With Season 6 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones almost here, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with Westeros, Winterfell, Essos, King’s Landing, The Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Throne, Tyrion, Cersei, the rest of the Lannisters, Daenerys and the Targaryens, the Baratheons, the Starks, Lord Baelish, the Greyjoys, the Wildlings, the White Walkers…and dozens of other characters, places, families, armies, kings and would-be kings, sadists, liars, spies, schemers, charlatans, lovers, knights, dragons and dungeons we don’t have room to mention.
You can be forgiven if occasionally you get confused about who’s who and what’s what. But GoT is just about the most popular TV show in the world right now, seen in 193 countries (we’re guessing North Korea is the outlier), and we’re big fans, too.
What better way to get ready for Season 6 than visiting some or all of the countries and locations where Game of Thrones has been shot?
Filming locations have ranged from Northern Ireland to Morocco, Iceland to Malta, Croatia to Spain. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ve all been spectacularly beautiful while at the same time representing a world of timeless fantasy mixed with gritty Medieval realism — no easy feat.
Here’s a look at where to go on your Game of Thrones grand tour:
1. Northern Ireland
Much of Westeros, the main setting for the series, is filmed in Northern Ireland, in the regions around Belfast and along the northern coast in County Antrim. The words that come to mind are “rugged,” “forested,” and “spectacular.”
Castle Ward in Northern Ireland’s County Down is the setting for Winterfell, home of the Starks, where then-King Robert Baratheon came to visit in Season 1. The 820-acre estate includes the house, a sunken garden, and woodland.
Tollymore Forest Park, also in County Down, was the haunting scene of a spooky forest in Season 1, where Ned Stark and his sons find the direwolf pups and a member of the Night’s Watch comes across some dismembered bodies of Wildlings.
Audley’s Field and Castle near Strangford Lough in County Down is the setting for Robb Stark’s Camp in Season 2, where he met Talisa. Jaime Lannister is imprisoned at Audley’s as well.
The Dark Hedges in Antrim form the beautiful beech-tree-lined King’s Road where Ayra Stark escaped from King’s Landing in Season 2.
The harbor in the town of Ballintoy along the winding North Antrim coast between the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge — two of the most popular tourist sights on Ireland’s northernmost coast — has been the setting for the Iron Islands off mainland Westeros.
Downhill Beach, also on the Causeway Coast, is Dragonstone in the series, where the creepy priestess Melisandre chants “For the night is dark and full of terrors” in Season 2, making us all shudder.
Since Season 2, the walled old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, has been the setting for King’s Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms — where the fun-loving Lannister family rule, plot, scheme, fight with and even murder each other.
Dubrovnik’s Trsteno Arboretum serves as the peaceful seaside garden where various King’s Landing plots are hatched in private amid flowers and greenery.
Outside Dubrovnik’s walls, the bay where cruise ships may be seen on non-shooting days was the scene of the bloody Battle of Blackwater, where King Stannis unsuccessfully invaded King’s Landing in Season 2, with Tyrion Lannister saving the day and his twerpy nephew Joffrey taking the credit.
Split, Croatia, up the coast from Dubrovnik, incorporates ruins of Diocletian’s Palace into the walls of its old city. Split was used in Season 4 as one of the locations for the story of Daenyres Targaryen, dragon-bearing Khaleesi (queen) of Essos and another rival for the Iron Throne.
The history-seeped island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean stood in for King’s Landing in Season 1 of the series, before it moved to Dubrovnik. The gate to the town of Mdina served as the gate to King’s Landing and Fort Ricasoli formed the exterior of the king’s home.
The Azure Window, a natural rock formation extending into the sea on the small Maltese island of Gozo, was the scene of Season 1’s dramatic Dothraki Wedding between Daenerys and Khal Drogo, king of the Dothrakis, who soon perished.
Three exotic-looking towns in Morocco — Essaouira on the coast, Ait Benhaddou, and nearbyOuarzazate in the Sahara — served as locations for the two slave-trading cities, Astapor and Yunkai, which were outsmarted and outfought by Daenerys and her dragons in Season 3.
Iceland is an appropriate setting for the icy lands Beyond the Wall where Jon Snow bravely ventures in Season 3 and beyond. Locations have included rock-lined Lake Myvatn, the Gullfoss waterfall,Svinafellsjokull glacier and the Geysir hot spring. The surrounding natural landscape must be sick of hearing every iteration of “You know nothing, John Snow” from enthusiastic fans attempting their best Ygritte, a favorite character who perished in Season 4.
Spain made its first appearance as a location setting in the fifth season, standing in for the city of Dorne.
Shooting took place at Seville’s Moorish-style Alcazar, a one-time fort turned royal palace, which serves as the Water Gardens of Sunspear in Dorne.
Another key location included the old bullring in the town of Osuna, transformed into a Roman Colosseum-like structure for sporting fights.
The Game of Thrones crew had exclusive use of the Alcazar gardens during shooting, a major concession by Spanish officials since the site already draws many daily tourists — but as season 5 progressed, the number of visitors increased exponentially, as had already happened in Northern Ireland, Croatia, and Iceland.
You can put together your own tour of Game of Thrones sites in conjunction with many guided tour operators who plan private itineraries, or join an organized group that follows a Game of Thrones theme.
Note: This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared in StrideTravel.com.
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