We’re only a few months away from the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, and fans cannot wait to return to the incredible world of Westeros one last time. And while it’s the convoluted plots that keep fans coming back for more (not to mention all that murder and mayhem, and the constant plot twists), HBO’s epic fantasy series is also known for being visually stunning. From the incredible dragons and the effects that bring us massive battles, face-swapping assassins, and white walkers, to the intricate costumes, Game of Thrones is absolutely beautiful to watch.
The sets, of course, are no exception. The lands of Westeros and Essos encompass all kinds of landscapes; the harsh snows beyond the Wall, the waving grasses of the Dothraki sea, the cities and islands that play host to the houses that battle for the Iron Throne. George R R Martin’s world is one that includes awe-inspiring backdrops (if you can tear your eyes away from the characters, of course) and incredible sets. Many of these are even real-world locations, and if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may be rushing to plan a tour of the real-life world of Westeros very soon…
25 You’ll Be Able To Visit Them Soon
Yes, you can already head to many of these locations and explore the area - after all, it’s not as though HBO was about to shut down entire cities for the duration of the series! However, we’re not just talking about existing locations that are used in the series, but specific Game of Thrones sets. Standing sets for Winterfell, Castle Black and King's Landing, as well as a few other sets in Northern Ireland, are being opened up to the public as the Game of Thrones Legacy. They’ll also include prop and costume displays.
24 But G.o.T Tourists Can Be A Real Problem
Many places encourage Game Of Thrones tourism; after all, there’s nothing like free advertising, and the show has so many fans that thousands are flocking to real-life locations. However, some of the biggest and most picturesque locations are actually having issues with too many tourists coming to town at once.
The mayor of Dubrovnik (Kings Landing, in the show), has spoken about the risk that the historic part of the city is being overrun by GoT tourists; damaging the city itself, and preventing others from enjoying the heritage site on its own merits. There may even be plans to actively limit GoT tourism in the future.
23 Drones Cannot Fly Over Them
Game of Thrones holds some impressive viewership records - and for a show so complex and filled with plot twists, it can be tough to make sure that none of those viewers are spoiled by script leaks or behind the scenes photos.
As part of the attempt to keep the ending a secret until the finale airs, the production is now using a fancy bit of tech known as a ‘Drone Killer’ to stop anyone taking photos from above with a drone.
Should one pass overhead, the tech will make it ‘drop out of the sky’… so don’t risk your drones in the attempt!
22 The KingsRoad Is The Most Photographed Spot In Ireland
Many of the sets, especially further North, are found in Ireland - including many of the shots of the Kingsroad. In the series, the Kingsroad is the biggest road in Westeros, running all the way from the Wall itself through Kings Landing and beyond. A whole lot happens along this road, and not every shot of the Kingsroad is filmed in the same place, but a lot of it is filmed along a section of road in Ireland known as the Dark Hedges.
With gnarled trees set close together and meeting overhead, it’s easy to see why this green tunnel is one of the most photographed spots in Ireland.
21 There Was A Rockslide At The Wall Set
There are plenty of things that make filming Game of Thrones a little dangerous; swords everywhere, carefully choreographed fights, incredible stunts… this is not a show for the faint-hearted actor!
However, the sets themselves have also made life dangerous, as there was a rockslide at the quarry where the Castle Black scenes are shot during the filming of season 6. No one was hurt, although the actors were present at the time and had to make a hasty exit - but it did slow down production, as they had to wait for the area to be shored up and netted for safety before going back to work.
20 The Royal Palace At Dorne Is A Real Spanish Palace
For most films and TV shows, it’s common to repurpose real-life structures, turning them into whatever the show needs. As long as the real-life building looks right, the actual purpose isn’t important. However, the Royal Palace At Dorne is actually a real palace - the Alcázar of Seville.
This stunning Spanish palace was used for multiple Dornish scenes, and very little had to be changed or decorated, as the palace itself is already stunning; including the gardens that Myrcella and her Prince strolled through together before everything went wrong for the young couple.
19 The Moon Door Is Only A Meter Deep
The Moon Door of the Eyrie is absolutely intimidating; a round hole in the floor of the throne room, the ‘door’ is hundreds of feet above the floor of the Vale. It’s from this dizzying height that Lysa and her son push people who displease them… leaving them plenty of time to contemplate their mistakes before becoming a smear on the ground.
In reality, though, the Moon Door is actually only around a meter deep. A crash mat and a green screen complete the illusion, and allow for actors to be tossed safely ‘out the moon door’.
