Who says playing pretend needs to stop when we “grow up”? The bold, harrowing, adrenaline-revving, tear-inducing adventures of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series are set in some pretty awe-inspiring backdrops, which have captured the hearts and ignited the imaginations of The Luxe Travel Team. Wouldn’t it be incredible to live out (err, “pretend” out) Daenerys’ rise to power, Jon Snow’s desperate Beyond the Wall dilemma (okay, perhaps not for everyone), or Sansa Stark’s precarious position at King’s Landing (only not as Sansa, which makes all the difference)? Don’t mind if we do.
Here’s a guide to the general filming locations of some of the hottest (and coldest) locations in the Game of Thrones. We’ve included some information about how to get there, what to do and a few links if you’re daring enough to begin the journey.
Northern Ireland will get anyone in a Stark mood, though original filming began around Doune Castle in Stirling, Scotland. Stirling is a double win, because much of Monty Python’s Holy Grail was also filmed there. Scotland in itself is a rocky play land with both green and white landscapes resembling the entire North of Westeros and beyond.
Belfast has become the primary filming site in Northern Island for the series. For a slice of Winterfell, visit Castle Ward and Tollymore Forest Park. Be prepared for some real exploring, however, as Castle Ward boasts not only similarity to the home of the Starks but also 820 acres of gardens, farmland and walking paths for your roaming pleasure. Follow this link for more information about the castle and its grounds.
About twice as large as the grounds of Castle Ward, Tollymore Forest Park lies at the foot of the Mourne Mountains and is full of wooded wonder. Cedars, giant redwoods, pines and even some more exotic tree specimens such as eucalyptus cover the area surrounding the Shimna River, along which you will discover beautiful rocky grottos and caves. Lace up your Westeros-worthy hiking boots and hit the outdoors, and you may be lucky enough to come across some direwolf pups! (Interesting Fact: the dire wolf was an actual species from prehistoric times but is now, sadly, extinct. It has been characterized as highly intelligent and extremely large. Martin got his facts right! Not that dragons weren’t real, too; everyone knows that some of those fossilized “dinosaur” eggs are really dragon eggs waiting to be properly nurtured by the Mother of Dragons, ahem.)
Castle Black and Beyond the Wall
The hamlet of Magheramorne, also in Northern Ireland, is home to a whopping 75 people, as well as the old limestone quarry in which Castle Black scenes were filmed.
Grjótagjá lava cave serves as the real world equivalent of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s thermal spring “love cavern.” The thermal spring in the cave has long been used for bathing in Iceland, but volcanic activity caused the temperature of the water to rise above 50 °C, therefore rendering the spring “unsafe”, we’ll call it. In the meantime, use the nearby lava cave of Stóragjá for your Jon/Ygritte reenactments.
The glaciers of Höfðabrekkuheiði and Svínafellsjökull were used for the Fist of the First Men and the Frostfangs, respectively. The powers of The Luxe Travel Team sadly do not include pronunciation of these names, which we will conservatively call intimidating (lovely as they are, let’s be honest—you heard babble in your head when you read over them).
Iceland is a lovely country of vast landscapes and a crisp atmosphere with much to offer as a popular tourist destination. We recommend staying near Lake Mývatn so that you can hike to Grjótagjá and Stóragjá caves.
Seeing as Winter is Coming, you may be interested in investing in some massive fur cloaks to really fit in with the scenery of the North and beyond.
Now we’re getting warmer… The city of Mdina, home of Malta’s nobility, was used for filming some original scenes. A walled medieval town located on a hill in the center of the island, Mdina was once the capital of Malta and held particular significance for the Phoenicians. If you’re interested in visiting the Azure Window, the film site of Daenerys’s Dothraki wedding (featured below), you could cover both of these significant GoT sites in one trip. For visiting Mdina, we like the suggestions of this guide.
