Season 7 of Game of Thrones will see worlds collide, as Daenerys Targaryen arrives in Westeros to stake a claim to the Iron Throne. She’ll have to wrest it from Cersei Lannister’s cold, scheming fingers, though. And then there are the Starks, who have finally returned to and regained their family seat in Winterfell. Of course, the greatest threat of all is waiting on the other side of the Wall — the Night King and his army of White Walkers.
As viewers count down the days until the HBO drama’s seventh-season premiere on July 16, Yahoo TV is launching our official countdown: #GoTIsComing. Check back here every day as we give updates on all of your favorite characters, details on an important new location, and a travel guide to the locations of Westeros. So pull on a thick coat and get ready for a long and brutal winter.
Westeros’s alarming climate change and ever-worsening White Walker issue wouldn’t bode well for travelers. Luckily for diehard Game of Thrones fans who want to plan a series-themed sojourn, the real-world spots that have stood in for Seven Kingdoms sites, found in seven countries, aren’t suffering the same tourism-squashing scrapes as their onscreen doppelgängers.
Quite the opposite, actually. All of the destinations where the show has filmed over seven seasons — the latest of which premieres Sunday — have experienced an increase in visitors. Croatia alone announced an 11 percent hike in overnight stays from 2016 during the same period in 2017. And that doesn’t even take into consideration all of the tour companies, themed experiences, and merchandise booths that have popped up to greet the need.
“Film/TV tourism became huge after Game of Thrones came here and then Star Wars. It gave Dubrovnik [and Croatia] the kind of free advertising you can’t pay for,” says Dubrovnik Tourist Guides’ Ivan Vukovic Vuka, who gives walking tours of his historic hometown, which provides most King’s Landing exterior shots. (Vuka has visited every other country where GoT has set up production as a fan.) “People love to see behind the scenes and take pictures in the real places. They re-enact the scenes, especially the walk of shame, screaming ‘Shame’ on the Jesuit Stairs.”
And it isn’t just locals who are cashing in. TripAdvisor Attractions teamed up with Kristian Nairn (Hodor) just this week to surprise fans who were midway through the company’s popular GoT tour out of Belfast. He appeared to hold the door when the group descended on Ballintoy Harbour, and once they realized who was being gentlemanly, they jumped at the chance to re-create the heartbreaking moment with the VIP.
Revisited some familiar surroundings today surprising a few fans who booked @TripAdvisor’s #GOT tour in Northern Ireland. Many thanks to @TripAdvisor for giving me another chance to #HoldTheDoor #TripAdvisor
A post shared by kristiannairn (@kristiannairn) on Jul 12, 2017 at 3:08pm PDT
Zicasso, an international online luxury travel referral service, just announced new GoT-specific seven- and 12-day packages in Spain and Iceland, which can be further customized depending on the client’s personal interests. (Like, if you want to spend a lot of extra time rolling around in Jon Snow and Ygritte’s love cavern. Hey, you do you!) In the past, Zicasso has also curated trips targeting Downton Abbey, Don Quixote, and Lord of the Rings fans.
Not that Daenerys devotees and Hound hounds have to seek itinerary help from professionals. The following by-country guide of the greatest hits should help people plan a pilgrimage to the lands of fire and ice.
Follow the three-eyed raven to GoT’s base of operations. While no part of Belfast’s Titanic Studios (where the sets are) is open to the public, production heads outside quite often take advantage of the verdant landscapes, including the green expanses and rocky escarpments of Cairncastle, which were the backdrop to Eddard Stark’s Season 1 execution of the Night’s Watch deserter and Sansa’s journey to the Neck, capricious coasts (Murlough Bay is Slaver’s Bay), and, of course, castles and ruins of what used to be castles. Back before Bran was paralyzed or Eddard beheaded, the Stark family practiced archery and received then King Baratheon at Castle Ward, err, Winterfell. From there, by foot, you can visit Robb Stark’s Oxcross camp, where he met his future Red Wedding wife, at Audley’s Field.
