Celluloid dreams

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 23, 2019.
Celluloid dreams
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A big fan of Game of Thrones? Although fans will soon have to bid farewell to the kingdom of Westeros, the good news is that its stunning film locations, including national parks and Unesco World Heritage sites are not going anywhere. From lava caves in Iceland, where Jon Snow and Ygritte spent the night, to the coastal town of Essaouira in Morocco, where Daenerys freed the Unsullied, here are eight Game of Thrones locations you can visit to rediscover the world of dragons, White Walkers and the quest for the Iron Throne.



One of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland, The Dark Hedges is lined with beech trees located on a quiet road near the town of Ballymoney in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Its twisted branches form an arch over the road, making it an impressive spot for many travellers, artists and painters.

Known in Game of Thrones as the Kingsroad, the iconic landmark was when Arya and Gendry are seen fleeing King’s Landing at the end of the season 2 premiere, The North Remembers. The Dark Hedges is not the only must-see location in Northern Ireland — the area that surrounds it attracts fans the world over as it has been used to film Winterfell, Castle Black and the Stark family war encampment. Fans will be happy to know that in addition to The Dark Hedges, travellers to Northern Ireland will soon have more reason than ever to visit. Word is out that fans will be able to journey through a massive King’s Landing set the production crew built for season 8 and has decided to leave standing as a tourist attraction!



A Unesco World Heritage site due to its historic significance, Dubrovnik’s Old Town in Croatia first appeared on the show as ‘King’s Landing’ in the second season of Game of Thrones. The late-medieval walled city has an exceptional Old Town with beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Since the Game of Thrones phenomena, tourism to the medieval walled city has skyrocketed. Visitors can meander through the capital of the Seven Kingdoms on a themed walking tour, passing the steps of Old Town’s magnificent St Ignatius of Loyola Church (the site of Cersei Lannister’s brutal ‘walk of shame’) as well as Fort Lovrijenac, the real-life fortress where filming of the epic Battle of Blackwater took place.


ITÁLICA, SPAIN aka The Dragonpit

The Roman ruins of Itálica, with its remarkable mosaics and an impressive amphitheatre is a filming location for the 7th and 8th season of Game of Thrones, providing a dramatic backdrop for some of the most intense negotiations as seen in the season 7 finale. Founded in 206 BC, the amphitheatre held 25,000 people and was considered a pivotal meeting point. In Game of Thrones, the ruins also represent a significant meeting place and holds the largest gathering of characters in the series’ history.


GRJÓTAGJÁ CAVE, ICELAND aka Jon and Ygritte’s Love Nest

Iceland’s incredibly beautiful Grjótagjá Cave was made famous in 2013 when it was visited by Jon Snow and Ygritte in Kissed by Fire, the fifth episode of Season 3. This scene is still regarded by many Game of Thrones  fans as one of the most beautiful and romantic sequences filmed for the show. Due to filming restrictions, the scene was actually shot in a studio, but the cave was meticulously recreated by the series’ creative team to maximise authenticity, although they did add a waterfall to play up the romance in that scene. Ever since the series’ first featured Iceland in season 2, glimpses of the country’s frozen landscapes have lured fans from around the world. The ‘Game of Thrones effect’ has been cited as a key factor behind the remarkable growth in annual visitors to Iceland, from 566,000 in 2011, the year it premiered, to more than one million in 2015.



Vatnajökull in Iceland, which is also known as the Vatna Glacier, is the place that Game of Thrones fans know as the area beyond the Wall. It is said to be one of the largest ice caps in Europe. In the series, the ‘Land of Always Winter’ required a fair amount of CGI to create, but the massive glaciers, ice caves, and active geothermal areas used as filming locations for the show are places you can actually visit in Vatnajökull National Park, a protected wilderness east of Reykjavík in Iceland. Spanning across an area of roughly 8,000 square kilometres, the glacier covers around eight per cent of Iceland’s total land area. At its deepest point, the glacier is 1,000 metres deep and hides some central active volcanoes.



In the Kingdom of Morocco, the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou is one of the most eye-catching filming locations featured in the Game of Thrones series, providing the backdrop for the cities of ‘Yunkai’ and ‘Pentos’ in season 3 where the majority of Daenerys’s scenes are set. Along with the Ounila River, this provided the perfect setting for Daenerys’ battle with the Second Sons. A Unesco world heritage site, today Ait Ben Haddou remains relatively unchanged, and thus, provides a fascinating look into a forgotten era, and showcases the lives of those living in rural Morocco. Climbing to the top of the village, travellers will get an amazing outlook over the town and the desert beyond.



In Morocco, fans will also find that the cliff wall of the city of Essaouira also stood in for the fictional city of “Astapor,” upon which Daenerys’s dragons flew in the season 3 finale. Essaouira is most familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the home of the highly skilled slave-soldiers known as the Unsullied. In real life, Essaouira is a port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast well known for its fresh seafood and traditional argan oil production, as well as its Unesco-inscribed 18th-century medina (old town) filled with local artisan shops.



A lavish royal palace at the centre of the city, the Real Alcázar Palace is recognised as the oldest royal palace in Europe that is still in use. The upper chambers of the Alcázar are still used by the Spanish royal family as their official residence in Seville. The famous gardens of the Alcázar in Seville were depicted in many scenes of the Game of Thrones series. Although the palace is Seville’s biggest tourist attraction, the cast and crew of the series got permission to shut half of it down to film crucial scenes set in Dorne, the southernmost part of the kingdom of Westeros. Its gardens are well known to fans of the show.