Photo by Guilleon/Shutterstock
Photo by Jason Busa/Shutterstock
Grjótagjá, a geothermal hot spring in northern Iceland, is the site of the scene in which Jon Snow and Ygritte fall in love during the third season of “Game of Thrones.”
The HBO series is just as revered for its heart-wrenching plot twists as it is for its stunning filming locations. The good news: The tales might be fictional, but these destinations are not.
Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
When Game of Thrones aired its eighth and final season in spring 2019, diehard fans had to bid farewell to beloved recurring characters like Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, and for some, even Jaime Lannister. Luckily, the real-life GOT destinations, many of them national parks or UNESCO World Heritage sites, are places you can actually see. From frozen lava fields in Iceland to centuries-old palaces in Spain, here are eight Game of Thrones filming locations you can (and should) visit.
Game of Thrones was filmed primarily on location across Europe. Although various scenes were shot on studio sets in Belfast, Northern Ireland, many major moments from the HBO hit drama feature real landscapes and medieval fortresses in the backdrop.
In the pilot episode, for example, scenes at Winterfell, the Stark family home, were shot at Doune Castle in Scotland. During the first season, fans also see a young Daenerys marry Khal Drogo at the (now collapsed) Azure Window in Malta, a famous natural limestone archway that collapsed into the Mediterranean Sea in 2017. Here are a number of other Game of Thrones filming locations to put on your “want to go” list.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town first appeared on screen as “King’s Landing” during the second season of Game of Thrones. Since then, GOT-inspired tourism to the medieval walled city has skyrocketed. Visitors can meander through the capital of the Seven Kingdoms on a GOT-themed walking tour, passing the steps of Old Town’s magnificent St. Ignatius of Loyola Church (the site of Cersei Lannister’s brutal “walk of shame”) as well as Fort Lovrijenac, the real-life fortress where filming of the epic Battle of Blackwater took place.
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Several King’s Landing exteriors were also filmed in Split, the largest city in Croatia’s Dalmatia region, some three hours north of Dubrovnik by car. (About one hour up the coast from Split, the historic city of Šibenik appears in show’s fifth season as the real-life filming location for the Free City of Braavos.)
On Game of Thrones, the frozen lakes, icy lava fields, and snow-filled craters located beyond Castle Black and “North of the Wall” are the uncharted territories that wildlings and White Walkers roam. In real life, however, this vast tundra is Vatnajökull National Park, a protected wilderness east of Reykjavík. Although it required a fair amount of CGI to create the “Land of Always Winter” that GOT fans see on screen, the massive glaciers, ice caves, and active geothermal areas used as filming locations for the show are places you can actually visit in Vatnajökull National Park, and the landscapes are about as natural as it gets. (Other Game of Thrones filming locations near Iceland’s Vatnajökull National Park include the Myrdalsjokull glacier, the Hverfjall volcano, and the Grjótagjá geothermal hot spring.)
During the fifth season of HBO’s hit TV show, this 700-year-old Andalusian palace appeared as the Water Gardens of Dorne, seat of the House Martell of Sunspear. Known in real-life as the Royal Alcázar of Seville, this UNESCO World Heritage site is recognized as Europe’s oldest still-in-use royal palace (the upper chambers are residences for Spain’s royal family). The intricately detailed building in Seville is also considered one of the best-preserved examples of Mudejar (Moorish-style) architecture. Luckily for GOT and architecture fans alike, the lavish grounds are open to the public for guided tours.
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During GOT’s sixth season, Daenerys Targaryen (the Mother of Dragons) is held captive by nomadic horse tribes in the expansive Essos grasslands known as the Dothraki Sea. To film these scenes, the show’s cast and crew members traveled to a Mars-like landscape in northern Spain known as Bardenas Reales Natural Park. These arid badlands stretch some 100,000 acres across the country’s Navarre region bordering Basque Country and can be explored by car, foot, or bike. (Some scenes from the Dothraki Sea were also filmed at Northern Ireland’s lush Glens of Antrim.)
To visit the harbor where Theon Greyjoy first returned from Winterfell to the Iron Islands, head to Ireland’s moody, rugged coast. Some of those pivotal season two scenes were filmed at Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, about two hours north of Dublin. (Ballintoy Harbor, located about 20 minutes east of Dunluce Castle by car, was also used to film Iron Islands scenes.) Still, don’t expect to see an exact replica of House Greyjoy’s towering castle at Pyke; you’ll have to use a bit of imagination: The structure was heavily embellished before it appeared on Game of Thrones.
The GOT cast and crew didn’t actually shoot scenes at this UNESCO World Heritage site. However, Meteora’s famed mountain-top monasteries were digitally mastered into the series’s first season as a backdrop for the Sky Cells where Tyrion Lannister was imprisoned. Travelers are free to catch remarkable views of these natural pinnacles by hiking, biking, or rafting through the northern Greece valley, which is reachable by train from Athens.
Essaouira is most familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the ancient city of Astapor, home of the highly skilled slave-soldiers known as the Unsullied. In real life, Essaouira is a port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast recognized for its fresh seafood, traditional argan oil production, and world-class kitesurfing, as well as its UNESCO-inscribed 18th-century medina filled with local artisan shops.
One of the most revelatory moments in GOT history takes place during a flashback at the Tower of Joy. (Spoiler alert: The supernaturally gifted Bran Stark sees a vision of his father, Ned Stark, and learns a game-changing detail about a vital character’s familial past.) This fundamental scene was filmed at the Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain. Located in the Sierra de Caldereros about two hours east of Madrid, this 12th-century castle can be reached by vehicle from the village of Hombrados—or by a few hours of hiking.
A version of this article originally appeared online in April 2016; it was updated on May 11, 2020, to include current information.
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