game of thrones locations

Do you think that recent college grads in the GAME OF THRONES universe spend a summer backpacking through Westeros the way young folks in our world backpack through Europe? Lucky for us, we can kill two birds with one stone these days. The HBO series has filmed a good amount of the Seven Kingdoms on location, meaning with some time, money, and a good pair of sneakers, anyone can visit their favorite GAME OF THRONES locations.

In addition to giving us iconic TV moments, these locations are absolutely stunning feats of nature and history. GoT has brought a new level of attention to them, especially from people who might not otherwise be world travelers.

Where in the World is Jon Snow

Alright, let’s dive in. GAME OF THRONES locations span, for the most part, six countries: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Spain, Morocco, Malta, and Croatia. Sadly for us, these places aren’t really compact enough to fit all into one trip. (If you want to spend half your time on a bus or a plane, that’s up to you.) So we’ll break it into regions that, if you really try, you can compile into one GoT Grand Tour.

The East

Croatia

Several cities along Croatia’s coast have housed GAME OF THRONES locations. As an American, it’s sometimes hard to fathom that cities can be as old as Croatia’s. Fortresses and churches along the Dalmatian Coast date back to BC times, with influences from the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, all the way up to the country’s war for independence in 1991. This unique history attracted GoT to several cities along Croatia’s coast to bring King’s Landing and Meereen to life.

Cruise Down the Coast

If you want to see the most GAME OF THRONES locations in Croatia, you’ll want to drive along the coast. This is the partial-GoT tour I took last year and it’s worth every second and penny you spend there. It is a beautiful country with a rich history that comes to life everywhere you look. To me, it’s a must-see for every world traveller — fans of GoT or not.

But if you are looking to visit the GAME OF THRONES locations, start in the city of Split. Here you’ll find Diocletian’s Palace, the royal home and fortress of Roman emperor Diocletian built in 305 AD. The ancient palace — with some CGI help — creates the exteriors for the city of Meereen. Its winding corridors are also the underground passageways that Daenerys uses to maintain control of the city.

Just outside Split is Klis Fortress, a medieval stronghold built into the Dalmatian mountainside around 9 AD. It provides stunning views of Split and a quieter place to really feel like a Khaleesi commanding her army. And if you’re in for the violence, this is where Daenerys got an eye for an eye from Meereen’s slaveowners.

Dubrovnik

If driving isn’t your thing, it’s easy enough to catch a bus from Split to Dubrovnik. The Old City of Dubrovnik is easily recognizable as King’s Landing. There are plenty of GAME OF THRONES-themed guided tours available, but even exploring the city on your own you’ll see Lovrijenac Fortress as the Red Keep, Stradun aka the Walk of Shame route, and the walkable city wall, outside which the Battle of Blackwater Bay took place. Random scenes from throughout the series were filmed in this city, so around every corner could be a potential GoT photo op — plus delicious local cuisine, traditional Croatian handicrafts, and history you never thought you cared about but is actually really interesting (did you know the cravat was invented by Croatian soldiers?).

A quick ferry ride takes you to Lokrum Island, where bunnies and peacocks roam free. It’s also where you’ll find the luscious gardens of Qarth take life among the monastic ruins. And if you’re as much a fan of Lady Olenna as I am, you’ll be happy to know that just outside the city lies Highgarden, aka Trsteno Arboretum, a lush haven befitting of House Tyrell.

Malta

With an ocean to the west and many former-Soviet countries to the east, it isn’t very easy to get from Croatia to other GAME OF THRONES locations. But the nearest as the crow flies is Malta, where we find ourselves in season one of GoT. Malta set the stage early on for key scenes in King’s Landing.

The city Mdina inspired season one’s King’s Landing, even though its history and artistry are noticeably different from Dubrovnik’s. Mdina’s main influences from the medieval period are Byzantine and Arab, with later control by Sicilian, Aragonese, and French rulers. They left behind a unique and ornate mix of Norman and Baroque palaces dating to the 11th century.

Like Dubrovnik, Mdina is famous for its city walls. Along the walls, fans will recognize the Mdina Gate as the grand entrance to King’s Landing. Just outside of Mdina, you’ll find the Church of St. Dominic and San Anton’s Palace, which housed key scenes in season one at the Red Keep.

