HBO’s much lauded, much loved Game Of Thrones will go down in history as one of the most expensive television shows of all time; according to E!, each episode costs a staggering $6 million to film. But unlike shows with hefty budgets devoted to their stars (who can forget the Friends cast and their united wrangling for a $1 million pay cheque each — per episode?), the high cost of Game Of Thrones is thanks not to its cast, but to its giant sets and multitude of shooting locations.
The Paint Hall studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland, serve as production headquarters, and the bulk of on-location shooting happens in the surrounding countryside. However, given the vastness of the Game Of Thrones universe, and the fact that its story spans two fictional continents, the show’s location scouts have had the difficult task of seeking out otherworldly landscapes to create the illusion of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
But as fantastical as those lands may seem, made all the more so by CGI wizardry, many of those locations are real — and make for the perfect travel destinations for enthusiastic fans. With a host of filming locations that span the countries of Croatia, Spain, Iceland, Malta, and Morocco, there is no shortage of places in which to immerse oneself in a bit of fantasy.
Jesuit Stairs, Dubrovnik
The Croatian City of Dubrovnik has seen something of a Game Of Thrones tourism boom, as it serves as a stand-in for King’s Landing in the series.
The location for Cersei’s unforgettable, harrowing Walk Of Atonement, the iconic Jesuit Stairs were almost refused as a filming location by the city’s church due to the scene’s required nudity. However, permission was eventually granted, and visitors can now trace the steps of Cersei’s journey for themselves.
Grjótagjá Cave, Iceland
Located near Lake Mývatn on the north coast of Iceland, Grjótagjá is a lava cave that houses a thermal hot spring. It became a popular bathing site in the 1970s, and before that, in the early 18th century, it served as the hideout of outlaw Jón Markússon.
Game Of Thrones lovers, however, may recognize the cave for its more recent dalliances; fan favorites Jon Snow and Ygritte make use of the lava cave in a particularly steamy (pun intended) love scene.
San Anton Palace, Malta
The San Anton Palace, built in the early 17th century, is now the official home of the President of Malta. The premises is surrounded by lush public gardens that contain plants and flowers from all over the world, with breeds of palm, cypress, jacarandas, and other exotic species, some of which are centuries old.
The exterior of the Palace is a stand-in for the Red Keep, where Aryra memorably recovers her sword, Needle, and uses it to kill a stable boy.
This western Moroccan city, formerly known as Mogador, is well known for the fortress walls that remain standing to this day, enclosing part of the city. These ramparts are no stranger to the film industry; Orson Welles featured them in his classic Othello.
These walls appear onscreen more recently in Game Of Thrones as a stand in for Astapor, also known as “The Red City.” It is near these city walls that viewers were first introduced to the Unsullied.
Castle Ward, Northern Ireland
Castle Ward is an 18th century structure that is open to the public and boasts 820 acres of landscaped gardens. One of the most-used filming locations for the series, it serves as a double for the majority of the Winterfell exteriors. Its surrounding plains and green countryside have also been used for the shooting of many army camp scenes.
Architecture lovers in particular will delight in Castle Ward for its dual styles, built to satisfy the conflicting tastes of Lord Bangor and his wife, Lady Ann Bligh. The columns and triangular pediment of the entrance side of the building are built in a Palladian style, whereas the opposite side of the castle is built to exhibit a Georgian Gothic aesthetic.