For more variety, however, you could head north to the country of Croatia, where Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as a model for the seaside walled city of King’s Landing. The hot spots to hit in this beautiful, gothic medieval city are the Walls of Dubrovnik in the Old Town (tours are available) representing King’s Landing and Lovrijenac Fortress and Trsteno Arboretum for the Red Keep. Scenes for Qarth were also set in Croatia, so take a look at the feature below to learn how to pack in more GoT in your travels.
Dubrovnik has an international airport, which makes flights straight to the city very easy. For a luxury stay around 20 minutes walking distance from the Walls and the Old Town and near vineyards and a National Park, we like the looks of Villa Dubrovnik.
ACROSS THE NARROW SEA
Wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen
Wedding location ideas, anyone? Become or make your bride a Khaleesi on the island of Gozo at the Azure Window. The island of Gozo, belonging to the country of Malta in the Mediterranean, is a magical, rural island with rolling hills and home to the world’s oldest free-standing structures, the Ġgantija temples and the Megalithic Temples of Malta. Bonus: Gozo is reportedly one and the same with the mythical island of Ogygia, home of the nymph Calypso, Odysseus’ enamored captor in Homer’s Odyssey.
Aptly named, the Azure Window is a natural rock arch facing out into the blues of the Med, created with its surrounding geography when two limestone caves collapsed ages ago. The surreal, legendary feel of the place has attracted other filming sets, including Clash of the Titans (1981, The Odyssey (1997) and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). But beware: the mythical natural structure is disintegrating rather rapidly. Try to get out there before it becomes the Azure Pinnacle!
Very close by, there are other Mediterranean gems to behold, including the Blue Hole, the Inland Sea and Dwejra Bay. There are seaside village spaces of Dwejra and the greater town area of San Lawrenz to enjoy, and the area is excellent for scuba diving, boating and swimming. Kempinski Hotel in San Lawrenz seems to be one of few hotels in the area—luckily, it seems to offer luxury fit for a Khaleesi, with beautiful pools, limestone construction and a relaxing spa.
Gozo is reached by ferry from the port of Ċirkewwa on the northwest coast of Malta (the main island of the Maltese archipelago). The trip is a short 25 minutes and ends in Gozo’s port of Mġarr. Journeys run every 45 minutes to an hour, with roundtrip fare coming in under €5. In Mġarr, travelers can take public buses or taxis or rent vehicles to get around the island. “Hop On Hop Off” buses are available for the traveler who prefers some pre-designed structure. Malta is an easy flight from almost anywhere in Europe: check www.skyscanner.net for latest fares.
Will and Kate, we like your whole “royal tradition in London” idea, but we have to say Daenerys wins the prize for raw, barbaric glamour and originality. If only the dragons had hatched in time for the wedding…
Back in Dubrovnik, Croatia, you can switch character story lines to Daenerys by visiting, first Dubac quarry, where Jorah darkly describes the desolate entrance to Qarth as the “Garden of Bones”. The House of the Undying, known by those of our realm as Minčeta Tower , is within the Old Town, as well at the Rector’s Palace, another Qarth look alike. Lokrum Island, 15 minutes by ferry from the Old Town, was used for other notable scenes Qarth.
Additional filming took place at the St. Dominic monastery in the charming town of Trogir, a 3 hour bus ride from Dubrovnik. You might like to rent a car for the day trip to make the 258km journey more comfortable and conducive to your personal itinerary.
More Daenerys, Because That’s What We All Really Want
If you want more of Daenerys’s journey in Essos, the dry and perilous continent across the Narrow Sea, head to Quazazarte and Essaouira in Morocco. The first city was the film site for both Yunkai and Pentos, whereas the latter was used for Astapor. Whilst in Northern Ireland checking out Winterfell, you can also head to the Glens of County Antrim, where scenes from the Dothraki Sea were filmed.
BEGINNING YOUR QUEST
We hope this mini-guide to the lands of thrones and dragons and swords and vagabonds and feisty little girls on a quest for vengeance (three cheers for Arya Stark!) is enough to inform you in your pre-quest research. As always, should you be interested in further information on these locations, please contact us with your requests.