+++ Attention, Spoiler Alert! Those who have not yet watched the fourth season of Game of Thrones should probably not read further +++
Is there anybody who hasn’t thought about entering the fantastic world of Game of Thrones as a traveller? We all just love this fascinating TV show, which is based on the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin and which is heading into its fifth season this spring.
So far we have gotten to know two continents of this world. On the one hand there is the multifaceted Westeros, where most of the action has taken place so far. This continent provides the most differences in climate and landscape. On the other hand, there is Essos, known for its hot and dry climate along with huge, almost inhospitable areas and towns which are located far away from each other, separated by wastelands and deserts.
Although we might have heard of other countries by rumour, we have not yet visited them directly. And by “we” I mean all of us who are just watching the show and don’t already know what happens in the books! ;)
However, what we already know of the landscape of this medieval world could not be more diverse. From icy cold and snowy mountains along wide fields, shores with rough seas and Mediterranean coasts to hot and dry deserts – it has everything you can imagine. It is, therefore, really no wonder that the show, in order to provide the perfect setting for all the scenes, has to be shot all over the world!
Game of Thrones – the filming locations everyone can visit
You can find the scenery for the Game of Thrones series’ all over the world. There is a lot to be portrayed: Far north of Westeros “beyond the wall” there are wide, snowy areas full of icy winds and mythical creatures between huge mountain ranges. Further south we see the wide fields around Winterfell, the Eyrie and down to Riverrun. Rocky shores coin the sight of the Iron Islands while in the capital, King’s Landing, we can find sunshine and mild temperatures along with the currently reigning king. Furthermore, almost everything we know about the towns and landscapes of Essos reminds us of dry deserts.
Now, would you like to ride through the forests around Winterfell for yourself? Or rather let the wind ruffle your hair on the shores of Dragonstone? Or wander around the premises and through the gardens of King’s Landing? Or go and see the impressive buildings of the towns of Essos? There are so many great places from the show you can go and visit on your own! Here are some of the filming locations of Game of Thrones that you can visit on your next holiday trip…
North of the Wall, in the “Land of Eternal Winter”: Welcome to Iceland!
Everywhere you look you can see vast, snowy areas. On the horizon, rocky mountain chains rise and an icy wind makes you shiver. Here you are in the land “north of the wall,” in real life also known as Iceland! Here there are numerous filming locations which you might have already seen as the setting of a bloody fight, a passionate dialogue or even a love scene.
Thingvellir National Park is located in Suðurland, in the south-west of Iceland and belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Group. The lowlands in this park are really beautiful. It is here that the scenes of open, white expanses were shot; you are also able to see them during the Spring time when they were green when Arya and the Hound travel through the middle of Westeros in the fourth season…
Between White Walkers and Wildlings – Where Jon Snow and Ygritte get close
You can see a lot of Iceland’s beauty when Jon Snow joins the wildlings on their move to the wall in the course of thethird season. This is where he and a certain wildling lady named Ygritte get close. The cave, made famous by the couple, is actually called Grjótagjá. There are hot springs located under ground in the north-east of the country, in a small lava cave near the lake Mývatn. And while snow and ice cover the fields outside, inside the small cave it can actually get really hot. No wonder Jon and Ygritte felt so comfortable here…
You can also discover the place where the wildlings build their camp on their way to the wall. In reality this place is located near the Grjótagjá cave and is the lava field “Dimmuborgir,” which has unique rock formations. According to Icelandic mythology, bloodthirsty trolls are said to roam the fields at night. So it is definitely a place which has some mystic potential of its own!
Many scenes which are set in the open fields, where nature appears to keep everyone and everything in a tight grip whilst wild storms shake the country, are actually shot around Vatnajøkull. Europe’s biggest glacier is located in the south-east of Iceland and offers an amazing view of some beautiful mountains. Snow-capped mountain peaks causing an icy wind to blow over the country are what you can find here! Combine the Mýrdalsjøkull glacier and the cities of Høfðabrekka and Vík í Mýrdalur together, and you have the perfect setting for the mountain chain Frostfangs in the very north of the continent. This is where some of the expeditions of the Night’s Watch are headed to in the second and third season. Also the group of wildlings finds its way through this area and the White Walkers are lead through the grounds by their leader on the horse by the end of the second season.
