11 Game of Thrones destinations you can actually visit
Oh, and spoiler alert, obvs. We repeat, SPOILER ALERT.
In the show: The capital of the Seven Kingdoms, the home of the Iron Throne, and the heart of all the action.
In real life: The old walls and red roofs of the picturesque Croatian seaport of Dubrovnik had no trouble attracting visitors before Game of Thrones hit our screens . . . but the city’s tourist board owes George RR Martin a Lannister-sized fortune for all the extra exposure the series has provided.
Where to stay: Youth Hostel Dubrovnik, just a stroll from the gates of the old town.
Jon Snow’s love cave
In the show: Where Jon and Ygritte get hot and steamy for the first time in Season Three.
In real life: The lava cave of Grjótagjá in north-east Iceland boasts natural springs that bubble at around 50°C, hidden by a slender crevasse at the earth that shelters the pool from the elements. In other words, the perfect place for the Bastard of Winterfell to lose his V-card.
Daenarys and Drogo’s wedding
In the show: The postcard-perfect backdrop when Dany and Khal get hitched way back in the very first ep.
In real life: A 28-metre high sandstone arch called the Azure Window on the Maltese island of Gozo, a magnet for scuba divers and GoT fanatics alike. Sadly, the rock formation collapsed during a storm in March 2017 so good thing Malta also plays most of King’s Landing in Season One, from the walled city of Mdina to Fort Manoel in the harbour, where they’re still scrubbing Ned Stark’s blood off the limestone steps.
Where to stay: Sliema - NSTS Hibernia Residence is a 15-minute walk to the ferry port where you can grab a lift to Gozo.
Castle Black, Hardhome, and Winterfell
In the show: Winterfell, the capital of the North, and the seat of House Stark, is luxury compared to Castle Black, the grim HQ of the Night’s Watch at the foot of the Wall, and Hardhome, a cursed free folk settlement beyond the Wall.
In real life: You can see how the sprawling grounds of Castle Ward – an 18th Century Gothic masterpiece in County Down – could make up the courtyard of the Starks’ home. But on the other side of Belfast, you need to squint really hard and perform a lot of mental CGI to transform the abandoned Magheramorne quarry into Castle Black and Hardhome.
Where to stay: Take a day trip from Belfast International Youth Hostel.
Meereen and Sunspear
In the show: The former slave city where Tyrion Lannister meets Daenerys for the first time in Season Five, and on the other side of the Narrow Sea, the opulent capital of Dorne.
In real life: Andalusia in southern Spain sets the scene – Osuna’s bullring staged ‘When Dany met Tyrion’ (the most expensive scene in television history, if you don’t mind), while the palatial Alcázar de Sevilla plays the House Martell’s verdant Water Gardens.
Where to stay: Explore Andalusia from the Albergue Inturjoven Sevilla.
Beyond the Wall
In the show: Frosty, uncharted territory belonging to wildlings and white walkers and weather so wintry it makes Reykjavik look like Mykonos.
In real life: Where better to film vast expanses of icy nothingness than the largest national park in Europe, Vatnajökull – 14,000 square kilometres of frost-bitten Icelandic terrain that also contains the continent’s largest glacier.
In the show: Home to Arya Stark during her difficult ‘blind and getting bludgeoned by the Waif’ phase in Season Six.
In real life: The medieval city of Girona in northern Catalonia, an hour north of Barcelona, whose winding web of cobblestone streets, Arab Baths, and Gothic churches provide the backdrop for Arya’s training in Essos. Then skip over the Narrow Sea to King’s Landing by visiting Girona Cathedral, a.k.a. the Great Sept of Baelor in Season Six’s *explosive* finale.
Where to stay: Cerverí of Girona is located in the heart of town.
In the show: The harsh isles ruled by House Greyjoy and occupied by the tough-as-teak seafaring ironborns.
In real life: The craggy Antrim coast, including the tiny seaside village of Ballintoy as the capital Pyke, and the dramatic cliffs around Murlough Bay.
Where to stay: White Park Bay Youth Hostel, boasting panoramic views over the Atlantic and next door to the iconic Giant’s Causeway, is less than a half-hour drive from Murlough and Ballintoy.
In the show: The seaside slave city where Daenerys goes to purchase an army of Unsullied and leaves a smouldering pile of rubble.
In real life: The historic walled port of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, a haven for wind surfers, seafood enthusiasts, and hippies since Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, and Frank Zappa all paid a visit back in the day.
Where to stay: Essaouira Hostel is a traditional Moroccan riad (that means a house with an interior courtyard, FYI) in the middle of the medina (the walled bit of town).
In the show: The vast grasslands roamed by warring nomadic Dothraki tribes, or khalasars.
In real life: Las Bardenas Reales – found in the province of Navarre in northern Spain – are part lunar landscape, part Monument Valley, part Cappadocia, part Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and part Dothraki paradise.
Where to stay: Municipal de Juventud de Tudela, half an hour’s drive south, is your launching pad into the Bardenas.
Long Bridge of Volantis
In the show: Connecting the two halves of Volantis, the Long Bridge delivers what it promises on the tin: a bloody long bridge, packed with markets and taverns and brothels (because it wouldn’t be GoT without brothels, right?).
In real life: The Roman Bridge of Córdoba in southern Spain is two millennia old, 250 metres long, and mercifully brothel-free.
Where to stay: The Albergue Inturjoven Córdoba is in the thick of the historic centre, just 200m from the ‘Puente Romano’.