By Oliver James Freeman
If you’re GoT fan like me, the 14th of April is a day that you’ve been longing for. If you’re not, it’s the day that Game of Thrones returns – the eighth season of a titanic programme, six final chapters, and a highly anticipated epic finale.
Glorious battles, cinematics, and fates await us in this struggle of life and death between the armies of Westeros and the undead horde of the Knight King, featuring a cast of dragons and re-animated dragons, kings and queens, and a tale of convoluted family bloodlines of eras past. It’ll most likely leave us in a state of both wonderment and melancholy. What is certain, though, is that this will be the end of a decade – spanning era.
Fortunately for those of us who will hold the stories and lessons of Game of Thrones close to our hearts, the series may end but it will be immortalised by the locations in which it was filmed. The majority of filming locations are accessible to anybody, while some of the more remote regions of Westeros are certainly less hospitable – beyond The Wall if you like.
The Countryside: Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland plays host to the greater majority of countryside filming scenes across the seven kingdoms. County Antrim creates our iconic images of Winterfell and the Eyrie with a few CGI tricks hidden among the natural landscape. For any Game of Thrones lover, a trip to this northeastern region of the country and the ancient Castle Ward is a must. The 1,000-acre plot of land alongside Strangford Lough, gives you access a historic farmyard where the majority of Winterfell scenes are filmed. The Whispering Wood, Robb Stark’s military camp, and the setting for the Baelor battle, where Ser Jaime Lannister, the ‘King Slayer’, is captured by Stark forces.
Northern Ireland also possesses the King’s Road by a small village called Stanocum. Take a trip there and you can experience The Dark Hedges, which is the long road bordered by bending beech trees, leading to the fabled King’s Landing.
Kings Landing: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik plays host to the all-powerful Lannister family and a myriad of iconic Game of Thrones locales which could provide a whole touring holiday alone. To list only a few:
Lovrijenac Fort – The Red Keep
Lovrijenac Fort is portrayed as The Red Keep and the home of the Iron Throne in the Game of Thrones universe. In the series, the castle was inhabited by the Targaryen, followed by the noble Baratheon, and later the incestuous Lannister families. Within the walls of Lovrijenac Fort comes some of the most iconic moments, including scheming, volta, deaths, and more deaths. The majority of scenes within the Red Keep have featured from within the walls of this historical fortress.
For a minimal fee of €4,000, a happy couple can rent Lovrijenac Fort for their wedding. I’d say it’s cool to have your wedding in a medieval Croatian castle; but surely, would it not be fantastic to mimic the marital moments of Joffrey Baratheon and Sansa Stark? With that in mind, I am not endorsing finishing off with their dramatic ending.
Blackwater Bay and King’s Landing Harbour
From the heightened walls of Lovrijenac Fort, tourists and GoT fans alike can look over Dubrovnik West Harbour and Pier. The West Harbour and the shorelines that run along its perimeter are featured numerous times throughout the series. Dubrovnik’s harbour transformed in to Pile Harbour within the fictional-realm, which golden shores that are best known for the departure of Myrcella Baratheon on her journey to Dorne and eventual demise.
The harbour is also known for its pier that hosted the famed battle of Blackwater Bay, which is one of the largest battles to date in the War of the Five Kings. As a reminder for any fans who have forgotten, the battle of Blackwater Bay features the Lannister’s unleashing of wildfire onto the Baratheon fleet.
During a scene in which the gold cloaks — Lannister Kingsguard – marched down the steps from The Red Keep onto the shore, local Croatian children could be seen diving into the water. You too could go for a dip in this iconic location.
There are a myriad of locations dotted around Dubrovnik which are featured within the King’s Landing setting of Game of Thrones, but I’d like to take you further away from the infamous walls of Croatia, and into the deeper, darker depths of Wildling lands, north of The Wall and the Knights Watch.
Beyond the Wall: Iceland
We all know ‘The North’ as the land of supposed savagery, with the ‘free-folk’, or ‘wildlings’. The Wall, manned by the Knight’s Watch, looks to defend Westeros and realms beyond from the wildling hordes. Led for a time by Mance Rayder, an ex-member of the Knights Watch, the free-folk are the first to experience the wrath of the iconic ‘winter is coming’ motto that comes with the story, and the first to flee from the threat of the Knight King and his reanimated army.
It would be wrong not the mention the region that made a man of the much – loved character, Jon Snow (or Targaryen–conspiracy alert). Grjótagjá provided fans of the show and ‘shippers’ of Jon and Ygritte with the scene in which they first made love. In the surrounding area, there are incredibly popular thermal pools that are a tourist attraction and bathing spot for Icelandic locals. P.S. They filmed the intimate scenes in the comfort of a studio, not on the floor of the cave, as is shown.
The exotic looking Water Gardens and Sunspear and the seat of House Martell in Dorne are filmed within the walls of the Alcázar of Seville, in Spain. In Dorne, we are treated to one of the most sinister plotlines throughout the entire story of Game of Thrones, featuring a number of deaths – unsurprisingly. The treacherous poisoning of noble princes Doran and Trystane Martell, at the hands of the Sand Snakes, shook the city of Dorne to its core. I say this, but it didn’t seem to be enough of a warning for young Myrcella Baratheon who, ahead of her voyage back to King’s Landing, partook in a poison-laced kiss with Ellaria Sand.
If you are looking for the opulence and beauty of Dorne that captivated Game of Thrones fans, the good news is you can visit the real place. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Royal Alcázar of Seville and the Cathedral of Seville are yours to roam – if you pay the entrance fee to cover any tours you desire. It may be missing the Martells and the Sand Snakes, who you’ve most likely come to love or hate, but the serenity and artistic nature of the historic architecture, created by Moors in 913, is a joy to behold. I suppose this could also be a once in a lifetime experience; unless you’re a serial tourist, of course.
The Game of Thrones’ production team made the series for you – the viewer. With that in mind, the people behind the scenes successfully brought words to life by retelling an epic filled with fanciful protagonists, love and intimacy, damage and destruction, brutality and death.
In all of this carnage, the team members sought out the most beautiful and vibrant locations around the world to set the scene of the iconic kingdoms and houses within the fictional realm. Now, as Game of Thrones enters its final season, we can wish it adieu without saddened eyes, knowing that its writer and production team chose locations that would immortalise each and every sinew of the saga. So, why not add these locations and the myriad of other Game of Thrones setting locations to your bucket list?