A Song of Ice and Fire

The Best and Worst Vacation Spots in A Song of Ice and Fire

The sun is out, the birds are singing, and travel agents everywhere are gearing up for the busy season. That’s right, folks, it’s time to pack up your things and get on the Kingsroad!

If you’re anything like us, gentle readers, you have imagined yourself in the beautifully described locations of some of your favorite novels. As a general rule, we think Westeros would NOT be the place to play this particular game. (That is, unless you like wide spread oppression to the common man.) However, Westeros does offer a variety of gorgeous options. You could explore the bitter cold of the Wall, all the way down to the desert landscape of Dorne. Here we offer some tips on some prominent places to take your imaginary literary vacation.

(If you’d love to feel like you’re really in Westeros, check out the adventures of one of the Ladies of Fire and Lunch. She visited Northern Ireland a couple of years ago, and went to some of the Game of Thrones filming sites during her trip. You can find her story, and some additional travel tips, on our blog.)

 

Dorne

dorne

Areas of Note: The whole region. All of it sounds great. Particular places of note in Dorne include Sunspear (the ancestral home of House Martell) and the nearby Water Gardens. Who wouldn’t want to go into the fountains and pools and get some fresh blood oranges?

Travelers can also enjoy the beach, since Sunspear and the Water Gardens are on the coast. On the western side of Dorne, on the edge of the Red Mountains, one can visit Starfall, the ancestral home of House Dayne. There, you can (hopefully) view Dawn, the legendary sword made from the heart of a fallen star. History and adventure lovers can venture north into the Red Mountains, to visit the ruins of the Tower of Joy. After winning his battle against three members of the Kingsguard, Ned Stark had the tower torn down to build cairns for the deceased.

Traveler Tips: Pack appropriate clothing! Dorne is generally hot, and will require travel through desert areas. Also, beware of showing any loyalty towards House Lannister. Actually, if you have any connection with House Lannister, it’s probably best that you stay out of Dorne. In addition, travelers with connections to House Tyrell will want to travel with caution—old tensions between people from the Dorne and the Reach still exist.

Where to See it in the Real World: The show used the Royal Alcazar in Seville, a world heritage site, for Sunspear. Castle of Zafra, also in Spain, was used for the exterior of the Tower of Joy.

 

Oldtown (The Reach)

oldtown

Areas of Note: One of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Westeros, Oldtown is perfect for visiting scholars, or for those looking for scenic walks through one of Westeros’ ancient wonders. Travelers tired of the filth and squalid conditions of King’s Landing will find the cobblestone streets and stone buildings of this city most pleasing. Two of Westeros’ most famous buildings, The Citadel and The Hightower, can be found here.

The Citadel is the home of the Order of the Maesters. Guided tours through the Citadel are available to those wishing to learn more about the history of the maesters and their relationship to Oldtown. For visiting scholars, the Citadel has every book imaginable for you to peruse. Not a writer? No problem!! Visit the Scribe’s Hearth, and have a scribe personally write a letter back home to family and friends. Do not forget to admire the green sphinxes at the gate of the Citadel, two of the most unique statues in all of Westeros. Boats are available for travelers wishing to visit the Isle of Ravens, location of the oldest building of the Citadel and home to Westeros’ messenger ravens.

After visiting the home of the Maesters, venture to Battle Island where the famed Hightower castle and lighthouse are located. If you are brave enough to travel to the top, you may even see glimpses of the Wall. If heights aren’t your thing, the Black Fortress located at the bottom of the structure is a labyrinth of wonder.

For our more pious of travelers, we recommend visiting the Starry Sept, the original seat of the Faith of the Seven, predating the Great Sept of Baelor. We recommend seeing the beautiful gardens located in the Seven Shrines sept. For other Houses of Worship, look no further than the streets along the wharves. For shoppers, Oldtown has many marketplaces to choose from. The Whispering Sound still serves as a major trading post with the East, for those visitors looking for foreign wares. Finish off your day with a visit to the Quill and the Tankard, known for its world-renowned cider.

Traveler Tips: High heeled footwear is not recommended for those wishing to walk around. The cobblestone streets can get slippery when it rains, so be extra careful when walking around the city. It is not recommended that those who suffer from vertigo venture up the lighthouse.

Where to See it in the Real World: The city of Girona, Catalonia will be doubling as Oldtown for this season on Game of Thrones.

 

Horn Hill, ancestral home of House Tarly (The Reach)

Horn_Hill_highres

Areas of Note: According to the Benioff & Weiss guidebook, Horn Hill is a massive estate down a quaint dirt road, just south of Highgarden. The land is filled with lush green grass and trees for miles, certainly more inviting than most Westerosi locales these war torn days.

