Game of Thrones filming locations — Part 1: Iceland and Northern Ireland.
One of the best parts of Game of Thrones is just how visually stunning the show is, and how tastefully it makes use of good filming locations to bring the worlds of Westeros and Essos to life.
While the show might be wrapping up, you can still experience your favorite places. This is a multi-part series of posts that describes how to visit all the major filming locations of the series. This post is targeted at fans who have already watched the series, and contains spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
The filming locations are scattered mainly across 6 countries:
Iceland: Beyond the Wall, The Eyrie
UK (Northern Ireland): The Stormlands, Dragonstone, Winterfell, The Iron Islands
Spain: Dorne, Casterly Rock, Highgarden, Dragonstone
Croatia: Kings Landing, Dragonstone
Morocco: Astapor and Pentos
Malta: King’s Landing
Given the vast number of locations, it’s painfully obvious that there are way too many locations to try to squeeze into one trip, so I recommend separating it into three separate trips:
2. Malta and Croatia sample itinerary [ Coming soon in Part 2]
3. Spain and Morocco sample itinerary [ Coming soon in Part 3]
I have made a map of the locations, so you can conveniently use it to get the exact location.
This post is about the first itinerary: Iceland and Northern Ireland which are marked in yellow on the map, with non-show related interesting locations marked in gray. I’ve added my own ratings for each place based on how nice the places are in real life rather than prominence in the show. My ratings are fairly stringent, so a 3/5 is respectable, a 4/5 is very good and 5/5 is what I’d think of as truly exceptional.
Iceland — 7 locations.
Reykjavik will serve as your home base for all these locations, and you can do them all as day trips. Some locations like Jökulsárlón are a bit far, though still doable as a day trip if you start your day early.
#1: Skógafoss: Jon and Dany’s picnic
We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us. — Daenerys Targaryen
This is the memorable waterfall that Dany and Jon visited during their dragon ride in Season 8 Episode 1. Skógafoss is a waterfall on the Skógá River in southern Iceland. Unlike Jon and Dany, you can choose to visit it in the summer or winter. You may also recognize it from Thor: The Dark World and the History Channel’s Vikings.
#2 þórufoss: Dany’s dragon toasts a goat
Dany’s dragon toasts a goat near this waterfall. Most of the Dany story arc is shot in warmer climates, though one interesting exception to this is this scene is Season 4 Episode 6 where Dany’s dragon eats a goat. This waterfall is situated on the river Laxá í Kjós, known primarily for its delicious salmon, not its goat population.
#3 Þingvellir: Ygritte and Tormund meet the Thenns
You plan on killing all the crows yourself? — Tormund Giantsbane
There are two fault lines that meet here, and a very pretty waterfall named Öxarárfoss. It’s not shown in the series, though in person I found the waterfall to be the highlight of Þingvellir.
#4 Nesjavallavirkjun: Arya leaves the Hound to die
In Westeros, this is where Brienne and the Hound have their epic fight. In Iceland, this is the site of one of the largest geothermal power stations and right next to Þingvellir National Park and the Hengill Volcano.
#5 Grotajka: Jon and Ygritte’s cave
Otherwise known as the Jon and Ygritte cave, this is a bit out of the way, so I did not end up visiting it. There aren’t any other interesting sights that line up with it, making it out of the way to visit. After reading other reviews, it didn’t seem too promising, so I skipped it.
Rating: Not visited.
#6 Kirkjufell: The mountain that haunts
This is the mountain that The Hound keeps thinking about. Well, at least one of them. It’s also used in a flashback showing how the area beyond the North wasn’t always covered in snow.
I regret not budgeting enough time for it. It is a day trip from Reykjavik. I will definitely go there the next time I visit Iceland.
Rating: Not visited.
#7 Jökulsárlón: Beyond The Wall
I was told by our guide that Kit Harrington was seen filming Season 7 here. While I was not able to exactly cross reference it with any of the content in an episode, I suspect some parts were used in Season 7 Episode 6: Beyond the Wall. That said, it was a really cool place, and I highly recommend it. Well, cool is an understatement — it’s cold! The cold air blowing past you while you take a boat out to the glacial lagoon feels amazing. It was also used for the completely over the top “so bad that it’s good” car chase scene in the James Bond movie Die Another Day. Tomb Raider and A View to a kill had scenes shot here.
Non Game of Thrones related attractions
Gulfoss: Gulfoss is the largest waterfall in Iceland and a must see if you visit Iceland. The vantage point is fantastic and you get to stand in the midst of what feels like a 360 degree gushing corridor of water on all sides. For a frame of reference, I felt the Niagara Falls felt nowhere near as epic simply because your vantage point is so distant — Gulfoss envelopes you. This was the single most epic sight I saw in all of Iceland, and if you are going there, it’s absolutely worth it to allocate extra time to go there.
Typically tours take you to the Þingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir. While I found the other two attractions far less interesting, Gulfoss was just on a completely different level than just about every sight I saw in Iceland.
Rating: 5/5. I would rate it 6/5, if I could.
Seljalandsfoss: This waterfall has a path that goes behind the fall, and makes for a nice though rather wet view. It’s on the way to Jokursarlon so should be easy to stop by.
Svartifoss: Svartifoss has hexagonal pillars similar to Giant’s Causeway (mentioned later in this post), though it was a bit out of the way so I did not end up seeing it. I would like to check it out when I visit Iceland again.