The world of middle Westeros: Winterfell, Stormlands, Iron Islands – Northern Ireland!
The fields in the middle of the continent “Westeros” are known for their wide, green areas, their rivers and windy coasts with rough seas. It is no wonder that most of the scenes depicting these parts of the continent are shot in the picturesque and rough landscape of Northern Ireland. If this isn’t a surprise, then Winterfell is even less of one. In the pilot it was depicted by the Scottish castle Doun, the following episodes allow us to admire the beauty of one of the most impressive castles in Northern Ireland. I am talking about Castle Ward in the east of Northern Ireland which also offers a beautiful view on Strangford Lough and the surrounding forests. You can also find various architectural styles at the castle, Gothic and Classic ones you might have already discovered inside the walls of Winterfell. You’ll have seen these when Theon Greyjoy, who grew up on the grounds of Winterfell but never really was a Stark himself, returns there after the stay in his actual home country in the second season and burns it to the ground.
Scenes in the forests near Winterfell are in general shot in Tollymore National Park. It is located at the foot of the Mourne mountains, also in the east of the country. In addition to the picturesque forests, it offers an impressive view on the sea and the opportunity for some outdoor activities like camping and hiking. Like other people, you’ll have gotten to know the forests of Tollymore in the scene where the Starks find their Direwolves at the beginning of the first season. You may be more familiar with them as the forest through which Ramsay later hunts down the escaping Theon.
Quite a few characters from Game of Thrones have already travelled through the Dark Hedges, by foot, horse or in a coach. This is because everyone has to travel through them when they want to go north or south on the Kings Road. They are located in the north part of Northern Ireland. The branches of the beech trees interlock impressively, although they don’t do so naturally! The alley was planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family and is the access road to their Gregorian estate Gracehill House. You’ll have seen the road, for example, when Arya Stark escapes King’s Landing at the end of the second season.
Stormlands and Dragonstone: The Baratheon brothers get ready for the fight
In Westeros you can find the Stormlands to the south-east of Winterfell. This is the area that the house of Baratheon has its roots in. The two remaining brothers (Stannis and Renly Baratheon) are both feeling betrayed because they were skipped over where the succession of the throne was concerned. They both come here to develop their plans on how they can come into power. The fields where Renly has his camp are located in Larrybane Park along the coast of Northern Ireland. You can catch a glimpse of the breathtaking surroundings when the two brothers meet, or during the tournament between Brienne of Tarth and Ser Loras Tyrell in the second season.
You probably recognise Downhill Strand, with the dramatically situated Mussenden Temple and its view over the rocky shores and the rough sea. You might recognise both the shores and the temple as Dragonstone. The temple was originally built as a summer library. Although you might not really be able to see it in the background when Melisandre burns all the wooden statues of the old gods on the shores of Dragonstone, Downhill Strand is where they actually are! ;)
This is exactly like with the Cushenden Caves. In real life they also have breathtaking sights. They have developed over the past 400 million years under the most extreme weather conditions on the north Northern Irish coast and offer some great photo opportunities! Don’t tell me you were not impressed when Melisandre gave birth to the shadow creature in that exact same cave?
Several scenes have been shot on Audley’s Field near Castle Ward at Strangford Lough. You might remember the place where Robb Stark sets up his camp during his campaign against the Lannisters in King’s Landing. This is where the wounded are treated and Jaime Lannister is held captive (and later set free again). This is also where Robb and his future wife Talisa get closer.
Old Pirate Bay: Home of the Golden Kraken on the Iron Islands
To depict the Iron Islands we need a really, really rough sea and rocky cliffs which the waves crash against. All this can be provided by the Murlough Bay which you can also find at the northern coast of Northern Ireland and which provides you with a stunning view of Rathlin Island as well as Mull of Kintyre and other Scottish islands. With its dramatic cliffs the bay provides the perfect setting for the scenes in which Theon Greyjoy, once as a child given to Winterfell, returns to his home town Pyke.
