Some of you may have found this blog after reading Diary of the Traveling Fangirl (Parts 1 and 2) published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer or the neat mention on Watchers on the Wall. First of all, welcome!
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Game of Thrones Filming Locations tours that I took during my World Tour of Thrones. To answer these questions, I’ve put together a summary and my reviews of these three tours I took. In other places, we went around on our own either due to lack of time or conflicts with the tour schedule.
Before I get to reviews, here are some points to consider about taking these filming location tours:
Why take an organized tour? Can’t you do it by yourself and save some money?
Yes, you can certainly find many of these filming spots by yourself and there’s enough information online for you to track them down. However one of the the advantages of going with an organized group is that they already have an established and well-research program that includes the highlights that are most appealing to fans.
The guides are well trained and very knowledgeable not only about the filming locations but also about the general area as representatives of their city or country’s tourism industry. They provide a lot of great information and insider tidbits, especially if they’ve worked on the show as extras. They also look after the group’s well-being and safety. Case in point: during a tour in Northern Ireland, we would have wanted to cross a field that served as Robb’s Camp from Season 2. However, our guide knew the place well enough to discourage us from doing so because of a white bull that has been known to chase people who wander into his pasture.
The convenience factor is certainly a big plus as well. Being shuttled around in a bus or mini-van or even walking together in a group with a leader is an efficient way to cover a lot of ground, especially if you have a limited amount of time. Being lost in an unfamiliar city can be fun sometimes but not when you traveled far with an agenda of finding a particular spot from the show. There may also be some spots that you may not have easy access to without an insider who has permission or has knowledge of the place.
Even though you’re not a fan of being led around like a flock of sheep from point to point, this may be one of those situations where it’s worth it. Going around with a bunch of other fans foster a spirit of community and shared geeking out experience. My competitive spirit gets the better of me when the guide poses trivia questions about the show to the group. I get a nerdy kick out of seeing a still shot from the show while standing on the spot that they filmed it.
What can I expect?
Each tour varies. Go over the itineraries published on their website and see what stops they’re going to make. Some companies add an extra bit of flair and fun by providing costumes and other experiences to really put you in the spirit of the show.
Read a good sampling of the reviews of a tour company to get a feel of how they carry out their tours and choose the one that you feel is a good match for you.
Depending on the country, you might get lucky when the filming locations also happen to be fantastic sights in their own right. However they may be places that are just random corners, buildings or doors that happen to be used in the show. True fans would still be giddy over this, but look into the itinerary and see if the stops are watch you’re interested in.
TOUR SUMMARY AND REVIEWS
When we finalized our trip to Croatia, our first order of business was booking a great Game of Thrones tour in Dubrovnik. The tour company of our guide is Elite Travel but this Game of Thrones tour is available exclusively on Viator.
Our guide Anna met us at the fountain outside Pile Gate. The meeting place is beyond the city walls and not to be confused with the Grand Onofre Fountain inside the city walls. From there, we walked around the city of Dubrovnik for a little over 3 hours, with intermittent rest stops and some opportunities to sit. It involved a lot of stair climbing into the Lovrijenac Fortress and to get up to the City Walls but otherwise was not too strenuous of a walk. The summer heat and crowds could pose as a challenge though. Best time to go would be during the cooler and less crowded months in spring and fall.
Anna was amiable and patient with questions. She worked as a background actor on the show and was able to share her personal experiences and anecdotes, including meeting Peter Dinklage and other actors. She did a great job of giving us a brief overview and history of her hometown of Dubrovnik while giving us meaty Game of Thrones information. As a fan of the show herself, her enthusiasm for the show was palpable.
Because filming was ongoing in Dubrovnik during our visit, Anna took us to see sets and other places where filming took place or has been scheduled. As it is in filming in public places, the production company sends out a notice of filming, usually approved by a local government office or bureau, to affected neighborhoods and business owners. Tour companies are privy to this sort of insider information.
Highlights of the tour included Lovrijenac Fortress or Fort Lawrence (used for a lot of scenes of the Red Keep) and the alcove below, the City Walls, the Baroque stairs leading up to the Church of St. Ignatius (replaced by the Great Sept of Baelor with CGI), Minceta Tower and the City Gates. You could find more photos from this tour here.
Cost: USD 65.91 (check for updated pricing and current discounts)
Optional upgrade: After the walking tour, you could go on a 1.5-hour trip via mini-van to Trsteno Arboretum with a guide. The historical gardens were used as the King’s Landing palace gardens and the Tyrells’ Highgarden.
Other nearby sites not included in the tour: if you have the chance, visit nearby Lokrum Island which is accessible from Dubrovnik by a short ferry ride. It’s known for a Benedictine monastery, a botanical garden and for being the city of Qarth on Game of Thrones.
I’m a fan of great design and graphics and I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I decided to go with this company is the cool layout and look of their website. They also had the foresight to secure the gameofthronestours.com url before anyone else. But most importantly, they offered a exciting itinerary which many of their previous customers praised with enthusiastically positive reviews.
I took this tour from Belfast but the company also offers the tour from Dublin, which is an easy 2 hour bus ride away. It was a full day tour, from the meet up at 9am to the drop off back in the city center around 6 in the evening.
Thorn was our guide and did a spectacular job of leading our group. He is a tall, imposing gentleman which makes it easy to spot him in a crowd or follow him through the woods. He was very organized with the logistics of the day, including outlining our trip, getting our meal orders and making sure no one was left behind.
He was also a background actor on the show, taking on the enviable role as a member of the Night’s Watch. He has done filming for three seasons and shared some insights about experience. He exuded a wonderful combination of admiration for the show and an understanding for filming process as well as an appreciation for what the show’s production has brought to Northern Ireland. He was also very knowledgeable about Irish history which he seamlessly integrated with information about the show.
