As we impatiently wait for Game of Thrones' season 7 return—mark your cal for Sunday, July 16th—we couldn’t help but hype ourselves up with a look into the real-life destinations that serve as the fantasy epic’s backdrop. From seaside Croatian villages and rolling Irish countryside to verdant Spanish gardens and volcanic Icelandic lakes, this is where our favorite fictional characters live, breathe, scheme, and—all-too-often—die.
*Beware: spoilers from seasons 1-6 will be dropped*
The narrow cobbled streets, baroque staircases, Renaissance squares, Romanesque stone gates, and medieval fortified city walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town were tapped to serve as GoT’s seaside capital of the Seven Kingdoms—King’s Landing. Home to the Iron Throne, Red Keep (the fortress residence of the King of Andals and the First Men), and an intimidating number of Lannisters, the real-life-Adriatic-gem-turned-fictional-royal-Westeros spot has enjoyed quite a bit of screen time throughout the seasons.
Although GoT later took to filming its Winterfell scenes in Northern Ireland, this 14th-century medieval castle serves as the original House Stark stronghold in the pilot episode—AKA the scene of Bran's death-defying fall. PS: Game of Thrones wasn’t the first major production to tap Doune as a location; Outlander also used the estate as a stand-in for their fictional Castle Leoch, and the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail did the majority of their filming there.
This one should be real easy. Ballymoney’s beech tree-lined avenue is the real life Kingsroad, after all. But before the tunnel of intertwined, knotted branches was forged by Arya Stark and nearly everyone else in the Seven Kingdoms, it functioned simply as a statement entrance to the Stuart family’s private manor, Gracehill House.
Seville’s iconic Alcazar can be seen in season 5 as Jamie and Bronn head out to the Water Gardens of Dorne—the private residence of the House Martell—in search of Myrcella. Across a handful of episodes, we catch peeks of the Alcazar’s Mudéjar architecture, sunken gardens, arcade pavilions, Moorish arches, and gilded ceilings.
Scratching your head for when you could have spotted Osuna’s Plaza de Toros? That’d be season 5, episode 9, when Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, oversees a bout at Daznak’s Pit—Meereen’s premier fighting pit. IRL, the Andalusian bullring was inaugurated in 1904 and remains the pride of Osuna.
The Mourne Mountains have shown up quite a few times throughout GoT’s run, but the most recognizable scene is likely in season one when Khal Drogo travels east with his new bride, Daenerys. As they pass under the bronze Horse Gate to Vaes Dothrak—in the shadow of the fictional Mother of Mountains—if you keep your eyes peeled you'll actually spot the Mourne Mountains' Slievemageogh peak.
In Daenerys’ cross-season quest to reclaim the Seven Kingdoms and free all the enslaved in the city-state's of Slaver’s Bay, she makes her way to Astapor —real-life Essaouira—to buy the Unsullied, an army of trained and tortured soldiers. The coastal Moroccan town was a shoo-in thanks to its seafront ramparts, cannon-lined fortified walls, and narrow streets that mix African and European architectural styles.
Located in Iceland's rugged Vatnajökull National Park, Skaftafell is known for its enormous glaciers, surging waterfalls, snowcapped mountain peaks, black basalt columns, and sharp cliff-faces. Beyond the Wall scenes filmed in seasons two and three (think: anything involving Jon, Ygritte, and the Night’s Watch) captured the dramatic scenery.
The Catalan city of Girona features in quite a few season six episodes. Its medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter (replete with watchtowers), Roman fortress remains, Arab bathhouses, and Benedictine abbeys set the scene for fictional Braavos—the city where Arya learns how to become one of the Faceless Men at the House of Black and White.
Venture just 20 minutes north of Split and you’ll land in Klis, a Dalmatian village built around a commanding mountain fortress that served as the royal seat of many Croatian kings. In season four, the craggy landscape sits in as Meereen, one of the three city-states of Slaver’s Bay.
Things don’t often go right for Jon Snow. So when against all odds, he captured himself a Wildling and fell in love in season two, we feared what would happen next. But before anything else bad could go down, Jon and Ygritte cozy up for a night in Grjótagjá, an Icelandic lava cave known for its deep-blue thermal bath.
As the highest point of Dubrovnik’s city walls, this 14th-century tower once served as a key defense fortress. In the Game of Thrones realm, the stronghold functions as Qarth’s House of the Undying (AKA where Dany’s dragons are held captive).
Often referred to as “Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar,” this limestone, 11th-century fortress was deemed fit to depict the Red Keep—the private residence of the King of the Andals and the First Men.
Throwing it way back to season one, Castle Ward was one of the first locations viewers ever laid eyes on. That’s because it made a cameo as Castle Winterfell, the OG residence of House Stark and capital of the North. The 18th-century mansion and farmyard hosts GoT-themed tours where you can try your aim and arm at the Winterfell Archery Range.
The rural fishing village of Ballintoy Harbour was chosen by GoT location scouts to depict the Iron Islands—the smallest Westerosi region and home of Theon Greyjoy. The coastal village is all quaint parishes, postage-sized shops, and rich maritime history.
Season one delivered one of the series’ most pivotal and hard-to-watch moments: Ned Stark’s execution. Malta’s Fort Manoel—an 18th-century military fortification—served as the Great Sept of Baelor, King’s Landing’s religious headquarters and the location of GoT’s first major mic drops.