looking setting that happens to be a popular tourist destination in Iceland. Grjótagjá Cavern is a small lava cave containing a natural hot spring near Lake Mývatn. In the early 18th century, Icelandic outlaw Jón Markússon lived in the cave, after which it was a popular bathing spot until the 1970s, when eruptions raised the water temperature to dangerous levels. Temperatures have been slowly declining since then and the site has been used again for bathing since the 1990s, and of course as part of the wild tundra of the North beyond the Wall, as Iceland has the perfect landscape to make incredible fantasy worlds like Westeros.
Sunspear and the Water Gardens (Alcázar of Seville)
Traveling now from the far north to warm and sunny Dorne in the south, the Alcazar Palace in Seville, Spain, was used as the seat of House Martell. The royal palace was originally developed by Muslim kings, most of it built between the 11th and 16th centuries. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the oldest royal palace in Europe and considered one of the finest examples of Mudejar architecture on the Iberian Peninsula. The immense complex was used in multiple episodes throughout season 5, where we see the young betrothed Myrcella Baratheon and Trystane Martell spending time in the gardens, before Jaime Lannister takes Myrcella to King’s Landing against her will.
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