The tour has moderate physical challenges, including two hour-long hikes on mostly even terrain. In the morning, we visited Castle Ward, which has the distinction of being seen on the show as the Starks’ home base of Winterfell, and the surrounding woods and forests.
In the afternoon, we trekked through Tollymore National Park, that had a short steep section that made for a great cardio workout. The lovely walk by the Shimna River under the majestic trees was definitely worth it in itself. We were further rewarded with several filming locations here including one of the most memorable shots from the Season 1, when a member of the Night’s Watch stumbles upon the dismembered Wildling camp.
Another memorable spot was right beside the river where the discovery of the direwolf pups was shot.
Inch Abbey is the ruins of a Cistercian monastery that served as the location for the scenes where Robb was declared the King of the North. Thorn brought out cloaks and swords and had us experience being a Stark of Winterfell.
We even recreated a scene that was filmed in that spot, the one where Catelyn Stark walked to the woods in quiet dignity after being told of Ned’s death.
Another treat was meeting Thor and Odin, two Northern Inuit dogs who played direwolves Greywind and Summer. Their human family was no less interesting, having had played background actors on the show as well as on another popular show Vikings.
Cost: 40 pounds (36 pounds for students) (check for updated pricing and current discounts)
Since the first tour only covered the southern part of Northern Ireland, I took a second tour that took me to the northern coast. I went with McComb’s despite my initial misgiving of going on a big-bus tour. The reviews and the itinerary won me over. Also, they are the same company used by the production to bring the extras to the filming sites, which gives them more street cred.
I even met several UK and Ireland-based Filipinos who were right at the front of the bus as I got on. I made instant friends which made the day more fun.
Derrick was our guide and bus driver. He had a great sense of humor and a good grasp of Irish history and his GoT facts. He gave his spiel and show information while driving and just before the group got off the bus at a location. However, he stayed on the bus and did not accompany with the group to the site. I don’t know if that’s the setup for a bigger group. While it allowed for more independent exploration of the place, it didn’t provide quite the same experience as the previous tour. I was sitting right behind him and was able to ask him all the questions I wanted. However, I’m not quite sure if the rest of our group of at least 60 people had the same opportunity to interact with him.
On our way to our destinations, we passed Magheramorne Quarry in County Antrim, an active filming location for the season. At the time, they had the sets for Castle Black and The Wall. It had also been used as the Wildling village of Hardhome from Season 5. We just did a quick drive by as it off limits. I didn’t have a chance to take a proper look. This is all I’ve got:
From Belfast, we took the Causeway Coastal Route which was a stunning drive along the northern coast through the Glens of Antrim. With the water on one side and idyllic Irish hills and towns on the other, the drive was worth the price of the ticket itself.
Our stops included Cushendun Caves, where Melisandre gave birth to her shadow assassin baby.
Ballintoy Harbour served as location for Theon Greyjoy’s return to the Iron Islands though Pyke Harbour. The production has returned this month to the area to film for Season 5.
Down the road is the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge which is also currently being used for Season 5, as well as a new Brad Pitt movie.
Another highlight of the way was the stop at the Dark Hedges, a picturesque country road lined with beech trees that served as the King’s Road in the show. Because of its popularity, it was a challenge to take dramatic shots of an empty road. Instead, we took photos with Derrick’s cardboard cutouts of the characters while trying to block out the other tourists.
Even though it was not a filming location, we visited Giants Causeway as part of our tour due to its proximity and popularity. It is a well-known destination, famous for its spectacular basalt columns that lead from the jagged cliffs to the sea.
Cost: 35 pounds (check for updated pricing and current discounts)
Overall, I enjoyed the GoT locations and tour program of the first tour more, but the stunning scenery of the second tour made it worthwhile.
Tours in other countries
For the other cities with filming locations, here are some of the tours available. I have not taken them personally but based on the reviews, these would be the ones I would take:
- CROATIA: Game of Thrones Tour in Split – this involves a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace and a visit to Klis Fortress.
- MALTA: Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour in Malta – this is new tour that has yet to receive any review on Viator. You can opt to take the Malta Film Tour instead which covers GoT locations as well as those for movies such as Gladiator, Troy, Captain Phillips, WWZ, Alexander, The Count of Monte Cristo, Munich, and The Da Vinci Code.
- ICELAND: Game of Thrones Myvatn Mystery and Magic – This tour takes you Beyond the Wall with a guide that had worked and guided HBO crew and producers. For our non-GoT centered visit to Iceland (we haven’t seen the show at that time), we unwittingly visited two filming sites: Vatnajokull with our excellent guide Jonas of GoEcco Outdoor Expeditions and Thingvellir National Park during our Golden Circle tour with a not so excellent guide.
- SPAIN: The only available tour at the moment for Seville and Osuna (optional addition) has mixed reviews, so I hesitate to recommend it. I imagine this will change soon as the show is currently doing a lot of filming in Spain and will probably have more tour options in the future. For our trip, again pre-GoT, we went with Concepcion Delgado of Sevilla Walking Tours who gave a fantastic tour of the Alcazar, setting for Sunspear in Season 5.
- MOROCCO: I didn’t find a proper GoT tour. This tour takes you to Ait Ben Haddou and the Atlas Movie Studio in Ouarzazate, but has not been reviewed. We walked around Ait Ben Haddou as part of our Best of Morocco Tour with Intrepid Travel and stayed at an inn overlooking this UNESCO World Heritage site and is run by a gentleman who has been an extra in several movies filmed in his city.
www.winteriscoming.net and www.watchersonthewall.com are my go-to sites for updates on GoT filming news and are a great source for the latest scoops and buzz. They were an indispensable source of intel during my research.