Here is where Theon rides along the coast to the castle of his father, together with his (not yet recognised) sister. Also Davos’ shipwreck was shot here, although technically this does not happen on the Iron Islands. The port in Pyke plays a major role when Theon returns to his home town in the second season. We can hear sea gulls scream, see the mossy rocks and almost taste the salty air when the old fisherman turns to Theon and does not believe him when he says he was the lord’s son. All this was shot in the port of Ballintoy, only half an hour away from Murlough Bay in the west. You can actually ride along this coast yourself!
The Riverlands with their castle Riverrun are located even further in the south of Westeros, almost next to King’s Landing. You can probably still remember the funeral of Hoster Tully in the third season, which is joined by Robb and Catelyn Stark. In that scene everything didn’t really go quite as planned and in case you were wondering where it was shot: Inch Abbey and the River Quoile next to it provided the setting. By the way, the base was built solely for this scene and is still standing there to provide comfortable seating for fishermen. In the fourth season Arya and the Hound are also moving through the Riverlands. This was partly shot in the summery green fields of Iceland as well.
Would you like to join a professional tour of the filming locations in Northern Ireland? With a guided tour like the “Game of Thrones Tours” you’ll receive enough information so that you can enter the world of middle Westeros from Belfast or from Dublin. You can even have your picture taken in one of the costumes from the show. For adults, prices start at £40 (ca. € 51, from Belfast) or € 55 (from Dublin), concessions are available.
King’s Landing: The king of Westeros reigns from Malta and Croatia!
Don’t tell me you have never wondered where on earth you can find buildings as beautiful as the ones you see in King’s Landing! These historical walls within this Mediterranean climate and with those azure seas around them – this is what makes the landscape of the capital of Westeros so special. But where can you find all of this in real life? The answer: In Malta and Croatia.
King’s Landing was mainly shot in Maltain the first season. The Gate of Mdina really belongs to the former capital, built 4,000 years ago on the central hill of the island. You could see Catelyn Stark and Ser Rodrik Cassel ride through the gate at the beginning of the first season when they arrive at King’s Landing.
Fort Ricasoli was depicted as the gate of the Red Keep in the first season. The stronghold in King’s Landing is easily the most important building of the Seven Kingdoms, since it has to protect the king himself. Fort Ricasoli, one of the numerous strongholds at the east coast of Malta, provides the perfect setting: With its stonewalls glimmering in the orange afternoon sun and the azure sea around it, the fort really is an impressive sight. Movies like Troy and Gladiator have also been shot here.
Dungeons of the Red Keep: Lannister, Baratheon, Baelish and all of their schemes
Fort St. Angelo in the neighbourhood also has impressive dungeons you can discover in Game of Thrones. For example when Arya, at that time, still an innocent child, follows a cat into the dungeons of the Red Keep. There is where she overhears a secret conversation, whilst stood next to a huge dragon skull…
San Anton Palace was originally built in the 16th century as a summer residence for the grandmaster of that time. Today it is the official residence of the mayor of Malta. It is accordingly monumental with its beautiful buildings and the gardens around it. So it’s no wonder that the producers decided to let this palace stand in for the Red Keep. You can see a little of that grandeur when the advisers Lord Varys and Littlefinger walk through the hallways together with Ned Stark in the first season. Here they tell him that he, as “Hand of the King”, has the power over the Goldcloaks, the king’s guards.
Beheading of traitors in a medieval setting: Where Starks are murdered
Of course you remember the Great Sept of Baelor, maybe better known as the place of execution for Ned Stark at the end of the first season and the first “what the heck?!” moment of the show. This impressive stronghold is really Fort Manoel, erected at the beginning of the 18th century by the sovereign Order of Malta.