The Dark Hedges, a row of curvy beech trees planted by the Stuarts in the 18th century and one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland, stood in for the Kingsroad when Arya was in her cross-dressing phase.
Ballintoy Harbour on the Causeway Coast has become synonymous with the Iron Islands, and a nearby beach was used to shoot Theon’s baptism into the religion of the Drowned God. Catelyn and Robb attended the House Tully patriarch’s flaming funeral on the Quoile River.
The Altavaddy Bridge in Tollymore Forest was the Season 1 setting where they found the dire wolves. Toome Canal was where Jorah and Tyrion were sailing when attacked by stone men, and the sweeping sand dunes of Portstewart Strand on the north Atlantic coast were the Dorne playground of the sexy Sand Snakes. Reenact the birth of Melisandre’s shadow baby in the Cushendun Caves, but simply visualizing the fiery ceremony where the witch proclaimed Stannis the Lord of the Light on Downhill Beach will have to do. Raging bonfires and effigy burning are frowned upon.
Stop for souvenirs in Glenarm at Steensons Jewellers. The family-owned jewelers have crafted many stunning custom pieces for the show, including Joffrey’s crown, Lannister lion pendants, silver fish brooches, and stag pins, and while exact replicas aren’t permitted by HBO, the shop has a GoT-inspired line of trinkets.
The Mediterranean archipelago comprising three inhabited islands — Malta, Gozo, and Comino — hasn’t been used since year one, as Maltese officials allegedly felt the production endangered protected habitats, and they claimed some natural and historic sites were left damaged or were not cleaned up properly. But as this location was the original King’s Landing and home to many vital Dothraki moments, it is a must-stop for any GoT purist.
One of the most memorable show moments to be captured on Malta was the wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys. Unfortunately, the iconic rock formation the Azure Window ,collapsed during a storm earlier this year. The rocky coast is still quite picturesque and was where the Dothraki often set up camp.
Pose in front of Littlefinger’s green brothel door in Mesquita Square in Mdina, which is also where you will find an ancient stone gate that the Starks used to enter King’s Landing after Eddard was made the Hand.
Stroll small rural villages and the dusty lands that surround them, like Manikata hamlet, which is Lhazareen onscreen and requires an appointment for entrance, and Imtahleb, which also served as a stop on the Dothraki march. Drogo’s pyre can be found in the latter.
A handful of important spots are not open to the public, including the inside of Fort Ricasoli (aka the Red Keep), Verdala Palace, Fort St. Angelo, or the Palazzo Beleben in Zebbug, but you might be able to catch glimpses of exteriors.
When Malta no longer was an option, the GoT gang moved on to Croatia. Stretching along the Adriatic Sea, it offered breathtaking natural beauty, endless coastlines, and most importantly, a perfectly ancient walled old city section in Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to take over King’s Landing duties.
It feels like no corner has been left unused by the crew, so this is definitely a good place to invest in a tour. But some required selfie situations here include the aforementioned Jesuit Stairs (other tourists prefer you keep your clothes on for your walk of shame), Gradac Park (site of the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey was poisoned), St. Lawrence Fortress (the new Red Keep, and the highest point in the city), and Minceta Tower (the seemingly impregnable House of the Undying).
Dubrovnik has also been used to stand in for the cities of Qarth and Pentos. Day trips around the country allow people to check even more locations off the master list. Lokrum Island (Qarth) now houses a GoT visitor center and Iron Throne replica to sit in.
The Trsteno Arboretum, about 15 miles from the city center, serves as the gardens at King’s Landing, where many a plan has been hatched by Lannisters, Tyrells, and other conniving government seat holders. In Split sits Diocletian’s Palace, which would be recognized as Daenarys’s current throne room and ex-dragon storage locker.