Take advantage of the castle grounds, and be sure to go on a hunt while you’re there. You might run into some competition with a certain young lordling out to impress his father, but there’s plenty of game for everyone. In fact, the cooks of Horn Hill will prepare whatever you bring down and serve it fresh to your table.

There is also a magnificent Valyrian steel sword on display in the dining hall. The ancestral sword of House Tarly is called Heartsbane. Definitely something not to miss.

Also, be sure to check out the fashion on display. We believe Horn Hill to be one of the fashion capitals of the country. The innovation of design on display in the noble houses is certainly something to behold.

Traveler Tips: Be sure to see Talla Tarly if you’re interested in updating your look. We hear she can do wonders. Also, be wary of local tensions before accepting any dinner invitations as the lord of the manor can be a bit of a challenge. Finally, never, NEVER, steal any ancestral weapons. It may be hazardous to your well being.

Where to See it in the Real World: The show used Castell de Santa Florentina, in the town of Canet de Mar in the Spanish region of Catalonia for Horn Hill.

 

King’s Landing (The Crownlands)

kingslanding

Areas of Note: The capital of the Seven Kingdoms, this walled city was founded by Aegon the First. One of the most densely populated cities in Westeros, King’s Landing is famous for being the headquarters of the alchemist guild, and the seat of the Faith of the Seven. Despite the unsanitary conditions of the city and the disparity of wealth, a plethora of businesses have set up shop in many of the districts devoted to individual trades.

Travelers with a sweet tooth can make their way to the Street of Flour, home to a variety of bakeries. Are you looking for weapons and tools? travel to the Street of Steel where you can find a wide range of priced metal goods. Cobbler’s Square for crafts and Fishmonger’s Square for “fresh” fish are other options for those wishing to visit the capital.

We would be remiss if we did not mention The Red Keep and the Great Sept of Baelor as must see places for your trip. The Red Keep is home to the King of Westeros. The Iron Throne casts its long shadow over the kingdom from within these walls. Be sure to visit the Queen’s Ballroom and Maidenvault on your visit. The dragon heads in the hallways are a must see for both adults and children visiting The Red Keep.

King’s Landing is also home to one of the most beautiful structures in all of Westeros, the Great Sept of Baelor. Its domed marble roof and crystal towers are awe-inspiring. Whether you are a worshipper of the Seven or not, this is a must see for travelers.

Travelers Tips: Because of King Tommen’s very busy schedule, it is important that visitors check in with the City Watch for visiting hours to The Great Hall. Be wary of pickpockets in Flea Bottom. Actually, your nose and coin pouch may be grateful if you just avoid Flea Bottom all together.

Where to See it in the Real World: In season 1 of Game of Thrones, the exterior shots of the city were filmed in Malta; Ned’s execution scene was filmed in the town of Gżira.

Subsequent seasons were filmed in the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Notable locations included St. Dominika Street and The City Walls of Dubrovnik. The trial by combat between Oberyn and the Mountain was filmed at the Belvedere Atrium. Cersei’s “Walk of Shame” was filmed on the Jesuit Steps in Dubrovnik. Interior shots for King’s Landing are filmed in the Paint Hall studios in Northern Ireland. Sets for The Red Keep, The Great Sept of Baelor, and The Great Hall can be found there. Magheramorne Quarry in Northern Island was also used in the Battle of Blackwater episode.

Starting in season 6, Spain has been doubling for King’s Landing in exterior shots. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona in the Catalonia region of Spain was used for exterior shots of the Sept of Baelor.

 

Harrenhal (The Riverlands)

harrenhal

Areas of Note: Harrenhal, located in the Riverlands, was once thought to be the largest and most protected castle in Westeros. That is, until the Targaryen dragons melted the very stone of the place, leaving its five towers bent and cracking. Many a great House have tried to possess and rebuild it. None, thus far, have succeeded.

The castle’s Godswood has remained surprisingly in tact. It is lovely any time of year. The focal point is the expressively carved, oldest Weirwood tree. Original to the property, it was damaged in the Dance with Dragons during a battle between Daemon and Aemond Targaryen.

Unfortunately the Bear Pit is closed indefinitely, due to lack of bear.

Traveler Tips: Be on the lookout for a ghostly visit from the castle’s original inhabitants, Harren and his sons. Staying at Harrenhal is not for the faint of heart! Anyone traveling in the Riverlands should also take care to guard against bandits known as the Brotherhood Without Banners. They are said to be lead by a pale women in a hood, but accounts vary. You will also encounter many guides that suggest a visit to the beautiful seat of House Tully, Riverrun, but we humbly suggest you avoid as it is currently under siege.