18 The Wall Set Was Actually Really Hot
Castle Black and the Wall are supposed to be absolutely freezing - after all, the entire Wall is made of ice! The Night’s Watch is wrapped up in fur-trimmed cloaks and the scenes shot here usually involve snow. But in reality, the set was actually uncomfortably warm!
Courtesy of all the lights and those heavy costumes, star Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) says that he was sweating through his scenes: ‘I’m absolutely boiling and sweating. We had to keep on mopping the sweat away, at the same time pretending that we were absolutely freezing’.
17 The Show Saved An Irish Farm
Although the hordes of Game of Thrones tourists might be causing damage to some areas, the incredible size and popularity of the show is helping others; in fact, it helped save a small pig farm in Ireland! Forthill Farm in County Armagh, owned by Kenny Gracey, was saved by the show because Game Of Thrones needs so many rare pig breeds - modern pigs just aren’t historically accurate to the medieval style of the show, it seems.
So thanks to the show, Gracey and his pigs can live happily ever after (for at least one more season, anyway).
16 The Long Bridge Of Volantis Was Built By The Romans
The Long Bridge of Volantis is one of the most impressive man-made structures in Westeros… and in the real world, the actual bridge where scenes here are filmed is a pretty impressive structure itself! The Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain was originally built by the Romans in the 1st century BC - and that’s some impressive pedigree!
Of course, since then the bridge has been re-built many times, and the history of the structure has built up with it. The bridge was also heavily restored in 2006, so that now, very little of the original remains.
15 Pentos Was Also A Film Set For Lawrence Of Arabia And Star Wars
Unsurprisingly, many of these stunning sets have appeared in other films and TV shows over the years - including Lawrence of Arabia. Ouarzazate, which is Pentos on the show, is a Moroccan city with gorgeous red walls and desert surrounds. It’s also an incredibly popular film location, and the classic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here… as well as the original Star Wars!
Other movies that have used Ouarzazate as a backdrop include Gladiator, The Mummy, Prince of Persia, and Kingdom of Heaven - just think of a film with a desert scene, and there’s a solid chance it will have stopped by!
14 Ridley Scott Also Filmed In The Dothraki Sea
The Dothraki Sea scenes were shot primarily in Spain’s Bardenas Reales, another location that is widely popular with film crews thanks to the stunning landscape.
The national park has appeared in dozens of commercials and music videos as well as larger projects - and one of the most famous people to have shot here may be director Ridley Scott, who used the Bardenas Reales for his 2013 offering starring Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz (The Counselor).
13 Winterfell Is In Both Scotland and Ireland
The castle that is the ancestral seat of House Stark, and the rallying point for the North, isn’t actually just one set. Winterfell, one of the biggest and most important sets for Game of Thrones, is actually multiple sets in Scotland and Ireland.
Shots of the castle in the show are from both Doune Castle, in Scotland, and Castle Ward, in Northern Ireland (and of course, many of the interior shots are indoor sets at the film studio). So don’t expect to find a real-life Winterfell that looks exactly like the one in the show!
12 The House Of The Undying Is A Heritage Site
It’s impressive that Game of Thrones has managed to film in so many heritage sites around the world - including The House of the Undying. This tower is where Dany’s dragons were kept by the warlocks of Quarth - and where they wanted to keep her chained, too!
In real life, however, the House of the Undying is actually the Mincenta Tower in Dubrovnik. This 14th century fortress sits at the highest point of the city and offers stunning views, and is officially a heritage site.
11 Beyond The Wall Is In Iceland
With Castle Black and Winterfell being filmed primarily in Ireland and Scotland, fans would be forgiven for thinking that the scenes set North of the Wall would also be in these locations - perhaps even in the far North of Scotland.
However, most of these scenes were actually shot in Iceland, where the landscape is just a little better suited to the world that HBO is trying to create.
Jon and Ygritte’s ‘love cave’ is even a popular hot spring in Iceland, which you can go visit! (Just behave yourself, you wildling!)
10 The Iron Bank Of Braavos Is A Heritage Site
Another incredible heritage site that makes an appearance in Game of Thrones is the Iron Bank of Braavos. In most of the series, the Iron Bank is mentioned, but not seen (as various Hands of the King learn just how much the Throne is in debt to the Iron Bank, it comes up in name time and time again). However, in later seasons, we get to see the Bank itself… which is actually the Cathedral of Saint James in Šibenik, Croatia.
An important architectural and historical site in Croatia, fans might never guess that the Iron Bank is actually a church, although plenty of people in Westeros do seem to worship money!