The Meereen cliffside where the mother of dragons nailed the slave owners to crosses was filmed at Klis Fortress. Kastel Gomilica has been transformed on occasion into Braavos for Arya scenes.
Like Croatia, Iceland has benefited greatly from the Game of Thrones effect. The show has been cited as a key factor behind the remarkable growth in annual visitors from 566,000 in 2011, the year the HBO series premiered, to more than a million in 2015.
Year-round snowy spots and ginormous glaciers like Snæfellsjökull near Skaftafell mean Iceland provides the best bounty for North of the Wall drama. Do your best White Walker impressions under the icy arches of Vatnajökull and on the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which is the Fist of the First Men in the program.
Act out moments from Jon and Ygritte’s tempestuous courtship in Dimmuborgir and Thingvellir National Park, where many Wilding encampment moments were captured, and in Grjótagjá, the thermal spring-filled cave where Jon learned something about breaking his oath of abstinence.
GoT has used both major tourist attractions — think the Roman Bridge in Córdoba, aka the Long Bridge of Volantis — and lesser-known (although certainly not anymore) finds like the Tabernas Desert (parts of which were used as the Dothraki Sea) when the show is set up in Spain.
This European country is home to several of the family seats, including House Martell of Sunspear and the water gardens in Dorne (played by the Real Alcázar of Seville and Almería’s Alcazaba) and House Tarly’s Horn Hill (Castell de Santa Florentina in Catalonia). Stop to smell the roses at Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell, aka Castillo de Almodóvar del Río.
In between tapas feasts, check these locations off your list: old town Girona and Saint Pere de Galligants (Arya fights the Braavos waif outside this abbey), Castillo de Zafra (the Tower of Joy, where Ned’s secret about Jon Snow’s real parents was revealed in a vision), Parque de la Artillería in Valencia (where Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm negotiated with the Masters of Astapor), and Plaza de Toros in Osuna (the main Meereen fighting pit).
Follow in Daenerys’s first footsteps upon returning to her homeland of Dragonstone after being banished for years on Itzurun Beach.
When even warmer climes were needed in Season 3 to portray Slaver’s Bay, Pentos, and Astapor, the team headed to Morocco. The stunning walled town of Essaouira stands in for Astapor, the seaside port where Daenerys meets her loyal Unsullied army for the first time and where they are paraded around the town’s ramparts. This town played an important role in the third installment’s finale.
Daenerys’s battle with the Second Sons takes place with Yunkai in the background, which in reality is Ait-Benhaddou, a mud-brick fortress city along a former caravan route. It was also used earlier for scenes that took place in Pentos.
Both Essaouira and Ait-Benhaddou are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another village, Ouarzazate, which appeared in the movie Gladiator, is also used for the port of Pentos.
Rumors are flying that the snowy peaks and thick forests of Alberta might make an appearance in the new season. The producers have ventured to the great white north before, but not for location reasons. As it is where Quigley, the 10-year-old Arctic wolf better known to fans as Jon Snow’s protective Ghost, lives with his animal trainer/owner Andrew Simpson north of Calgary, it was likely to capture direwolf footage. Simpson’s company, Instinct Animals for Film, does host private visits at its compound with the Stark pet pack when not on the job.
Although no specifics can be confirmed, the chair of the Alberta Media Production Industries Association told Global News last February that he spent a week in Banff, home to the majestic national park, with GoT’s director of photography. “It turns out Alberta has the biggest wolves in the world, so they’ve shot a little bit here,” he said. Adding fuel to the fire were Instagram posts from Maisie Williams that showed the actress cavorting around the idyllic mountain escape in her beloved Converses. Only time will tell if her coinciding stint in the snow means Arya will be reunited with her sister Sansa, her brother-cousin Jon, or her pawed pal Nymeria.
A post shared by Maisie Williams (@maisie_williams) on Feb 21, 2017 at 2:37pm PST
Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres Sunday, July 16, at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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