Where to See it in the Real World: The exterior sets of Harrenhal were built in Banbridge, Northern Ireland.

 

Pyke (The Iron Islands)

pyke

Areas of Note: Castle Pyke is the ancestral home of the fiercely proud House Greyjoy. The castle is located on the island of Pyke, one of eight main islands that comprise the Iron Islands archipelago. The castle was originally built on a cliff face, but erosion has caused the many parts of the castle to stand on rock stacks in the water. Therefore, you have to walk the rope bridges connecting the towers if you wish to move about the castle (though be careful, as the Iron Islands often experiences inclement weather). Visitors may wish to see the Seastone Chair in the Great Keep—it will probably be the only kraken you ever see!

Due to the proximity of the islands, travelers may want to island hop. Depending on interests, Harlow, Great Wyk, and Orkmont may be good stops at the end or beginning of your trip. Harlow is the second largest island and known for its shaggy ponies. Great Wyk is the largest island, and the site of the first sept in the Iron Islands. Known for its ore, the mountains of Orkmont offer good opportunities for hiking.

Traveler Tips: Due to the inclement weather in the region, caution must be used while sailing. Travelers must use the port at Lordsport to get to Pyke, since erosion has caused the castle to have no safe anchorage. Also, the Iron Islands has experienced political upheaval with the death of King Balon Greyjoy. Euron, the new King, has now ordered everyone to build ships, so the area may not be as hospitable. Travelers may want to wait for the political climate to calm before booking passage.

Where to See it in the Real World: The show used a couple of locations in the Northern coast of Northern Ireland for Pyke and the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy himself may greet you at Ballintoy Harbor! The show also filmed at Murlough Bay.

 

The Neck

bogswamp

Areas of Note: The Neck is not making anyone’s top ten destinations in Westeros, which is why we think it is of interest to the more eccentric travelers. If you are an adventure-seeker looking for something off the beaten track, we highly recommend visiting Greywater Watch, the seat of House Reed. You will probably need to plan your visit the day of, because this castle is known to float around. In fact, the people who inhabit this marshland live on floating islands. The food here is also unorthodox. If you are an adventurous eater, be prepared to indulge in frogs and lizards.

Traveler Tips: Do not put your hands in the water. Sharp-toothed Lizard-Lions are known to swim in the bogs of the Neck. The locals are also shy, so do not take their reclusive nature to heart.

Where to See it in the Real World: The show has not visited the Neck so there are no filming locations to include here. However, for anyone Stateside we recommend Bog River and Lows Lake located in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. The area is full of streams and ponds for anyone that enjoys canoeing and/or bird-watching.

 

Winterfell (The North)

winterfell

Areas of Note: The natural hot springs in Winterfell, House Stark’s ancestral home, would appeal to anyone looking for a nice bath. The water from these hot springs is piped through the walls, making Winterfell more comfortable than other Northern castles. (A useful enterprise, as Winterfell is located halfway between Moat Cailin and the remote Wall.)

The glass garden/greenhouse also offers a break from the cold, and the opportunity to view the famous blue winter roses (if in season). Those interested in religion can visit the Godswood, one of the most cultivated godswoods, and pray before a weirwood tree.

The winter town nearby is available for all shopping needs.

Traveler Tips: A trip to Winterfell would have been more pleasant before the War of the Five Kings. Unfortunately, the castle has deteriorated under Greyjoy and Bolton rule, and now may be the location of an upcoming battle between Stark loyalists and the Boltons. Travelers seeking adventure may want to go there as soon as possible. Other travelers should wait until the dust settles, and, hopefully, new leadership is in place.

Where to See it in the Real World: Many locations! In the unused pilot, Doune Castle in Scotland stood in for Winterfell. When the show filmed season 1, they used Castle Ward in Northern Ireland. (Of note, fans can participate in an archery experience at Castle Ward.) Shane’s Castle (also Northern Ireland) has been used for season two and onward.

 

The Wall and Beyond

thewall

Areas of Note: Built with magic and over 700 feet high, the Wall is considered one of the hinges of the world. Travelers can climb their way to the the top, or ask the Night’s Watch for a ride in their lift. There doesn’t appear to be any rules for people that make it to the top—feel free to throw anything off the side. The castles for the Night’s Watch are mostly in disrepair, though historians may be interested in the Night Fort.

Beyond the Wall, travelers may seek out the numerous groves of weirwood trees and largely untouched land. Places of note include the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. Those truly in love with cold weather may want to visit the Land of Always Winter.

