A Journey of Ice and Fire
For all the mud, mayhem and misery onscreen, Game of Thrones is one of the best-looking shows to ever grace the airwaves. A colossal CGI budget helps, but its the luxurious locations that lends Thrones its breathtaking vistas. The show shoots all around the world with Northern Ireland typically doubling for the North of Westeros, Iceland becoming beyond The Wall, Spain featured as Dorne, and Croatia filling in for King's Landing and more.
The start of season 6 is sure to highlight even more wish list holiday destinations (start saving now), but for now, here are the Thrones locations you can actually visit and the scenes that were filmed there. Also, a word of warning, if you're not up to speed on Game of Thrones season 1-5, there be spoilers within.
1. Joffrey's name day tournament (season 2, episode 1)
Dubrovnik has doubled as King's Landing since Game of Thrones second season (the first season filmed in Malta), but it's amazing to think HBO considered anywhere else given the historic city's similarities to the capital of Westeros. Venture into Dubrovnik's Old Town and you can barely turn a corner without stumbling across somewhere featured in the show, but your first stop should be St Lawrence Fortress (or Fort Lovrijenac), which frequently doubles as the Red Keep. Joffrey's name day tournament was filmed there (and enhanced with CGI to the point where its almost unrecognisable), as was Cersei's superb knowledge is power speech, and (best of all) the scene where Tyrion slaps Joffers during the peasant riot.
2. Sansa and Littlefinger on the Pier (season 3, episode 1)
At the base of St Lawrence Fort you can find this narrow pier, where Sansa and Littlefinger discussed escape plans in the shadow of Blackwater Bay. A number of other easily-missed filming locations can be found a stone's throw away (such as the spot where one of Robert Baratheon's bastards is drowned) which is why we recommend taking one of the city's three hour walking tours and soaking up some of the Dubrovnik's fascinating history at the same time. Much like King's Landing, Dubrovnik is a labyrinthine city so they'll make sure you don't get lost too!
3. Daenerys bargains for ships (season 2, episode 6)
Dubrovnik fills in for King's Landing primarily, but a couple of key scenes set in Qarth were also filmed in the city. The House of the Undying can be found at the very top of the walls surrounding Old Town, while the palace where Daenerys negotiates with the Spice King for ships to traverse the Narrow Sea is located in the heart of Dubrovnik in the Rector's Palace. Religious and cultural iconography is often digitally erased from shots in Game of Thrones, but the Palace was left almost completely unchanged; even a statue of altruistic trader Miho Pracat (the only commoner in the Republic's 1000 year history to be honored with a statue) can be glimpsed in the show.
4. Lemon cake pavilion (season 3, episode 2)
Trsteno Arboretum can be found 10 minutes up the coast from the centre of Dubrovnik by car, instantly recognisable as the real life gardens of King's Landing. The gardens are primarily the haunt of badass OAP Olenna Tyrell, and you can find the Pavilion where she woos Sansa with lemon cakes at the furthest point overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The entire botanical garden is worth exploring to see the spot where Joffrey received his wedding gifts, the fountain where Oberyn Martell wrote poetry and the innumerable pathways characters have strolled down while conspiring (or worse).
5. Dragon prison (season 4, episode 10)
A short flight or a couple of hours drive up the coast from Dubrovnik is Split, another of Croatia's historic cities with a unique feature at its heart. A shopping and tourist district has built up around the ruined palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. The cellars of Diocletians palace have featured in the show a couple of times, most famously during the scene where Daenerys leads her dragons into captivity after an unfortunate case of child immolation. The show altered the location heavily, adding a practical staircase for Dany to walk down and expanding the doorway with some impressive invisible CGI.
6. The battle for Meereen (season 4, episode 3)
OK, despite the assembled armies this isn't so much a battle as a brief scuffle, but the fight between Dario Naaharis and the Champion of Meereen is memorable for more than Dario's swift victory and his urinal celebrations. It takes place in a stunning rocky arena, which in classic Doctor Who fashion is actually a quarry in the hills of Split. You can't enter unless you're part of an organised tour (something we especially recommend for sightseeing in Split, as you can only reach several filming locations by car). As far as quarries go, it's mighty impressive.
7. The walls of Meereen (season 4, episode 4)
In some instances the real world filming locations around Croatia are significantly more awe-inspiring than their already impressive equivalents in Game of Thrones. That's especially true of the road to slaver city Meereen, which is filmed in and around Klis Fortress - a stunning hilltop fort that sits roughly 300m above sea-level, in between two mountain ranges. Plus, all those crucified bodies somewhat distract from the Forts natural beauty in the show.