5 must-visit spots where ‘Game of Thrones’ was filmed

Jun 8, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers. As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

It may have been a year since “Game of Thrones” came to an end, but our fascination with the cult TV series shows no sign of abating. The good news? It’s easy to keep this fantastical world alive. There are magical shooting locations all over Europe that played a vital role in “Game of Thrones”, from teeny caves hidden in Icelandic lava fields to pretty harbours on the Northern Irish coast. If you want to keep the spirit of the Seven Kingdoms alive, here is how you can walk in their footsteps.

But the fun doesn’t have to stop there. “GoT” was filmed in places that have loads of other fun stuff to do, from wine tasting to hikes. And of course, all locations are Instagram heaven.

The locations are all quite remote, too, so great for a bit of social distancing while travelling and exploring a new place.

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1. Northern Ireland

If you want to tick off loads of “Game of Thrones” locations in one go, then Northern Ireland is the place to do so. In all honesty, it’s hard to turn a corner without bumping into a backdrop from the show. Once, I was told in all earnest that a particular tree in a Strangford Lough forest, County Down, had been used in one of the episodes.

Scene-stealing trees aside, a huge number of the exterior shots took place in Northern Ireland, which makes sense, considering the studio stage was in Belfast. Incidentally, these studios should be opening to the general public later this year, complete with sets and props — think the Harry Potter Studios, but a bit dirtier.

Dark Hedges in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Mnieteq/Getty Images)
Dark Hedges in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Mnieteq/Getty Images)

Kick things off at the Dark Hedges, an endlessly Instagrammed road lined with twisting beech trees that played the role of the Kingsroad in the show. A few miles away you’ll find Ballintoy Harbour, which doubled up as the Iron Islands. Further along the coast is the Cushendun Caves, where Melisandre gives birth to a shadow demon. Someone once tried to replicate the scene themselves for a (rather revealing) photo. “Game of Thrones” aside, it’s a beautiful little cave and a great spot for a seaside walk.

A huge batch of scenes for season one was filmed at Castle Ward, which was the setting for Winterfell. Nowadays, you can tour some of the sets, try your arm at archery and poke your head through the very same window from which Bran Stark was pushed in the pilot episode.

If you want to see loads of spots in one go, you can do a guided tour (with optional fur capes and swords) departing from Belfast. But if you’re on a self-drive amble then it’s a good idea to download the excellent “Game of Thrones” app from Discover Northern Ireland. You can find all of the locations, and see them in both their real-life and fictional capacities.

Read more: From Connemara to the Giant’s Causeway: 9 of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland

Ruins of Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland -- where GoT scenes were filmed. (Photo by Rainbow79/Getty Images)
Ruins of Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland — where “GoT” scenes were filmed. (Photo by Rainbow79/Getty Images)

Other things to do while you’re there

As so many locations are along the Causeway Coast, it would be a crime not to tick off some of the local sights as well. The Giant’s Causeway is a surreal collection of basalt columns (that would have made a killer “GoT” location, as it happens). The old Bushmills whiskey distillery is close by, too. And don’t miss the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge for a terrifyingly high and bouncy walk over the Antrim waves.

Where to stay  

You can stay the night in a gorgeous thatch cottage with an outdoor hot tub in Tollymore Forest, where the Stark children found the direwolf pups. In fact, those same dogs do the “Game of Thrones” tour circuit, too, alongside their owners Odin and Thor, who were actually in the show themselves.

Another great option is the boutique hotel Bushmills Inn, a super cosy spot with a great bar, private cinema and gorgeous clawfoot bathtubs. Rooms start at about £220 per night.

2. Iceland

For the most part, the cast of the show was subjected to some pretty frosty shooting locations — you can’t have the tagline “Winter is coming” without a few chilly night shoots, I suppose. The Iceland shoots were no exception. Used as the location for the scenes set “beyond the wall”, the Icelandic settings are stunningly beautiful, but frequently shot in sub-zero temperatures — think frozen lava fields near Lake Mývatn and the blustering expanse of the Vatnajokull glacier.

Read more: 9 quirky destinations in Europe you have to see to believe

Grjótagjá Cave. (P[hoto courtest of
Grjótagjá Cave. (Photo by Raulhudson1986/Getty Images)
But there were some moments that definitely warmed the cockles. Up in northern Iceland, the super remote cave of Grjótagjá was the setting for the steamy entanglement of Jon Snow and Ygritte, who finally got it on in the geothermal waters within its walls. Don’t get too excited, though — most of the scene was shot in a studio.

Other things to do while you’re there

“Game of Thrones” aside, the northern part of Iceland is an absolute dream to explore — without the throngs of tourists treading the usual path around the Golden Circle, the striking landscapes are all the better. Head to the little city of Akureyri, soak in a tub of ale at the Beer Spa and have a dip in the Myvatn Nature Baths (far better than Reykjavik’s Blue Lagoon).