While Mdina is more inland, many Maltese coastal towns house recognizable GAME OF THRONES locations. You can find the Gate of the Gods at Fort Ricasoli, a 17th-century fortress that protects the Grand Harbour. Across the harbor in Valletta is Fort St. Elmo, known to fans as Sowbelly Row, and Fort Manoel in Gzira, where we all had to watch that infamous beheading at the Great Sept of Baelor. As much as these places are worth a visit for their GoT intrigue, the mixture of tropical and ancient, quiet and lively, luxurious and historical that pervade Malta are worth a trip all on their own.

The South

Spain

From Malta, it’s easy to catch a plane to Spain. We’ll start in Seville, in the south of Spain, at yet another famous fortress. The Alcazar of Seville is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, built in the 1360s. It’s also the home of the Dornish royals in season five of GAME OF THRONES. The general exoticism of Essos finds a fitting visual aesthetic in the Moorish, Gothic, Mudejar, and Renaissance influences. On its own, it’s truly one of the most stunning palaces in Europe and has embraced its status as a tourist location to share the fascinating history of Spain and the sumptuousness of its royal family.

Down the highway, you’ll find the Plaza de Toros de Osuna. It is an out-of-use bullfighting ring, making it the perfect location to shoot the fighting pit in Meereen where Jorah Mormont fights to win back Daenyras’s trust and where, ultimately, she flies off on her dragon for the first time (can you tell that this is one of my favorite episodes?). Though the dragons and the upper tiers of seats may be CGI, the ring itself is nearly identical to Daznak’s Pit. It’s easy to really live the GoT fantasy here.

Osuna has capitalized on its newfound notoriety and added some GoT-inspired museums, but the city itself is worth your time. It has kept its old quarter in near-original baroque condition. Unesco even declared Calle San Pedro the second most beautiful street in Europe. Guided tours of Seville and Osuna that focus on GAME OF THRONES locations are available for those intimidated by the multi-city travel planning.

Cordoba

To the north is the city of Cordoba. Like Seville, it has a mix of Moorish and Roman history. It will also transport you to Volantis, specifically the Long Bridge of Volantis, where Westerosi visitors found shops and prostitutes when they needed them most. In real life, it is the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, built by, surprise, the Romans in the 1st century BC. It was reconstructed by the Moors 800 years later and that Muslim style of architecture dominates the bridge’s stature today.

Though it is only home to one official GAME OF THRONES location, Cordoba is a city that everyone should see. It is often paired with Seville and with good reason. The cities have a unique artistic and historical perspective, especially for people more familiar with cities like Paris and London. With mosques and cathedrals, gardens galore, and history around every corner, there is a bit of something for everyone. And both cities are easy to access by car, train, or plane to boot.

Morocco

To continue our trip towards Essos and Braavos, we head to Morocco, adding a second continent to our trip. The ravishing red deserts and picturesque coastlines of Morocco transform into the Free Cities in GAME OF THRONES.

We find Yunkai in Ait Benhaddou, a few hours outside Marrakesh. The ancient village, called a ksar, is made entirely of clay and exemplifies the architecture of southern Morocco. The densely packed houses are defended by high walls with towers on the corners. The buildings seem to be from the 17th century, and they have been standing ever since. Ait Benhaddou will seem familiar to not just GoT fans. It appears in films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and THE MUMMY, among about 20 others, usually standing in for Jerusalem.

From there, Daenerys found her army of Unsullied in the coastal city of Essaouira, known to her as Astapor. Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times and its history is tied to Arabs, Berbers, Africans, and Europeans. This mix has brought a unique flair to Essaouira’s culture. The blue and white medina even has some Greek vibes to it. Visit the Scala (the old Portuguese fortifications) where Astaporian slaves had to take the Walk of Punishment or head down to fishing port to see where Daenerys freed the Unsullied and rallied her troops.

The good news is that it is not terribly crowded by tourists since its windy bay is inhospitable to beachgoers for most of the year. The bad news is that most of these locations in Morocco are not very easy to get to from one another, so some extra transit time is a necessity here.