However, by the second season more and more location shots were needed. By that point King’s Landing was being depicted by another setting, namely by Dubrovnik’s oldtown in Croatia. Surrounded by impressive stonewalls and dramatic cliffs, right at the shore lies the stronghold Lovrijenac. You may have already marvelled at the sight of it during the battle of Blackwater.
The gardens of King’s Landing are especially beautiful, they are multifaceted and above all very extensive. All of this can best be depicted by Trsteno Arboretum, the spa gardens near the village of Trsteno, approximately 10 kilometres to the south of Dubrovnik and right next to the ocean. Here you have a wonderful view over the whole national park. Have you never asked yourself where the beautiful gardens, which Lady Margaery and Sansa Stark wander around during the fourth season, are? Have a look at the video I found: Here a true fan shows you pictures from Dubrovnik.
The world of Essos: A mix of Croatia, Malta and Morocco!
Pentos is where Daenerys Targaryen’s journey over the huge and grim continent of Essos begins in the first season. In this city in the west of the continent lives Illyrio Mopatis. He offers shelter for the two exiled Targaryen siblings and initiates the wedding of Daenerys and Khal Drogo, king of the horse people of the Dothraki at the beginning of the TV show. Most of the scenes were shot in Aït-Ben-Haddou in Morocco. But the important scene in which Daenerys and Drogo meet for the first time was actually shot in Malta. The 16th Century Verdala Palace was a perfect choice for it.
We dive further into the world of the Dothraki and enter its deserts and steppes. The impressive wedding ceremony of the two, which probably scared Daenerys more than a bit, was shot in Malta. The wonderful Azure Window, a 50 meter tall chalk rock which we can see in the background, forms a bow over the Mediterranean Sea. Scenes for the movies like “Clash of Titans” were also shot here where the waves are gently crashing against the rocks.
Quarth is located in the far south of Essos, beyond the Red Waste which Daenerys has to make a long and exhausting march through in the second season. This march was mainly shot in Croatia, namely in the quarry of Dubac. The depiction of the city of Quarth has its origins also mainly in Croatian regions. Lokrum is a heavily vegetated island located just a few hundred meters from the Croatian coast. You can see an impressive fort here, situated on the highest point of the island. With its picturesque bays and rocky coasts, the island brings the city of Quarth to life. You might also remember the “House of the Undying” where Daenerys is forced to go in order to save her dragons and where she receives important visions. In reality this is the Minceta tower, a building which was formerly very important and was used for the defence of the city Dubrovnik.
Khaleesi on her way to free all slaves in the cities of Essos
Daenerys is moving along over the sea to Astapor at the beginning of the third season. This way we get to know the first of the three cities along the coast of Slaver’s Bay, in which Daenerys manages to outsmart the slave traders. It is this way that she is able to free all of the slaves and even burn down the city in the end. Essaouria is the name of the city which provides the setting for Astapor. It is located in Morocco near Marrakech.
After Yunkai which was shot in Aït-Ben-Haddou, like Pentos, we have reached the end of the fourth season, in Meereen. Here the “Mother of Dragons” settled down at the end of the fourth season to learn a few lessons in how to actually reign over her people. For this, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia was chosen as setting. Scenes were also shot at the Fort Klis just a few kilometres away from the palace. Diocletian’s Palace is around 1,700 years old, all of its history provides the perfect filming location.
The regions of Game of Thrones: more filming locations to come in season 5
The places used over the past four seasons could not have been more different, yet we have admired them all. The thickest snow storm north of the wall, the open green fields with rivers and mountains in the middle of Westeros, the Mediterranean landscape of King’s Landing and even the grim, hot deserts of Essos – lots of areas have been explored for the two continents! It really isn’t surprising that the scenes for this TV show have to be shot all over the world to accurately depict this diversity. Iceland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Malta, Croatia, Morocco.. For the upcoming fifth season, which will be aired in spring, they’ve already started filming in new places! Rumour has it Spain was already announced as a new shooting place, probably for the area of Dorne which we have not seen so far in the show. The region in the far south of Westeros becomes more important in the future. We can definitely all look forward to the new season, since the last one left us hanging… again…with too many open story lines and unanswered questions!