Traveler Tips: Due to the impending invasion from the White Walkers and their army of undead, this trip should only be done by the most adventurous and thrill-seeking of individuals. If you do take the chance and venture beyond the Wall, pack appropriately and bring a hat (something many others neglect to do). Also, bring some dragonglass.

Where to See it in the Real World: The scenes at the Wall are filmed at Magheramorne Quarry, outside of Belfast. The Hardhome sequence was also filmed at the quarry. Iceland was used for the scenes beyond the Wall. Filming locations included Vatnajokull and Skaftafell National Park, and Dimmuborgir/Lake Myvatn.

 

The Nine Free Cities of Essos

braavos

Areas of Note: From Braavos in the North, Volantis in the South or the island of Tyrosh a traveler can find anything their heart desires in the dynamic and far flung city-states of Essos. Braavos is a city of gods and canals known for being the location of the Iron Bank, should you choose to mix business with pleasure. And you’ll never be far from a temple if you feel the need to pray. If you’re interested in Valyrian history we suggest visiting Lys where the population, with their light hair and eyes, still resemble the dragonlords of Old Valyria. For anyone looking to shop for the world’s finest lace and glass, plan a stop in Myr where the craftsman will astound you.

Almost directly East of King’s Landing is Pentos, a major trading hub that is easy to get to from any Eastern port in Westeros, for the budget traveler. From Pentos you can travel to Norvos, the home of the current Martell matriarch. There you can enjoy the city’s famous bells and marvel at the incredible fashions of the locals. Advanced travelers should not feel intimidated by the rules of Volantis for it is here that you will encounter a wonder of engineering, the Black Wall surrounding Old Volantis. In the oldest parts of the city dwell the most powerful citizens and the wall is so thick it is said that 6 4-horse chariots can race across the top.

Traveler Tips: Travelers should study useful phrases in several languages including Old Valyrian to fully enjoy their experience. Keep an open mind, a heavy purse, and consider hiring a personal security force should you visit cities with high trade in slavery and/or piracy. Beware assassins! If you can.

Where to See it in the Real World: Many exterior shots in Braavos were filmed in Carnlough Harbor in Northern Ireland as well as Kastel Gomilica in Croatia while Duilovo in Split is where the doors for the House of Black and White were built for filming. The Roman Bridge of Cordoba has stood in for Volantis.

 

Slaver’s Bay

meereen

Areas of Note: Slaver’s Bay is a gulf located in the Summer Sea in the South of Essos. Bordered on the North by the unending Dothraki hordes and to the East of the Red Waste, the bay is fed by the Skahazadhan River. It is home to the three Ghiscari-founded cities most recently liberated by The Mother of Dragons.

Astapor is a city said to be made of “bricks and blood” is is most famous for training and selling the famed Unsullied warriors. Visitors may want to spend an afternoon observing the fighting pits or touring the locations of the great Astapori pyramids that dominate the city. Shoppers are advised to pick up a genuine tokar to take home with them, a sumptuous souvenir. Yunkai is often called the Yellow City for its bricks are yellow and crumbling. Travelers may wish to explore the original locations of the Daenerys’ the Unburnt’s successful sneak-attack that liberated the slaves of Yunkai.

Meereen is the current seat of Queen Daenerys Targaryen. The largest of the three, Meereen is home to a port and an immense pyramid that dwarfs the city. While Astapor is red and Yunkai is yellow, Meereen is said to be many colors.

Traveler Tips: Traveler’s intending to tour Slaver’s Bay should beware, as there is talk of political unrest, war and disease. The region is still reeling after it’s very recent conquering and slavery is not as eradicated as promised. Chances of visitors being kidnapped and sold into slavery are high (if they don’t fall victim to the Pale Mare first). The truly adventurous should find everything they desire in Meereen but beware, the city is home to the Queen’s 3 adolescent dragons and we hear they are ravenous.

Where to See it in the Real World: Most of the interiors in Meereen are housed in the studios in Northern Ireland. In Split, Croatia you can visit Diocletian’s Palace and Klis Fortress to experience some of the exteriors. Fans of scenes involving Tyrion and the other regents of Meereen will recognize locations in Peniscola in Spain from season 6.

 

Have you visited any of the filming locations of Game of Thrones? Tell us about it in the comments!

Hello, we are Fire and Lunch! Five years ago, a bunch of superfans came together to celebrate their favorite book series over food, and the rest is history. You can find our in-depth analysis (complete with POP-toy gifs) of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, and other fantasy series on tumblr and twitter. If you’re into fast talking, intelligent discourse, and some pretty deep geek humor, check out our podcast, The Piecast.

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