The North

Iceland

We are now going to make a massive U-turn as we head to the North. We start in Iceland, which should be on everyone’s bucket list. Though less conducive to casual tourists, dedicated fans can see some breathtaking GAME OF THRONES locations in the forests and tundras of Iceland.

From the Free Cities, we now find ourselves north of the Wall. Dimmuborgir, which Wikipedia describes as “a large area of unusually shaped lava fields” (badass), is the real-world home to Mance Rayder’s wildling camp in season three. In Icelandic legend, Dimmuborgir is something of a cursed place. It is essentially a portal to hell, with Nordic Christian lore calling it the place where Satan landed when he fell from heaven, creating the distinct landscape of lava. Nearby, the cave Grjotagja gets steamy as Jon Snow and Ygritte’s hideaway.

About 14% of Iceland is Vatnajökull National Park, home to Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest ice cap in Europe. Fittingly, it is where many scenes north of the Wall came to life. The CGI of the Wall itself is composed of shots of Vatnajokull Glacier. Other movies like BATMAN BEGINS and LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER were shot in Vatnajokull National Park.

Thingvellir National Park, which lies between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia, is fittingly the canyon leading to the Eyrie, as well as other locations on Arya and the Hound’s journey. The dramatic cliffs, valleys, and lava fields are a result of the unique location among tectonic plates and give the park a distinct landscape. Though it is hard to know for sure, some fans think that scenes with wildling camps and the First Men were filmed in Thingvellir.

Northern Ireland

Finally, we make it to Northern Ireland, GAME OF THRONES HQ, if you will. GoT’s studio is in Belfast, but they also make use of the Northern Irish countryside as the Nothern kingdoms.

We’ll start on the King’s Road, which is actually Dark Hedges. Those menacing trees are actually real, it turns out. Nearby you’ll find Murlough Bay, which we see as both the Iron Islands and Slaver’s Bay, though its views are much less bleak than the show suggests. Along the same coast are the Cushendun Caves, which have formed over the course of 400 million years only to become the place where Melisandre birthed that shadow assassin thing. She also set the gods ablaze at Downhill Beach and Mussenden Temple.

If you love castles as much as I do, then Northern Ireland is the place for you. Ruins of the 16th-century Castle Ward in County Down double as Winterfell after the Boltons’ siege, while Shane’s Castle in County Antrim hosted the jousting tournament in season one.

The abundant forests of Northern Ireland might be harder to spot as GAME OF THRONES locations, but if you really try, you can find the spots where the White Walkers begin their invasion, where Ramsey hunted Theon, and where the Starks find the direwolves in Tollymore Forest Park among the ancient redwoods and Gothic arches.

Not to be outdone, the Dothraki made camp in parts of Northern Ireland as well. Shillanavogy Valley, beneath Slemish Mountain, doubles as the grasslands that the Khalesar rides through on the way to Vaes Dothrak. Binevenagh Mountain, on the edge of the Antrim plateau, is the real Dothraki Sea, with views to rival any that GAME OF THRONES can CGI.

A PSA About Visiting GAME OF THRONES Locations

As much as I want to encourage everyone to travel as much as possible, it is so, so important to travel the right way. Always remember that you are a guest in the places you visit. Paying the money doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful to the people and places you see. Destinations like Croatia and Iceland have seen insane spikes in tourism because of GAME OF THRONES locations, and that is great to some degree. It’s great that people are learning about new cultures and it’s great that local businesses get a boost.

But these ancient cities were not built for the millions of tourist they now get. And nature’s destinations are delicate ecosystems that don’t necessarily benefit from human interaction. So always treat your trips with respect: embrace different cultures, learn about the history, try new foods, patronize local businesses, respect nature, and remember, this is someone’s home. Would Jon Snow leave trash in an Icelandic forest or be rude to a Croatian shopkeeper who doesn’t speak English? No, he wouldn’t, so you shouldn’t either.

And with that, happy trails, GAME OF THRONES fans! Maybe I’ll see you in Iceland or Morocco next summer!

One Comment

  1. […] know any specifics, confirmations, or what the alternate ending would entail given that this is a new filming location for […]

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