When I saw HBO dropping promos this week for the 10 year anniversary of the Game of Thrones debut, I thought there must be some mistake. It certainly hasn’t been 10 YEARS! It feels like just yesterday I was pleading for Stupid Ned Stark to start making better decisions. Alas, it was April 17, 2011 when we first ventured North of the Wall to find that chill inducing pit of wildings. This immediately felt like something I’d never seen before. The visuals were stunning, the violence visceral, and characters magnetic. Like Tyrion to wine, I was hooked.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. So when I was in Kotor, Montenegro recently and heard a story about how their city was almost chosen to double as the infamous Kings Landing, my ears perked up. “Where did they end up going?” I asked. For season one, Malta, an island nation of the tip of Italy which was quite far away from my current location. Bummer. “But for the rest of the series they filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia, right next door.” I knew where my next stop would be and vowed to see every spot where they filmed. Not only see them, I wanted to recreate scenes from the show as accurately as possible. Yes, I realize I’m a giant nerd but since you’re reading this I assume you’re right there with me. After astounding photographic recreation success in Dubrovnik, my Thrones antennae were activated. From then on I’d do a cursory search to see if GOT was filmed anywhere near my next destination. And wouldn’t you know…there weremany more. So as we gear up for the Iron anniversary of this game changing show, let’s visit my three filming locations that are must sees for any fans of the Seven Kingdoms!
Castle Zafra aka the Tower of Joy, where young Ned Stark battles Ser Arthur Dayne in order to rescue his sister, is amazing to see in person. It’s host to a PIVOTAL moment in the show and is an incredible castle to check out, even without the Thrones connection. But here’s the thing about Castle Zafra: It’s in the middle of NOWHERE. Smack dab in between Madrid and Zaragoza, the castle is situated amongst barren terrain without another structure to be seen across the landscape. It’s 30 minutes from the nearest town and you have to take a dirt road for 15 minutes to get there, but it is so worth it!!
Once you arrive, you have your run of the castle (the outside, that is, the doors itself are locked tight). You can walk around the whole thing and even walk up the same rocky stairs young Ned did in search of his sister. If you’re feeling extra Thronesy, you can buy toy swords and recreate the epic melee at the base of the castle. Or you can try and find the ones I left for the next GOT fan to happen upon!
There aren’t any authentic Thrones locations in Belfast itself, but think of it a launching point to explore the MANY filming spots nearby. And I did say authentic, because they did build a giant recreation of Kings Landing to battle in within the city. Here, you can see it in satellite mode on google maps. Northern Ireland contains most of the filming locations for “The North” including Winterfell, the Iron Islands of Pyke, the King’s Road, Renly’s Camp in the Stormlands, the Twins (Walder Frey’s castle), a bit of Dragonstone, some Wildling territory North of Wall and, they even snuck in a few shots of Braavos up there. These locations are all spread out and if you visit, I highly recommend hopping on a Game of Thrones Tour to see them all. There are so many locations they actually have TWO full day tours and you better believe I did both. They even give you real swords and costumes ignoring the old adage of “never give a travel blogger sword”. On one of the tours, we even got to meet the dogs who played the Stark Direwolves Summer and Greywind as puppies. I was very star struck.
If you are squeezed for time and don’t have a dragon to fly you from location to location, I would hit up Tollymore Forrest and Castle Ward which are a 45 minute drive from each other. Castle Ward doubled as Winterfell in Season 1 is walking distance to Walder Frey’s Twins (well, there’s only one in really life), The brothel where Jaime finds Tyrion (for you pervs), Robb Starks camp, and several other filming spots. Tollymore Forrest is where the Starks found the baby direwolves and contains the aforementioned Wildling pit of death that opens the entire series.
If you are deeply loyal to House Stark and want to roam their realm, Belfast is a can’t miss.
Dubrovnik is number one on this list with a bullet. Or should I say with a wildly accurate arrow from one of Euron’s ships. I’m pretty sure my jaw was dropped the entire time I was in Dubrovnik because it feels like you are literally walking the streets of Kings Landing. Basically, if there was a scene shot in Kings Landing, it was filmed in Dubrovnik. They even have some Qarth locations for good measure, like the House of the Undying where Dany and dreamboat Jorah search for her dragons.
What makes Dubrovnik the best Game of Thrones location in the world is that you can walk to every filming spot. Cercei’s shame stairs are a 10 minute jaunt from the Purple Wedding venue. Feel like scheming? You can walk the walls that surround the old city and pretend you are Tyrion and Lord Varys whispering secrets. The city is gorgeous to walk around even without the Thrones locations. Need to take a break from seeing where Joffrey was coronated? No problem, just peer into the stunningly blue waters that surround the city for a while! It’s a magical place and you don’t even have to believe in the light of the 7 to enjoy it. Just book a ticket (or ride your dragon) to Dubrovnik and you’ll be instantly transported to Westeros. And, with Dubrovnik’s temperate Adriatic climate, you’ll be able to enjoy the city year round, even if winter is coming…
This list feels like it should have more places, right? Well I’m working on it!
Next to Visit:
You know those awesome Dragonstome stairs featured in several episodes of Season 7? They are in the north of Spain and are at the top of my list to visit. I can pull off playing Daenerys, right?
It’s where most of Dorne was filmed but I want to go anyway.
Iceland, like, all of it.
Pretty much everything North of the Wall was filmed here as well as the approach to the Vale and countless others. I think I would last about 5 minutes North of the Wall in the Game of Thrones but Iceland seems much friendlier. I like my chances.
Once enough people have gotten the Covi…I mean…Grayscale vaccine and I’m allowed to visit any of the other 6 kingdoms, I’ll be sprinting up the King’s Road to visit them!