9 Scuba Divers Love Drogo & Dany’s Wedding Site…
It’s been a long time since Daenerys was that young, naive girl, sold to a Dothraki Khal as a bride to help her brother… and however we may have felt about that wedding (before Dany and Drogo fell madly in love and broke our hearts), there’s no denying that the setting was absolutely stunning. The ‘clifftop’ wedding was actually filmed at the Azure Window in Malta - a naturally formed stone arch. This was a favorite spot, not just for tourists, but for scuba divers as well.
8 …But It No Longer Exists
In fact, the site has become an even more popular destination for divers since that magnificent stone arch collapsed! The archway was slowly eroded by the waves over time, and so it didn’t come as a huge surprise that during a heavy storm in 2017, it finally collapsed into the sea. So if you were hoping to recreate that Game of Thrones wedding, with the waves lapping at the arch behind you… sorry, but you are too late!
This is one location that fans will never be able to visit and see it the way it was during filming.
7 Castle Ward Has a Game Of Thrones Tour
Back to locations that we can visit… Castle Ward is so happy about Game of Thrones tourism that it has created a Game of Thrones tour.
The primary set for Winterfell, as well as a location for several other scenes in the show, Castle Ward has embraced its fame as part of Westeros, and tours include Game of Thrones inspired activities like archery, medieval banquets, opportunities to dress up and stand on set, and even the possibility of meeting the dogs that play the Direwolves on the show.
This is definitely a must-see for anyone who loves the show and wants to visit the sets.
6 Harrenhal Was Inspired By Dunluce Castle
There are plenty of sumptuous castles in Westeros, with luxurious interiors, but Harrenhal is not one of them. This castle is half-ruin, burnt by dragonfire, and is one of the creepiest and darkest places in the series.
It is also inspired by the ruined medieval castle of Dunluce, in Ireland. Although this castle is a real place, the show was not able to film within the ruins (for safety reasons, among other concerns), and even the exterior has been heavily CGI’d. This really makes Dunluce more of an inspiration than a set location.
5 The Entrance To Vas Dothrak Originally Inspired Narnia
Many of the film locations for Game of Thrones are also connected to another massive fantasy franchise: The Chronicles of Narnia. Dunluce Castle inspired both Harrenhal and Cair Paravel (the ancient castle of Narnia), and it’s not the only connection.
The entrance to Vas Dothrak, which is actually Sandy Brae in the Mourne Mountains of Ireland, was also an inspiration for the land of Narnia. When C S Lewis visited the Mourne Mountains, he used both the landscape and the Celtic legends told to him as the basis for his stories, inspired by their fantasy feel.
4 The Great Pit Of Daznak Is Really A Bullring
The Great Pit of Daznak is also known as the Fighting Pit of Meereen; a place where slaves are sent to fight to the death in pitched battles, reminiscent of the Gladiators. Daenerys hates the pits, and originally tries to abolish them - and later, gets even more of a reason to hate them, after an attempt on her life is made here, which she only escapes thanks to her dragon.
In reality, the Great Pit is actually a bullring; Plaza De Toros De Osuna, in Spain. Given the controversies surrounding bullfighting, it seems that the real fighting pit has a history no less alarming than the one in the show.
3 You Can’t Actually Visit Moat Cailin
As we’ve already seen, most of the real-life set locations for the series are possible to visit - and there are plenty of tours and websites that will help you do just that! However, not everything is as accessible as some Game of Thrones tourists would like.
The view over the ruins of Mount Cailin is near a village called Cairncastle - which has been used for multiple sets throughout the series. You may not be able to visit Most Cailin itself, but you can definitely gaze out over the hills above Cairncastle, and imagine you are travelling with Littlefinger across Westeros.
2 Many Of The Big Sets Were Actually Built…
While Game of Thrones got to choose from a plethora of real-life castles to film in and around, as well as medieval cities and bridges to shoot when creating Westeros, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t actually build these sets as well.
The production created absolutely massive sets at Titanic Studios, Belfast, including interiors, drawbridges, castle walls, and the elevator at the Wall (as well as many of the Wall sets themselves). As well as interior sets, there are many massive standing sets on location - creating a fantasy world this big is no small feat!
1 … Just So They Could Be Burnt Down
Part of the reason for building so many sets instead of using real-life buildings is for safety and practicality - and to protect historic buildings. Lighting and rigging is needed, and all kinds of practical considerations often make it easier to just build something from scratch. Of course, another reason to build standing sets is so that the production can then burn them down!
In season 8, we’ll be seeing Winterfell burn (revealed in set videos) - and the production actually built up the standing set for the castle just so that it would be much more impressive when it eventually caught on fire.