Where to stay

Hotel Kea is right in the middle of Akureyri, with gorgeous views up to the gothic peaks of Akureyrarkirkja church — it has a particularly special onsite restaurant, too. Prices start at about £77 per night.

Icelandair Hotel Akureyri is right by the geothermal swimming pool. The airline’s hotels around Iceland are fantastic — well designed and at a good price. Rooms start at about £90 per night.

3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Remember what I said about the chilly locations? Well, the cast who were sent to Croatia must have been more than a little smug about their lot. The location used as King’s Landing, capital of Westeros, was in Dubrovnik. And while a lot of the scenes were shot in the studios, a stroll around the crumbling stone walls of the Old City gives off the perfect “Game of Thrones” vibe. Walk the city walls, go up Minceta Tower (the views are amazing, regardless of “GoT”) and, if you want to recreate your own Cersei Lannister walk of shame, you’ll need to go to Stradun. Maybe leave the bell at home, though — the locals will thank you for it.

Aerial view of amazing Dubrovnik old town in Croatia. (Photo by czekma13/Getty Images)
Aerial view of amazing Dubrovnik old town in Croatia. (Photo by czekma13/Getty Images)

Other things to do while you’re there

Take a tour of the local vineyards — some excellent wines come out of this corner of Croatia, like Pošip and Dingač. You can take a cable car up to Mount Srđ for amazing views of the city and beyond, and it’s well worth getting out to explore all of the tiny bays and beaches dotted along the coastline. If things get crowded in the old town, head a few miles away to the Lapad peninsula and go snorkelling in the rock pools.

Where to stay

The recently refurbished Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik has killer views over the Adriatic and has a dramatic location carved into the cliffside. It even has its very own private beach, so you can toddle down to the water and relax on a sun lounger. Rooms start at 441 euros (£391) per night.

4. Mdina, Malta

Dubrovnik wasn’t always the setting for the King’s Landing. In season one, the Maltese city of Mdina played that role. If you want to pay your respects to Ned Stark, Fort Manoel is the spot where he met his demise. Unfortunately, one of the prettiest locations used, the Azure Window coastal rock arch where Daenarys married Khal Drogo, collapsed during a storm in 2017.

Read more: Will you need a coronavirus test to fly? Everything we know right now

Fort Manoel, Malta. (Photo by RudolfT/Getty Images)
Fort Manoel, Malta. (Photo by RudolfT/Getty Images)

Other things to do while you’re there

The pretty city of Valletta makes for a gorgeous amble around, but Senglea is just five miles away from Valletta and a dream to explore — you can get great views from the city’s little watchtower, too. Or take the ferry to Gozo, and spend the day wandering around the quiet little hamlets and secluded, peaceful beaches. There’s great diving there, too.

Where to stay

Cugó Gran Maċina Grand Harbour has just 21 suites with incredible views and a killer rooftop pool. Its restaurant is a great spot for an alfresco dinner in the summer, where you can gaze out at the harbour and the old city. Rooms start at about 200 euros (£178) per night.

5. Zumaia, Spain

The unique stone ridges on Itzurun Beach look like they were plucked straight from the brain of George R. R. Martin. This striking beach, in Zumaia on the northern coast of Spain, represented Dragonstone in the show, where Daenerys returned to Westeros in series seven. The incredibly long and winding bridge you see on screen is real, too. You can find it not too far along the coast, at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

(Photo by Iñigo Fdz de Pinedo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Iñigo Fdz de Pinedo/Getty Images)

Other things to do while you’re there

Both of those spots are plonked between Bilbao and San Sebastian, which means you’ll obviously want to do a hop between pintxos bars in San Sebastian, a paradise for foodies. The city’s huge beach, Playa de la Concha, is a great spot for a seaside stroll or a spot of sunbathing. If you wanted to head over to Bilbao, the Guggenheim is an incredible building filled with some impressive art.

Where to stay

Both cities have great accommodation. Try the Gran Hotel Domine in Bilbao, for stunning views of the Guggenheim — your breakfast is served on the roof terrace so you can look out over its undulating exterior as you tuck into your pan con tomato. Rooms start at about 250 euro (£222) per night.

Or use your Marriott points in the Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel, a luxurious and historic sandstone building in San Sebastian. Rooms start at about 360 euro (£320) per night or 70,000 Marriott points during off-peak season.

Bottom line

“Game of Thrones” is a phenomenon that captured the hearts of the world and sometimes it’s hard to imagine it was filmed in real places in Europe. With long-haul travel being off the cards for the time being due to the coronavirus pandemic, these destinations are ideal for a short trip. So you can see where your favourite scenes were shot as well as discovering what else these magical spots have to offer.

Featured photo by Thom Holmes/Unsplash

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