I put off watching Game of Thrones for as long as I possibly could.
My brother and his wife are such big fans that they had a Game of Thrones themed wedding, and even called their daughter Arya, so it was inevitable that I’d end up watching it someday. The reason I put it off was that I knew I would love it, and I’ve been so busy lately, that the last thing I wanted was to get hooked on a damn TV show!
However, a few weeks ago, when a friend suggested we watch it, I agreed, but inside I was like ‘Here we go…’ I was instantly hooked, and watched the first three seasons in three weeks.
The storylines are like a roller coaster ride… but that’s all I’ll say about that (I’m no spoiler), and once you get past all the sex, drama, blood and gore, you’ll be wowed by the amazing filming locations they’ve chosen around the world. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Places that would make great holiday destinations…
The majority of Game of Thrones was filmed in Northern Ireland, a country that has a special place in my heart, because I used to live there back in the early 2000’s, long before the Lannisters and the Starks! My job required me to do a fair bit of exploring to many of the Game of Thrones locations (of course they weren’t so famous back then). But, still to this day, Northern Ireland (and the Republic of Ireland) is one of my absolute favorite places in the world.
Dark Hedges, County Antrim
These spectacular trees, known as The Dark Hedges, are over 200 years old. The hauntingly beautiful setting has attracted artists and tourists for some time, even moreso since it was used in Game of Thrones. Legend has it that the ‘Grey Lady’ appears at dusk to briefly scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting wanderers before vanishing through the trees. Spooky! Mind you, I’d fancy meeting a ghost a lot more than some of the Game of Thrones characters, wouldn’t you? Unless it was Tyrion. I love Tyrion.
Murlough Bay, County Antrim
Murlough Bay is one of my favorite places in Northern Ireland, and it doubles as Storm’s End. They also did some filming a few miles down the road at the Cushenun Caves. Murlough Nature Reserve is famous for the ancient sand dunes that line the coast. Visitors can navigate the dunes on purpose built paths and look out for the many varieties of flowers, birds, and butterflies that call it home.
Other places to visitin Northern Ireland include Strangford Lough/Castle Ward (Winterfell), the Mourne Mountains, Tollymore Forest Park, the River Quoile in County Down, Marble Arch Caves and Geopark in County Fermanagh, Ballintoy Caves in County Antrim, and Downhill Beach in County Londonderry.
I’m thinking it may be time to cross the water once again, as this would make a great road trip. Who’s coming?
The island of Gozo is known for its natural beauty and magical landscapes, so it’s no surprise they chose it for Game of Thrones. The Azure Window, a naturally formed limestone arch, made the perfect back drop for the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo in episode one. It’s thought that the arch might collapse within a few years, so go sooner rather than later if you want to see it in all its glory.
The ancient walled city of Medina, known as the ‘Silent City’, has a history that is as interesting as it is long. It’s been home to a Saint (St Paul), and survived earthquakes, wars, and conquests. As such, it made a wonderful setting for King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, in Season 1. One of the most notable scenes was filmed at the city gate: the arrival of Ned Stark.
From Season 2 onwards, filming of King’s Landing moved to the beautiful city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. It’s not hard to see why many people fall in love with the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, each year. You can spend hours walking the city walls, admiring the architecture, riding a cable car or eating in of the many harbour restaurants.
It may have a slightly odd name, but Split is an old, but super cool city, with mountains on one side and spectacular views over the Adriatic Sea on the other. If it’s good enough for the Mother of Dragons, it’s good enough for me!
This small geothermal cave has water so toasty you can bathe in it, even when it’s freezing outside. In the late ’70s and early ’80s the water was too hot, but the temperature is dropping again so get your swimsuits ready. I wouldn’t mind taking a little swim with Jon Snow in here. I’m sure many of the ladies would agree?
Vatnajökul National Park
Iceland is arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world with landscapes like this. It just screams epic and mystical adventures. The original home of fire and ice, you can feast your eyes on geysers and waterfalls ‘north of the wall’. It’s rumored that Neil Armstrong said ‘the moon was a bit of a let down after Iceland.’ Just sayin’.
Essaouira in Morocco is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the fictional Game of Thrones slave hub of Astapor. It’s a Moroccan city with a French vibe, and its position on the coast has given it the nickname the ‘Wind City of Africa’. It probably comes as no surprise that Essaouira was also used for location shoots in both Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia.
This city is the type of place that will make you feel like you’re on a film set. It’s the Morocco of your imagination, almost Biblical in appearance. It becomes Yunkai in Game Thrones, but it’s also been used for Gladiator, The Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia, The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Nazareth – I think you get the picture!
There are all kinds of Game of Thrones tours popping up these days, and they do look pretty amazing. History, adventure, stunning landscapes… I think I have my 2015 year travel plans sorted.