Rating: Not visited.
Day 1: Þingvellir, Nesjavallavirkjun, þórufoss, Geysir and Gulfoss.
Day 2: Jökulsárlón, Seljalandsfoss, Svartifoss, Vic
Day 3: Kirkjufell.
Northern Ireland — 7 locations
A lot of the locations are close to Belfast. Castle Ward can be visited from either Belfast or Dublin too, though in general Belfast gets you access to everything and was also cheaper.
#1 The caves at Cushendum: The Melisandre cave
The caves at Cushendum were used to film the Melisandre shadowbaby scene. After visiting these caves, I was quite impressed by how Carice Van Houten looked so unfazed by the cold here. I was wrapped in layers and still freezing. Kudos to her.
#2 Ballintoy harbor: The Iron Islands
This is the place where Theon first arrives at the Iron Islands and meets Yara. There is a metallic handrail here that was not in keeping with the medieval look they wanted, so they removed it and reinstalled it after the episode shooting was wrapped up.
Nearby, you can also see the place where both Theon and Euron perform their drowned god rites, and also where I performed my own rites. 😉
#3 Ballintoy Quarry: The Stormlands
This is where we first meet Brienne. The show team had forged many good relationships with the local authorities, so this area was reused for filming in multiple locations with differing angles.
#4 The Carrick-a-Rede: Euron kills Balon
The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was used as part of the scene where Euron announces his return. The view down from the bridge was used as the view for Balon Greyjoy’s fall, though the actual bridge was on a set.
#5 The Dark Hedges: The Kingsroad
The Dark Hedges were used as a backdrop for Arya and Genry escaping via the Kingsroad. Even though the scene was brief, the filming team took the time to put in an artificial road to make it look more in line with the times. Got to admire their eye for detail. This area is packed with tourists, it took me a really long time to get a clean shot without getting photo-bombed. Plan to be patient if you want to take pictures here.
#6 The Game of Throne Doors of Northern Ireland
The Dark Hedges unfortunately are losing a war of attrition vs. the forces of nature. Some of the splendid trees there fell down during a storm.
The government came up with an interesting idea to take the fallen trees there, and carve Game of Thrones themed doors and place them all over Northern Ireland.
This a Targaryen door. If you take a trip with Game of Thrones tours, they will take you there for lunch. I love how much detail they have put in the door, from the dragon scales to the House Targaryen banner symbol.
There are lots of Doors! The tourism authorities have very cleverly scattered these all over the country, so you have to be truly dedicated to see them all.
The quality of the door engraving is quite pretty and you’ll probably stop here for lunch.
#7 Castle Ward: Winterfell
Castle Ward is used for a lot of the exterior Winterfell shots. It looked a bit bland, I decided to save this for another trip to Ireland. I’m told if you take the tour, you can see one of the direwolves used in the show.
Rating: Not visited.
#8 The Game of Thrones Legacy Experience: Sets from the show
While not available at the time of my trip, there is now an effort underway to have the sets preserved and available to visit in what is being called the Game of Thrones Legacy Experience. These are not yet open, so plan accordingly. I plan to make a future trip to Ireland to do Winterfell and these sets together.
Rating: Not yet open.
Non Game of Thrones related attractions in Ireland
Giant’s Causeway: Giant’s Causeway has a really unique and distinctive hexagonal formation and is quite near many of filming sites there. It is visually quite impressive. If you are going to the Ballintoy filming sites, it’s very close by, so it’s a no-brainer to also see the Causeway.
Cliffs of Moher: The Cliffs of Moher are a gigantic set of sharp diving cliffs on the west coast of Ireland. They are featured in both Harry Potter and The Princess Bride. It’s quite windy there, so dress accordingly. That said, if your main goal is just to see the Thrones attractions, they are likely going to be out of the way. In my case, I planned a trip to Dublin from Belfast, and the Cliffs are a convenient day-trip from Dublin. If you are visiting from the US and end up flying back via Dublin, one other fringe benefit you get is US cutoms pre clearance there, which means when you undergo both immigration and customs checks there and don’t have to do that in the US which makes for a nicer experience coming back.
Suggested trip plan
Day 1: Caves at Cushendum, Giants Causeway, the Dark Hedges, Ballintoy.
Day 2: Castle Ward.
Day 3: Optionally, see Cliffs of Moher. This is a long drive from Belfast so if you have more days just plan a day or two in Dublin.
Using Presto Trip to get the cheapest price to plan your trip
As part of my own travels, I found it tricky to plan good trips that were as cost effective as possible. I’ve been working on a tool to help you cheaply plan major trips like this. At the time of writing, going to London > Reykjavik > Belfast > Dublin from San Francisco was only $664. Make sure to click the Optimize button to find the cheapest dates and routes.
That is the crux of how Presto Trip works — it analyzes many possible options for your trip and picks days, alternate modes of transportation and routes that are the cheapest. If it finds a better plan, an Optimize button will be shown. Clicking it will show you different ways to plan your trip including changing order, dates and adding places to your trip to help you reduce costs.
Let us know in the comments about what your experiences have been and which of these places you liked the most, especially if you have visited any of the places I haven’t gotten to yet.
About the author
Kartik is a co-founder of Presto Trip, an avid world traveler and Game of Thrones fan. Presto Trip was born out of frustrations trying to plan complex trips like these, and is free to use: https://www.prestotrip.com.