The Landmarks & Landscapes behind this TV blockbuster
Admittedly I arrived a little late to the party, but having just watched four series back-to-back of the TV phenomenon that is Game of Thrones, I’ve been left with an empty void in my evening entertainment that has been hard to fill! With the Queen’s recent visit to Belfast and to the Game of Thrones set in particular, I decided to take a look at some of the landscapes and landmarks across Europe and North Africa that have become synonymous as the striking backdrops to many of the major scenes in the series.
A natural starting point must surely be the rugged countryside of Northern Ireland and a visit to some of the major filming locations is quite possible whilst on a city break to Belfast. In County Londonderry, Downhill Beach along the Causeway Coast provides one of the most iconic settings for the second series of Game of Thrones for, known as Dragonstone, this is where Stannis Baratheon watched the Seven Idols of Westeros burn. Further east along the coast in County Antrim situated close to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Larrybane headland, beautiful Murlough Bay and Ballintoy Harbour have featured in several scenes, the latter two doubling for the Iron Islands with Ballintoy Harbour chosen to represent the port of Pyke.
In County Antrim meanwhile, the 400 million-year-old Cushendun Caves were used to film the dramatic scenes where the sorceress Melisandre gave birth to a shadow baby whilst the Dark Hedges, a spectacular avenue of beech trees, doubled as the Kings Road in the scenes where Arya Stark escaped Kings Landing. Speaking of the Starks, overlooking Strangford Lough in County Down, the brooding 18th-century Castle Ward doubled as Winterfell, house of the mighty Stark family, before it was razed to the ground. Audley’s Field and Castle by Strangford Lough also provided the backdrop to a number of scenes including the arrival of King Robert Baratheon at Winterfell in season one and as Robb Stark’s camp in series two. The River Quoile meanwhile in County Down is also the setting for Riverrun.
From the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean and to Malta, where for season one, the island’s Azure Window was chosen as a backdrop to the Dothraki wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen. Over in the west of the island, Malta’s former capital, Mdina, provided a number of filming spots and its city gate in particular was used to recreate the city gates of Kings Landing, whilst in Valletta, Fort Ricasoli represented the gate into the Red Keep. In series two, filming moved from Malta to Croatia and to Dubrovnik in particular, where the impressive 2km-long city walls have played a starring role in the filming of Kings Landing scenes, not to mention Fort Lovrijenac, nestled on the rocks just outside Dubrovnik, and the Minceta Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, used to represent the House of the Undying.
Across to North Africa, Morocco has featured significantly in Games of Thrones and in particular, the coastal town of Essaouira, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, setting for the ancient city of Astapor, and Ait Ben Haddou, a popular backdrop to many a big screen blockbuster but used in Game of Thrones to recreate the city of Yunkai. Both make for easy and worthwhile excursions from Marrakech.
In stunning contrast to the desert and coastal landscapes of Morocco, Iceland was used extensively in the filming of scenes set north of the wall. Filmed largely at the beautiful Lake Mývatn region in northern Iceland, some 5-6 hours from Reykjavik, must-see Game of Thrones sights include the Goðafoss Waterfall, known as the waterfall of the Gods, the dramatic Hverfell crater and even the cave in which Jon Snow broke his sacred Night’s Watch vows with Ygritte. Dedicated tours are available from Reykjavik and well worth combining with a city break in the Icelandic capital.